I’m going to break down who I think the most undervalued and overvalued Running Backs are in this part of my 4 part Pre-Preseason evaluation.
Overvalued Running Backs
1. LeVeon Bell- Currently being ranked as a top 10 Running Back- I think he is being vaulted a little too high for my liking right now. One of the reasons there were so many flame out running backs in last year’s first round is because we thought young guys starting for their second year would take the leap(Think Trent Richardson, CJ Spiller, Doug Martin) and those are the players we should be most wary of overvaluing. I think LeGarrette Blount is going to share some of the work with Bell, unlike last year I don’t think he will be receiving 90%+ of the carries per game. Don’t get cute and reach for LeVeon Bell as a top 10 running back.
2.Giovanni Bernard- Currently being ranked as a top 12 Running Back. Again, similar to LeVeon Bell, let’s not get cute here. I like Giovanni Bernard, I was all in on him last year and owned him in a lot of leagues, but I think this is a reach for him. The Bengals have a committee of running backs right now after drafting Jeremy Hill to add with Bernard and Benjarvus Greeen-Ellis(there is speculation he may be cut but we will see), so I don’t see Bernard getting an increase in touches from last year. Don’t reach for Giovanni Bernard, he has value but has a much more limited upside this year compared to last.
3. Arian Foster- Currently being ranked as a top 10 Running Back. This has a lot more to do with the situation than the player. The Texans didn’t draft one of the premier QB’s in this year’s draft(which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and didn’t trade for one so their starting QB going into 2014 looks to be Ryan Fitzpatrick, which is bad for the offense. If their defense doesn’t keep them in games the Texans are in for another year similar to last year, where they are down big and have to keep throwing to catch up. That doesn’t bode well for Arian Foster, who needs a lot of carries to get going. I think he has bounce back potential but isn’t safe enough to be a top 10 running back.
4. Doug Martin- Currently being ranked as a fringe top 10 Running Back. Again this has more to do with the situation than the player. I bought in on Martin during his rookie year(when he was excellent) and stayed away last year as he vaulted into the top 10 players off the board, and became one of many to flame out. If he gets the work like he did his rookie year I have no doubt he can be a top 10 running back but I don’t know if he will get that kind of workload. Mike James played well before he also got hurt and the Bucs drafted Charles Sims in the third round, so there are other capable running backs on the roster who may steal a few carries here and there. On top of that I think Tampa Bay is going to look to be more active in the passing game. They drafted receiver Mike Evans in the first round and pass catching tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round. I know if things break right for Martin he can be a top 10 running back, but I don’t feel he is a safe bet to land there.
5. Zac Stacy- Currently being ranked as a fringe top 10 running back. Noticing a trend with second year running backs? I think Stacy is a lot safer than LeVeon Bell and Giovanni Bernard but is worth mentioning here as well. I am interested to see if the Rams remain as run heavy as they were last year with the return of Sam Bradford. Part of the reason Stacy was so successful last year was because of the Rams inept passing game and their reliance upon the ground game. Secondly I want to see if or how much of the carries Tre Mason gets in this offense. If Mason gets 25-30% of the carries that would alter Stacy’s value.
Most Undervalued Running Backs
1. Frank Gore- Currently being ranked just outside the top 20 running backs. I know Frank Gore is destined to flame out at some point and stop being the 49ers workhorse, but that wasn’t the case last year as he produced another solid season. I think as long as he is getting the majority of the work he is a clear cut top 15 play. The 49ers are loaded at running back with Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde all wanting to get some run, but Jim Harbaugh didn’t delineate to much into a timeshare last year though. If he keeps that same philosophy and gives Gore the work he should have another productive year.
2. Ryan Matthews- currently being barely inside the top 20 running backs. I don’t get it. As I wrote before about the Chargers, when they went on their 4 game winning streak to sneak into the playoffs they established themselves as a run first offense. with Matthews being the workhorse. During that 4 game stretch Matthews was averaging a whopping 26.75 carries, 118.25 yards and scored 3 touchdowns. He also had 3 100+ yard games before that stretch last year. He emerged as a legit fringe top 10 fantasy running back. I don’t know why he isn’t ranked there or around the top 15 at least, but he isn’t. I know Danny Woodhead ate into his production a bit last year and the Chargers brought in Donald Brown and he might bite into the production as well. But if the Chargers are going to be a run heavy team like I suspect next year there is no reason to shy away from Matthews if he is getting the bulk of the work.
3. Steven Jackson- Currently being ranked outside the top 25 Running Backs. I know he has been ugly the last couple of years but when healthy he should still be good for 1000+ yards, a handful of TD’s and about 300 yards receiving. On top of that there is no one behind him on the depth chart that really poses any threat to creating a timeshare or taking away his starting job. The Falcons have made upgrades to their offensive line after being dominated up front last year. They drafted tackle Jake Matthews in the first round and brought in guard Jon Asamoah from the Chiefs. I suspect that Jackson will be heavily involved in the Falcons offense and should easily crack the top 20 if not making a run at being a top 15 running back.
4. CJ Spiller- Currently ranked just inside the top 20 Running Backs. I know he was one of the guys who flamed out royally last year, but he was hurt most of the year. Obviously Fred Jackson is still a thorn in his side as the two will continue to cannibalize each other’s fantasy value,but this is too low a ranking. If healthy CJ Spiller is an explosive, home-run hitting kind of player, all it takes is that one 70 yard touchdown run for him to win you a week. The Bills are going to continue to run the ball, a lot. They led the league in carries by a large margin(the difference between them and the number 2 team in carries was the difference between the number 2 team and the number 9 team). I do think the Bills are going to throw more this year(I mean they have to right?) and CJ Spiller is more than capable as a receiving back and should have his receiving yards bump up. I think he will be frustrating at times, but should see numbers more similar to his 2012 campaign. That should make him at least a top 15 play, if not a top 12 play.
5. Picks a Patriots running back- Shane Vereen is ranked outside the top 20 and Stevan Ridley is ranked outside the top 25. The Patriots are good at running the ball, and run a lot. They were 9th in rushing attempts and yards last year and were second in rushing touchdowns. The opportunity is going to be there for one of these two players to have a big year next year, especially now that LeGarrette Blount is gone. I am inclined to say its going to be Ridley, since Vereen is used more as a scatback and receiver out of the backfield, but Ridley’s fumbling problem cost him the starting role last year so he has that going against him. Trust your gut and try and snag one of these guys in the later rounds, one, if not both should be a steal.
1. Terrance West- Currently being ranked outside the top 40 running backs. I think the Browns are going to have to be ground heavy after probably losing Josh Gordon for the year to suspension. That means a healthy dosage of Ben Tate and probably some work from West. West can also catch the ball out of the backfield which is a plus. If Ben Tate goes down West has a shot at being at top 20 player, even if Tate stays healthy, keep an eye on his usage in Cleveland
2. Toby Gerhart- Currently being ranked as a fringe top 25 player. The job is all his! Albeit a crappy job, but its all his! Gerhart has show flashes that he can be a starting running back in the NFL and how he gets his chance. The Jaguars should run the ball a lot to help out Blake Bortles and that means Gerhart should get a lot of carries. I’m not too worried about Jordan Todman or Storm Johnson behind him on the depth chart he is going get the lion’s share of the carries. I could see him cracking the top 20 if the Jaguars defense holds and keeps games close. Gerhart is going to be a guy who will get a bunch of ugly carries and isn’t sexy but should have some value.
3. Trent Richardson and Ray Rice- Both currently ranked outside of the top 20 running backs. One of these guys is going to bounce back, period. I don’t know which one its going to be, it could be both. Both these guys busted out of last year’s first round spectacularly, but without injury. Richardson is only in his 3rd year in the NFL and was productive in his first year. Chuck Pagano desperately wants to run the ball to take some pressure off Andrew Luck and its not like they kept Donald Brown around to challenge Richardson. I’m more inclined to believe Richardson bounces back from Rice, but he was just so bad last year. As for Rice, its the same deal. It’s still just him and Bernard Pierce in the Ravens backfield. Pierce showed last year that he isn’t capable of handling the starting role so its up to RIce to not look like crap next year. Take a flier on one of these guys, they each have good situations and one could pan out.