Undervalued fantasy football running backs
Note: All average draft positions (ADP) are according to Yahoo.
Chris Johnson (TEN): A lot of people thought CJ2K was primed for a bounce back season in 2012, but were sorely disappointed when he finished his third game with 24 rushing yards, giving him a grand total of 45 on the season. Through the rest of the year, however, Johnson averaged 91.2 rushing yards per game, occasionally exploding for massive fantasy point outbursts. He finished the year averaging 4.5 yards per carry - his highest total since his record-setting 2009 season. Much of Johnson's struggles over the past three years can be attributed to a poor interior offensive line, but the Titans have made substantial upgrades in that area this offseason with top free agent guard Andy Levitre and 10th overall pick Chance Warmack. Johnson's ADP is currently 30.0 - he has a shot at being a huge steal there.
Reggie Bush (DET): This change of scenery could do wonders for the career of Bush, who excels in open space. The Lions run the pass-happiest offense in the NFL, and Bush will likely become the top check-down option and security blanket for quarterback Matthew Stafford. In addition, the Lions will likely design plenty of screen plays to get Bush in the open field, where he is among the most electrifying players in the league. This makes Bush a high-upside pick in PPR leagues, and the 28-year-old will also have a chance to pass 1,000 yards rushing for the second time in his career. I fully expect Bush to outperform his 60.4 ADP.
Darren McFadden (OAK): McFadden found himself on my overvalued running back list last summer, but another disappointing, injury-plagued season has caused his stock to plummet. In my opinion, however, his stock has plummeted a little too far. An ADP of 65.9 is a little too low for a player who averaged 88.6 yards per game on 5.3 per carry over 20 contests from 2010-11. Yes, the injury risk is very much there, but once you're in that area of the draft I think you can justify taking a player as electrifying as McFadden. His production woes in 2012 stemmed from a poor scheme fit, as offensive coordinator Greg Knapp attempted to implement a zone-blocking scheme while McFadden is clearly better suited behind a power-blocking offensive line. I know it's a huge "if," but if McFadden can stay healthy, he'll be a huge steal.
Le'Veon Bell (PIT): When asked about his team's lack of production in the running game, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert pretty much put all the blame on the running backs, as opposed to the offensive line. Colbert now has a runner he feels can be successful behind the team's current offensive line in Bell. The rookie workhorse is fully expected to be the Week 1 starter, and many believe that he could top 300 carries on the season. That would mean he'd need to average just 4.0 yards per carry to top 1,200 rushing yards. Currently at a 70.1 ADP, that looks like a steal to me.
Shane Vereen (NE): With Danny Woodhead headed to San Diego and Aaron Hernandez headed to jail, the Patriots have four pretty big shoes to fill on offense. Vereen may only have two feet, but the Patriots are going to do their best to have him fill both roles. Thus far in camp, Vereen has been used as the primary third-down back, as well as a motion wide receiver on early downs. He'll be a nice asset in PPR leagues, and I'm having a hard time imagining he'll be less productive than Woodhead was last season - as a matter of fact, I think he could be significantly more productive than Woodhead was. Woodhead finished 2012 with the 28th most points among running backs, and Vereen's current ADP of 107.8 ranks 31st at his position.
Giovani Bernard (CIN): All that the first running back taken in this year's draft has to do to get a big workload is beat out the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard is simply the more talented runner, and is way more dynamic, meaning he'll be a factor in passing situations right from the start. It may take a few weeks, but I think the Bengals will eventually have a hard time not feeding Bernard constantly, leaving those who took a flier on him at his 111.1 ADP leaping for joy.
Daryl Richardson (STL): How could a starting running back drop to an ADP of 118.6? Richardson is expected to share the backfield with Isaiah Pead this season, but Richardson has already beat out Pead once in his career (for backup duties behind Steven Jackson in 2012), so I don't see why he won't be able to do it again. Richardson will get the first crack at the starting job, as Pead is suspended for the first game of the season. If Richardson performs well, he could easily see enough carries to make him a reliable flex option. Not bad for the 118th overall pick.
Here are links to my overvalued quarterbacks and undervalued quarterbacks. Be sure to check back for my undervalued running backs, as well as my over/undervalued players at other positions.