When it comes down to it, finding cheap values at running back is the fastest way to win your fantasy league. There is the most turnover on the running back leaderboard every year of any position, and depth charts and carries move between runners more than any other position. Last year that was easy to see as CJ Spiller stepped into a starting gig and became a top 10 back, Alfred Morris went from undrafted in fantasy drafts to a top 5 option, and Stevan Ridley showed just how much value the Patriots offense can give a running back. With every inch a competitive margin in your league, I’m going to take a look at two running backs who could be that upstart back this year.
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Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams
When it comes to backup options late in drafts, variance is the name of the game. Richardson’s battle with Isaiah Pead and possibly Zac Stacy for the starting job has been well-documented, but the one constant seems to be that whoever wins the job will win the job. This shouldn’t be a two-back offense, but one lead back and a complement behind him.
Jake Long was a huge addition by the Rams this offseason and while he is known primarily as a pass-blocker, he should be a huge upgrade over the disaster at LT left season with the trade of Jason Smith, their first-round bust. Richardson had a better YPC than S-Jax last season (4.8 to 4.1) and had significantly more faith from the coaching staff than Pead did, despite being drafted more than 200 picks later. Despite running a 4.4 40-yard dash and weighing a relatively slim 196 pounds, Richardson excelled after contact last season. He averaged 2.8 yards after contact per rushing attempt, which ranked 11th in the NFL.
If he is given that lead back role, Richardson should end up a quality RB2 for owners. He’s rising up draft boards quickly, but for now he’s still the 42nd RB off the board on ESPN. That’s simply ridiculous when you consider both the upside he has compared to players around his draft position and the chance he has of winning the job. Sure he had 2 fumbles in 98 carries last year, but his upside easily covers that risk. Evan Silva of RotoWorld said, “Save arguably David Wilson, Daryl Richardson is the single most explosive second-year back…Again, again, and again, Richardson’s acceleration jumped off the screen.” I think Richardson remains one of the most underrated players going into fantasy drafts this season.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
It seems that in every sport rookies are doing amazing things. Mike Trout is redefining how people study baseball prospects, and Doug Martin and Trent Richardson were incredible as NFL rookies last season. However, people have to remember this is the exception and not the rule. In the chart below, the top 10 rookie RB seasons are listed, and 3 are from last season. While I’m not sure Bell can be quite as effective, I think he will end up the most valuable back from his class this year.
Choosing comfort over upside is sometimes easy to do early in fantasy drafts, but it can leave you behind quite easily. Comparing a player like Bell to a guy like Steve Smith, who has consistently been a top 20 WR and is going at around the same pick as Bell, is hard. But Smith had over 12 points exactly 1 time last season. He consistently could get you 8-12, but lacked impact performances.
Bell should be able to get you those impact performances. Mike Tomlin was frustrated by Steeler backs’ inconsistent play last season and addressed the need in the draft early, where Bell was the second RB taken. What has happened since the draft for fantasy owners has been interesting to watch. Bell has been characterized as this slow, plodding back with few skills other than being a straight-ahead, between-the-tackles type runner. Sure his 40-yard dash time is a slow 4.6, but to say he’s not skilled is a mistake. All analysts are pointing to Bell being the third down back in Pittsburgh because he can pass-block extremely well and can catch. He had over 30 catches in each of his last two college seasons and the Steelers seem ready to use him. After the mess of rotating backs last season, Bell should be an enticing option this season and one who I’d draft in the 18-22 range among running backs.
Matt Cott is a co-founder of RotoAnalysis. Follow him on Twitter @KidCotti21 and read his work all season long on CBSPhilly.com & RotoAnalysis.com!
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