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In Defense of Plodders: Part 2

Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner

No one wants a volume runner on their fantasy squad. The very notion is an insult to our fake football acumen.

The first part of “In Defense of Plodders,” however, showed that the least exciting running backs can have more than a little value when owners shoo them away for high risk, high reward runners. The guys who lack game-breaking ability and rely on an absurd amount of carries to keep their values afloat can have very real value—enough to hold our collective noses and draft them if the round is right.

Here are two more plodding runners who were talked down with great fervor last July and August. Like Shonn Greene and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, they were boons if had for cheap.

Michael Turner, RB, Falcons – Bow down before King Plodder. In 10,000 years, when archeologists scour the charred remains of what were the American suburbs, they’ll find carved upon living room walls images of rolly polly Turner, the word “plodder” etched beneath with gigantic derriere.

He is the archetype.

Turner, by the waning weeks of the 2012 season, was no longer the clear lead back in Atlanta’s backfield, having ceded carries to Jacquizz Rodgers. Still, he racked up another 222 carries, 17th most in the league, just behind Reggie Bush and ahead of C.J. Spiller and Ahmad Bradshaw. Turner was the 17th highest scoring fantasy back in 2012.

Falcons’ coaches talked quite a bit about sharing backfield responsibility in the preseason to the delight of owners who rightfully saw Rodgers as a far superior fit to Atlanta’s ramped-up passing attack. Coaches’ on-the-field talking told another tale, one that helped Turner retain some value as the season rolled on. Rodgers ended the year with 94 carries.

Turner, with an average draft position of 36, went way too early in drafts. Owners inexplicably drafted Turner like he was the runner who arrived in Atlanta in 2008. In at least two of my four fantasy drafts last August, owners watched with glee as Turner’s chubby self tumbled down the board. He ended up proving a worthy investment as a sixth round pick for fantasy footballers in need of a second running back.

Turner, on the strength of 10 mostly ugly goal line touchdowns, scored in double digits seven times this season, tallying 800 yards with an unsightly 3.6 yards per carry. Turner was ninth in Pro Football Focus’s elusive rating, well ahead of guys like Reggie Bush and Ray Rice, amazingly.

Owners howled at the moon about the Falcons’ refusal to phase out King Plodder. The team didn’t follow owners’ wishes, and once again, there’s no use griping. Turner is another prime example of snagging value and taking advantage of coaches’ stubborn love for their plodders.

Frank Gore, RB, 49ers – The indestructible San Francisco running back doesn’t seem to fit this list of plodding plodders, and with a 4.8 yards per carry average and 1,144 yards rushing in 2012, he surely didn’t fit the plodding mold.

Track back to the summer though, and you’ll recall myriad warnings of Gore as a sinking ship, someone to avoid at almost any cost, especially at his average draft position of 38. He would have to compete with backfield mates Kendall Hunter (everyone’s favorite upside back), rookie LaMichael James and goal-line giant, Brandon Jacobs. Fantasy owners were warned that Gore was entering his age-29 season with a lifetime of mileage on his tires and possibly no sure role as the Niners’ goal line back. Panic about Gore’s lack of burst and open-field speed dominated preseason discussions of the runner’s 2012 prospects. Naysayers who lumped Gore with the league’s ploddingest plodders were quick to point out that he averaged 15.3 carries for 53.6 yards over his final eight games of 2011.

San Francisco coaches contributed reasons to all but erase Gore from our preseason rankings.

“We need to keep (Frank Gore) healthy,” 49ers running backs coach Tom Rathman said in a June interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, openly discussing a running back by committee approach. “We need to keep him fresh so he’s an impact player for us.”

Things looked bleak.

Gore ended the year as the tenth highest scoring running back in the league, a single point behind Stevan Ridley and two points behind Jamaal Charles. Gore received 258 totes, good for 12th most in the NFL.

Gore’s early-fourth round ADP was a touch too high, but don’t try telling that to fantasy owners who took a chance on the elderly runner and reaped the benefits of 12 games in double digit fantasy points.

Has Gore lost a step? Sure. Has he lost two? Perhaps. Does that matter when his coaching staff commits to him as a workhorse running back on an offense that has proven deadly efficient and reliably run heavy? No, it doesn’t.

This says nothing of Gore’s 2013 projections, which will likely be low-balled once again. It is another valuable lesson in how we should take stock in how a player is used, rather than how he’s talked about in the weeks and months before Opening Day.

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