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Fantasy Football: Late Running Back Value in Early Drafts

fantasy football draft
fantasy football draft

Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead (39) runs the ball against San Francisco 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson (38) during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the New England Patriots 41-34. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Although the sane (casual) fantasy player is still a couple of months away from getting involved in the fake football circle, there are a few guys currently providing a solid value in early drafts. Last week I gave you an in depth look at the bubbling potential of Shane Vereen, but there are many other options available at the running back position that could pay solid dividends when the fantasy dust settles. Here’s a look at three guys who are all currently being taken as RB4’s in 12 man leagues, and could fall even further overall come August when quarterbacks start coming off the books earlier (with ADP provided by fantasyfootballcalculator.com).

Danny Woodhead – SD
ADP: RB # 47 OVERALL (124)

In 2012, Woodhead finished as the number 24 running back in both Standard and PPR scoring. He has since moved on from the fantasy juggernaut known as the New England offense to join a Chargers backfield accompanied by Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown. Although Mathews has missed 10 games over the past two seasons, don’t mistake Woodhead’s value as a handcuff in the running game.

The Chargers are expected to deploy a quick passing attack to protect themselves from their protection issues (SD ranked 29th per Pro Football Focus and 32nd per Football Outsiders in pass protection during 2012). Over the past three seasons, Philip Rivers has completed an average of 35% of his completions to players coming out of the San Diego backfield, with an average total of 125 receptions to divvy up among the backs over the same timeframe. Since 2006, when Rivers claimed the starting job, a Chargers running back has had at least 45 receptions in all 7 seasons with him at the helm.

It’s also no coincidence that using the RotoViz similarity score app, that Woodhead’s 2012 season brings up two similar campaigns of Darren Sproles (’09, ’10) from his time with San Diego.

Even if Mathews does play all season, he’s only played an average of 53% of the offensive snaps in the games he’s been available for over the past two seasons. Woodhead will still see plenty of playing time, and assuming that San Diego could play many games with negative game flow, Woodhead should have no trouble besting his career high of 40 receptions in the upcoming season.

Fred Jackson – BUF
ADP: RB #37 (92 OVERALL)
Jackson, now 32, is clearly the second man in line to receive carries in Buffalo, and rightfully so with C.J. Spiller coming off a 1,700 total yard season. With Doug Marrone replacing the incumbent Chan Gailey as head coach, the Bills will incorporate an up tempo offense that figures to heavily lean of the running game no matter who plays quarterback.

Marrone is no stranger to keeping multiple backs involved in the offense either. From ’06-’08 as offensive coordinator for the Saints, five different runners scored five TDs or more on the ground as New Orleans placed 5th, 10th and 5th in rushing scores over his tenure.

Think of Jackson as Marrone’s version of Pierre Thomas, a back that can do a little bit of everything for an offense. Jackson has had at least 30 receptions in each of the past five seasons and can still be a factor in the red zone, scoring 10 TDs over his past 20 games. Jackson also doesn’t require a ton of touches to produce. Over the past two years, he’s scored double-digit fantasy points in 13 of the 16 games he’s received only 12 or more touches in.

Bryce Brown – PHI
ADP: RB # 40 (97 OVERALL)

Brown was a fantasy savior in 2012, replacing injured starter LeSean McCoy in week 12, then posting two consecutive 150+ plus yard, two TD rushing games to catapult many owners into their playoffs. Of course that sweet taste was quickly followed a bitter 40 yards on 28 carries over the following two weeks combined.

Brown’s strength in the rushing game is he’s an elusive east to west runner as opposed to running inside. Per Pro Football Focus, Brown forced 20 missed tackles to go with 10 carries of 15 or more yards (which accounted for 50.4% of his total rushing) in only 115 attempts.

That is the type of big play ability that can exploited by the Philadelphia offense under new head coach Chip Kelly if and when the Eagles are wearing out defenses with the frenetic pace of which he wants to play. Kelly’s teams lean heavy on the run game as well, check out the Oregon rushing numbers as a team during his four years there:

OREGON RUSHING OFFENSE UNDER CHIP KELLY
YEAR RUSH ATT. NCAA RANK RUSH YDS RANK
2009 547 18 3012 7
2010 629 5 3721 5
2011 629 6 4189 1
2012 685 7 4098 4

*Provided by ESPN.COM

With the return of Jason Peters and Todd Herremans to the offensive line, the Eagles backfield should provide plenty of fantasy goodness in the same ilk that the 2012 Patriots did.

Stats provided by Pro-football-refence.com, ProFootballFocus.com, NFL.com, ESPN.com

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