Underowned Running Backs

Title: Underowned Running Backs
Date: September 6, 2011
Original Source: The On Deck Circle
Synopsis: Just ahead of fantasy football season, I outlined some of the lesser owned Running Backs who I felt should have a greater ownership tag.

8-team, 10-team, 12-team, tiny league, gigantic league, I’m of the opinion at least 24 Running Backs should be owned in all leagues. I’ve never been in a league where less than two RBs are started, and most allow two plus a flex play. Add in bench options (at least one of which you’ll be keeping for bye week fill-ins, handcuffs, etc), and many more than 24 should be owned, but the top-24 must be owned. That’s three RBs per squad in an 8-team, two in a 12-team, and so on. Beyond those 24, I’d highly recommend stocking your bench with RBs over Quarterbacks or Tight Ends, and maybe even Wide Receivers depending on your scoring and roster format.

And that brings me to today’s topic, under-owned RB properties. Using Yahoos’ ownership rates, I looked through the ranks to see who I feel should be owned in more leagues. Keep in mind, I tend to focus more on deeper leagues, and it’s generally my philosophy to fill a bench with high-upside plays, outside of one semi-reliable plug-and-play option. Thus, a lot of these options will be back-ups with either a high probability of getting the chance to start, or a high chance of success if given an opportunity. I don’t necessarily believe in “handcuffing,” just filling the bench with high-upside players.
 More after the jump!
100% Ownership
Yahoo shows only 10 RBs as being universally owned (Run-DMC, AP, Mendenhall, MJD, Turner, CJ2K, Rice, Foster, JC of KC, and Shady McCoy). While I understand that even with my “24=100” rule there could be some variance based on personal rankings, this seems awfully low. Yes, 99% is nitpicking from 100%, but it’s still curious that Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Peyton Hillis, Shonn Greene, and Matt Forte aren’t at complete ownership. Beyond that group, other acceptable weekly starters like Ahmad Bradshaw, LeGarrette Blount, DeAngelo Williams, and Felix Jones are marginally available. In what leagues are these players waiver-worthy?

I’d go as far as to also include Jahvid Best, Cedric Benson, Beanie Wells, Marshawn Lynch, Joseph Addai, and Tim Hightower in the 100% ownership group as well, giving us 25 fully owned RBs. I suppose in the thinnest of leagues, there are reasons not to own Knowshon Moreno (lack of success), Mark Ingram (unclear workload), Ryan Mathews (mix of both), Fred Jackson (looming back-up), or Mike Tolbert (split-time back), but even this group should probably be owned except for the rare 8-team 2RB no-bench league.

Start-Worthy
For owners in deeper leagues that may need starters beyond those listed, there are a number of backs who could receive start-worthy workloads, though their situations aren’t ideal.

BJ Green-Ellis (92%) will likely be part of a platoon but has earned the most trust based on his 2010 performance and should start the year as the goal-line back. I wouldn’t heavily invest in the other New England RBs until we see the division of carries (although I do own one Shane Vereen share)

Ryan Grant (89%) is likewise splitting time with James Starks (53%), and whichever one emerges will be startable based on their ideal offensive situations, but for now are both a risky play.

Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas (84%, 72%) will split carries, with Bush having slightly more upside but Thomas a more traditional back, meaning Bush is the short-term play but Thomas may be the long-term play.

Brandon Jacobs, Willis McGahee, Pierre Thomas, Thomas Jones, and Marion Barber (77%, 55%, 61%, 42%, 29%) could all steal goal-line work, while LaDainian Tomlinson, Jonathan Stewart, Michael Bush, C.J. Spiller, and Darren Sproles (69%, 69%, 59%, 52%, 45%) could poach enough carries to be relevant.

Strong Deeper Options
These players all have roadblocks to playing time or production but in leagues with deeper benches, or for those with weak starting RBs, they are certainly worth a flier.

We’ve all seen Arian Foster’s MRI by now, and two hamstring injuries in a single preseason are worrisome. Derrick Ward (7%) is #2 on the depth chart, but Ben Tate (43%) is the lottery ticket to own. He missed 2010 due to injury and could have been an Arian Foster in his own right if he stayed healthy. He has the talent and the team context, he just needs the opportunity.

We also all know how Mike Shanahan operates at this point. While I’m bullish on Tim Hightower, I’d say Roy Helu (34%) (and not Ryan Torain [32%]) is worth owning based on the coach’s fickle ways and Helu’s obvious upside.

Jahvid Best is a highlight waiting to happen, but that highlight could be a touchdown or an injury. Jerome Harrison (23%), fantasy football’s forgotten man, looms as a back-up with a resume and potential, even if he may not profile as an every-down back.

With Peyton Manning potentially missing time, the Colts may be forced to rely on their running game more than usual, which would make Delone Carter (21%) a sneaky plug-and-play option. Joseph Addai isn’t a superstar, and while Carter may not be either, the Colts will probably spread the carries around if forced to rush 20+ times. Carter has a much higher upside and could be the future bell-cow for the pass-first franchise when Addai is put out to pasture.

Montario Hardesty (14%) was a popular sleeper last season before his knee injury, and he should be on the radar in the event Peyton Hillis wears down as he appeared to last year. Hillis will receive work on all downs, though, so Hardesty is likely just injury insurance at this point.

Lottery Tickets
Dexter McCluster (15%) is exciting to watch, but didn’t give us much in terms of fantasy value last year. He’s a part-time third string RB, a part-time slot receiver, and a full-time return man, none of which makes him anything other than watchable. Still, the skill set is there if Todd Haley ever figures out how to best utilize it.

Frank Gore probably has more of an “injury-prone” reputation than is deserved, but Kendall Hunter (11%) would be an immediate waiver add if he went down. If you’ve got the roster space, don’t wait until the injury comes. Be proactive, people.

I’m high on Felix Jones this year, but he can’t have too long of a leash if he disappoints again. Tashard Choice (13%) survived the final round of cuts, but DeMarco Murray (13%) is the more intriguing gamble for your roster.

Bernard Scott (6%) is a better fit for what Jay Gruden is claiming to want to do in Cincy, but he’ll need a Cedric Benson injury or arrest to be relevant, and his upside doesn’t seem sky-high either. Still, the volume would be there.

With Rashad Jennings out for the year, Deji Karim (7%) becomes Maurice Jones-Drew’s caddy and handcuff, and I can tell you from watching him that he has big-play ability and the potential to force his way into a time-share for my Jags. This team won’t be throwing the ball with much frequency or success, so there will be carries to go around.

I’d highly recommend making room for at least one player from these last two groups if you have a bench spot. Put down that third TE or Danny Woodhead (52% owned, REALLY?).

Check back later this week for an article on TEs and QBs to finish my pre-season mini-series.

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