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5 Fantasy Football Backs Too Cheap To Pass Up in 2014

Purple Jesus will never forgive us for this one.
Purple Jesus will never forgive us for this one.

With NFL teams taking a short break until training camps begin in August we have a good opportunity to sit down and assess the fantasy football landscape before the bullets start flying and real drafts get underway. Over the next week we’ll be highlighting players we feel are being undervalued according to current average draft position (ADP) data. For the first segment we’ll begin with 5 running backs and then we’ll wrap around to the other positions later this week.

Running back is a particularly volatile position in fantasy football leagues, especially coming off this past season where numerous “sure-fire” first round picks turned out to be total stinkers relative to their draft position (Arian Foster, anyone?). To build a good stable of running backs for your team, you almost always have to come out of the draft with a player or two that is being undervalued for one reason or another, and there’s no five we see as a better fit in that respect than these fellows.

5. Steven Jackson

ADP: mid 6th round, RB29

There’s no debate Steven Jackson isn’t the same player he used to be, and his history of muscle strains reared its head again last year when a hamstring injury cost him 4 games and hampered him in others. Still, Jackson showed why his pairing with Atlanta was so intriguing when he closed out the season with 78.9 standard fantasy points in the final 6 weeks (13.15 average). Those are strong RB1 numbers.

The age and injury factors are here to stay, but with Julio Jones and Roddy White both returning healthy, along with the draft selection of left tackle Jake Matthews at #6 overall, Jackson should see much more favorable looks than he saw last year. I’m not saying tie your entire season to SJax, just that there are quite a few backs going ahead of him with far less upside and similar or even greater risk.

4. Joique Bell

ADP: end of 5th round, RB28

Sharing work with Reggie Bush in the Lions’ voluminous offense, Joique Bell compiled 219 touches and 9 total touchdowns on his way to finishing as the #17 RB in standard scoring in 2013. Bell has missed some offseason time while dealing with a minor knee injury, but otherwise his stock should only be pointing upward and instead it’s seemingly trending the other direction.

After already proving capable of sustaining two backs for fantasy, the Lions went out and signed 27-year-old Bell to a fairly significant contract extension – something you don’t do at that position if you don’t intend to heavily use him. In the midst of coaching changes, there has been talk of the league’s pass-heaviest offense over the last 3 years continuing to move more towards balance. Furthermore, there has also been chatter of the Lions scaling back Bush’s touches slightly to preserve him, with Bush even publicly stating he would be fine with a lesser role.

Bell’s ADP truly baffles me. I just don’t see where the regression would come from and why people are scared off. It’s not like he had 15 touchdowns or Bush missed half the season. Every part of Bell’s 2013 stat line is repeatable and even could be improved on in fantasy football leagues.

3. Stevan Ridley

ADP: mid 6th round, RB30

Whether it was Bill Belichick or his fantasy owners, Stevan Ridley infuriated a lot of people in 2013. The #10 RB in standard scoring the year prior, Ridley was already having a disappointing start to the season as newcomer LeGarrette Blount was stealing crucial carries away. Then, Ridley lost 3 fumbles in 3 weeks and Blount stole the show while Ridley was sent to the doghouse both in the real NFL, and on fantasy football teams.

There’s no basis to believe Ridley is forever over his fumbling woes, but he did start to earn back trust with the team down the stretch last year, enough for them to let Blount leave in free agency. Ridley, who has 19 touchdowns the past 2 seasons and a career 4.5 YPC, should be getting his old job back now. At the moment the only other option for New England’s “big back” role is borderline NFL talent Brandon Bolden.

Many players have overcome early-career fumbles. Just one example: Adrian Peterson lost 12 fumbles in his first 3 seasons but only lost 5 over the following 4 seasons. If not for the fumbles (actually, it’s more Belichick’s punishment for them), there wouldn’t be many better bets in the league than Ridley to reach 250 carries and double-digit rushing touchdowns. For a guy being drafted as late as he is, that’s a gamble I’m willing to take all day long.

2. Lamar Miller

ADP: early 8th round, RB36

Lamar Miller was a popular 2013 sleeper that never quite got rolling the way some envisioned. Not only was Miller not spectacular himself with the opportunities he got (4.0 YPC, just 2 touchdowns), but he was never really given a proper chance to establish himself as the man in the backfield, or in fantasy football leagues. For 2014 there is renewed optimism for Miller, though his ADP does not presently reflect this.

The Dolphins’ new offensive coordinator comes from Philadelphia and is bringing with him much of Chip Kelly’s fast-paced and run-heavy offense. Hopefully one of the things the new OC picked up from Kelly is how to use a running back because Miami could not figure out how to do it last year. Not only did they inexplicably cut into Miller’s touches by playing ineffective Daniel Thomas, Miami frequently abandoned the run all together if the first few carries of the game didn’t pop open. They did this even though their young quarterback was getting sacked the most in the league. Hence the previous OC being fired.

The sacks bring up another point. The whole Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal decimated an already poor offensive line which obviously isn’t be good for a RB’s success. By signing Pro Bowl LT Branden Albert and spending the #19 and #67 overall picks on the OL, blocking should no longer be a major issue.

Other than last year’s flop, many point to the arrival of Knowshon Moreno as reason to be skeptical of Miller. Not only was Moreno signed late in free agency for cheap money, but he was working behind Miller in offseason activities and reportedly was out of shape. It was then disclosed Moreno needs knee surgery and he could miss a number of regular season games. Oh, and Moreno sucks when he’s not playing behind Peyton Manning. He won’t be much of a problem.

As of this moment, it looks like Miller will be given the chance to run with the starting job in an offense that suits his talents perfectly. It’s entirely possible Miller just isn’t that good, but at least this year we’ll find out for sure. Miller’s ADP will rise some as news of Moreno’s injury spreads, though even before that news broke Miller was looking insanely cheap in fantasy football leagues and he likely will remain so.

1. Toby Gerhart

ADP: early 4th round, RB20

The Jacksonville Jaguars get a lot of hate, and rightfully so, but it wasn’t that long ago that they were routinely churning out top fantasy RB seasons – it’s the one thing they’ve done well. Last year was really the only exception in recent memory, and an old and overweight Maurice Jones-Drew still managed a #19 finish in 15 games. Whether or not they win games, that team and culture is made to run the ball. Enter Toby Gerhart.

Gerhart is a former Heisman trophy runner-up with great size (6’0″, 231 lbs) and underrated athleticism (4.53 forty-yard dash, 6.94 three-cone drill, 4.25 short shuttle, 38″ vertical jump). He owns a career 4.7 YPC on 276 carries and is a decent receiver (77 catches in 4 years). The only reason he’s not making more noise in fantasy, other than his weak tan, is because he was a backup for his entire rookie contract. But he was backing up a player in the discussion for the best of all time in Adrian Peterson, so I think I can forgive him for that.

With the skills that he has and the situation he’s going to, Gerhart is going to be one of the handful of true workhouse backs still left in the NFL. He’s going to get a ton of carries, receptions, and any goal line carries the team can offer. Jags head coach Gus Bradley has ties to Seattle with Marshawn Lynch, and Jags GM Dave Caldwell oversaw Michael Turner’s paralleling career path with Atlanta. Gerhart has a chance to put up numbers that rival both of those players. Barring injury, Gerhart is a mere lock to exceed his ADP and he may shatter it by placing well inside the top 10 running backs in fantasy football leagues.

Which of these value backs do you like the most?

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  • clownyking90

    I think a lot of people are sleeping on s-jax. He may be old now but he is still a BEAST. I think he still has one or two spectacular season left in him.

  • boomNation

    it sucks that joique bell is behind reggie bush because he really should be the starter and bush can be the change of pace / third down guy. bell is a great player

  • atlJAGSfan

    Gerhart gonna be Beast Mode 2.0!

  • diablox440

    I think jones-drew should be on this list. He was dealing with injuries or out of shape the last two years and now he is on a team that runs even more than the Jags do, and he will be motivated again. I think he will be a top 10 back and he is drafted way lower.