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2013 Fantasy Football: Top 10 Late-Round Running Backs

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Fantasy Football 2013: Top 10 Late-Round Running Backs

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Running backs are typically the driving force for fantasy football league titles each year, but the position is also the most volatile in terms of injury risk for fantasy owners.

So having adequate running back depth, and recognizing potential value, on draft day can set the stage for owners to make it through the inevitable injuries that occur. Luck of course comes into play as well, but shrewd owners can do a lot to help themselves starting on draft day.

If you wind up with one of the “stud” running backs (Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, etc.), it is usually a good move to draft his backup as well to protect yourself from losing your first-round pick to injury without a contingency plan. Beyond that things can be less cut-and-dry in terms of which running backs to consider with a late-round pick or at the end of an auction, but recognizing favorable situations and possible opportunity for someone to climb the depth chart helps highlight some players over others.

I have attempted to hone in on running backs I think have the best chance for a significant return on the draft day investment they will require this year. You won’t find any sure-fire Week 1 starters in the group, but that does not mean each guy won’t have value at all, if only as potential trade bait for those that find themselves fortunate enough to have ample running back depth during the season.

Here are the 10 running backs I think are most worthy of a late-round pick in fantasy drafts this year.

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10. Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams

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The Rams look likely to have a genuine three-way training camp battle for who will be their No. 1 running back, with Stacy joining 2012 draft picks Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. He was productive over his final two college seasons at Vanderbilt, with over 2,300 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns against top-level competition in the SEC and is also more physically suited to goal line work than both Richardson and Pead. If he is able to win the starting job outright, Stacy could emerge as a viable fantasy option in short order.

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9. Bryce Brown, Philadelphia Eagles

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Brown got an opportunity to shine when LeSean McCoy was sidelined by a concussion last season, and he made the most of it during a key stretch for fantasy owners with 347 rushing yards and four touchdowns in Week 12 and Week 13 combined. McCoy is back healthy and atop the depth chart for the Eagles, but new head coach Chip Kelly should find a way to use Brown as he brings the fast-paced offense he had at Oregon to the NFL.

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8. Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay Packers

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The Packers re-shaped their running back situation during April’s draft, adding Eddie Lacy in the second round and Franklin in the fourth. Lacy has a chance to be the one of the first rookie running backs taken in fantasy drafts, but Franklin’s overall skill set should allow him to see the field a fair amount. We should get a glimpse of how the workload will be split during the preseason, and I don’t expect Lacy or Franklin to be every-week fantasy starters, but I think Franklin has real sleeper potential.

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7. Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals

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Williams’ first two NFL seasons have been beset with injuries, as he has only played five games due to a torn patella tendon (2011) and a shoulder issue (2012). Rashard Mendenhall was added in free agency and looks likely to be the No. 1 running back for the Cardinals, but he has not been outstanding over the last couple years and Williams could push him for playing time during the preseason. In deeper leagues, there’s some appeal here for those looking for a low-risk option with some upside.

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6. Michael Bush, Chicago Bears

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Bush had two games with two touchdowns last season, but otherwise he failed to make a significant impact for fantasy owners. Injuries were certainly a factor, as he missed the final three games of the season with a rib issue and it was officially revealed earlier this month that he played with a broken bone in his right shoulder from Week 2 on. Matt Forte is still the Bears’ No. 1 back and looks like a nice fit for new head coach Marc Trestman’s offense, which limits Bush’s fantasy value overall. But Forte has been slowed by injuries over the last two seasons and struggles to score near the goal line, so Bush’s numbers have a good chance to rise across the board this year.

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5. Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens

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Pierce took on a prominent role late last season, with 315 rushing yards (two 100-yard games) over a three-game stretch starting in Week 16 and ending in Baltimore’s Wild Card Round win over the Indianapolis Colts. There is a lot of buzz surrounding his ability to take touches away from Ray Rice this season, and his touchdown scoring proficiency in college (53 rushing touchdowns in three seasons at Temple) makes him a candidate for at least a goal line and a short yardage role. Fantasy owners need to be careful not to overvalue Pierce as much more than a handcuff to Rice, but there’s a chance the second-year back carries solid value in deeper leagues.

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4. Andre Brown, New York Giants

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Brown had eight rushing touchdowns in 10 games last season, and if not for a broken leg he surely would have reached double-digit touchdowns. David Wilson has the best chance to be the Giants’ No. 1 running back with Ahmad Bradshaw not returning, and his upside potential has garnered a lot of positive buzz to this point. But Brown could make a case for a significant role beyond goal line work with a strong preseason, and is a worthy late-round flier in 12-team leagues.

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3. Shonn Greene, Tennessee Titans

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Greene signed with Tennessee as a free agent after topping 1,000 yards rushing in each of the last two seasons for the New York Jets. Chris Johnson is still clearly No. 1 on the depth chart, but his lack of consistency has frustrated fantasy owners and surely the Titans as well. Greene’s relative underachievement with the Jets is sure to have his fantasy stock down, but he has a chance to carry good value in touchdown-heavy leagues (14 rushing touchdowns in 2011 and 2012 combined) and an injury to Johnson would make him the No. 1 running back for the Titans.

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2. Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts

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Ballard had a nice rookie season in 2012, rushing for 814 yards with three total touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). He had been in line to be Indianapolis’ No.1 running back, but the signing of Ahmad Bradshaw in June bumps him down the depth chart and creates a likely committee situation. Bradshaw has a history of foot and ankle issues and has only played 16 games once in his career, so Ballard should still see some action and it would only take Bradshaw missing time for him to see more touches. There are definitely running backs with greater upside out there, but it would not surprise me if Ballard ends up in the workhorse role he was slated for originally and becomes a viable RB2 or RB3 in standard scoring leagues.

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1. Danny Woodhead, San Diego Chargers

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Moving out of the crowded backfield of the New England Patriots stands to be good for Woodhead, and with only the fragile and underachieving Ryan Mathews ahead of him on the depth chart in San Diego there could be immediate fantasy value here. I like him best in PPR and touchdown-heavy formats right now, but Woodhead is definitely draftable as a RB4 with upside in any fantasy format.