CFB: RB Roundtable
A diverse look at NCAA fantasy backs
By: Braden Gall | 8/12/10, 11:01 AM EDT
Which running backs are overrated as a fantasy option this year?
Braden Gall: Trent Richardson, Alabama - Yes, he might be more talented than Ingram. Yes, he might go higher in the NFL Draft and have a better pro career. But what is his true value as a back-up this fall? Unless Ingram gets hurt, he is not an every week RB2 or RB3. And that is where he is getting drafted currently.
1st round Mid-Majors - SEE BELOW
Steven Lassan: Even though UTEP’s Donald Buckram and North Texas’ Lance Dunbar had great 2009 fantasy seasons, I wouldn’t take them ahead of any of the other names in our top 10, Oklahoma’s DeMarco Murray and Temple’s Bernard Pierce. Buckram should be a solid fantasy option, but will UTEP go back to leaning the pass with quarterback Trevor Vittatoe? Although North Texas is solid up front, there’s a new coordinator and a question mark at quarterback. I don’t necessarily believe they are ranked too high in the top 12, but I’d rather have a steady, proven option like Mark Ingram, Jordan Todman or John Clay.
Patrick Snow: One thing to stay away from in drafting a starter at running back is uncertainty. There is no doubt that Oklahoma State senior Kendall Hunter is a quality runner, but some uncertainties with the Cowboys offense have me hesitant on Hunter being a Top 20 running back. OSU lost four offensive line starters from last year, and new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen may get very pass-happy as he did at Houston. Additionally, Hunter is coming off an injury-riddled 2009 season.
Hunter has a ton of talent (over 1500 yards in 2008), but the questions around him will drop his draft position for me more in the #22-#26 RB range.
Which running backs are underrated as a fantasy option this year?
Braden Gall: Isaiah Pead, Cincinnati - The numbers have improved each season, and for where he is going in drafts, he is a great value pick.
Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky - Widely underrated by most rankings with the glaring exception of one three-letter broadcasting corporation.
Victor Anderson, Louisville - If he can stay healthy, a big if, then owners have already seen what he can do. Try 1,148 yards from scrimmage and nine scores in 2008.
Tre Newton, Texas - If the new under-center offensive approach truly is more dedicated to running the ball, it looks like Newton will be the top beneficiary.
Steven Lassan: The offseason buzz surrounding Oklahoma has indicated DeMarco Murray is in for a huge season. If those reports are true, Murray’s fantasy value lies closer to the top five. However, Murray also has to prove he can stay healthy, something he hasn’t done so far in his career. There’s a lot of risk to Murray, but one that could pay off for fantasy owners. Also, USC’s Allen Bradford, Fresno State’s Robbie Rouse, Illinois’ Mikel LeShoure, Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey and Marshall’s Martin Ward are backs I would move up our rankings.
Patrick Snow: Most people are understandably hesitant to draft a team’s “second” running back as a starter, but I think you have to make an exception with Alabama’s Trent Richardson. He scored eight touchdowns as a freshman in limited duty, and the results should be even better this year.
The Tide loves to pound the rock and has one of the best offensive lines in the country. While Heisman winner Mark Ingram will still get his touches, I believe Richardson will get 175-200 carries this season. With that many attempts, a total of 1000 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns seems very attainable. Those numbers should work very well for your team if you get him as a third or even fourth back.
Which running back will you avoid on draft day?
Braden Gall: Lance Dunbar, Donald Buckram and to a lesser extent Bernard Pierce. "Mid-Major" programs are much more volatile and subsequently much more difficult to predict in fantasy — all three were waiver wire adds last season for example. For my RB1 or RB2, I will take one of the big boys who play at power running schools like Wisconsin, Alabama, Oklahoma, Pitt, UConn or Cal. I love the mid-majors later in the draft. Bobby Rainey (WKU), Frank Goodin (ULM), Eddie Wide (Utah), Morgan Williams (TOL) and Robbie Rouse (Fresno) could all be this year's Dunbar, Buckram or Pierce. And you can get them much later.
Steven Lassan: Unless Alfred Morris is my third running back, I will avoid him on draft day. The defenses in the Sun Belt may be light, but the Owls have a mess along the offensive line. Five new starters are taking over and the potential starting left tackle (Troy Niblack) was lost in fall practice due to academics. With the line a big concern, I can’t see Morris equaling last year’s statline – 1,392 yards and 11 scores.
Also, I would hesitate to take running backs like Arizona’s Nic Grigsby, Kansas’ Toben Opurum, Georgia’s Washaun Ealey and Texas A&M’s Christine Michael. Although each have a lot of upside, I don’t think I would rely on them as my starting running backs, largely due to the uncertainty on how the carries will shake out at those schools.
Patrick Snow: I would look to avoid backs with low yards per carry (below 4.5) averages. In our Top 50, guys like Kansas’ Toben Opurum (4.2 ypc), Bowling Green’s Willie Geter (4.0 ypc), Syracuse’s Delone Carter (4.3 ypc) and Colorado’s Rodney Stewart (4.1 ypc) fall into this category. Obviously their numbers may go up with improved line and/or quarterback play, but I will be very hesitant on those types of runners.
Something to keep an eye on…
Braden Gall: Running backs by committee can still be incredibly successful on the college level — for all parties involved. Georgia, Clemson, Iowa, Alabama, Texas A&M, Arkansas and others could feature two players who should not only be drafted but maybe started each week. Look for those big power schools with patsy schedules early on. Those are prime targets for more than one player to post a usable fantasy score. Try Wisconsin's Montee Ball against UNLV, San Jose State, Arizona State and Austin Peay in the first four weeks.
Look for those elite young talents to step-in and contribute as well. Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina, Dillon Baxter of USC, Michael Dyer of Auburn, Jermie Calhoun of Oklahoma and Ronnie Wingo from Arkansas could post big numbers if given the opportunity to carry the load — at least in mop-up duty for Calhoun. For me, Calhoun and Baxter are must hand-cuffs to DeMarco Murray and Allen Bradford. If the versatile Wingo and Lattimore touch the ball 200+ times, they will be fantasy gold.
And if you are looking for a usable week one spot start? Draft Oregon's Kenjon Barner as your first back-up tailback and plug him in the line-up against New Mexico the first week. He should run wild before LaMichael James returns from his suspension. Even Lache Seastrunk could be worth a look on September 4th.
Steven Lassan: Even though there are a handful of committee situations, I still believe you win a league with the play of your running backs. The committee approach does create question marks, including how many carries will Darren Evans takeaway from Ryan Williams and how will the workload divide up between Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Even though Williams and Ingram may lose some time, it’s not enough for you to shy away from them on draft day.
The 2010 group of running backs may not have a ton of depth after the first 30 are off the board, but there’s certainly a lot to like at the top. Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers is our pick to be the top fantasy running back, but Vai Taua, Shane Vereen, John Clay, Donald Buckram, Bernard Pierce, Dion Lewis and Jordan Todman are solid RB1’s.
With uncertainty after the top 30 are off the board, expect the waiver wire to be filled with options after the first couple of weeks. Some of the committee situations expected to take place may get sorted out in the first three games and there are always a few names that come from the bottom of the rankings to have solid fantasy seasons. However, don’t rely on the waiver wire at running back to win your league – be sure to address this position early in your draft.
Patrick Snow: There are so many good position battles at running back, and one I’ll keep a close eye on is Stanford. The Cardinal return a veteran offensive line that paved the way for Toby Gerhart’s amazing 2009 performance. If one of the trio of Jeremy Stewart, Stepfan Taylor or Tyler Gaffney emerge as the primary ball carrier, he will be a fantasy steal.
I’ll also be watching to see if another breakout freshman like Dion Lewis takes the college gridiron by storm. It’s tough sledding in the SEC, but South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Auburn’s Michael Dyer bear watching.
Braden Gall: Not so deep: Mikel LeShoure (Illinois) and Moise Plancher (USF). Both will benefit from new offensive coordinators. To quote Athlon Sports preseason mag, Paul Petrino will "F.T.S." or Feed the Studs and LeShoure qualifies. Skip Holtz brings a run-first approach and an excellent offensive line to the table. Both should easily exceed draft status.
Very Deep: Rex Burkhead (Nebraska) and Mike Ford (LSU). Burkhead will be in a time share with an underrated fantasy pick in his own right, Roy Helu. Bo Pelini has stated that this offensive line is by far his best group since arriving in Lincoln and Burkhead showed loads of ability as a true freshman last season. Look for an increased workload this fall. Ford has to pass Steven Ridley on the depth chart but starred in the spring game and has more raw ability than any other running back on the roster. If the line can be more consistent, Ford could be a late round steal.
Steven Lassan: Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss – Even with the addition of Jeremiah Masoli, Bolden should be featured more prominently in the offensive gameplan this year.
Kendrick Hardy, Southern Miss – Damion Fletcher has finished his eligibility and the Golden Eagles need a go-to back. V.J. Floyd, Desmond Johnson and Tracy Lampley are also in the mix for carries, but Hardy has the most upside and is worth a look in the late rounds of drafts.
Tre’ Newton, Texas – With Colt McCoy tossing passes for the Cleveland Browns, look for Texas to focus more on establishing the rushing attack this year. Newton should see a significant increase in carries and yards.
Martin Ward, Marshall – Posted 268 yards in final three games of last season and should be the Thundering Herd’s workhorse in the backfield with Darius Marshall leaving early for the NFL.
Aaron Winchester, Western Michigan – Brandon West is gone and Winchester is the next in line for carries in Kalamazoo.
Patrick Snow: I’m not sure the term ‘sleeper’ exactly applies to Georgia’s Washaun Ealey or Texas A&M’s Christine Michael, but neither back is rated in the Top 25 RBs. I believe these talented sophomores will be the leading carriers in their respective tandems this season, and that they’ll put up big numbers in 2010. I also like the chances for Nebraska’s Roy Helu, Clemson’s Andre Ellington, Florida’s Jeff Demps and BYU’s JJ Di Luigi to outperform their rankings.
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