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Staff Sleepers, Under and Over Valued Players - Running Backs
Updated: August 22, 2008
Quarterbacks  |  Running Backs  |  Wide Receivers  |  Tight Ends
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This year eight staff writers have all been polled who their sleepers, undervalued and overvalued players are. To make this within context of your draft, we have shown the selections against the average draft rankings and are highlighting when at least three writers have a consensus on a player. We hope you like our new format.

Sleepers (Players drafted as a backup that have the potential to perform like a starter)

(4 stars)

Thomas Jones, New York Jets - This group is ready to capitalize on those who devalue Jones in part because of his meager two-touchdown output last season. There’s also the three straight 1,000-yard seasons that provide value, as well as a belief that Brett Favre at quarterback will actually make defenses stop loading up against the run. The addition of guard Alan Faneca and tackle Damien Woody to a line that already includes developing young studs D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold doesn’t hurt, either. The lack of a double-digit touchdown campaign on his resume keeps his ADP out of starter territory, but his talent suggests he can be a fantasy helper.

Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans - There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the Titans again failed to use the draft to provide a wide receiver for Vince Young. Instead, in Johnson they landed lightning to go with LenDale White’s thunder—which, in the run-friendly Jeff Fisher offense, may prove to be even better. Once news filtered out of Tennessee that OC Mike Heimerdinger was inventing ways to get the ball into Johnson’s hands, Johnson started creeping into the collective fantasy conscience. With well over 400 carries to go around and LenDale more effective when his share of the workload doesn’t exceed his share of the locker room buffet, there’s room for Johnson to add some excitement to the mix. Or haven’t you seen his YouTube videos?

Ricky Williams, Miami Dolphins - Miami’s offense needs to revolve around the running game to protect its young quarterbacks, and an offensive line that’s better than you might think will help Dolphin backs put up serviceable (or better) numbers. We’re seeing concerns about Ronnie Brown’s ability to bounce back from his knee injury manifest themselves in upgraded fantasy expectations for Williams. Many know Ricky as the dreadlocked pothead who walked away from the game, but there’s also a faction who sees Ricky’s 2002 stats (1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns); even a share of those digits—like his 743 and six in 168 carries in 2005—can help a fantasy lineup. And if those stats come from the 45th back off the draft board, even better.

(3 stars)

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers - Mendenhall sliding all the way to the Steelers in April was one of the first round’s biggest surprises. After all, finding a back to occasionally spell Willie Parker is one thing, but adding a talented runner who might be extremely difficult to remove once he takes the field in the expected job share… well, that’s quite another. At minimum, those on board the Mendenhall bandwagon see him as a replacement for Najeh Davenport, who produced seven touchdowns on just 125 touches last year. Rashard’s upside—also Fast Willie’s downside—is a more prominent role in the Pittsburgh backfield, and more specifically one that starts turning last season’s 34:9 passing-to-rushing touchdown ratio into something a little more Steeler-like.

Leon Washington, New York Jets - Those who don’t trust Thomas Jones—but still believe all the logic Jones apologists rely on holds true—are firmly in the Washington camp. His prowess as a return man and pass catcher is documented, and his 222 career carries have produced 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. That, along with three kickoff return touchdowns last year, suggest Leon can be extremely dangerous in the open field. If Jones falters it’s likely to be Washington picking up the slack; it’s also entirely possible he’ll do enough with a dozen or so touches per game to warrant spots starts even if Jones stays healthy.

(2 stars)

Matt Forte, Rudi Johnson, Fred Taylor, Steve Slaton, Ahmad Bradshaw

Undervalued (Players drafted as a starter but a great value where available)

(5 stars)

Jamal Lewis, Cleveland Browns - If a tree falls in the woods it still makes a sound, and if a running back puts up 1,552 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns in Cleveland it still counts the same on your fantasy scoresheet. The emergence of the Browns’ passing game has shoved Lewis to the backburner, to the point where his bounceback campaign doesn’t earn him consideration as a fantasy RB1. Behind a solid offensive line, protected by a burgeoning aerial attack, Lewis is positioned as one of the true value picks of the early rounds.

(4 stars)

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers - Stewart has even less NFL experience than the man he’ll supposedly unseat, DeAngelo Williams, but he’s the far sexier fantasy pick—and half this group still thinks he’s undervalued. To summarize key points of the debate that’s raged across fantasy football: Stewart is a big back in the Stephen Davis mode, and John Fox rode Davis not only into the ground but dug a trench so he could continue to ride him even further. The offensive line is being reconstructed to be a power running unit, much better suited to Stewart’s style than Williams’. And if DeAngelo were truly the answer to Carolina’s feature back question, why the first round pick on Stew? It’s a debate that can only be decided by hindsight at the end of the 2008 season, but this collective weighs in behind the rook.

(2 stars)

Brandon Jacobs, Willie Parker, Earnest Graham, Edgerrin James

Overvalued (Players that are poor values where being drafted, if not outright busts)

(5 stars)

Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins - The rule of thumb is two years from ACL injury to a return to productivity; Brown isn’t even 10 months removed from surgery on his right knee. While there have certainly been advancements in modern medicine, banking on Brown as a quality fantasy RB2 seems misguided at best and downright foolhardy at worst. There’s no question Brown is talented, and he was wildly productive over the first half of last season. But at least half this group believes he’s going off the board well before their safety zone for taking a back with as many DNPs (13) as career rushing touchdowns and only one leg that hasn’t been surgically repaired in the past year.

(4 stars)

Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers - Gore comes off a season that was marred by a high ankle sprain and he did well enough to gain 1102 yards on 260 carries in 2007. He is healthy again but the concern is that he has to fit into a Mike Martz offense which is predicated on the pass. Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz says that Gore will be used the same as Marshall Faulk had been but there is a problem there - there are no players on the roster that replicate Marc Bulger or Torry Holt and the passing game in San Francisco has yet to prove that there is any reason for defenses not to load up against Gore.

(3 stars)

Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers - The closer we get to the start of the season, the more wayward football fans come back to the flock. That may be the only explanation for Parker’s average draft position, which appears based on his 2007 stat line rather than the fact that the Steelers drafted another running back and lost their best offensive linemen to free agency. Maybe the wayward will do some reading and catch up; more likely is that they’ll take Parker off the board too early and spend the season looking up at you in the standings.

(2 stars)

Steven Jackson, Clinton Portis, Maurice Jones-Drew, Reggie Bush, Laurence Maroney, Thomas Jones, Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall

Under Valued
or Sleeper
Over Valued ADP Rankings
as of 8/1
DMD 2V SB PS MC DT TVP KR
  1 Peterson,Adrian             O  
    2 Tomlinson,Ladainian                
  3 Jackson,Steven       O O      
    4 Westbrook,Brian                
    5 Addai,Joseph                
  6 Gore,Frank   O   O O   O  
  7 Barber,Marion O              
  8 Lynch,Marshawn             U  
  9 Portis,Clinton     O     O    
10 Johnson,Larry       U U     O
  11 Jones-Drew,Maurice       O O      
12 Bush,Reggie O O       U    
  13 Grant,Ryan               U
    14 McGahee,Willis                
  15 Brown,Ronnie O O O O O      
  16 Lewis,Jamal U U   U U   U  
  17 Maroney,Laurence O             O
    18 McFadden,Darren                
19 Turner,Michael     U         O
20 Jacobs,Brandon U U       O    
21 Parker,Willie O O       U U O
  22 Graham,Earnest               U
  23 Stewart,Jonathan U     U U     U
  24 James,Edgerrin   U       U    
    25 White,LenDale                
26 Jones,Thomas S S   O O S S  
  27 Jones,Julius     S          
28 Forte,Matt             S O
29 Mendenhall,Rashard   O   S S   O S
  30 Johnson,Rudi     S       S  
    31 Smith,Kevin                
    32 Young,Selvin                
  33 Williams,DeAngelo     S          
  34 Taylor,Fred       S S      
  35 Jones,Felix   S            
    36 Taylor,Chester                
  37 Johnson,Chris S S       S   S
  38 Bradshaw,Ahmad   S       S    
    39 Fargas,Justin                
40 Norwood,Jerious           O   S
  41 Rice,Ray S              
  42 McAllister,Deuce           S    
    43 Torain,Ryan                
    44 Green,Ahman                
    45 Henry,Travis                
46 Thomas,Pierre   S       O    
    47 Charles,Jamaal                
    48 Brown,Chris                
    49 Benson,Cedric                
  50 Washington,Leon       S S     S
  51 Williams,Ricky S   S S S      
  52 Jones,Kevin     S          
    53 Watson,Kenny                
  54 Bell,Tatum           O    
  55 Slaton,Steve           S S  
    56 Williams,Carnell                
  57 Betts,Ladell     S          
    58 Morris,Sammy                
  59 Jackson,Brandon             S  
    60 Peterson,Adrian                
  61 Dunn,Warrick S              
    62 Bush,Michael                
    63 Alexander,Shaun                
    64 Booker,Lorenzo                
    65 Ward,Derrick                
    66 Jackson,Fred                
    67 Foster,De'shaun                
    68 Rhodes,Dominic                
    69 Sproles,Darren                
  70 Hester,Jacob       S        
DMD: David Dorey
2V: John Tuvey
SB: Scott Boyter
PS: Paul Sandy
MC: Michael Courter
DT: Darin Tietgen
TVP: Tim Van Prooyen
KR: Kevin Ratterree
O: Over Valued
U: Under Valued
S: Sleeper

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