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Fantasy Football: Three underdrafted running backs to target


Avoiding over drafted running backs is only half the battle in your fantasy football drafts. The other half is getting running backs who will outclass their draft slot, and some of them have the potential to do it by a lot. Traditionally, the running back who blows up and substantially outperforms their slot is the back who enters a committee and snags the job (think Devonta Freeman last season). Running backs in my $0 auction article are not featured here, but also make decent options (Christine Michael and Tim Hightower).

Giovani Bernard (RB27, 75th overall)
Bernard managed to end the season last year as the #22 RB, a low-end RB2, but one that you could start in a bye week pinch. The problem with Bernard last season was both his usage and pure bad luck. He was extremely useful within the red zone (4.7 yards per carry) but became nigh on useless within the ten (2.2 yards per carry). He will also be the primary beneficiary of Tyler Eifert’s inevitable touchdown regression. He had 66 targets—and only three in the red zone. Granted, Jeremy Hill will remain the short-yardage and goal line back, but Bernard was #22 and he is in a better position this year. He can easily end up in the teens, and he is going in the seventh-to-eighth round.

Ameer Abdullah (RB32, 87th overall)
Abdullah has been injured for most of the preseason, so he has been mostly immune from the buzz. The good news is it was a shoulder injury that kept him out, so he shouldn’t be rusty running the rock. In his one game of the preseason, he averaged a clean four yards per carry on four carries, but had a very nice 15-yard touchdown run called back. For all the hullabaloo surrounding Theo Riddick last season (and Zach Zenner last preseason), Abdullah averaged a very respectable 4.2 yards per carry. His issue was his carries; Abdullah received fewer than 150 carries. That will undoubtedly increase this season. He is an incredibly talented back, who is more speed than power. He will greatly benefit from Detroit’s new no-huddle, speed-based attack. This means less opportunity to sub in Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner to steal touches from Abdullah. At the eighth round, you should be starting to bank on upside plays for your bench. You could do worse than the lead back in what should be a useful offense.

That will undoubtedly increase this season. He is an incredibly talented back, which is more speed than power. He will greatly benefit from Detroit’s new no-huddle, speed-based attack. This means less opportunity to sub in Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner to steal touches from Abdullah. At the eighth round, you should be starting to bank on upside plays for your bench. You could do worse than the lead back in what should be a useful offense.

Terrance West (RB63, 206th overall)
This is a total deep dive. Even if you’ve drafted in deep leagues, West is likely still on the wire. He is the perfect confluence of performance and opportunity entering the season, even though he is currently a backup. As the preseason has progressed, the crowded Ravens backfield has gotten very little clarity. Justin Forsett is the presumptive starter, but he got barely any carries, and was pretty ineffective with them. The preseason benefitted Terrance West in two ways. First, he ran well enough in the preseason, ending just north of 4 YPC. The numbers don’t tell the whole tale, as he was a completely different back than in Cleveland. He’s slimmed down and more effective for it. Second, Kenneth Dixon is injured and will miss a few weeks of the regular season. This benefits Dixon as he will be the primary backup to Forsett to start the season, and if he outperforms him, he could easily steal the starter role in Baltimore. This one is a Hail Mary, but there is a definite path to production there.

The numbers don’t tell the whole tale, as he was an entirely different back then in Cleveland. He’s slimmed down and more efficient for it. Second, Kenneth Dixon is injured and will miss a few weeks of the regular season. This benefits Dixon as he will be the primary backup to Forsett to start the season, and if he outperforms him, he could easily steal the starter role in Baltimore. This one is a Hail Mary, but there is a definite path to production there.

Predicting running back production is a tricky beast, as the NFL has primarily moved to passing and the role has become marginalized. Running back by committee is the norm, and pulling fantasy value out of this morass is difficult. As your league draft unfolds, don’t forget these players. They could be the difference between having productive running backs already sitting on your roster and having to scramble to find them on the waiver wire.


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]