This post was assembled by Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com, and edited/formatted by GMEN HQ. You can follow Justin on Twitter @NFLRankings or the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more NFL Fantasy Football Projections and Rankings, visit Fantasy Football Overdose.
Fantasy football is all about value. When you can get great value at one of the game’s thinnest positions — running back — it’s even more integral to success.
There’s an interesting transition heading into the 2014 fantasy football season, as several running backs hold marginal to moderate value, but we can’t know their exact standing until things play out. There are also “prove it” backs who played well a year ago or have a supposedly clear role, but aren’t easy to trust.
This is where the “value” hopefully comes in. Whether it’s the end of the first round or all the way at the end of your draft, value can be found across the board, even at running back. Let’s take a look at the five best value picks when considering ADP (Average Draft Position) in standard 12-team leagues:
Doug Martin (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) ADP: Round 2, Pick 11
Is there any other back with more pure talent that is being downgraded so heavily? Yes, the Bucs are ranting and raving about rolling with more of a running back by committee approach, but considering Martin’s immense talent, can they really keep him off the field that much?
It’s doubtful. Lovie Smith had a pretty talented back in his days with the Bears (Matt Forte), and he found ways to get him plenty of touches. Martin still has an enticing role and he’s too talented to slip anywhere close to the third round. He’s still a candidate for the first round and offers insane upside considering where he’s being taken in drafts on average.
Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens) ADP: Round 5, Pick 12
Ray Rice was banged up and played slow in 2013 and then he beat up his fiancé during the offseason. Needless to say, the little man’s stock is down in 2014. But can you possibly pass on him with an ADP of round five that’s often leaking into round six?
The suspension is the main deterrent at this point – he could receive a ban between 4 and 6 games — but the Ravens seem committed to Rice once he returns, which should mean his starting gig and some quality fantasy value. If Rice is in fact leaner and quicker than he was a year ago, the suspension should actually bring him back fresher than ever. There’s obvious risk here on multiple fronts, but at this ADP it’s worth it.
Stevan Ridley (New England Patriots) ADP: Round 6, Pick 6
These days, LeGarrette Blount is in Pittsburgh and Shane Vereen is never healthy; all that stands in Ridley’s way in his bid to bounce back as a stud fantasy back in 2014 is himself. Ball security has been the main issue keeping him in Bill Belichick’s dog house, but as long as he can take care of the rock, he should kickoff 2014 as the lead back and main red-zone option.
His value hinges on the Pats trusting in him again, but he produced in 2013 when he was given touches. In round six, it’s a small gamble when you think about the upside here (see: 2012).
Darren McFadden (Oakland Raiders) ADP: Round 8, Pick 11
Yes, Run DMC has been beyond a disappointment. There is no way of sugar coating his bust label over the past three years. The guy simply cannot stay healthy… but round eight and almost round nine? You have to pull the trigger on McFadden at that point.
He does have major competition in the form of Maurice Jones-Drew and Latavius Murray, but he’s available after MJD and is expected to remain the starter in week one. Unlike MJD, McFadden doesn’t appear washed up. He just struggles to stay healthy. Playing in another contract year, Run DMC will have incentive to stay on the field, both to stay ahead of MJD in 2014 and earn a bigger paycheck in 2015.
It’s pretty likely you’ll only get about 10 games out of him, but in round eight you’re getting some serious upside and at the worst a stellar Flex play to toss into the mix when the matchups look good. Considering he’s being sandwiched between subpar options like Bernard Pierce and Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill, the value is pretty awesome.
Tre Mason (St. Louis Rams) ADP: Round 11, Pick 3
Mason is one Zac Stacy injury away from being a potential top-15 fantasy running back.
Tre averaged 5.8 yards per carry on his way to almost 3,000 yards during his phenomenal rushing career at Auburn, here are his career numbers. Can he translate his monstrous collegiate “spread offense” rushing skills to the ways of the NFL?
If you ask Mason, he might already be in the mix for early down work, and he’s almost certain to beat out Isaiah Pead and Benny Cunningham for a third down role. One way or another, he’s going to be on the field as a rookie. It’s possible that even without an injury to Stacy that Mason could worm his way into the lead role. In round 11, you won’t find many better stashes than Tre Mason.