I covered most of the RBs who will be worthy of a spot in your starting lineup in Part 1, but every year there are a handful of running backs that come from the depths of the preseason rankings to be valuable fantasy assets. It was Zac Stacy, Andre Ellington and Joique Bell last season, the year before it was Alfred Morris and Shonn Greene finishing in the top 50 overall. It’s going to happen again in 2014 and if you can beat the rest of your league to this year’s surprise breakout RBs than your odds of a title improve.
If you are looking for common traits among the recent breakout backs, the most obvious one is late round rookies (Stacy, Ellington, Morris). With running backs being devalued by front offices, it is becoming more common to see a late round pick start off as depth or part of a committee, outplay the backs in front of him and become the primary ball carrier. The physicality of the RB position also increases the chances of incumbent RBs getting hurt and opening up playing time for a late round rookie. The other commonality is a backup with a few years in the league considered just a short-yardage specialist who shows he can do more than just move the pile (J. Bell, Blount, Greene). Granted those aren’t the only situations that could lead to a breakout, but I’ll keep a little closer eye on players in those situations.
Here is a tiered breakdown of the remaining RBs who can help your fantasy team. As in my other rankings I use Yahoo’s default scoring system with the addition of .5 PPR and Yahoo’s ADP values. All advanced statistics are provided by Pro Football Focus (PFF) and Football Outsiders (FO).
8th Tier: Rookies with Starting Talent
Of all the skill positions running back has the quickest learning curve for rookies. Last year there were 4 rookies in the top 50 overall and there will be a few rookies in there this year as well. Both Stacy and Ellington were 6th round picks who weren’t in the top 200 on anyone’s preseason rankings, so don’t sleep on rookies outside of the top 200. It’s more about opportunity and scheme than draft round. I’ve already pegged a few rookies for a breakout season (Sankey, Hill, Freeman) in part 1, but here are the next few I think have a good shot.
33.) Carlos Hyde, 49ers - He was a beast in college averaging over 7 yards a carry as a between the tackles RB. When the 49ers drafted Hyde in the 2nd round most people wrote him off until 2015 at the earliest. He was a perfect fit for the 49ers, but they had the ageless Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and his 4.7 career ypc, power back Anthony Dixon, scatback LaMicahel James, and rehabbing Marcus Lattimore who was a projected 1st round pick before his 2nd knee injury. Fast forward 3 months and Hunter is hurt, Dixon is a Bill, James is hurt and Lattimore had a setback that might keep him out another season. Which means all that is keeping Hyde from fantasy relevancy is 31-year old Frank Gore, who has defied conventional wisdom that RBs break down after they turn 29. Even if Gore stays healthy all season, the 49ers have rested Gore in the 2nd half of the last few seasons to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Hyde is going to get at least a couple starts this year, bank on it and spend a little more if that’s what it takes to get Hyde because he is going to be a fantasy asset when he eventually gets a chance to play.
34.) Terrance West, Browns - One of my favorite backs in this year’s draft, West is making a serious impression in Browns camp and is in the mix for the #1 RB job. Ultimately I think Tate will win it, but West should still see around 8-10 touches a game which is enough to earn a spot on your bench. If something were to happen to Tate, and it usually does, West could be a beast with 20+ carries a game. He has great power at 237 pounds and unusual quickness for his size. The Browns have a pretty good O-line and West could be special given a full-time role.
35.) James White, Pats - A very solid all-around RB at Wisconsin last year, White does two things well that are very important to HC Bill Belichick, he doesn’t fumble and he is an aggressive pass blocker. If he can do both for the Pats as well as he did for Wisconsin, then White will be the starting RB in New England by week 8. White is also a capable receiver out of the backfield, has good vision and a surprisingly effective stiff-arm. He is a well-rounded RB who can be a 3-down back in this league. Even if he doesn’t becoming the starter there should be enough touches for White this year to be worth a spot on your roster. He is a steal right now at his current ADP ($1, 15th round).
36.) Andre Williams, Giants - He actually fits both my late round rookie and underrated short-yardage back situations from the intro. Everyone got excited when Williams had an impressive first preseason game. Williams looked good and he may be the goal line back which will give him at least bench value in fantasy. My problem with Williams is that he can’t catch. Is HC Tom Coughlin going to use him between the 20s when everyone on the field knows he can’t catch. It takes an option off the field which makes things easier on the defense. Williams will be ranked higher on most lists but keep in mind that he had only 10 catches in 4 years at Boston College and multiple drops at the combine.