Fantasy football overvalued players: Running backs

by Bryce McRae and Cory J. Bonini on September 7, 2010 @ 16:53:00 PDT's analysis of fantasy football overvalued players for the 2010 season will be updated weekly throughout the offseason. We have separated our busts and overvalued players this year, so be sure not to confuse the two.

Busts are also overvalued players in some cases, but the latter usually has a hype machine inflating his perceived value. We have a keen eye for these players and have a strong track record of identifying them. No one likes doing the dirty work, so let do it for you! Be sure to check for weekly updates.

Note: All average draft position (ADP) figures are based on 12-team, non-PPR leagues unless specified otherwise.

Running backs

Chris Johnson | Tennessee Titans | ADP: 1st overall

New York Jets RB Shonn Greene
Not worth the Greene

There's no question why most owners are opting for Johnson with the No. 1 overall pick after his monster 2009 season. Therein lies the problem. CJ2K is coming off a 408-touch campaign and is poised for a letdown.

After missing much of the offseason because of a contract dispute, the star rusher is back with the Titans. All signs point to him having another fine season, but it isn't a slam dunk that he's the No. 1 pick.

History indicates Johnson will have a big letdown. The averages for the follow-up to a 2,000-yard season: 241 attempts for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns - hardly No. 1 overall stats. Only Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson (14-game schedule) finished the entire next season. Sanders' 1,491 yards is the most in a year immediately following a 2K season.

Of these players, on average, 23 percent of the next season was missed due to injury. Only nine players in league history have touched the ball at least 400 times in back-to-back seasons, with just Curtis Martin doing it three times in a row. Of the backs to accomplish this feat, most of them were built to take a beating (Edgerrin James, Martin, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Williams, Terrell Davis, James Wilder, Eric Dickerson).

Some will argue Johnson's running style protects him since he doesn't take a lot of big hits, but it's still wear and tear on the body - soft tissue injuries don't need a hit to happen.

Fantasy value: Johnson will create history if he rushes for 1,500 yards this year, which is about what most owners seem to expect with their No. 1 overall valuing of him. It's tough to pass on Johnson, simply because of what he did last year. There may be that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach after taking someone else, but it's the smart move if you buy into history.

Shonn Greene | New York Jets | ADP: 2nd round

New York essentially anointed Greene their No. 1 back this offseason when they released Thomas Jones. Then, they signed LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers). LT is only a shadow of his former self, but he could still be good for close to 200 touches, if not more. The Jets are treating them as Nos. 1a and 1b. Inconsistency could be in the cards for both in '10.

Greene finished with 540 yards and two TDs on 108 carries (5.0 yards per carry) in the regular season last year. In the '09 playoffs, he carried 54 times for 305 yards (5.6 YPC). He also scored twice. Pretty strong numbers, but we haven't seen him reproduce them over a long stretch. Not to mention he fumbled three times in his limited time in the regular season.

Fantasy value: A borderline first-round pick, Greene is going ahead of more established backs. He might outperform those backs, but he's too risky to take as a No. 1 - he has been drafted highest at sixth overall. At that price, you don't want to pay for a potentially inconsistent No. 1; you want someone safe.

Jamaal Charles | Kansas City Chiefs | ADP: 3rd round

Dallas Cowboys RB Felix Jones
Hampered by his competition

The third-year Chiefs back put together a nice season last year, starting 10 games on his way to an 1,120-yard, seven-touchdown season on the ground. Don't overlook his receiving talents (40-297-1). Charles averaged an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.

It's hard not to like Charles' upside. He rattled off four straight 100-yard games to close out the 2009 season, and the cherry on top was a 25-carry, 259-yard, two-TD performance against the Denver Broncos in Week 17. Always a big-play threat, Charles found paydirt from at least 44 yards out on four occasions. 

All good, huh? Hit the brakes. Thomas Jones wasn't signed to watch Charles run all day long. Our sources say the coaching staff was concerned with the big workload they gave Charles to conclude the season, which was the driving force behind signing Jones. The former Texas back was on fumes after last season ended. The Chiefs are installing a new offense for Charles to learn, and he has to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. In a worst-case scenario, Charles is a third-down specialist and a change-of-pace back.

Fantasy value: As long as Jones is running well, Charles' role will probably be limited. Charles is going with the 27th overall pick, on average. Even in point-per-reception leagues, he is no better than a weak No. 2 fantasy back, yet some owners are drafting him as their No. 1. Don't fall into this trap. Charles actually deserves a spot in our overvalued players list and our group of busts.

Felix Jones | Dallas Cowboys | ADP: 4th round

Dallas upped Jones' playing time last year, bumping the second-year back's carries from 30 to 116. Part of that was because he was healthy for most of the season. He ran for 685 yards. His yards-per-carry average wasn't as impressive as his rookie year (8.9), but it was still a solid 5.9. He also snagged 19 receptions and scored three touchdowns for the second straight year. In the playoffs, Jones recorded his first 100-yard game, too, with 148 rushing yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round.

There's talk he could start, but just how much room does he have to improve? Marion Barber III was still the main back in this offense despite battling injuries and poor play. Tashard Choice could be the most complete back they have. Dallas is sticking with both. Jones can make good on limited touches, but the carries split keeps his ceiling from being too high.

Injuries have also played a part in his short career. His rookie campaign ended with placement on Injured Reserve in November 2008 because of a torn ligament in his toe. He wore a brace last year after missing two games early because of a knee strain.

Fantasy value: Are owners paying for his late-season performance? His talent? Both? Apparently so. He's going at the beginning of the fourth round as a No. 2 back. He could pay off, but his talent hasn't translated to consistent on-field success. Injury issues have further clouded the picture. He's a high-upside No. 3 once you secure two less risky backs.

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Also See:
Sleepers: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Busts: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Undervalued players: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT
Overvalued players: QB | RB | WR | TE | PK | DT

About Bryce McRae

Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.

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