Undervalued running backs: fantasy football sleepers

by Cory J. Bonini on September 7, 2009 @ 22:55:44 PDT


KFFL.com's analysis of fantasy football sleepers and undervalued players for the 2009 season will be updated weekly this offseason. We have released the evaluations earlier than ever before!

Our friends at MockDraftCentral.com can be thanked for the average draft placement (ADP), and each of these figures will also be current to provide you the most accurate information available. According to Mock Draft Central, the following information is from performance leagues without point-per-reception scoring and has been updated weekly.

QB | WR | TE | PK | DT

LaDainian Tomlinson | San Diego Chargers | Average draft placement: 6.8 | Last week: 6.8

You may say we're crazy and that his ADP of 6.6 is fair, but Tomlinson has slid to us as late as No. 11 overall and a few times at No. 10 in an experts draft. In point-per-reception formats, LT is worth as high as the No. 3 overall pick, and we really would have a tough time arguing if you took him second. Every back has concerns, and a determined, healthy Tomlinson is begging to be bet against.

Fantasy value: We love Tomlinson as a sleeper stud back this year. He could wind up as the top performer in point-per-reception leagues.

Cedric Benson | Cincinnati Bengals | Average draft placement: 76.6 | Last week: 76.9

Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals
It's all about opportunity for Benson

Is this what the fantasy world has come down to? Benson is being undervalued this year, considering his average draft placement of the seventh round. You are assuming some risk: Benson hasn't been the model of health in his short career, and he has shown to be in need of an attitude adjustment at times. This version of Benson seems hungrier and more determined then ever before. While Benson isn't a sexy fantasy pick, he is still a capable producer when his mind is right. Quarterback Carson Palmer (elbow) is reportedly 100 percent, so defenders will be forced to respect his arm. Cincinnati's offense made Rudi Johnson a household name to fantasy footballers for several years with his unattractive, Benson-like running style.

Fantasy value: We like Benson as a quality No. 3 fantasy back this year. You are taking a chance, but we're confident the 26-year-old deserves an opportunity to regain the attention of fantasy owners. If you are hesitant of drafting Benson, it's hard to blame you, and we feel you should follow him up with a quality No. 4 back with upside. Benson's lack of big-play ability limits his upside significantly, but at the end of the year yardage is yardage and touchdowns are touchdowns, regardless of how unimpressively they may come about.

Ray Rice | Baltimore Ravens | Average draft placement: 52.4 | Last week: 55.5

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
This sleeper climbing draft boards

All things considered, Rice's rookie season was a nice start to a promising career. He didn't score a single touchdown on the year, so yardage and receptions were his only contributions to fantasy owners, which helps explain why Rice isn't being drafted earlier than he has been. Multipurpose back Le'Ron McClain has reported to organized team activities out of shape and will be moved back to his natural fullback position. Tailback Willis McGahee isn't a home run threat, has injury concerns and doesn't appear to be the future in Baltimore. Despite Rice's small stature (5-foot-8, 205 pounds), his compact build has helped prove him to be a tough runner.

Fantasy value: He's overtaking McGahee, but the vet could still mess up Rice's hold on the No. 1 job. Still, on a run-first team, Rice has a lot of things going in his favor. The offensive line is stronger than it has been in some time, and Rice has young, fresh legs. We like Rice as a midrange No. 3, and his value increases in point-per-reception formats. He's quickly climbing up draft boards, so you may have to reach a bit if you want him.

Michael Bush | Oakland Raiders | Average draft placement: 190.8 | Last week: 189.9

Bush appeared on the fantasy radar after missing all of 2007 with a leg injury that he suffered in college. The agile power back, 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, has soft hands and is a load to bring down. Bush has the open-field moves and quickness to elude defenders, too. He rushed 95 times for 421 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and scored three times in 2008. Bush chipped in 19 receptions for 162 yards without a touchdown. Running back Justin Fargas (hamstring) has been brittle for the majority of his NFL career (one full season in six years) and is already reportedly falling behind in the hierarchy; his recent hamstring strain is exacerbating this problem. The team stuck with Bush throughout the recovery period from his leg injury after investing little in him, and they want to see what he can do.

Fantasy value: Bush is a final-round flier pick (17th round, on average), but he can justifiably go earlier in drafts. We wouldn't go much earlier than the 13th in 12-team, 16-round formats, though. View Bush as a quality No. 5 back with No. 3 upside.

Glen Coffee | San Francisco 49ers | Average draft placement: 186.8 | Last week: 187.2

The Mike Singletary-led 49ers want to run the ball a lot in 2009. Starting running back Frank Gore has a history of injuries, and we doubt he can hold up for 300-plus carries (only once in his career - 312 in 2006). Coffee makes for a nice change-of-pace back to Gore, and we like his chances to see significant touches in 2009. At 6-foot, 209 pounds, the 22-year-old Coffee is versatile enough to contribute on the ground and even a little through the air. He has enjoyed a strong preseason, too.

Fantasy value: Coffee should be handcuffed to Gore for sure. We like him as a No. 5 back around the 12th or 13th rounds of your draft.

NEW - James Davis | Cleveland Browns | Average draft placement: 138.5 | Last week: N/A

Running back Jamal Lewis has looked every bit of his 30 years and 2,399 carries this preseason. With Lewis lagging, Davis, who fell in the draft after a disappointing senior season, should receive some more looks in Cleveland's backfield. Davis has carried the ball 24 times for 186 yards (7.8 yards per carry) this preseason, which includes an 81-yard run. Cleveland's offense might not be the strongest overall, but head coach Eric Mangini favors a run-first approach, so there should be plenty of work for Davis.

Fantasy value: If you own Lewis, Davis is a must-handcuff and worth reaching for. His draft placement is a little high, though, if you don't own the veteran back. The team kept Lewis during their recent roster cuts, so they might want to see what they have with him before giving a ton of looks to Davis. Still, Davis would be ideal as a strong No. 5 back if you can snag him as one.

NEW - Cadillac Williams | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Average draft placement: 199.3 | Last week: N/A

Williams (knee) is healthy after suffering a second major knee injury in as many seasons, and the Buccaneers are going to employ a three-back set. Cadillac could emerge as the top threat any given week, because the coaching staff plans to ride the hot hand.

Fantasy value: Draft Williams as a No. 5 fantasy back. He may be inconsistent and tough to play from week to week, but he should develop into no worse than a reasonable flex play.

QB | WR | TE | PK | DT

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About Cory J. Bonini

Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.

Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.

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