Fantasy Football Draft: Valuable Late-Round Running Backs

By Marcella Surra
Marcella Surra

RB Trent Richardson

In 2012, everyone had high expectations for Richardson’s rookie year in Cleveland – and he didn’t disappoint. With 950 rushing yards, 367 receiving yards, 11 rushing TDs, 1 passing TD, and 51 receptions, it looked as if Richardson was well on his way to stardom. The following season, in 2013, many drafted Richardson in the first round and were sure that his numbers would only improve. However, his numbers didn’t improve. In fact, they plummeted. What happened? The Indianapolis Colts happened. They acquired Richardson from Cleveland early in the season and when Richardson made the switch, he wasn’t able to quite master the new Colts’ offensive strategy and gameplay right away. As a result, he spent most of the season on the bench learning the new system.
This season, Richards is back at the top of the depth chart ready to prove that he still has what it takes to be a top-ten running back in the NFL. At 5’9”, 225 lbs., 23 years-old, and capable of a 4.49 40, Richardson shouldn’t have any problem doing so, especially since he is expected to carry the bulk of the workload. Because his numbers were so low last season as a result of the team change, Richardson, a former first-round draft-pick, isn’t getting drafted until the late rounds. In some mock drafts, he drafted as early as the fifth round, but I’ve seen him drafted as late as the ninth round. Considering his status at the top of the depth chart and his 2012 performance, nabbing him late in the draft is a great value, especially in leagues with flex spots on their roster.

RB Chris Johnson
Amazingly, Chris Johnson has managed to put up over 1,000 yards rushing since his 2008 rookie year. Although it is highly unlikely that the 28-year-old Johnson will ever put up the 2006 rushing yards and 14 TDs that he put up in 2009, Johnson has still managed to get the job done throughout his career. Of course, as expected, there has been a downward decline in his production; however, his remarkable ability to make it through 16 games for the last five seasons should not go unnoticed. He’s proven he’s reliable and consistent. Last season, he managed 1,077 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 345 receiving yards, 6 rushing TDs, and 4 receiving TDs. Additionally, although he put up a measly 3.9 YPC, he was targeted 52 times and caught 42 passes, resulting in an 80.8 catch rate. Even if he isn’t as fast as he used to be, he still has great hands. It’s no surprise that the New York Jets have put him at the top of their depth chart, ahead of RB Chris Ivory. With a full workload, and a team that has used a run-first offense heavily in the past, Chris Johnson is a steal in late rounds. Look to draft him in rounds 5-7.

RB Frank Gore
At 31 years-old and enter his 10th season, Frank Gore is what some refer to as “over-the-hill.” However, if you are willing to draft his hand-cuff, RB Carlos Hyde (drafted 2nd Round 2014 NFL draft), Frank Gore is still a great late-round value. Somehow, Frank Gore has found a way stay healthy for three straight seasons and he has also found a way to rush for over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons. Last season, Frank Gore rushed for 1,128 yards and 9 TDs. He is also known to be the sole workhorse, which is rare in a league with many running back committees. Season after season, he continues to prove to everyone that his NFL career is far from over. Although he is no longer a first-round or even second-round pick as a result of his age, he is a great pick up in the late rounds as long as you’re willing to also draft his back-up. Frank Gore will do his thing for as long as he can and if his knee finally gives out, you have a healthy 22 year-old, 2nd round draft pick, Carlos there to pick up the workload. Look to draft him in rounds 5-7.

RB Ray Rice
Plagued by off-field controversy resulting in a non-contested 2-game suspension and a miserable 2013 season, Ray Rice faces a pivotal point in his career. For now, the Raves have him at the top of the depth chart, so it looks as though they are willing to give Rice another chance to prove his worth. For four straight seasons, Rice was one of the league’s best dual-threat running backs with bursts of speed and tackle-breaking ability. In 2012, in 16 games, he put up 1,143 rushing yards and 9 TDs. However, as a result of hip and quad injuries, last season was less than stellar. In 2013, in 15 games, he only put up 660 rushing yards and 4 TDs – a big drop from his previous year. Although it looks as though Rice may be past his prime, he is still only 27 years-old. His best days may not be over. Ray Rice may be worth a pick-up in the late rounds as your RB3. Who knows? Maybe Rice will surprise everyone and put up the numbers that we are used to seeing. Last year could have been an anomaly as a result of health issues. If Rice is healthy, he’s definitely worth late-round draft pick, especially if he is at the top of the Ravens’ depth chart. Look to draft him in rounds 5-8.