by Will Overton
Running Back is a position in flux in the NFL. And with it there are fewer running backs of great value and more running backs with some value. It’s the curse of the running back by committee approach that has swept the NFL where backs don’t do everything and specialists are all the rage now.
It has changed the way the NFL teams draft as well. In this year’s draft there were two backs drafted who will immediately step in and have a really good chance to make an impact, Trent Richardson and Doug Martin, and I have already covered both of them.
But just because no one else stands out as having a chance at making an impact doesn’t mean no one else will. Last year DeMarco Murray and Roy Helu emerged to prove fantasy value in a handful of weeks and someone else will step up and do it this year. You may not find many full time every week backs in this bunch, but deep league players will find a gem or two outside the top two.
Here are five rookie running backs flying under the radar who deep league owners need to consider in the later rounds:
LaMichael James – San Francisco 49ers: I don’t think the 49ers were so eager to use a second round pick on James just to let him sit the bench behind Frank Gore. The 49ers best offensive weapon is still Gore and so James won’t be taking too many carries away from him, but the 49ers need someone else and James is unlike any player in that offense. James is capable of running a sub 4.4 40 and makes defenders miss in ways no one else on that team does. James will likely play a Darren Sproles type of role for the 49ers initially, which we know can have value, and long term he could be the heir apparent to Gore.
David Wilson – New York Giants: At this point in time it seems clear that Tom Coughlin either doesn’t like using a featured back or he doesn’t think Ahmad Bradshaw is a featured back capable of taking on a full load. David Wilson is the lead candidate to backup Bradshaw this season and in that role he should see plenty of carries, especially considering Bradshaw has a history of injuries. Wilson is a bit too much like Bradshaw for my liking as far as a skill set, and he struggles as a pass catcher. These things may limit value, but like I said, Wilson is still the primary backup and even if he’s not a great complement to Bradshaw, he’s a good player carried the ball 290 times for 1,709 yards last season at Va Tech. Wilson will likely be taken in standard leagues as well as deep ones.
Ronnie Hillman – Denver Broncos: In two seasons at San Diego State Hillman ran the ball 573 times for 3,243 yards and 36 TD’s. I know what conference he plays in, but those are impressive numbers for a guy his size. Hillman has been labeled as a third down back and that will be his primary role at just 5’10 and 190 pounds. Hillman is third on the depth chart, but he’ll see the field enough to try and earn his way up the ladder. Willis McGehee was great last year, but he is 30 and he did struggle to put up much stat wise in his previous three seasons. John Fox likes to split carries as we know from his time in Carolina and I like Hillman’s upside over Lance Ball’s, so my gamble is on Hillman.
Isaiah Pead – St. Louis Rams: Pead finds himself in the same situation as LaMichael James. He’s got a lot of upside and he’s backing up a proven back, but unfortunately for Pead the guy he’s backing up has proven to be much more durable over the years. What Pead does provide is something the Rams haven’t had in a very long time, a capable pass catching running back. Pead may be the best pass catching back coming out of this draft due to the type of offense he played in during college. That type of offense may also limit his upside initially though to just a third down back and nothing more. The Rams are in need of weapons, especially ones who can catch the ball, so Pead will have value, especially in PPR leagues, but his real value is more long term.
Lamar Miller – Miami Dolphins: This is more of a long shot for immediate value than the rest of the guys on this list, but I am a fan of Miller’s upside, both in the short term and long term. Miller will start on special teams and may get a chance to return kicks, but that’s not where his value is limited too. Reggie Bush is the primary back in Miami and he has earned the right to be that, but Miller is a playmaker as well and the Dolphins need playmakers on the field. I’m not convinced Daniel Thomas is a long term answer in Miami, and he didn’t show anything last year to make me feel differently. It may take some time for Miller to earn his chance, but I think the day will come, it’s worth a gamble in deep leagues that it happens sooner than later.
Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: