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2011 Draft Prep: Running backs to target late

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Everyone knows that having good running backs is a key to success in Fantasy Football. Everyone also knows who Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster are and how good they can be for owners, and everyone knows about the good "value" picks at running back starting in Round 4.

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But it's the goal of every Fantasy owner to strike gold at running back with a pick in the middle rounds or later. Who among us wouldn't have jumped at the chance to snare Peyton Hillis or LeGarrette Blount last year if we knew in advance that they'd play such huge roles in Fantasy leagues?

Think about what it took for Hillis, Blount, Foster and every single other out-of-nowhere running back to become a productive Fantasy player. Someone in front of them on the depth chart either got hurt or didn't produce to expectations, and the coaches made a change.

Predicting injuries isn't exactly easy to do (well, unless we're talking about older running backs), but predicting poor performance is something we can do.

With a strict focus on finding running backs that can be found in the middle rounds or later, let's review some possible backups who might become starters before the end of 2011.

Starter Why he might struggle Primary backup
Joseph Addai Missed eight games last year, topped 70 rush yards seven times in last three seasons. Donald Brown
Cedric Benson Benson played first 16-game season ever in 2010, might see defenses hone in on him. Bernard Scott
Jahvid Best Injury prone; struggled with turf toe last year and concussion this year. Maurice Morris
Ryan Grant Coming off ankle injury, not having strong summer, could split reps to start year. James Starks
Peyton Hillis Hurt hamstring, back early on in camp. Running style leads to injuries (see Dec. 2010). Montario Hardesty
Darren McFadden Has history of foot/toe injuries, hurt his eye in camp. Might see defenses hone in on him. Michael Bush
Daniel Thomas Averaging 3.17 yards per carry in preseason, has struggled at goal line. Reggie Bush
Beanie Wells Has injury history. Has had one career 100-yard game and one career 20-carry game. LaRod Stephens-Howling
DeAngelo Williams Finished last two seasons on IR. Has eight TDs in last 19 games after totaling 20 in 2008. Jonathan Stewart

Of these running backs, Stewart and Michael Bush are the most likely to be picked before the late-round fliers begin to go. They carry good value as backups but can't be counted on weekly to put up good numbers. Think Round 9 or 10 on them. Reggie Bush and James Starks are pretty decent choices to go next, potentially in the same rounds as Stewart and Bush, with Hardesty the only other backup to find his way onto rosters in the vast majority of leagues.

If there's one guy to break the bank on, it's Starks. Sources in Packers camp say he's been very impressive and has shown flashes of being an improved runner and receiver this summer. Talk of Grant's decline hasn't come without a comparison to Starks, and it seems like the two are close to sharing touches this year. That would make Starks desirable as soon as Round 10 or 11.

The backup running backs listed above are being drafted based on their upside despite their respective roles. But what about running backs who simply have good value on Draft Day? In these instances, players who will play and have potential to put up some good stats in favorable matchups are available -- and we don't have to wait for someone else to get hurt or play bad to reap the rewards (though a jump to the starting lineup never hurts).

Tim Hightower, Redskins
Average Draft Position: 99.3 (Round 9)
It would be a shock if Hightower didn't start for the Redskins after his incredible preseason (170 rush yards on 25 carries with runs for 37 and 58 yards). His primary competition for the job is Ryan Torain, who has yet to take a preseason snap after a broken hand sidelined him. In reality, Hightower could produce like a Top-20 running back so long as he holds onto the football and nails his goal-line chances as he did most of the time in Arizona. He's an absolute steal in Round 9 and might play like a running back drafted in Round 5! Expect him to come off the board somewhere in-between.

Willis McGahee, Broncos
Draft Average: 114.3 (Round 10)
McGahee has three touchdowns in his first three preseason games in Denver, overshadowing his weak rushing average (2.82). Judging by how the Broncos have been using him, he might be this year's most prolific touchdown vulture, making him a decent one-week replacement option. And with Knowshon Moreno a year removed from missing a little time with a hamstring problem, there very well could be some weeks where the Broncos' run-heavy offense leans on McGahee. Not a lot of risk to take with an 10th-round pick.

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DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
Draft Average: 145.2 (Round 13)
Rare is the running back that plays sparingly, if at all, in the preseason but still finds a niche with the offense in the regular season. Murray could be that guy. Felix Jones is the no-doubt starter but Murray could reprise Marion Barber's old role as the physical rusher. Plus, Jones has had some injury issues over his short career. Despite missing the start of preseason with a hamstring strain, Murray should be a factor at some point this season.

Javon Ringer, Titans
Draft Average: 145.5 (Round 13)
Chris Johnson's holdout appears to be far from over, which breathes life into Ringer's Fantasy value. He's sidelined with a minor hip injury but is expected to be OK for the season, and he should be effective in place of Johnson. Where Ringer gets tripped up is in sharing carries; rookie Jamie Harper has carved out a role in the run game by virtue of his eye-opening preseason (touchdown in every game). He's more of a bullying inside runner and doesn't have very good speed, but he'll do enough to take some work off of Ringer. Both of these guys are early-season running back replacements, namely if you drafted Johnson.

Jason Snelling, Falcons
Draft Average: 153.8 (Round 13)
Everyone has fallen asleep on Snelling. Not only is he being missed in plenty of drafts, but the entire NFL passed on him this offseason, leading to his return to the Falcons in a backup role. All Snelling has done is total five touchdowns in each of the last two seasons with over 600 total yards last year and over 850 total in 2009. Michael Turner is always susceptible to injury, and while he's far from losing his job as the Falcons' top back, the coaches won't resist using Snelling if they think Turner needs some rest. He's worth stashing on benches.

Pierre Thomas, Saints
Draft Average: 110.0 (Round 10)
Mark Ingram has taken the Saints' ground game by storm, but he hasn't sent Thomas to the bench. Thomas is still in the mix for New Orleans and could provide some good yardage totals while splitting reps with Ingram. Where there's a divide is at the goal line, where Thomas could be used but Ingram will probably dominate. But for a guy who will still see around 10 touches a game and would be a huge asset if Ingram struggles or gets hurt, Round 10 is a fine time to add Thomas to Fantasy benches.

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Player News
Cardinals pushing for more consistency out of WR Michael Floyd
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:11 am ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians knows wide receiver Michael Floyd is capable of big things in his offense. He also feels Floyd was the victim of the quarterback injuries last year, reports Fox Sports 910.

"I think some frustration went into his play at times," Arians said. "But he still needs to hit a consistency level. He's a thousand-yard player every year. He should have had a thousand, easily, last year."

Floyd finished with 47 catches for 841 yards and six touchdowns in 2014. He is entering the final year of his contract in 2015.


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(12:03 am ET) Bears defensive end Jared Allen still thinks he can get the job done next season. Allen claims he was slowed last season while dealing with a nagging back issue, which was diagnosed as a herniated disc, reports the Chicago Tribune.

"I just don't know how to miss games," Allen says. "It killed me that I had to miss one."

Allen totaled 55 tackles with 5 1/2 sacks in 15 games last season.


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Bradford, who was aquired by the Eagles in a trade in March, missed the entire 2014 season with the Rams after tearing his left ACL during a preseason game.

Josh Heupel, a former college coach, talked with Bradford after the injury and persuaded him to stay in the NFL.

"When a player goes through a big letdown, it's natural to be down," said Heupel. "I just tried to reach out to him and say, 'Hey, I still see this in you as a person and a player. I think the best is yet to come for you. You've got to get yourself healthy and get yourself back on the field and get yourself in the right environment ...'"

Heupel, who coached Bradford during his 2008 Heisman Trophy-winning season, is currently the offensive coordinator at Utah State.


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(3/29/2015) The Seahawks re-signed defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs to a one-year contract on Sunday.

Dobbs' agent, Wesley Spencer confirmed the news on Twitter.

Dobbs joined the Seahawks in November after being waived by San Francisco. He had six tackles in four games with the Seahawks. 


C.J. Anderson enters offseason as Broncos top RB
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(3/29/2015) Broncos coach Gary Kubiak declared that C.J. Anderson was the team's starting running back entering OTAs. 

"He made a big jump as a player, and I think he's earned the right to walk in to the offseason program -- the OTAs -- and line up as our starter," Kubiak said, per DenverBroncos.com. "But he's got to continue to earn it on a daily basis. I think he's shown he has all the ability to be an excellent starter in this league, so we're really looking forward to working with him."

Anderson rushed for 849 yards and eight touchdowns last season, most coming late in the season, after Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman went down to injury. 

"All those guys are young. I think all three of those guys ... have all kind of had their little spurts of success with the club when they've had their opportunity," Kubiak said. "But they're all young. Who's going to be the bell cow, who's going to play every down, who's going to be the three-down player, they've got to sort that out. C.J. has shown the flashes of doing that."


Erin Henderson will meet with Jets
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(3/29/2015) Linebacker Erin Henderson has scheduled a meeting with the Jets. Henderson is looking to reenter the NFL after sitting out last season, following his release from the Vikings.

Henderson met with the 49ers GM and coach on Thursday and also had dinner with the team's linebacker coach, his agent told the Sacramento Bee


Jared Allen tells Bears 'I'm still good, really'
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/29/2015) Bears defensive end Jared Allen met with coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace at last week's NFL Owners' Meetings to tell them he's not on the decline. 

"I was less anxious and so much more eager to talk to them," Allen said, per NFL.com. "Just to say, 'Hey guys. I know the film from last year only shows 5.5 sacks. But don't believe that's all I have left. I'm good still. Really."

Allen also said he was willing to play a stand-up pass rushing spot instead of the hand-in-the-dirt stance he's used most of his career. "It requires you to refocus and rekindle your energy," he said. "You can't get stuck in your same old patterns."


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(3/29/2015) Saints cornerback Brian Dixon was arrested in Miami on Sunday morning. He's been charged with resisting an officer, per the Times-Picayune.

According to the New Orleans Advocate, Dixon was pulled over for riding a moped. He questioned the officer about why that wasn't permitted, which led to his arrest. 

Dixon was booked at 5:50 AM and was being held on $1,000 bond. The team is aware of the incident, and NFL security is investigating. 

Later in the morning, Dixon tweeted, "It hurts to know that I wasn't causing no trouble and was fully cooperating. :( "


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(3/28/2015) Linebacker Desmond Bishop will visit the 49ers on Monday, according to csnbayarea.com.

Bishop played in two games for the 49ers last season after beginning the year with the Cardinals. After losing both Patrick Willis and Chris Borland to retirement, the team is looking for linebackers.

Over his eight-year NFL career, the 30-year-old has 299 total tackles, nine sacks, nine passes defensed, one interception and eight forced fumbles.


Packers want to keep RB Eddie Lacy fresh this season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is working on ways to keep running back Eddie Lacy fresh this season, reports the Journal Sentinel.

McCarthy had talks with Lacy at the end of the last two seasons talking about his number of snaps and what he expected of the running back.

"I really felt that last year's conversation was more important than this year's, the ability to make a huge jump from Year One to Two, being a three-down player, that was something we stressed from Day One, and I thought he delivered," McCarthy said at the NFL owners meetings this week.

The head coach liked the way that the team used Lacy last season, limiting his snaps early in the year before increasing them as the season wore on.

"Maybe not run attempts," McCarthy said of hitting the target he set. "But I thought we were really smart the way we used him....I thought his pass protection he made a huge jump, and his ability to play out of the backfield.

"Eddie has excellent hands, and just his understand and his feel with Aaron, he definitely made a step."

In his first two seasons in the NFL, the 24-year-old has 2,317 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. He has also added 77 receptions for 684 yards and four touchdown catches. 


 
 
 
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