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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
Ravens' Victor Hampton arrested for DWI
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4:57 pm ET) Ravens defensive back Victor Hampton was arrested for DWI, in Charlotte, Saturday night, according to WSOC TV

Hampton was pulled over after going 100 mph in a 55-mph zone. He faces DWI, speeding, reckless driving and open container charges. Passengers in the car were arrested on marijuana and concealed weapons charges. 

Hampton was on the Bengals offseason roster and Giants practice squad last year. He signed with the Ravens in January. 


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Woodley is entering the second year of a two-year contract. He's scheduled to make $3.85 million with a salary cap hit of $5.1875 million.  


Chiefs' De'Anthony Thomas working on being a receiver this offseason
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) De'Anthony Thomas was drafted out of Oregon by the Chiefs as a running back. Though he worked in a hybrid role as a rookie, he was listed by Kansas City as a running back. 

That could change in 2015.

According to the Kansas City Star, Thomas said he's worked this offseason on becoming more of a complete receiver.

“Yes, I have the ability to run the whole [route] tree,” Thomas said. “That’s what I’ve been working on this offseason. I’m running all those routes in the sand [during beach workouts]. And once the time comes to come on the grass, I feel like it’s going to be a lot easier because I’ve prepared myself.”

Thomas ran for 113 yards and totaled 156 receiving yards in a reserve role. He made a big impact in the return game, combinging for 833 punt and kickoff return yards with a touchdown. 
With Thomas transitioning into being more of a receiver first, he's modeling him game after Steelers wideout Antonio Brown. Both are shorter targets, making the comparison fitting for Thomas. Thomas is listed at 5-feet-8, 176 pounds and Brown is 5-feet-10, 186 pounds. 
Brown had a career season in 2014, totaling 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

“I’m very impressed with Antonio Brown,” Thomas said. “He’s a great player, and I feel like I have the same ability to make the same plays like him and help the team and be that [kind of impact] player.”



 


Report: Dolphins eyeing CBs Brandon Flowers, Kareem Jackson
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(2:39 pm ET) Looking to upgrade at cornerback, the Dolphins are interested in bringing on Brandon Flowers or Kareem Jackson during free agency, according to a report from the Miami Herald

The Dolphins don't appear sold on cornerback Cortland Finnegan for future seasons with the organization discussing alternative options. 

In 2014, Flowers totaled 52 tackles and three interceptions after signing a one-year deal with the Chargers. Jackson recorded 57 tackles and three interceptions in his fifth season for the Texans. 


Report: Vincent Jackson to return to Buccaneers at full salary
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(2:23 pm ET) WR Vincent Jackson will return to the Buccaneers next season, at full salary, according to a report by Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times

Jackson had been considered a target for a lower salary, to help improve the Bucs' salary cap situation. He'd previously said that he wanted to stay with the team but didn't want a pay cut. 

Jackson will be paid $9.777 million in 2015, with a cap hit of $12 million. 


Report: Todd Herremans has no plans to retire
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(2:23 pm ET) Former Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans is looking to continue his NFL career in 2015, according to a report from Pro Football Talk

Herremans was cut by the Eagles on Friday. The Eagles are set to save $2.8 million against the salary cap. 

Herremans was a fourth-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft and spent his entire career up to this point with Philadelphia. 


Stephen Tulloch unsure of future with Lions
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(1:00 pm ET) Lions LB Stephen Tulloch isn't sure whether he'll be back with the team next season. 

Tulloch is scheduled to make $4.8 million in 2015, and the Lions could save $3.2 million against the cap by releasing him. 

So far, this offsesason, the team has not communicated its plans to Tulloch. ""I haven't heard anything about what's going on, my agent hasn't heard anything," Tulloch told Sirius XM radio. "We're just preparing to report, April 20th, accordingly to the mail we've received for the offseason program. It's out of my control.

Tulloch has recovered from the ACL tear that ended his season three weeks in. "I'm way ahead of schedule and I feel great," Tulloch said. "I was telling a friend of mine yesterday, it's crazy how you feel stronger than you did previously, before the surgery." 


Jonas Gray hopes to return to Patriots' plans
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(12:44 pm ET) Jonas Gray burst on the scene for the Patriots last season, rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns in a Sunday night game. Just as quickly, he was gone. 

Gray overslept and was late for practice, and coach Bill Belichick didn't give him another chance to showcase his skills. Gray was inactive for the Super Bowl. 

Gray learned his lesson. "The tough part for me was to watch it, and not participate in a matter I thought I should," he told Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. "But it's motivation going into the offseason. I just know I need to work harder, so I'll never get myself in that position again." 

Still on the Patriots, Gray believes he'll get a clean slate next season, and he's spending the offseason preparing himself for the opportunity. 

I tell them, I'm going to have a Jerry Rice/Walter Payton mentality where whatever you do isn't enough," Gray said. "I'm going to have a work ethic where I know, in my heart of hearts, I'm going to outwork everybody. That's what I hope to achieve


Ravens' Justin Forsett wants to build on 2014
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(12:27 pm ET) Ravens RB Justin Forsett rushed for 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns, nearly matching his career totals for his six previous seasons in the NFL. 

Forsett is scheduled to be a free agent on March 10, but he hopes to remain with the Ravens, saying he's "praying that everything works out." 

“I want to build upon it,” Forsett told the Baltimore Sun. “I want to be great. I didn’t come in this league to be a one-year wonder."


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by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from ACL surgery, reports FOXSports.com.

Tulloch said he was way ahead of schedule and feeling stronger since undergoing the surgery. Tulloch tore his ACL during a post-play celebration in September.


 
 
 
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