Running Back Steals

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By Nick Martinez

Whoever wrote the Commandment “Thou Shall Not Steal” must not have been part of a fantasy football league.

Steals in your draft could easily make your season. Finding those steals is the hard part. With running backs being so scarce this season, it’s important to hit on the ones you draft. In PPR, you can get away with starting the change of pace back because of the amount of catches they get. Some of these backs aren’t going until the 8th or 10th round, and who will be there to sweep them up for great value? That’s right, you.

When heading toward the back end of your draft, try to remember these names for great value late.

Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals) ADP 6.03 – One half of the Bengals’ running attack, Giovani Bernard will be in line for a huge boost in targets heading into the 2016 season. Last year, he finished fourth on the team in targets with 62, hauling in 49 of them for 472 yards. He also added 730 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground to put him at 16th in PPR scoring. Bernard can blow those numbers out of the water with the amount of targets newly made available.

Wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu both skipped town leaving 153 more targets to spread around the depleted Bengal receiving core. Despite losing two of their top three wide receivers, the team only added free agent and drop specialist Brandon LaFell, and drafted rookie Tyler Boyd in the second round. There will be plenty to go around for Bernard and already being one of Andy Dalton’s favorite targets, he will get plenty of looks.

Injury to break out tight end Tyler Eifer will also limit Andy Dalton’s options. Eifert had offseason ankle surgery that puts the early part of his season in question. The tight end got 72 targets last season, with many of them coming in the red zone. Early reports are that the Bengals will try to use a lot more two back sets until Eifert comes back from injury. More two back sets means more time for Bernard on the field which means more opportunities and happy Bernard owners.

His 49 catches put him in the top 10 for running backs last season even though he was splitting time with fellow running back Jeremey Hill. Bernard hasn’t had less than 40 catches or 59 targets in any of his first three NFL seasons. The track record for Bernard is there, the opportunity is there, so there is no reason that he couldn’t be an absolute steal in the sixth round.

Running Backs that I would pass on to wait for Bernard: Matt Jones, Jay Ajayi, Ryan Mathews, and Johnathan Stewart.

Theo Riddick (Detroit Lions) ADP 8.02 – Being drafted fairly close to his counterpart Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick finished second last year in running back receptions with 80. Those 80 catches resulted in 697 yards and three touchdowns as Riddick had a quietly successful year. His 99 targets was good enough for third on the team and more than other running backs Joique Bell and Abdullah combined.

Much like Bernard, Riddick will see a slew of targets left behind by future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson. In his final season, Johnson had 150 targets that will have to find a new home in Detroit. The Lions did add Marvin Jones to help out the receiving corps but he’ll be in the 60-80 target range as a WR2. Riddick could easily match his 80 target season, if not surpass it with the new amount of targets available.

On top of all this, the Lions flat out struggle to run the ball. Their 3.8 yards per carry last year? Worst in the league. Their 1,335 total rushing yards? Worst in the league. Their 83.4 rushing yards a game? Well, you get the point. The Lions will have to throw a bunch this season once again meaning Riddick will see more time than Abdullah. Riddick’s target stats have jumped quickly over the last two seasons and his 80 catches were no fluke. The only thing that separated him from the other backs was getting into the end zone. Although touchdowns are unpredictable, with red zone target Johnson gone, Riddick will have more chances to cross the goal line. He will give you great value in the eighth round as he could finish in the top 15.

Running backs I would pass on to wait for Riddick: Ameer Abdullah, Frank Gore, and Melvin Gordon.

Bilal Powell (New York Jets) ADP 10.12 – Can you guess who finished 4th in running back points from Weeks 10-16 last season? Well, I guess I already gave it away but Bilal Powell was only behind DeAngelo Williams, David Johnson, and Buck Allen who all had monster ends to their seasons. In that same time period, Powell averaged 5.3 receptions and 49.9 receiving yards per game giving him a very safe floor. The change of pace back could have been that one late waiver wire pick up to propel teams to the championship.

Powell will return to the same role he had last year as the Jets replaced Chris Ivory with Matt Forte. Forte may be a much better pass catcher than Ivory, but Forte, at 30 years old, has hit the age of death for running backs. Forte is coming off career lows in Chicago and also showed signs of his heavy workload taking a toll on him with injuries last season. With so much mileage on his legs, the Jets will not be able to rely on Forte like he was relied upon in Chicago. If the Jets hope to keep him healthy, they’ll have to give touches to Powell.

Powell won’t produce mind blowing numbers, but still enough to get great value in the 10th round. Wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker will still get the bulk of the targets but Powell will still be part of this offense. How productive he will actually be depends on the quarterback situation that the Jets have found themselves in. So as of right now, with talks stalled between the team and free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the team will be stuck with Geno Smith. Smith has struggled in his first two seasons in the NFL, throwing 35 career interceptions to 27 touchdowns. If Smith is in fact the quarterback, I’d be wary of the whole Jets offense, but if they resign Fitzpatrick, Powell is a guy I’m targeting late in my draft.

Running backs I would pass on to wait for Powell: T.J. Yeldon, Tevin Coleman, Isaiah Crowell, and Charcandrick West.