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Fantasy Running Back Sleepers

By JAMES HOLLINGSWORTH, SportsRadio 610
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(credit: Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

(credit: Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

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It’s easy to predict that running backs like Arian Foster and Ray Rice will continue to have successful seasons. But with the league’s best running backs often taken in the first rounds of fantasy drafts, there is plenty of talent that will fall to later rounds. Here are a few running backs that would be good backup running back options and add depth to your fantasy team.

1. Doug Martin

As a rookie out of Boise State, Doug Martin has already drawn comparisons to Ray Rice. The Buccanneer’s new head coach Greg Schiano was Rice’s coach at Rutgers, and drafted Martin late in the first round to help revive the league’s 30th ranked rushing offense. As a new head coach, Schiano has no reason to feel loyal to any incumbent starters, and has also expressed concern over LeGarrette Blount’s fumbling issues last season. Blount has always been a one-dimensional workhorse running back, and Martin’s ability to pick up opposing blitzes and contribute as a receiving option should help Josh Freeman recover from his disappointing season last year. Blount’s size gives him an advantage in short yardage and goal line situations, but Martin’s versatility still gives him a chance to earn a substantial amount of carries this season.

2. Ben Tate

In the three games that Arian Foster missed last season due to injury Ben Tate had 59 carries for 295 yards and 2 touchdowns with an average of 98.3 yards per game and 5 yards per carry. At the time, Tate was third in the league in overall yards rushing, and while splitting carries as Foster’s backup throughout the season he averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 175 attempts for 942 yards. The Texans are excited about Tate’s potential and reportedly declined trade offers to keep him as Foster’s backup. Gary Kubiak has a history of producing top NFL running backs, and with last season’s success Tate should receive more touches. The only real criticism against Tate is that his receiving numbers aren’t very good, but the combination of Tate and Foster should wear down opposing defenses. Tate’s yards per carry are likely to decline with more rushing attempts, but Tate is still one of the most valuable running backs in the league, especially if you already have Foster.

3. Trent Richardson

With Peyton Hillis gone after last season’s disappointment, the starting job at running back has been given to Trent Richardson. A standout at Alabama last season with 1,987 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns Richardson should dominate the number of attempts in the Browns’ backfield this season. The Browns’ offense struggled last season, but both the additions of rookie Brandon Weeden at quarterback and Brad Childress as offensive coordinator give Richardson plenty of opportunities to contribute. Although rookie running backs have not been particularly productive in recent years (i.e. Mark Ingram, Darren McFadden, and LeSean McCoy), the Browns will have to hand the ball off to somebody, and Richardson is definitely worthy of a backup fantasy pick.

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4. James Starks

Although the Packers marched to a 15-1 record behind Aaron Rodgers and the league’s third ranked passing offense in 2011, James Starks should still have a significant role in the Packers’ offense this season. Starks posted modest numbers last season with 133 attempts for 578 yards and one touchdown, but that was while he was splitting carries with veteran Ryan Grant. The Packers have since released Grant, and have shown that they are committed to making Starks their starter. Starks will never produce elite numbers as a running back, but as a part of Green Bay’s offense he doesn’t need to. What’s important is that the Packers’ offense is going to have a lot of scoring opportunities, and if Starks can stay on the field he will benefit from the Packers’ offensive success and catch defenses off guard. With the starting job all to himself Starks should prove to be a valuable fantasy backup this season.

5. Toby Gerhart

Adrian Peterson is obviously the starter for the Vikings, but with serious knee injuries last season and his recent run-in with the Houston police, Peterson may miss a few games at the beginning of this season. In the four games that Peterson was out, Gerhart had 72 carries for 225 yards and a touchdown with an average of four yards per carry. In his best game, Gerhart split carries with Peterson with 11 carries for 109 yards. With Peterson’s perpetual dominance Gerhart has yet to prove his worth in the NFL, but if Peterson is not healthy enough to assume the starting role, Gerhart could become a valuable fantasy prospect.

6. Rashad Jennings

Maurice Jones-Drew’s potential holdout and the offensive impotence in Jacksonville mean that Rashad Jennings has the potential to be productive in 2012. Jennings had reasonable success in 2010 with 100 touches for 685 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, but sprained his knee in the preseason. It’s unlikely that the Jaguars will let Jones-drew hold out for the entire season, but Jennings has established himself as an effective backup, and now that he is healthy he could become a reliable flex option in the Jaguars unskilled offense.

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