They always say you can’t win your fantasy football league in the first couple rounds, but you can certainly lose it. On the other hand, you can’t lose your league in the final rounds, but you can definitely win it. Just last year, Jay Ajayi’s final ADP was in the 10th round of drafts. Tevin Coleman and Spencer Ware were a couple other double-digit-round gems. Below, I’ll run down eight of my favorite 10th-round-or-later running backs I’m targeting as fliers or undervalued RB3/FLEX types.
Rob Kelley (ADP 10.09) – Any time a new guy is added to the mix, the natural thing is to start falling in love with him. That’s what the fantasy community has done with Redskins fourth-round rookie Samaje Perine. Perine is being drafted a full two-and-a-half rounds ahead of Kelley at the moment. This is after Kelley rushed for 601 yards and six touchdowns over the final nine weeks of last season following a midseason benching of Matt Jones. It’s easy to write Kelley off because he was an UDFA out of Tulane last year and isn’t the biggest or fastest guy. But he averaged a respectable 4.2 YPC and had Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 elusive rating, which factors in forced missed tackles per touch, among all backs, behind only Jay Ajayi. Kelley is a straight-forward grinder, but the coaching staff seems to love his workmanlike ways. Just Thursday, coach Jay Gruden said Kelley is bigger, faster, and more confident heading into his second season. Meanwhile, Perine has been getting blown up in pass protection and fumbling too often early in camp. It has led Redskins beat writers to label Kelley the “clear” lead back in Washington. Especially in standard leagues, I’d be more than fine starting the year with Kelley as my RB3/FLEX. The Redskins had Football Outsiders’ No. 6 run-blocking offensive line in 2016 and return all five starters.
Thomas Rawls (ADP 11.04) – At this time last year, Rawls was being drafted in the third and fourth rounds. He was coming off a late-2015 broken lower leg and ligament damage. Rawls never seemed to be quite right until late last season. He had one 100-yard game in Week 13 against the Panthers before a Wild Card explosion against the Lions where he rushed for 161 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. But the Seahawks went out and signed Eddie Lacy in free agency, giving him $3 million guaranteed. Lacy was tipping the scales at roughly 270 pounds – 20 pounds overweight — back in the spring and has monthly weigh-ins with the team. It’s unclear if Lacy met his July goal. While Lacy battles his weight and tries to work his way back from ankle surgery, Rawls is 100 percent healthy and lurking in the background. He’s reportedly been “flying around the field” and running the ball with violence in camp. A perennial contender, the Seahawks aren’t a team that is going to play a guy based on how much money he makes. If Rawls is the better player, he’s going to get the carries. He knows this offense and averaged 5.6 YPC as a 2015 rookie. Lacy will get the first crack, but the leash won’t be long if he isn’t getting the job done. Rawls is my favorite late-round running back this summer.
Jamaal Williams (ADP 11.07) – The belle of the ball right now, Ty Montgomery is being selected in the third round of fantasy drafts. A converted wide receiver in his first offseason as a full-time running back, Montgomery is the definition of boom or bust. Coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t shown much patience with running backs in recent years and asks a lot out of the position. A pass-heavy team with an annual MVP candidate at quarterback, being able to pass protect is a must for any Packers running back. That’s Montgomery’s weak point as we stand here in the first week of August. On the flip side, fourth-round rookie Williams has drawn rave reviews in that area early on in camp. There’s no quicker way to playing time than being a trusty blocker as the last line of defense before Aaron Rodgers. Williams has been soaking up first-team reps along with Montgomery and is said to be “pushing” for the lead job. All that said, Williams is a sub-par athlete relatively speaking from a testing standpoint and is more of a grinder. That’s not necessarily a knock. McCarthy has shown a quick hook in previous years. Montgomery remains the favorite for No. 1 duties in Week 1, but Williams is a high-upside stash. Whoever is at running back for the Packers is going to face soft fronts and have wide running lanes.
Darren Sproles (ADP 12.09) — The Eagles’ running back situation remains one of fantasy’s biggest quagmires, even after last year’s weekly nightmares. It was purely a guessing game whether it was going to be Ryan Mathews, Sproles, or Wendell Smallwood to lead Philadelphia’s backfield on a weekly basis in 2016. Things are looking to be the same a year later, with LeGarrette Blount filling the old Mathews role and fourth-round scat back Donnel Pumphrey added to the mix. Pumphrey is a 5’9/176 small fry who doesn’t figure to be in the equation for carries. He’s mainly been working out of the slot at camp. But his and Blount’s additions have left fantasy owners a bit down on Sproles. He’s another year older at 34, but age has never seemed to be factor for Sproles. As Evan Silva noted in his most recent Top 150 earlier this week, Sproles has finished as a top-28 fantasy back in all three of his seasons with the Eagles. He and Blount should see most of the touches out of the backfield, with Blount flirting with around 200 and Sproles coming in the 150 range. The problem with Sproles is his big weeks are wholly impossible to predict. But there’s no question he’s an asset to have in bye-week crunches.
Jonathan Williams (ADP 13.09) – The Bills let Mike Gillislee go to the Patriots on a restricted free agent tender in March, leaving sophomore Williams in the saddle as LeSean McCoy’s backup. Williams carried the ball 27 times for 94 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. At 5’11/220, Williams had a strong Pro Day at Arkansas, showing well in agility drills for a back his size. Before him, both Gillislee and Karlos Williams had standalone fantasy value as McCoy’s backups. They’re both gone and is so is the old coaching staff, but new OC Rick Dennison is a Gary Kubiak disciple, and Kubiak’s offenses were routinely near the top of the league in rushing percentage. Dennison and defensive-minded head coach Sean McDermott are surely going to implement a run-heavy approach on offense. McCoy recently turned 29 and has a lot of miles on the tires. Plus, his hamstrings acted up quite a bit last season, and he’s missed five games the past two seasons. If McCoy ever went down, Williams would be an immediate RB2.
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