When it comes to running backs, I'd really like to get one of my top nine fantasy running backs as my RB1 since there are many question marks with the backs in the next tier or two.
It's not that there aren't question marks with the running backs on the list below, but I feel their potential rewards outweigh their risks.
With that said, here are seven running backs that are currently undervalued compared to their average draft position (ADP):
RB - Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (ADP via FantasyPros: 50, RB22)
Entering his seventh NFL season, durability has been an issue for Ingram (as it is for many running backs). Playing a full 16-game season last year, it was only the second time over six seasons that Ingram did not miss at least three games.
Good health helped Ingram post career highs of 1,043 rushing yards, 5.1 yards per carry and 10 total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Ingram has a combined 96 receptions over the past two seasons. With Ingram taking a back seat at times to Tim Hightower, however, the threat of losing an even larger share to Adrian Peterson is a real concern even if Ingram enters the season as the "starter." That said, I think both Ingram and Peterson (see below) can exceed their current ADPs.
Not only did he finish as fantasy's RB10 in 2016, but Ingram has now finished as a top-15 fantasy running back in three consecutive seasons. Currently the RB22 in terms of ADP, it wouldn't surprise me if Ingram extended his streak of RB15 finishes to four seasons.
RB - Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 70, RB27)
Ingram may have a higher salary and be listed as the "starter," but would it be much of a surprise if Peterson emerged as the leader in terms of workload split (and production)?
Peterson has missed the majority of two of the previous two seasons, but the other major concern is his age (32). That said, we've seen Peterson do superhuman things as he rushed for 2,000-plus yards less than 12 months after tearing his ACL.
Since entering the league in 2007 as Minnesota's first-round pick, Peterson has rushed for double-digit touchdowns every year that he has played at least four games. During that span, however, the Vikings have scored the 13th-most points (3,622, 22.64/G) in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Saints have ranked second (4,436 points, 27.73/G) during that span.
Joining the second highest-scoring offense in the league over the past decade, the ceiling for AP is through the roof in the high-powered, Drew Brees-led offense.
RB - Danny Woodhead, Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 85, RB33)
Obviously a much different type of back than Peterson, Woodhead is also 32 years old (two months older than AP) with some durability struggles over the past three years. Missing the majority of the 2014 and 2016 seasons, Woodhead has played just 21 games over that stretch.
When healthy, however, he has been highly productive.
Even more valuable in PPR formats as one of the league's top receiving backs, Woodhead has finished as a top-24 fantasy running back (standard scoring) in each of his past three full seasons. In fact, he finished as the RB3 in PPR formats behind only Devonta Freeman (first) and Peterson (second) in 2015.
With 75-plus receptions in each of his past two full seasons, no team has thrown the ball on a higher percentage of their plays than the Ravens (65.99%), who seem to run the ball only reluctantly. Given the season-ending injury to Kenneth Dixon, it's possible that Woodhead extends that streak if he can stay healthy.
RB - Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons (ADP: 61, RB23)
There are a few concerns with Coleman: (1) durability, (2) a secondary role and (3) possible offensive regression overall without Kyle Shanahan. In his first two NFL seasons, Coleman has missed a total of seven games and at least three each season. And of course, Devonta Freeman will remain the leader in terms of backfield usage and production.
That said, Coleman has shown his big-play ability when he was on the field. With double-digit touches in 11 of his 13 games last year, Coleman finished the season as a top-20 fantasy running back. In terms of weekly production, he was a top-20 back in more weeks (eight) than he was not (five).
RB - Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: 152, RB52)
Entering what is expected to be his final season, the 34-year-old has been remarkably durable in his career. With the exception of 2012 (13 games), Sproles has played at least 15 games in his other 10 seasons.
Gaining 865 yards from scrimmage with 52 receptions last season, Sproles finished as fantasy's RB30 (RB24 in PPR formats) in 2016. Clearly a better option in PPR formats, Sproles has finished as a top-30 fantasy running back (standard scoring) in four of the past six years and a top-43 back in nine consecutive seasons.
Another season of 800 YFS and 50 catches should be within reach for Sproles.
RB - Jonathan Williams, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 166, RB55)
For a third consecutive season, the Bills will have a different backup running back for LeSean McCoy. The previous two have finished as top-31 fantasy running backs. With Mike Gillislee now in New England, the 223-pound second-year back is expected to move into the role.
Given the team's run-heavy approach (only the Cowboys called a run on a higher percentage of plays than the Bills last season), Williams has stand-alone flex appeal despite his late-round ADP. And if McCoy were to miss any time, Williams would become an immediate RB1 type.
With little to no downside risk, there is plenty of upside based on his current ADP.
RB - Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots (ADP: 157, RB53)
It's unclear how large of a role Burkhead will have when the regular season starts. Most expect Mike Gillislee to assume to the LeGarrette Blount role and James White will be heavily involved as a receiver. And there's also Dion Lewis.
Given the unpredictability of the coaching staff when it comes to workload allocation for their running backs, however, it's possible that Burkhead has a larger role than most expect. In limited opportunities, he's shown that he can be highly effective as he closed last season with a 27/119/2 performance against the Ravens in Week 17.
At a minimum, he's worth a late-round roll of the dice.
Continue: Undervalued Fantasy QBs/TEs | Undervalued Fantasy WRs
Our 2017 Fantasy Football Rankings:
- 2017 Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings
- 2017 Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings
- 2017 Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings
- 2017 Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings
- 2017 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet (Standard scoring)
- 2017 Fantasy Football PPR Cheat Sheet