The key to winning at fantasy football is obtaining the most value with each selection during your draft. There is always value available throughout a draft, and grabbing it is one of the most important keys to a successful fantasy team. But it is also one of the hardest and mysterious things to accomplish.
That’s why you need to know which players are steals at their current ADP*, so you can get the most value from your draft. Here are five running backs to keep an eye on come draft day.
Danny Woodhead, Ravens
Steve Smith has retired; Dennis Pitta was released after suffering another hip injury; and the team’s receivers are a mix of newly-signed Jeremy Maclin and notorious burners with great vertical speed but haven’t always shown the ability to be possession receivers. Enter Woodhead, a free agent signing who has registered 80 and 76 receptions in the last two seasons he has finished. Woodhead could easily lead this team in receptions. In fact, the biggest obstacle might be his injury history – not his teammates. But at his current ADP as a RB34, even if he suffers another injury, he can be replaced in your lineup. If he doesn’t, he’s a huge steal with a realistic 50-catch floor and 80-catch potential. Remember, Joe Flacco finished just one pass attempt behind Drew Brees for the league lead in 2016.
Ameer Abdullah, Lions
The injury history is concerning, but all signs point to Abdullah getting one more chance as the Lions’ lead running back. Despite missing 14 games last year, the Lions passed on veteran free agents this offseason. They also passed on drafting viable alternatives. The Lions ranked 30th in rushing yards and 26th in touchdowns last season; they NEED to be more efficient on the ground. General manager Bob Quinn and the coaching staff have all said the right things. Abdullah won’t be a workhorse. Theo Riddick plays a key role in receiving packages, and Zach Zenner has a role in short-yardage situations. Abdullah has explosiveness and dynamism that makes him a fantasy commodity even if he only touches the ball 12-15 times per game. If Abdullah stays healthy in training camp, his ADP (RB25) is going to skyrocket.
Isaiah Crowell, Browns
Here’s an interesting stat: four players had 175 or more rushes, at least 4.8 yards per carry, at least 7.0 yards per reception, and seven or more total touchdowns in 2016. Those players were Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, Jordan Howard, and, wait for it... Isaiah Crowell. He also tied Elliott and Howard for the most games with 10 or more carries and at least 5.0 yards per carry with seven such performances. Crowell’s issue wasn’t ability or efficiency; it was volume. If Cleveland can find a way to not be trailing by double digits in many of their games this season, Crowell will get more touches. Hue Jackson, Cleveland’s head coach, is a notoriously run-heavy play -caller. Only game script will take him away from that. Cleveland also added multiple new offensive linemen to bolster what was arguably the league’s worst unit. Crowell’s ADP is already starting to rise (RB15, but don’t be surprised if he finishes 2017 with more fantasy points than the likes Leonard Fournette, Marshawn Lynch and Lamar Miller.
Mike Gillislee, Patriots
Wouldn’t it be great if the Patriots would show some week-to-week consistency in terms of rushing volume and who is going to get the ball? Here’s what we do know, they'll run a lot – great teams with frequent leads often do – and that their ball carriers are a pretty safe bet to have the opportunity to get into the end zone. Gillislee isn't the clock-killing grinder LeGarrette Blount was last year, but he could be even more efficient than his plodding predecessor. And like 2016 Blount, Gillislee will enter the year lacking real competition for rushing duties. All four of his primary backfield mates are more receiver-than-rusher types, so we can likely pencil in roughly half the Patriots' carries for Gillislee. Assuming the Patriots remain world-beaters, it's safe to expect a run at 1,000 yards and double-digit scores – quite a value for a back currently being drafted as RB23.
Eddie Lacy, Seahawks
This is the year that Lacy’s career could go either way: out of the league or back to his form from his first two seasons. Lacy obviously remains a high-risk pick, but the upside is much higher than his current draft position (RB27). If you pair him with Thomas Rawls then you should safeguard your investment, but focusing purely on Lacy and despite his reputation, he has always performed when on the field. In his five games last year, he averaged better than five yards per carry, and the year before had three 100-yard games when Green Bay wasn’t really interested in running the ball. There is no doubt that Seattle will want to run the ball, and often. The Seahawks have depth at the position, but the lead runner will be Lacy. Don’t let him fall too far in your draft.
*ADP values courtesy of FantasyPros
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.