Since you are now reading this story, here's hoping you read or plan to read my under-the-radar wide receivers post. I will apply a similar definition of what "under the radar" is for running backs as I did for wide receivers.
For our fantasy football purposes, I am excluding anyone outside the top 36 RBs by ADP, thereby making these selections at best a RB4.
I also won't be including any rookie running backs selected during the first two days of this year's NFL draft. So no Ke'Shawn Vaughn or Zack Moss here either. Although I will add that I like the latter's chances for production this year more than the former.
Let's avoid going down that rabbit hole and get to my favorite RB4s and deeper.
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
Murray was a highly hyped option coming into last season, despite the presence of Alvin Kamara. Remember that? And have things really changed that much for the Saints?
Yes, Kamara is expected to get far more touches than he was expected to a year ago. But I still expect Sean Payton to use Murray quite a bit this season. Murray has five or more touchdowns each of the last five seasons. I think he will again hit at least five touchdowns, giving him a pretty high floor for a running back going after the first 100 picks. There are RB1s last year who didn't score that many!
Duke Johnson, Houston Texans
The reports of David Johnson's demise have been greatly exaggerated. But there are quite a few who think it's time to put a fork in him. If you are part of that group, Duke Johnson should be on your shortlist of players to target. There has been a lot of talk about the Texans using 21 personnel (two running backs and one tight end), which should lead to a number of carries for Duke.
Even if he's simply the third-down back, Johnson will be a decent bye-week replacement in PPR leagues. He should easily catch 50 balls (his career average is 55.8 per season) and score a handful of touchdowns again this year. And that's the floor. Should Johnson, the former Arizona ballcarrier, go down (he only played 30 total games the last three seasons) or prove his doubters right, then Johnson, the former Brown who has never missed a game in his five seasons, will see his value skyrocket.
Lamar Miller, New England Patriots
Part of the reason David and Duke Johnson will tote the rock this year is because Miller is no longer with Houston. This acquisition by the Patriots is one of the quieter moves made this offseason, but we could be hearing quite a bit about it later this season. Miller sat out last season after tearing his ACL in the Texans' third preseason game. That ended a streak of six seasons in which he played 14 games or more. He had also totaled 1,000 yards from scrimmage in five straight seasons prior to injuring his knee.
It feels like he has been around for ages, but Miller is still only 29. Not playing last year should preserve some of the wear on his tires, though he must show he's healthy and ready to be productive once more. I know many like Damien Harris as the Patriots running back to step up this season. But with Miller going about 70 picks later, I'll take the lower-priced option, please. Have we even know Bill Belichick to reveal his hand in the preseason?
La'Mical Perine, New York Jets
Let me be clear about this — I am unlikely to draft Perine in a standard 12-team league. But in a keeper or deeper 14-team redraft league, I'm buying. Adam Gase has shown a distaste in giving Le'Veon Bell a whole lot of touches, and there have already been reports that the Jets are planning to lighten Bell's load. Old Man Gore is still there and will likely be the immediate beneficiary. But around Election Day, I see Perine as the running back you are going to want. Perine did not exactly shine at the Combine. However, his tape shows a much better story:
Perine's desire to pass-block, plus his ability to rack up yards rushing or receiving (over 900 yards from scrimmage each of his last two years at Florida) leads me to believe Perine will be an integral part of the Jets offense before the end of the season.
Unfortunately, Perine suffered an ankle injury in training camp so that is a situation that needs to be monitored, especially if he's going to miss an extended period of time. So with Perine suddenly not looking so appealing, let's dive really deep, say around the 200th running back being selected, for one of my favorite off-the-radar RBs, James Robinson.
James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Unless you are in a dynasty or a super deep keeper league, with an ADP higher than 700, Robinson is not being selected. But put him on your radar. He might be Jacksonville's primary running back sooner than you think.
Let's start with Robinson's situation. Leonard Fournette was seemingly on the way out the door this offseason and the Jaguars made it official on Aug. 31 when they released the former first-round pick who was already set to be a free agent after the season.
With Fournette out of the picture, the next man up for Jacksonville could be Chris Thompson, a shifty third-down back signed in free agency who will have value in PPR leagues. Period. Then there's Ryquell Armstead, who spent time earlier in training camp on the COVID-19 list but has since been cleared. Armstead averaged fewer yards per carry (3.1) than Fournette (4.3) last year, so it's tough to see him breaking out in a big way. That brings us to the last person Robinson needs to hurdle, Devine Ozigbo. Ozigbo could also be a player to watch, but he has already been waived by the Saints in his short career.
Although he's an undrafted rookie, Robinson has shown he can be a bell-cow back, with more than 4,400 rushing yards and 44 rushing touchdowns in his collegiate career. But he's not just a bruiser, he can also catch passes. He had 5,218 career all-purpose yards. He led the nation in yards after contact with a whopping 1,332. Given his super low cost but potentially high upside, see why he should be on your radar?
— Written by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.