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5 Veteran RBs to Help Win Your Fantasy Football League

by Ethan Lillard
Jun 1, 2017

Does Frank Gore have enough left in the tank to help fantasy owners?

Why are fidget spinners the modern day craze? Call me old or uncool (up for debate), but I don’t understand the fascination with these things. I mean you hold it between your fingers and spin it. How is this something that’s catching on with today’s video game-centric youth? I will never know, but I digress.

The reason for the fidget rant? It made me feel like an old man and out of the loop. Even if some think I’m no longer “hip to the streets” I still know what works and what gets the job done when it comes to fantasy football. I have multiple championships to show for it.

One of the hip fidget spinner-esque schemes for fantasy owners last season was to draft wide receivers in the first two if not three rounds (the Zero RB strategy). The ideology behind this train of thought is that receivers aren’t as injury prone, and in today’s pass-happy NFL, wideouts can put up ludicrous numbers. This is teamed with NFL coaches real life approach to having a backfield by committee. There are a handful of backs in the league who will single-handedly own their respected team’s backfield. Therefore, if you avoid the position altogether and draft productive wide receivers, you take the risk on the scraps of backs in the later rounds.

When it comes to point-per-reception (PPR) leagues, many look to players like Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey after going receiver heavy in the early rounds. These rookie backs are worth rolling the dice on, but all three are unproven and have an uncertain ceiling. If you are someone who goes with the Zero RB strategy, or just someone looking for running back depth in the later rounds, may I offer an alternate course of action? Ditch the fidget spinner backs and go outside and play some backyard football with the old school guys. Us old folks may be able to teach you a thing or two.

Here are five veteran running backs that are being way undervalued and could, if not should, have just as much, if not more, fantasy value then the young guns. I have listed names, career stats and the reason they are being overlooked, age. After this, I will tell exactly why I believe they can help you win a championship this season.

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Frank Gore (IND):
Stats: 13,065 career rushing yards, 74 rushing touchdowns
Age: 34

I know what you’re thinking. Are you serious? The guy is way on the wrong side of 30 and is on his last leg. All of that may be true, but look up the word consistent in the dictionary. Next to it you will see an image of Gore’s face. In 2008, Gore ranked 14th (third-lowest of his career) among running backs in fantasy points. The names on the list with him? Clinton Portis, Thomas Jones, MJD, and LT. This proves Gore’s advanced age, but yet shows how durable he is. Let me explain.

After his 14th ranked fantasy season, he moved up to sixth in 2009, then down to his career worst 20th. Keep in mind this is the season Gore fractured his hip and played just 11 games. That season aside, he came back and ranked 13th in 2011, 10th in 2010, 13th in 2013, 17th in 2014 (his last year as a 49er when they were phasing him out of the offense), 12th in 2015 and 12th last season. Like I said, go open up a dictionary.

The former U product has rushed for 1,000 yards seven seasons during his nine-year NFL tenure. He ranks eighth all-time in career rushing yards and if he adds another 1,000-yard season to his resume, he will crack the top five (one spot ahead of LT). The fact he trails Tomlinson by just 619 yards is motivation enough to put together one last productive season. He also averages nearly 6.5 touchdowns per year on the ground.

Gore was 33 last season and finished as the 12th-best fantasy back. That ranked him one spot ahead of Latavius Murray and one behind Jay Ajayi. Right now Murray is coming off the board as the 28th back drafted, while Gore sits at 34. Sure, Gore will have competition in the backfield with scat back Marlon Mack learning the ins and outs of the NFL, but he isn’t ready to overtake Gore when it comes to first and second down work. That’s not to mention goal line carries, which should go Gore’s way again this season.

Gore will more than likely look to ride off into the sunset this season and put his name among the top five greatest running backs of all time. Whether or not you agree with Gore being an all-time great has nothing to do with his draft stock. When it comes to fantasy football sometimes you have to put your preconceived notions aside and think outside the box. Would you rather have a guy who is a future Hall of Famer and is the premier back in a top flight offense, or take a risk on a guy that could be eased into a system and not quite meet expectations? One way or the other you’re rolling the dice, but the smart money is on proven production.

Adrian Peterson (NO):
State: 11,747 career rushing yards, 97 rushing touchdowns
Age: 32

The man, the myth, the legend, Wolverine himself, Adrian Peterson. AP defied all when he came back from ACL surgery in record-shattering time in 2012 and won the rushing crown. Who would have ever thought the day would come that we would call Adrian Peterson over the hill? As long as I can remember playing fantasy ball Peterson has been in the conversation as a No. 1 overall pick. Not to mention he ranks at No. 16 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. After another year of injury, Peterson is coming off the board as the 23rd back. This feels about right considering Gore’s disrespectful ADP. The downside to Peterson is the fact he will be battling Mark Ingram for early-down work, while trying to hold off Kamara for third-down work.

AP could still put together a very productive season assuming he and Ingram share the backfield with something around a 50/50 split in carries. For some reason Sean Peyton hates Ingram’s guts so there is still a chance he could be traded. The Eagles were a possible landing spot for Ingram with the Saints in the market for a center thanks to Max Unger’s injury, but the Eagles already filled that void (to be continued). Peterson has never been considered a receiving back, so Kamara should maintain a third-down status. So why draft AP?

Because he’s Adrian Peterson, that’s why! Look, he may never be the same bulldozing, cut on a dime freak of nature we have been accustomed to seeing in the Purple and Gold over the years, but the guy is still a phenomenal talent. He has all of the senses a running back needs to compete and even if he gets 10-12 touches a game, I’m buying stock in the AP company AD long. Peterson boasts a career 4.9 yards per carry and averages nearly 10 touchdowns a season. Let’s low ball and say he averages 12 carries per game at a 4.8 clip. Over the course of a 16-game season AP would total 921.6 yards. Throw in a modest eight rushing touchdowns, 110 receiving yards on seven catches and two more touchdowns and he ranks as the 24th-best back last season, right around where his ADP is.

Just ahead of Peterson sits backs I would feel very uncomfortable drafting; Eddie Lacy, C.J. Anderson, and Carlos Hyde to name a few. Not saying these backs won’t produce, but their futures and/or roles are just as uncertain as Peterson’s, minus maybe Hyde, but I don’t want to buy stock in the 49ers quite yet.

Another factor that has AP’s trajectory arrow pointed upward is Ingram’s injury risk. In Ingram’s six-year NFL career he has played a full 16-game schedule just twice. According to sportsinjurypredictor.com, Ingram has a 61% chance of experiencing an injury in the future. There are only seven backs ahead of him in terms of a percent chance of experiencing an injury. Should Ingram go down, which I would never wish upon a player, Peterson is automatically in the RB1 conversation if not a top-five back immediately.

AP may be one of the few backs whos ADP I agree with, but this list wasn’t constructed to argue egregious ADPs. It was to give insight on how vet backs can bring you immediate success this season. With that being said, draft away on AP. Don’t pencil him in as your No. 1 running back, but have him as a low-end No. 2 or a flex play that could come up big for you this season, especially if Ingram goes down with an injury.

Marshawn Lynch (OAK):
Stats: 9,112 career rushing yards, 74 rushing touchdowns
Age: 31

Beast Mode is back! And what would have made a better landing spot for the former Cal product than his hometown Oakland Raiders? Many have questioned if Lynch’s signing was just a PR stunt to keep Raiders fans coming to games while they transition to Vegas, but one way or another they signed him and are going to use him. I have already put out an article on why I think he will succeed with the Raiders this season, but let me summarize and come up with some other factors that could bring you to the dark side.

Sure, Lynch went into retirement because he was bitten by the injury bug in his last year in Seattle, but the team also wasn’t doing him any favors. The Seahawks were steadily phasing Lynch out of the run game after the controversial Super Bowl decision to pass instead of run at the goal line. That decision didn’t sit well with he or Richard Sherman, and now Seattle is paying for it.

Not only will Beast Mode put butts in seats at Oakland Alameda Coliseum, he will also be the focal point of the Silver and Black’s run game. They still have Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in the backfield behind him, but if Latavius Murray finished as the 13th overall back last season, just imagine what a well rested Lynch is capable of behind that offensive line.

Last season Murray rushed for just 788 yards. His saving grace was his ridiculous 12 rushing touchdowns. If Murray can cross the goal line 12 times, it is a near lock for Beast Mode to record that number if not more during the 2017-2018 season. Pencil in around 900 yards on the ground to go with 200 receiving yards on 20 grabs and he ranks as the 15th-best running back last season, one spot ahead of Todd Gurley and one behind Isaiah Crowell. Gurley is currently being drafted as the 10th back off the board, while Crowell sits at 16.

Lynch is being sandwiched in between Gurley and Crowell, coming off draft boards as the 14th running back drafted. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with this line of thinking, but there is no denying Lynch has top 10 upside. The 900 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 200 receiving yards on 20 grabs is low balling one of the greatest backs in NFL history. Those numbers don’t even include a receiving touchdown and the rushing totals, at least yardage, are more than likely near Lynch’s fantasy floor. Realistically, if Beast Mode lives up to his name and stays healthy for a full season, he could go for somewhere around 1,150 rushing yards, 13 ground scores, 250 receiving yards on 25 receptions for three scores. That lofty goal would have made Lynch a top 10 back last season.

Lynch needs just 888 rushing yards to become the 30th running back in NFL history to break the 10,000-yard barrier. Couple this fact with Lynch now playing for not just himself, but his city, and you have one of the toughest backs in the NFL running for the end zone with all of his heart. I for one would never want to be one on the receiving end of a Marshawn Lynch shoulder or stiff arm if this were the case. Best of luck this season would-be tacklers.

Doug Martin (TB):
Stats: 4,227 rushing yards, 23 rushing touchdowns
Age: 28

“The Dougernaut.” “The Muscle Hampster.” whatever you choose to call Tampa Bay’s polarizing lead back he is just that, the lead back. Dougy Fresh (add another alias to the list) is suspended the first three games of the upcoming season for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Despite the suspension, the Buccaneers organization has been behind their 28-year old running back the whole way. According to NFL.com, General Manager Jason Licht even went as far as saying Martin looks “outstanding” both mentally and physically and that “Doug has looked as good as I’ve seen him.

Backing up the sentiments from the GM, the Bucs didn’t address the running back position until the fifth round in this year’s draft. So what’s on the depth chart behind Martin? If last season was any indication of things to come, Jacquizz Rodgers will make the three spot starts, while Charles Sims continues to handle third-down responsibilities and change-of-pace role.

After dealing with hamstring issues last season, Martin finished with just 421 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. In 2015 when we saw a healthy Dougernaut, he ranked as the third-best fantasy back rushing for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns.

It’s been hard to get a read on just how good Martin truly is. After taking the league by storm in his rookie campaign in 2012, rushing for 1,454 yards to go with 11 touchdowns landing him as the second-best back that season behind AP, Martin played in just six games in 2013 after hitting the IR with a torn labrum. To make matters worse, he dealt with ankle issues the following season limiting him to just 11 games.

Doug came back healthy in 2015 and looked like his old self, rushing for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns, proving he still has plenty of upside. Now teamed with Jameis Winston and a powerful offense full of weapons, Martin should see his plenty of holes to run through in 2017. Teams can’t stack the box against Tampa Bay with Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson stretching the field, not to mention rookie tight end O.J. Howard and returning standout Cameron Brate manning the middle. The Bucs are looking solid heading into 2017, and after they get Martin back from suspension, this could be one of the best offenses in the NFC.

When it comes to ADP, Martin is listed as the 21st running back. I understand the man is suspended for 1/4 of the season, but really? He sits behind the likes of Eddie Lacy, Tevin Coleman, C.J. Anderson, and Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey has PPR value that is keeping him high on draft boards, but none of the other backs listed have a chance at going ahead of Doug on my list come draft day. We have seen Martin’s ceiling of around 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns. Clearly, he won’t reach that number with the suspension, but draft Rodgers in his stead for the first three games and reap the benefits of having a true workhorse running back. Should Martin stay healthy the whole season, he will be on the verge of RB1 status, if not top seven.

LeGarrette Blount (PHI):
Stats: 5,122 rushing yards, 49 rushing touchdowns
Age: 30

Blount signing with the Eagles marks the fourth team the former Duck has played for in his career. Last season with New England, Blount put together the ninth-best fantasy season among running backs. He rushed for 1,161 yards and scored a league-high 18 touchdowns on the ground. The Patriots were the perfect spot for Blount with Tom Brady behind center and Bill Belichick knowing just how to use the 250-plus pound bruiser.

The off-season buzz that the Eagles may just decide to part ways with Ryan Matthews is bound to happen eventually. The guy can’t stay healthy. Blount has experienced his injury woes in the past, but he is built to handle a bell cow role. The Pats are notorious for making players look better than they appear, which is pause for cause when it comes to drafting the 30-year old Blount. However, he proved enough last season to merit his current 30th-ranked status.

Once again many names, including the young fidget spinners, are going ahead of him. Blount will obviously be spelled on passing downs and may even be alleviated from time to time to catch his wind, but I love the weapons surrounding him. One: Sophomore quarterback Carson Wentz. Two: Wentz’s receiving options in Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Zach Ertz and the list goes on.

With as many weapons as the Patriots had last season, Blount’s situation in Philadelphia is somewhat similar. Obviously, he doesn’t have the great Tom Brady at the helm or the mastermind of Belichick on the sidelines, but he does have a similar setup in terms of a supporting cast. He has the big tight end that catches passes, the receivers who all get peppered with their fair share of targets and a quarterback who is starting to come into his own and will air it out. Tom Brady has already more than come into his own, but you get the point.

Obviously, I don’t forecast Philadelphia’s new workhorse to go for the 18 touchdowns he went for last season. The Eagles rushed for just 16 rushing touchdowns as a team in 2016. They did, however, produce an eerily similar amount of total team rushing yards on the season, as the Eagles rushed for 1,813 yards as a team while the Patriots rushed for 1872. New England did run the ball 44 more times total on the year, but this is probably due in large part to the leads they held throughout the season.

Blount is old, not the fastest back and probably has a maximum of two more solid years left in the tank, but I’m still buying as much stock as I can. Like the beginning of this article states, the backs mentioned are of good value for those who are looking for later round options at the RB position. Blount is the definition of value coming off the board as the 30th overall back after an 18-touchdown season.

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Now is the time to milk the remaining years out of these old guys while you still can. Don’t you want to be able to tell your friends, “I picked up Frank Gore in the seventh round and he led me to a championship,” or, “Man, I got in on AP’s last good year.” No one else wanted him because of Ingram, but he really was the difference maker for my team.” Some guys may even be able to say, “Remember that time Doug Martin was suspended for the first three games of the season and no one wanted him? I drafted him and he went off for 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns that season.”


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Ethan Lillard is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Ethan, follow him @JPSports217.

Correspondent, Draft Prep, NFL