5 Late Round High Floor Running Backs (Fantasy Football)
In my previous article, 5 Late Round High Floor Wide Receivers, I wrote about the benefit of using a few late-round picks on unsexy, high-floor WRs like Cole Beasley to help round out your roster, instead of using all of your bench spots on home run players who may never pan out.
The same logic applies to running backs, a position that due to the violent nature of the game and the inherent injury risk of the role, tends to have a decent amount of turnover. With late-round, high-floor running backs, I prefer to target players that already have a defined role in the offense as a change-of-pace, receiving, or goal line back. These RBs have built-in floors in their current role, with the ability to become incredibly valuable should the starting back on their respective team leave with an injury.
The following five running backs vary in age, opportunity, and role in their team’s offense. All of them have a built-in floor entering the 2017 season that could expand due to injury or poor play by the lead back in their respective offense.
Branden Oliver (LAC)
After missing all of the 2016 season and half of 2015 with various injuries, Oliver is once again turning heads and making plays out of the backfield for quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers passing game. Although Melvin Gordon in his own right is a talented receiving back, he lacks the skill set that Oliver possesses as a receiver, and the Chargers will look to limit Gordon’s workload after nearly 300 total touches in 2016.
At 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, Gordon lacks the size profile for most bell-cow tailbacks and has yet to play a full 16-game season in the NFL. It would behoove first-year head coach Anthony Lynn and veteran offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to send some of those touches, including third and passing down snaps to Oliver in hopes of keeping Gordon fresh and on the field for the entire season.
Should Gordon get injured, Oliver proved in 2014 that he is capable of working as a first and second down back, with the likelihood of Kenneth Farrow and Kenjon Barner also getting some work. As the 90th running back off the board and an afterthought for many owners, Oliver will go undrafted in most formats. But if you play in a deep league and have the roster space, a last-round flier on a guy like Oliver with PPR upside is a sneaky play.
Robert Turbin (IND)
I will save you from reading another garrulous prediction of the demise of Frank Gore. By all accounts, Gore should have hung up his cleats three years ago, but the ageless one continues to defy father time and logic to finish each year as the No. 12 fantasy running back.
The sexy pick to replace Gore (if it ever happens) as the lead tailback for the Colts is rookie RB Marlon Mack, a former tailback for the South Florida Bulls. While I am a fan of Mack, I anticipate he will be used more as the receiving option for Andrew Luck (or whoever is throwing the ball for the Colts) with cagey veteran Robert Turbin working as the first and second down back.
Although all Gore owners from the previous year know full well that Turbin poached seven rushing touchdowns, it may not be common knowledge for the majority of fantasy players. I like the idea of using a late-round pick on a player who already has TD upside and the chance to slide into a low-end No. 2 RB role. Turbin fits that mold perfectly and should be a late-round consideration in all formats.
Jamaal Williams (GB)
Ty Montgomery truthers will use advanced metrics like juke rate (34.7%), yards after contact per touch (2.8), and breakaway run rate (9.1%) as evidence to the conclusion that Monty is the lead back in Green Bay in 2017. Perhaps they are correct, as the converted wide receiver finished No. 3, 1, and 2 respectively among all running backs in those categories last year, and the Packer front office did not bring in a high priced vet or use an early-round draft pick on a rookie.
I like Montgomery, and I believe he will get the first shot and the lion’s share of carries to begin the season. But as I write this article Monty is already dealing with a lower leg injury that is keeping him out of practice and rookie RB Jamaal Williams, a talented player from BYU who fell in the draft due to off-field issues, has already earned some first-team reps in the Packer offense.
Also, as successful as Montgomery was in Juke and breakaway run rate, he finished No. 45 in red zone carries while earning only a 42% snap share. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers pass more than anyone in the red zone, primarily because they excel at it, but also because they do not have a traditional pounding running back that is proficient in short-yardage carries. Williams may assume that role even when Montgomery is active, thus giving him a nice baseline for production as a goal line back, and would see a significant volume increase if Monty goes down with another injury.
Shane Vereen (NYG)
Of all the running backs on this list, veteran pass catching back Shane Vereen has arguably the highest floor as the pass-catching option for Eli Manning, but his lack of size to work as an every-down back somewhat limits his ceiling.
As the forgotten older statesmen in the New York backfield, Vereen was limited to just 33 attempts in five games last season as multiple injuries kept him on the sideline. He rushed for 158 yards and a touchdown on those limited touches, with 11 receptions on 19 targets for 94 yards. Although starting tailback Paul Perkins is a decent pass-catching back , Vereen is one of the best in the league with 59 receptions for 495 yards and four scores in 2015.
A return to his 2015 level of receiving production is the floor that you are purchasing as a bench/flex play at his current ADP as the 73rd running back off the board. Although he lacks the possible ceiling of Jonathan Williams and Jamaal Williams, six total touchdowns and 800 total yards are not out of the question.
Jonathan Williams (BUF)
Fantasy owners who invest a late-round flyer on second-year running back Jonathan Williams are making a smart move for two reasons. First, they are using very little draft capital to secure the likely goal line and change-of-pace back in the Buffalo offense that made Mike Gillislee a viable fantasy option with a decent TD floor in 2016. And second, they are purchasing that lottery ticket that could turn into the starting job for a run-heavy team with a solid offensive line should LeSean McCoy get hurt or become the next high-priced Bill to be traded.