Fantasy Football: 5 Undrafted Running Backs to Target, Presented By The Contender
Each season, unheralded running backs can take over the fantasy football universe.
Finding these gems requires navigating the late rounds of your drafts and the waiver wire successfully to find the player who emerges from a crowded backfield to earn an every-down role.
A lot of strong candidates stand out in the double-digit rounds of fantasy drafts -- Giovani Bernard, Latavius Murray, Peyton Barber, Samaje Perine, James White, Rob Kelley, Jordan Wilkins, Kalen Ballage, Austin Ekeler, Spencer Ware to name a few -- but even after the draft ends, a few players can still be fantasy football difference-makers.
Which running backs who are going undrafted in 12-team PPR leagues (on FantasyFootballCalculator) can help you become a champion in 2017?
Javorius Allen, Baltimore Ravens
Javorius Allen is expected to be a change-of-pace option for the Baltimore Ravens behind Alex Collins, and that's what he was last year. In 16 games, Allen racked up 199 touches and finished as the RB20 from Weeks 1 through 16 (the fantasy-relevant weeks) and the RB24 overall. His 10.38 PPR points per game ranked him 27th among backs with at least 8 games in 2017.
Allen recorded a Rushing Success Rate (the percentage of carries that increased expected scoring, via our Net Expected Points (NEP) model) of 39.87%, around the league-average. Collins' 44.76% was significantly better, but Allen did enough with his touches to move the expected points sticks when given the chance.
Allen received 60 targets last year, as well, ranking him 14th among all running backs. Whether it's spelling Collins on situational rushes or receiving out of the backfield, Allen can produce and deserves to be on the fantasy football radar, especially if Kenneth Dixon doesn't make the 53-man roster.
T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars
T.J. Yeldon has yet to play all 16 games in an NFL season, but he's still managed to finish as the RB27 in 12 games in 2015 and the RB33 in 15 games in 2016. In 2017, Yeldon played just 10 games and finished as the RB55.
On a per-game basis, Yeldon was the RB40 in PPR leagues last season, the worst-per game production of his career (he was the RB36 in 2016 and the RB14 in 2015 on a per-game basis). Yeldon has ranked top-20 in targets per game among running backs in each of the past three seasons.
Additionally, Yeldon outperformed Leonard Fournette in terms of Rushing Success Rate in 2017. Albeit on just 48 carries, Yeldon added expected points on half of them, a Success Rate of 50.0%. Fournette did so on just 34.7% of his 268 carries. In addition to pass-catching, Yeldon can move the ball on the few carries he'll get.
Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots
The New England Patriots' offense is always one to try to buy into, and either Jeremy Hill (who has a 14th-round draft cost right now) or Mike Gillislee should carve out a bit of a goal-line role for what we project to be the second-best offense in football.
According to SharpFootballStats, the Patriots ran a league-high 201 red zone plays last season (no other team was above 182), and New England ran it at a 52% rate inside the 20, well above the league-average red-zone rushing attempt rate of 47%.
Now, Hill was bad last season (29.73% Rushing Success Rate) and has been for a few years via our database. Gillislee, on the other hand, produced a positive rush on 47.57% of his carries last year on an efficient offense in New England. One of these two will have value, and while the early indications suggest it's Hill, don't forget about Gillislee, either.
Joe Williams, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers' backfield is pretty loaded, and Jerick McKinnon is the man at the top. But McKinnon already is dealing with a muscle strain after a knee injury scare. Matt Breida, the number-two, is expected to miss the rest of the preseason because of a shoulder injury.
That leaves a three-way battle between Joe Williams, Raheem Mostert, and Jeremy McNichols. Based on size-adjusted speed scores, Williams is the most athletic (111.0 speed score, placing him in the 92nd percentile), and his collegiate production at Utah placed him in the 77th percentile among running back prospects, via PlayerProfiler. Williams, a fourth-round pick last season, missed the 2017 season with an ankle injury.
Williams ran 11 times for 27 yards and a score in the preseason opener and generated 27 yards after contact, via ProFootballFocus. By comparison, Mostert, a special teamer, ran 8 times for 57 yards, but actually had 67 yards after first contact.
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
For Chase Edmonds, who PlayerProfiler comps to Dion Lewis, a path to production in his rookie season is pretty apparent. Aside from Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals' offense is thin on playmakers. Arizona did invest a second-round pick on wide receiver Christian Kirk, but Edmonds was a fourth-rounder himself.
Edmonds accounted for 34.1% of Fordham's offense last season, a 76th-percentile College Dominator market share. Edmonds also brings a 68th-percentile SPARQ-x score for a team that needs playmakers.
According to ProFootballFocus, Johnson led all running backs in 2016 by running 69 snaps from the slot, and his 509 routes run made him the only back to surpass 400. Splitting Johnson out wide could allow Edmonds to operate out of the backfield.
If the Cardinals fail to surpass their over/under of six wins (via Paddy Power, who has their six win total at -175 on the under), then Johnson and Fitzgerald could be phased out during the final stretch of the season. Edmonds could take over if that happens, and he can produce even without a failed season in the desert.