Top 5 Fantasy Backup RBs for 2012

The starters get all the love, but where's the props for the other guys? Here's the top five fantasy backups who might not see the field right away but could be valuable for your team.

For a lot of people, the goal in getting a top running back is simply a guy who gets a majority of his team's carries. Sure, Darren McFadden may have only been successful helping his team score on only 30% of his rushes last season, but he looks a lot more attractive this year with Michael Bush shipped off to Chicago. It's all well and good to target those guys, but more often than not, they'll all be gone by the end of round four of an average fantasy draft. Once that top tier is gone, where do you turn for easy points?

As always, like the Tim Tebow-esque miracle we are, numberFire is here to help. I've taken a look at the top backup running backs this year and seen where there might be some plays to get some easy points from guys who might not be getting the love. For the purpose of this article, I'm looking at guys who will be the number two or lower RB in week one, even if they officially start (i.e. Jonathan Stewart figures to see the majority of the carries for the Panthers, so he's a no-go). These guys might be called goal line backs or third-down backs, but if one of your main guys goes down with an injury, they might be called your best friend next.

Top 5 Fantasy Backup RBs

5. Mikel Leshoure - Detroit Lions
numberFire Rank: #215 (#37 RB in our Draft Kit)
Projected Number of Carries 125.3 (53% of DET carries)
Projected Points: 90.34

Making the list over guys such as Michael Bush (won't steal enough carries from Forte) or Pierre Thomas (not the back I'm focusing on in New Orleans as you'll see below), Leshoure represents an interesting case. Although he is suspended for the first two games of the season, Leshoure actually figures to have a higher carries output throughout the season when compared to Kevin Smith, 125 carries to 113 carries respectively according to numberFire's projections. He should still be treated as a rookie, considering that he sat out all of last year with an injury and won't even being seeing preseason action until this weekend. But based on the Lions' high draft expectations (second round pick in 2011) and his high level of production at Illinois (with 1697 yards his senior year and a ritual slaughter of Northwestern at Wrigley Field), expect to see him sooner rather than later. I actually like him more than the starter Smith this season.

4. DeAngelo Williams - Carolina Panthers
numberFire Rank: #200 (#36 RB in our Draft Kit)
Projected Number of Carries: 127.5 (31% of CAR carries)
Projected Points: 93.78

If Jonathan Stewart (#15 RB in our fantasy draft kit) should be considered the Carolina starter with roughly 50% of the team's projected carries, then it stands to reason that Deangelo Williams should be included in this list as his backup, and not a bad one at that. Williams has hit 100 fantasy points in four of his past five seasons, and the one season he didn't hit that total, he only played six games. The main reason for that fantasy point boom is touchdowns - he has reached the endzone at least seven times in past of the past four years, even with Stewart and Cam Newton starting to Panther Attack his goal line carries. However, if you want to be a bit wary of Williams this year, then I'll back you up 100%. In fact, here's some stats to help you out: a declining rushing attempts total each of his past three full seasons (from 273 to 216 to 155), a rushing successes rate that has dipped below 31% each of the past two seasons after maintaining between 34% and 37% the first four years of his career, and zero receiving TDs combined from the past three seasons after having four his first three years. Plus, Mike Tolbert's in town to siphon off even more carries. He's good, but not the instant number one backup back off the board any more. Fantasy owners not from the Williams family should beware.

3. Rashard Mendenhall - Pittsburgh Steelers
numberFire Rank: #170 (#34 RB in our Draft Kit)
Projected Number of Carries: 155.9 (44%)
Projected Points: 102.69

Our resident Steelers fan CEO Nik Bonnadio asked the other day where you would draft Rashard Mendenhall and the answers from the numberFire community were quite clear: late, if at all. Jonathan Dwyer has gotten a good number of the carries during the preseason with Isaac Redman running into trouble with an injured hip, and he's had success with what he's been given. To me, that just means that the Steelers are content with their running back situation; if Dwyer can be trusted at certain times to handle the load, then they don't need to go out and get somebody else to take over that spot. But I'm not sold that Dwyer is the long-term answer until he actually get some NFL carries - he's had 25 NFL carries total through two seasons. Typically, players moving from backups to starters are around the 50-rush per year range when they make the leap to full-time status. Mendenhall may not have the high upside, but at least he's been consistently on the field - 47 out of 48 possible regular season games played over the past three seasons. And even though his yardage has gone down, his efficiency while running the ball has gone up - he's increased his success rate from 28% in 2009 to 32% in 2010 to 34% in 2011. I don't think that he's going to get the 162 fantasy points that he got last season, simply because of the Steelers' timeshare. But of all the Steelers' backs, with Redman's durability questions and Dwyer's unproven status, he's the one I'd trust the most.

2. Mark Ingram - New Orleans Saints
numberFire Rank: #195 (#35 RB in our Draft Kit)
Projected Number of Carries: 144.8 (47% of NO carries)
Projected Points: 95.55

Even though Darren Sproles is considered the main New Orleans back in our fantasy draft kit due to his 7362 (roughly) catches out of the backfield, we expect Mark Ingram to actually get the lion's share of the carries this season. For what it's worth, Pierre Thomas is still technically listed the starter on the Saints' official depth chart, but Ingram has the advantage of being four years younger, a first round draft pick that the Saints want to get on the field, and for the first time in the NFL, he looks to be fully healthy. And did I mention that he had a 36% success rate, meaning that he increased his team's chance of scoring 36% of the time he rushed the ball last season? That's better than a good number of starting NFL backs, including Cedric Benson (29%), Chris Johnson (29%), and Darren McFadden (30%). He's a high upside player who might not make your starting fantasy roster in week one, but definitely has the potential down the road if Brees decides not to hoard all the touchdowns for himself this season.

1. Ben Tate - Houston Texans
numberFire Rank: #99 (#31 RB in our Draft Kit)
Projected Number of Carries: 144.6 (32% of HOU carries)
Projected Points: 122.9

Not only is he the top handcuff on the board due to Mr. Arian Foster, but he's easily the most talented backup available this season as well. Lost in Foster's spectacular season were Tate's 942 rushing yards and 4 rushing TDs on only 175 attempts, giving him 128 fantasy points on the season (not bad for a guy in a flex spot, to be certain). His advanced statistics were even better - he had a +0.01 Net Expected Points per rush value last season, meaning that the Texans gained 0.01 expected points every time that he rushed the ball last season. And that number looks even better when you realize that typically, running backs only have positive NEP rates in very extreme scenarios due to the efficiency of going through the air against rushing it on the ground. Even Foster had a -0.08 NEP per play ratio rushing the ball last year. His success rate was astronomically high as well, helping the Texans get a better chance to score when compared with the average back on 43% of his 175 rushes. Tate will be off the board early simply because of his value as a handcuff to Foster, but even if somebody in your league isn't a handcuff type of person, he's worth picking up on his own merits.