Regardless of how fantasy football changes over the years, running backs will always be the primary focus of most owners. It's hardwired into our brains. More and more teams are moving to the dreaded running back by committee approach using two, even three rotating backs. They're just corrupting America's sport--fantasy football. It's enough to drive you to fantasy golf.
With the RB pool diluted by the fantasy cancer of the RBBC, owners have taken to hoarding as many RBs as possible. Who needs a kicker when you can use the bench spot for that deep sleeper from Cleveland? Yes, it's that bad. So now, more than in years past, it's important not only to find those late round diamonds in the rough, but to make the most of the early picks. Nothing sucks worse than overpaying for mediocrity, and perhaps nothing feels better (besides winning) than finding fantasy bargains.
This is where ADP (average draft position) comes in handy. If you can get a pretty good feel for who's going too early and who's hanging around longer than expected, you can build a fantasy road map that can lead you to bargain basement riches while your fellow owners get KO'd with sticker-shock.
I consider over/under players, guys who are usually within 5-10 ADP slots of where they should go. Keep in mind that every slot could mean as much as a full round of picks in the draft. As an example, Reggie Bush is the 26th RB drafted at pick 71. Brandon Jacobs is the 27th ADP, but he's not taken until pick 83. A full round later. So 5-10 ADP slots could mean 50 to 100 or more picks later in the draft. There was a reason your teachers told you math was important: fantasy football!
Below are three running backs that are going too early in drafts and three that are going to outperform the position they're being drafted at.
Ryan Mathews, SDC - Fantasy owners are certainly placing a lot of faith and expectation on this kid. He will get the chance to start for the San Diego Chargers, and he'll likely put up decent numbers, but it would be a stretch to think he'll put up a Top 12 performance in his rookie year, which is his ADP. That would require about 1400 all purpose yards and 8 TDs, which is what it took Jamaal Charles to reach #12 last season. I have him ranked 16th, and that may still be a pick or three high.
LeSean McCoy, PHI - McCoy is going as the 17th RB selected, 35th overall-- sandwiched between Tom Brady and Steve Smith (NYG). I have him ranked 20th, which I'm still skeptical about. He ranked 37th last season. It's a lot to expect him to jump 20 spots, especially with Mike Bell in the picture. I think there's a very real possibility Bell could split carries 50/50 with McCoy, but at the very least he projects to be a TD thief. McCoy has yet to prove he's capable of being a #1 RB, or a top 20 fantasy pick.
Reggie Bush, NOS - Each season since 2006, Bush has been overvalued and drafted too early, and every season since 2006 his fantasy production has declined. The last two season's he's finished 35th and 36th in fantasy scoring, yet his ADP is 26th-- in front of guys like Brandon Jacobs, Fred Jackson, Jerome Harrison, Ricky Williams and Marion Barber.
I've been hearing a lot of noise about Ryan Grant being woefully undervalued this season, going at lowly 15th, after a #8 finish in 2009. But really that had a lot to do with his 11 TDs. I expect him to settle back into his mid-to-late teens finish again in 2010.
Fred Jackson, BUF - Unless something's changed that I'm unaware of, Jackson is #1 on the Bills depth chart, CJ Spiller belongs in the overvalued list above as he'll likely only see special teams and special packages play in 2010. He and Marshawn Lynch will get about 30-40% of the carries, and the rest is Fleet-feet Freddie. I have him ranked 24th, which is about where Spiller is being drafted. Jackson's slipping all the way to 38th which is where Lynch/Spiller should be considered. Add to all of this that Chan Gailey likes using a primary back, (70% of the time historically) and Jackson is really a bargain.
Pierre Thomas, NOS - Thomas didn't have a fantasy appetizing 2009 season. He started only 5 games and split carries with Mike Bell...and of course Reggie Bush. Injuries didn't help either. But still he had 1100 total yards and 8 touchdowns, which was good for 20th overall among RBs. In 2010, Bell is gone and Pierre is healthy. He could even sneak into the top 10 performers by season's end. Right now his ADP is 18. He makes a better pick at 12 than rookie Ryan Mathews, and he should be going before McCoy and perhaps Ryan Grant.
Joseph Addai, IND - Addai is the poster child for undervalued almost every season. This year his ADP is 23rd. His fantasy finishes, not including his 2008 injury season were; 10th, 4th and 11th. In every season except 2008 he's averaged 1335 yards and 12 TDs. There's no reason the believe Addai won't finish in the top 15 again this season. This season Peyton Manning has even more receiving weapons which should help keep the running lanes open for Addai and his back-up Donald Brown.