Fantasy owners can always gain an advantage by drafting a player in the late rounds who ends up starting for their team. Last year, players who cost almost zero draft capital James Conner and Phillip Lindsay were starters for their fantasy teams whenever they were healthy and ended up helping their teams tremendously.
Here are four late-round running backs that are underrated.
Entering the NFL, Matt Breida showed he’s an excellent athlete. At his pro day, he ran a 4.39, leaped to a 99th percentile burst score, and showed good agility.
He’s done little to dispel that notion through two NFL seasons.
Last season, Breida finished as RB26 despite missing two games. He joined Lindsay, Nick Chubb, Melvin Gordon, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffrey as the only backs to average at least 5.0 yards per carry on 150 or more attempts.
Although Alfred Morris isn’t the most talented running back, Breida outrushed him by 1.4 yards per carry – so we can’t attribute all of his success to coach Kyle Shanahan.
While Breida is the least expensive, he’s arguably been the most effective of the 49ers running backs.
Able to play efficiently in the passing and running games, the 49ers may have a hard time taking him off the field. Coming off the board at RB57, it’s worth drafting him to find out.
How many times have we heard of a rookie not being ready to play heavy downs? It happens – whether they can’t fully grasp the playbook or blitz pickup is an issue. Regardless, it’s not a bad idea to draft players who are slotted behind rookies.
Josh Jacobs could be a really good player – but currently, there are red flags. He underwhelmed as an athlete at the combine. In addition, he received 30 fewer carries and caught two fewer passes than teammate fellow rookie Damien Harris in their final collegiate season. He didn’t even lead his position in touches in college.
Enter Jalen Richard, who caught 68 of 81 targets last season for 607 yards. Despite receiving significantly less rushing volume, Richard was more effective than Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch on the ground and through the air.
A breather back, Richard could play a bigger role than anticipated if Jacobs struggles out of the gates. The nice thing about drafting Richard is he’s free – currently going undrafted in Fantasy Football Calculator drafts.
Kalen Ballage isn’t the type of running back that I usually target but there are several interesting components to his profile. Let’s start with his size and speed combination – Ballage ran a 4.46 forty at 228 lbs. That’s a 97th percentile speed score. He also saw a significant number of targets at Arizona State.
As a rookie, behind Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake, he only received 36 carries – but rushed for a healthy 5.3 yards per carry. Gore has departed and Drake is likely the best player in this backfield but the Dolphins seem unwilling to commit to him as a workhorse.
Ballage took the first snap at running back during team drills Thursday and Friday at Dolphins practice.
One notable takeaway from first 2 days of Dolphins camp: Kalen Ballage has a real chance to win starting RB job. Brian Flores said he’s done a “great job” this offseason & he’s got a lot of run with the 1s. I mentioned it in May but I don’t expect full Kenyan Drake show in 2019.
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) July 26, 2019
Currently being drafted in Round 12, Ballage is a cheap running back dart throw.
Every year fantasy owners are high on the new crop of rookies, but Darwin Thompson is flying under the radar. Thompson is small – at 5’8” and 198 lbs. he’s just a little bigger than Tarik Cohen and Darren Sproles. But he crushed his pro day – demonstrating excellent jumping ability, good agility, and strength.
Thompson also topped 1,000 yards and ran for at least 6.8 yards per carry in each of his three collegiate seasons. Thompson was arguably college football’s most elusive back.
Utah State running back @DTRAINN5 had an excellent season for the Aggies. Darwin earned an 88.1 rushing grade and didn't go down easy. He forced 42 missed tackles while rushing and 13 while receiving and his elusive rating of 195.0 ranked 1st among RBs with at least 56 attempts. pic.twitter.com/odkgSwTi3M
— Cole Brown (@ColeBrown_MSU) December 11, 2018
Yes, the Chiefs have touted Damien Williams and signed Carlos Hyde this offseason. Williams played very well down the stretch last season but hasn’t topped 256 rushing yards through five NFL seasons. For his career, Williams has 733 rushing yards and he’s entering his age-27-season.
The Chiefs frequently throw to running backs and Hyde has never been a good pass catcher – averaging just 4 yards per target for his career. That average has dropped to a pathetic 3.7 yards per target over the past two seasons.
As a rusher, Hyde has also been below average over the past two years. Rushing for just 3.7 yards per carry over his last 30 games.
Hyde isn’t the player that he once was.
In 2017, behind the same offensive line, Breida ran for 0.52 more yards per carry.
In 2018, behind the same offensive line, Chubb ran for 1.84 more yards per carry.
Now in his age-29 season, I’m not better on a Hyde bounce-back
— Mike Braude (@BraudeM) July 23, 2019