Adam Levitan

Draft Analysis

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Running Backs to Avoid

Thursday, July 5, 2012

For too many owners, the default position on draft day is set to “safe.” That means rolling with a proven commodity rather than a fresh face. It can mean reaching for someone that’s led us to success in previous seasons, or buying into the theories of the mainstream media’s talking heads. It also leads to overvaluing certain players.

As we continue to evaluate the average draft position (ADP) found in our 2012 Draft Guide, the usual trends are popping up again. Declining players, media darlings and guys with medical red flags are our annual suspects. And at the annually thin running back spot, it’s a danger zone.  

Some backs to avoid:

1. Frank Gore – ADP 38.0
Where he went in Rotoworld’s June 11 expert mock draft: 64th overall

Over the final eight games of last season, Gore averaged 15.3 carries for just 53.6 yards with three touchdowns. That might not scare you, but it certainly scared the 49ers.

They were focused on getting Gore help in the offseason, using a second-round pick on Oregon speedster LaMichael James and taking a flier on Brandon Jacobs in free agency. They already had some talent behind Gore in the form of Kendall Hunter. That’s a crowded backfield.

But competition for snaps isn’t Gore’s only issue. Due in large part to a philosophy change in the 49ers’ offense, he’s no longer a factor in the passing game. After averaging 3.64 catches per game between 2006 and 2010, Gore caught just 1.06 passes per game last year. The Niners are extremely conservative now, meaning he’s exclusively a blocker in the passing game.

And finally, we have age/workload concerns. Gore turned 29 in May and has averaged 299.6 touches per season over the last six years. He’s reached the peak of his career arc.

Editor's Note: See the full results of that expert mock draft with full analysis of each round in our Draft Guide.

2. Michael Turner – ADP 40.3
Where he went in Rotoworld’s June 11 expert mock draft: 47th overall

The Falcons have made no secret about their desire to change philosophy in Matt Ryan’s fifth season. Here’s a sampling of spring quotes from Falcons coaches:

Running backs coach Gerald Brown: “We discussed the possibility of making sure that we monitor his reps so that he can stay strong for us through the season and into December. We feel very good about Jason Snelling and Jacquizz, too.”

Head coach Mike Smith on his short-yardage running game: “It’s a big concern. You’ve got confidence in your football team that they are going to be able to move the football a half yard. There were many times this season when we were unable to get that accomplished.”

Offensive assistant Andrew Weidinger: "When we first came in, coach (Mike) Smith said we were going to run the ball. Now, we are going to throw it too."

Really, it’s a no-brainer for the Falcons to go to an up-tempo, vertical scheme under new coordinator Dirk Koetter. Ryan is ready to take the next step, Julio Jones/Roddy White are an elite duo and Turner is well into his decline phase. He’s now 30 and has worn down badly in each of the last two seasons thanks to heavy workloads. The Falcons want to expand their screen game and Turner is inept as a receiver. Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers can play. It’s a formula to avoid at all costs.

3. Ahmad Bradshaw – ADP 26.5
Where he went in Rotoworld’s June 11 expert mock draft: 27th overall

Although Bradshaw has missed just six games over the last four seasons, his foot/ankle woes appear chronic. That’s what happens when you suffer from stress fractures, an injury that can only truly heal via rest. Bradshaw missed four games last year due to a cracked bone in his foot and then had a bone marrow injection after the Super Bowl. He almost never puts in a full week of practice.

The Giants clearly have no intention of riding Bradshaw as a feature back. They used a first-round pick on Virginia Tech’s David Wilson, a fast and explosive runner that was the ACC Player of the Year in 2011. He’s much more of a threat to Bradshaw on early downs than Brandon Jacobs was – and Jacobs was a significant vulture. Bradshaw topped 15 carries just three times last season.

A high third-round pick is a lot to spend on an injury risk that is viewed as a committee back by his own team.  

4. Shonn Greene – ADP 55.5
Where he went in Rotoworld’s June 11 expert mock draft: 74th overall

The issue here isn’t injuries, workload or competition for carries. It’s talent.

Greene is a plodding back that runs to contact, is a liability in the passing game and has no burst. It leads to a bunch of boring, below-average games without the explosive plays that make the difference in fantasy matchups. For more on Greene’s shortcomings as a runner, bang it here for Evan Silva’s interview with film expert Greg Cosell.

Adding to Greene’s down arrow this season is the state of the Jets. They’re bringing back Wayne Hunter, one of the game’s worst offensive linemen, to start at right tackle. Right guard Brandon Moore can’t run block anymore. Tim Tebow is bulking up so he can be used as a goal-line back. It’s a mess for Greene.  

5. Reggie Bush – ADP 47.6
Where he went in Rotoworld’s June 11 expert mock draft: 70th overall

The Tony Sparano regime believed what no one else seemed to: Reggie Bush is best-served as an inside, between-the-tackles runner. To Sparano’s credit, Bush was pretty effective in that role. He carried the ball a career-high 216 times for an impressive 5.0 YPC average. Bush also caught just 2.8 passes per game, by far the fewest of his career. 

But there’s a new sheriff in town now, and there are signs that Joe Philbin sees Bush’s role differently. The West Coast scheme should highlight Bush’s skills as a “hybrid” runner/receiver – and he knows it.

“Obviously I think my role is going to be a little bit different from last year. I’m going to be split out wide a little bit more, playing more receiver.”

Look for Daniel Thomas to pound the ball more and speedy Lamar Miller to find his way into the mix as well. There’s no way Bush nears 200 carries again this season.

6. BenJarvus Green-Ellis – ADP 59.4
Where he went in Rotoworld’s June 11 expert mock draft: 86th overall

There are a lot of problems when you leave the Patriots for the Bengals.

First and foremost, there will be far less goal-line carries available. And really, that’s the only reason Green-Ellis has been on the fantasy radar at all over the last two seasons. The former undrafted free agent has racked up 24 touchdowns during that span, but 18 of them have come in goal-to-go situations.

Another issue is the change in division. The Bengals will face the annually stout run defenses of the Ravens and Steelers four times and the AFC North matches up with the NFC East this season.

When Green-Ellis did manage some big rushing games in New England, it was usually because teams were running a dime defense as their base to try to stop Tom Brady. He’ll face many more seven- and eight-man fronts in Cincy.

The final problem is a lack of special talent, which will lead to a timeshare with the significantly more explosive Bernard Scott.

"I can't tell you if it's 1A or 1B, but [Green-Ellis] would be along with Bernard (Scott)," said head coach Marvin Lewis.

Bang it here for why I wouldn’t take Adrian Peterson and am shying away from Jamaal Charles as well.

Adam Levitan is in his seventh season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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