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Third-Down Running Backs: Key to a Championship?

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Shane Vereen is an excellent cheap candidate for your fantasy flex spot. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Shane Vereen is an excellent cheap candidate for your fantasy flex spot. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Unless you are in a no-running-back league, you need running backs to win a fantasy football championship.  The associated assumption is that you need two or three 300-carry guys to win. Because of the proliferation of PPR, you may have more options than you think.

You need to exploit different ideas and concepts to take advantage of your league-mates who will have the same information and projections as you. One of those ideas is that third-down backs, guys who are almost guaranteed to not lead their teams in carries, can help you in your RB2 and flex spots. Here are some of the best ones.

Darren Sproles

What you want in fantasy football is to know what a player’s role is on a team, and that he is going to have it without challenge. The San Diego Chargers had Sproles for five seasons and couldn’t get him a consistent role. In 29 games with the Saints, Sproles has 161 catches, which is more than 5.5 per contest. You’re looking at a baseline of nine PPR points per game just based on receiving. He also has 17 from-scrimmage touchdowns in the past two years. He has five return touchdowns in his career, so if you get those points, there’s even more reason to make Sproles your RB2. He is 30 years old, but with fewer than 700 career touches, should be good to go in 2013.

Shane Vereen

You may have to go on faith, which is a tough thing to do with a coach like Bill Belichick, when it comes to Shane Vereen’s 2013 role. Since being the first running back the New England Patriots took in the 2012 draft, Vereen has been mostly an afterthought. He’s interesting for the 2013 fantasy season for a few reasons. One is that he’ll most likely take the role vacated by free agent Danny Woodhead, who will be discussed shortly. Look at Vereen’s performance in last year's Divisional playoff game against the Texans. He had 7/41/1 on the ground and 5/83/2 as a receiver. That’s a 35-point PPR game on 12 touches. Stevan Ridley suffered a concussion in the AFC Championship game, and is fumble-prone. It’s possible that Vereen leads the Patriots in RB touches. On a team that finished second in the league in carries, he’s worth a sixth-round pick as your RB3.

Danny Woodhead

As a part-time player with the Patriots, Danny Woodhead performed well with limited touches. As a third-down and two-minute running back, Woodhead finished as a borderline RB2 in 2010 and 2012. He moves on to San Diego, which isn’t as good a location if you’re looking to make the playoffs, but it might be even better for Woodhead. In 2012, Philip Rivers completed 123 passes to fullbacks and running backs, and there is talk of more short-game passes to help Rivers rebound from poor past seasons. The Patriots had less than half of that total. It’s likely that the Chargers continue to pull Ryan Mathews on third downs and in goal-line situations. Woodhead probably will reprise his role as two-minute guy as well. He’s looking at a career year, and you can get him in the double digits of rounds in your fantasy drafts.

Daryl Richardson

The St. Louis Rams were like a dynasty fantasy footballer in the last round of a rookie draft when they selected Daryl Richardson one pick from the end of the 2012 draft. Richardson rushed past fellow draftee Isaiah Pead to earn the backup gig behind local legend Steven Jackson. Jackson’s gone, and the discussion is whether Pead or rookie Zac Stacy wins the starting gig. Richardson is still going to have a role. He caught 24 passes last year and could double that total. He also averaged 4.8 yards a carry. With Pead suspended for the season opener, Richardson could take the job and literally run with it. Even if he isn’t the team’s starter, he will see significant touches. The coaching staff loves him and that’s the kind of player to take a shot on with your last RB slot in the later rounds of your draft.

Other potential third-down fantasy options are LaMichael James for the 49ers, Jacquizz Rodgers of the Falcons, Fred Jackson of the Bills (oldie but goodie), Bilal Powell of the Jets, and Roy Helu or rookie Chris Thompson of the Washington franchise.