One, you check his age out. Has he hit the 30-year old mark? If not, he’s still got time on his side. Is it always a definite no-go if he is over 30? Of course not, but it’s a good indicator.
Second, is he in an offense where he skills are in demand? If he’s not No.3 or No. 4 on the depth chart and he can provide something that the team is lacking, then he’s likely to see some time on the field no matter what the circumstance.
Third, is he healthy enough where you can trust him to be playing at 100 percent the second he steps onto the field? If his injury list isn’t as big as a CVS receipt, then you’ve got some potential there.
Now, you may have your own definition of what makes a running back fantasy worthy and my assessment may not cover the entire picture, but there are always running backs you can find in the later rounds that fit those three criteria.
Examples that immediately come to mind are Joique Bell (gives Detroit an inside running game that Reggie Bush can’t always provide), Fred Jackson (reliable, good pass blocker and isn’t as injury-prone as C.J. Spiller), and Danny Woodhead (a great receiver out of the backfield where as Ryan Mathews is more of a straight line runner.)
Someone else whose skills are currently demanded of and who passes through nearly all those checkpoints listed earlier is Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw.
He’s 28 years old, which is almost surprising but makes sense when you consider he was a rookie when the New York Giants discovered he could be a real impact guy late in 2007.
He’s also on an run-based offense headed by Pep Hamilton, the same guy who displayed a commitment to the run game last season despite having one of the top up-and-coming quarterbacks in Andrew Luck and a below average offensive line.
Luck only threw the ball 570 times last season, which ranked 11th in the league but still wasn’t ideal considering the 6’4, 240 lb Stanford grad with impeccable footwork has displayed the ability to throw for at least 4,500 yards if given the opportunity to take more risks in the offense.
Hamilton has preached a more balanced offense this season, which would likely feature close to 600 passing attempts for Luck this season. The Colts seem committed to that notion so far judging my Luck’s recent play. In three preseason games, Luck has thrown 41 passes for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns.
But a balanced offense doesn’t exactly cut the running back out of the equation entirely. So who is likely to be the guy running between the tackles for Indianapolis in 2014?
Current starting running back Trent Richardson struggled last season with only 2.9 yards per carry average, which ranked among the worst for running backs with at least 6.25 attempts per game. Although he nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark his rookie season, his 3.3 career yards per carry average isn’t fantasy caliber. Richardson also lacks the agility to make the plays out of nothing, which is an important trait to have due to the Colts limitations on the offensive line.
Richardson hasn’t shown much improvement in the preseason either. So far, he’s averaging 2.4 yards per clip on 14 carries. It’s only preseason, but you’d like to see some improvement after a lackluster 2013 performance. With Richardson struggling, the Colts might start to get desperate when it comes to the run game.
With that desperation, the Colts could start to look for another option in the run game.
The big picture in the backfield
Bradshaw didn’t exactly shine in his preseason debut against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday. He carried the ball three times for just two yards, while fellow running backs Dan Herron and Zurlon Tipton combined for 99 yards on 16 carries. While Bradshaw’s performance was underwhelming, keep in mind he only carried the ball three times and established veterans like him often aren’t required to put up big numbers in order to see significant playing time in the regular season.
Herron’s 8.5 yards per carry against New Orleans can’t go unnoticed though, and could be an indication that the 25-year-old may creep up the depth chart if Richardson keeps struggling. While Herron is making a good case to see time on the field as well, he’s not incredibly explosive and is still young and gaining experience after just one full season with the Colts.
Bradshaw’s body of work
Bradshaw was effective in limited action last season. In three games, he rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries, good for 4.5 YPC. He would later be placed on injured reserve soon after suffering a neck injury against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 22 of the 2013 season. Still, he proved effective when healthy and although he landed on injured reserve, it’s likely the Colts didn’t want to want to push him too hard to return to the field after they acquired Trent Richardson from the Cleveland Browns midway through the season.
Throughout his career, Bradshaw often battled some type of injury, but remained a model of consistency when healthy. In his six seasons with the New York Giants, Bradshaw rushed for 4,418 yards and scored 32 touchdowns, averaging about five touchdowns per year. Not pro bowl numbers, but reliable production is all you want in your flex/RB3 position in most leagues.
He’s never been the fastest or most athletically gifted back, but Bradshaw runs with a lot of desire and has shown a knack for creating yards for himself even when the blocking isn’t there.
When you consider Bradshaw has a legitimate chance to start, is still young enough to generate significant production and also isn’t even getting drafted in the majority of fantasy leagues, he’s a worthy dark horse guy who you can add on your bench in the last few rounds of your draft. You’ll need a few things to fall your way if you expect to get value out of him, but he’s a great potential guy at that spot.