Third and Three; Running Backs

Chris Wells should be a very good bargain at No.28.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With NFL training camps just around the corner, we all have our early thoughts as to who will be this year's fantasy bargains and who will be a flop.

In Part II of the series, we continue our search for bargains at the running back position and over the next few weeks we will evaluate the other spots. We'll look at three players who will play above their current projected fantasy value and three who won't perform up to expectations.

Of course, over the next two months my opinions could change based on what I see at camp and in the preseason, but going into the season here are some of my early expectations.

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Chris Wells, Arizona (ADP 28) - Wells began his rookie season slowly but by the middle of the season was the Cardinals' primary ball carrier. From Week 9 through Week 16, he averaged 14 attempts-per-game. That figure should go higher as new starting quarterback Matt Leinart relies more heavily on the running game than the recently-retired Kurt Warner. The only thing which can keep Wells from being a bargain as a third-round pick is if he gets stopped just short of the goal line and the team brings in Tim Hightower to "steal" Wells' touchdown carries. I believe Wells will have a lot of touchdowns from five-to-10 yards out and he'll post a 1,250-yard, 10 TD campaign which will make him a very good bargain at No.28.

Matt Forte, Chicago (ADP 49) - First things first. Forte played injured from Week 3 on last season, which was a huge factor in his disappointing season (929 rushing yards, 471 receiving yards, four touchdowns). His drop from the fourth player selected in 2009 to No.49 in 2010 is a mistake despite the addition of Chester Taylor into the backfield mix. With his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield (120 receptions over the past two seasons) Forte should fit nicely into the new Mike Martz offensive scheme. While he probably won't run for 1,238 yards like he did as a rookie, he should combine for 1,300 yards from scrimmage and seven scores. That would be very good production out of a late fifth-round pick.

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants (ADP 84) - Bradshaw is a better running back than starter Brandon Jacobs. He's also a warrior. Bradshaw played through foot and ankle injuries last season, which would have had others watching from the sidelines. Following multiple offseason surgeries, Bradshaw should start the season healthy. While the Giants will still have a "shared backfield," I'd rather pick Bradshaw in the eighth or ninth round than Jacobs in the fifth round. Also given Jacobs' inability to play a complete 16-game schedule, picking Bradshaw has a bigger upside and very little downside.

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Frank Gore, San Francisco (ADP 5) - Gore has been one of the most overrated fantasy running backs over the past three seasons. Ever since he posted a "monster" 2006 campaign (1,695 yards rushing, 485 yards receiving, nine touchdowns), fantasy owners have been drafting him as if he will repeat that production and he's come up short every year. He had a solid 2009 season with 1,526 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns, but he's not a No.5 overall pick. The 49ers have a much improved passing game with the addition of Michael Crabtree, and in the redzone they look for tight end Vernon Davis. From Week 6 on, after Crabtree signed and began to play, the 49ers threw the ball 61- percent of the time versus 53.5-percent before his arrival. Gore, who hasn't played a full 16-game schedule since 2006, will likely see less carries than in previous seasons and thus, with less opportunities, will disappoint fantasy owners once again this season if they pick him in the top-five.

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (ADP 16) - The common thread I've seen from so many "so-called" experts is that the Steelers will have to run the ball more because of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and that this will be good for Mendenhall's rushing totals. That is an inaccurate theory. What will more likely happen is that the opposing teams will stack their defense against the one-dimensional Pittsburgh offense and the Steelers will struggle at the beginning of the season without a passing threat. Mendenhall may get more carries, but his average yards-per-carry will drop as he faces eight-man fronts and safeties crowding the line of scrimmage. Mendenhall will likely not improve on last year's numbers, which makes him a third-round pick at best.

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia (ADP 35) - McCoy is not a good pick in the fourth round unless you enjoy getting 60 yards rushing, 25 yards receiving and no touchdowns from that pick. McCoy is stuck in an offense that is going to throw the ball, and when it comes to rushing the ball, will share the carries with newcomer Mike Bell and even fullback Leonard Weaver. He may have a little more value in PPR leagues as he'll catch a good number of screen passes, but I wouldn't expect too many 100-yard rushing days. Given the fact that Pierre Thomas, Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown and Matt Forte will likely still be on the board when you make this pick, they are all better options than McCoy at No.35.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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