Fantasy football preview: A numbers game at running back

If you want to test the depth of your football knowledge, join a 16-team fantasy football league.

I completed my league’s draft last weekend, then another 10-team PPR league on Saturday. That’s it for me. Three leagues is more than I can handle.

Here are the rosters for those two teams:

16-team league (I had 16th pick): QB Sam Bradford, QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Jahvid Best, RB Felix Jones, RB James Starks, RB DeMarco Murray, RB Ronnie Brown, WR Calvin Johnson, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Robert Meachem, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Jonathan Baldwin, TE Owen Daniels, TE Jared Cook, K Billy Cundiff, D New York Giants.

Yes, I am a Chicago Bears fan. But I can't resist the potential of Green Bay Packers RB James Starks. Associated Press photo

10-team PPR league (I had 8th pick): QB Michael Vick, QB Kyle Orton, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, RB Ryan Mathews, RB James Starks, RB C.J. Spiller, RB Ronnie Brown, RB Javon Ringer, WR Roddy White, WR Wes Welker, WR Austin Collie, WR Chad Ochocinco, WR Mike Sims-Walker, TE Antonio Gates, K Robbie Gould, D Pittsburgh Steelers

By looking at those teams, it’s not too hard to find two players that I consider to be bargains: James Starks and Ronnie Brown.

My philosophy this year is to go quantity at running back. In my 16-teamer, I didn’t have much choice. When your first pick is 16th, you’re better off loading up on top-tier receivers in my opinion. If I’m not getting those top-tier running backs (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, LeSean McCoy), I’d prefer to just wait on that position. I have just as much faith in Knowshon Moreno and Felix Jones having breakout years as I do that Darren McFadden is going to repeat the season he had in 2010.

My belief too is that wide receiver lacks depth just as much as running back does. I want upper-tier players, no matter the position. Again, in a 16-teamer, that can be difficult picking 16th. There were literally 30 picks between my back-to-back choices, so I did miss runs on certain positions, notably tight end (though I’m comfortable with Daniels).

Looking for value? Here are some names of guys I like more than most.

QB Matthew Stafford: His NFL career has been marred by injury. I get it. But I think Stafford and the Detroit Lions will finally take that next step this season. I missed out on Stafford in both my leagues, in the first one by just one pick, and in the second one because I drafted Vick. Stafford lacks a reliable running game (though I have hopes for Jahvid Best) and has great receiving weapons in Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew, plus Best out of the backfield.

QB Josh Freeman: I’m a big fan of QBs that can run. So if you miss out on Vick and Aaron Rodgers, don’t worry. Freeman is likely still there for you. The thing about Freeman is that he’s got a good arm, too, and a couple of nice weapons with Kellen Winslow and Mike Williams.

RB Knowshon Moreno: Will Moreno finally live up to those lofty expecations this year? I think he will. With head coach Josh McDaniels gone, my guess is the Denver Broncos will be much more of a run-oriented offense.

RB Felix Jones: I think this is another post-hype guy. Problem is that he’s having such a good preseason that hype is building again. He averages 5.3 yards per carry in his career. Touchdowns have evaded him, but there isn’t much in terms of competition for those TDs in Dallas now that Marion Barber is gone.

RB James Starks: Don’t know if you caught the news out of Green Bay, but it doesn’t sound like the Packers are feeling real good about Ryan Grant. The running back – who missed almost the entire season last year – took a paycut in order to be guaranteed $2.5 million. And he’s been quiet in the preseason. Meanwhile, Starks had a strong postseason as the Packers won the Super Bowl last year. I’ll take Starks.

RB Ronnie Brown: Another guy worth a flyer late. It’s always tempting to take a chance on a rookie in the 12th, 13th and 14th rounds. But here’s the thing with Brown: Worst-case scenario, he’s probably the goal-line option for Philly. Best-case scenario: If LeSean McCoy gets hurt, he’s the No. 1 back for one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. I got him in the 12th round of my 16-team league and was ecstatic.

WR Austin Collie: Hard to believe he is undervalued, but he sure seems to be. Yeah, I know, he’s a No. 3 receiver on his own team. But the guy played nine games last season, and in that time he had 649 yards and eight touchdowns. At that pace, he would have monster numbers over 16 games. Obviously, his value is tied heavily to Peyton Manning being healthy.

WR Lee Evans: Even I can’t believe I’m writing this. I just like the move out of Buffalo and to Baltimore, which at the very least has a bona fide QB in Joe Flacco, plus Evans will have Anquan Boldin garnering plenty of attention from the opposing defense. Call this a gut feeling.

TE Owen Daniels: I actually think there is depth at the tight end position this year. I got Daniels in my 16-team league as the eighth tight end off the board. He’s been injured a lot (though Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark and Jermichael Finley carry injury concerns of their own), but when healthy he’s been one of the game’s elite over the last two years. He had more than 500 yards and five touchdowns in just eight games in 2009. And after a slow and injury-plagued start last season, he finished with 271 yards and two TDs in his final four games.

TE Aaron Hernandez: I know Rob Gronkowski’s 10 TD catches are eye-catching, but I think Hernandez is a better bet to repeat his season from a year ago, when he hauled in 563 yards and six TDs. I wouldn’t want Hernandez as my starter, but he could elevate himself to that point.

And if you’re in a really deep league like my 16-teamer, here are some deep sleepers that I like in terms of value (as in, don’t draft these guys in the first eight rounds):

QB Colt McCoy, Browns
RB Ben Tate, Texans
RB DeMarco Murray, Cowboys
RB Alex Green, Packers
WR Denarius Moore, Raiders
WR Eric Decker, Broncos
WR Jonathan Baldwin, Chiefs
TE Lance Kendricks, Rams