You've heard about the late-round quarterback draft strategy. You know that you can probably wait until the later rounds to draft a tight end, too. But when it comes to running backs, it's a bit more difficult to identify value picks late in drafts. There are only so many reliable running backs to go around, and by the time Round 10 hits, you're basically throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. Well fear not fantasy faithful. There are a ton of options that present almost zero risk and could potentially bring a healthy serving of upside to your fantasy roster. Keep in mind that we're still a few weeks away from training camp when things will really start taking shape, but for now, here are a few running backs to plug into your big board and lean on when the going gets tough in the late rounds. Feel free to slander me on Twitter @MattFranchise if you're dissatisfied with my takes. I'm used to it.
The no-love No. 1: Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland is rebuilding in its first year under new head coach Hue Jackson, but the team refrained from making any significant offseason moves at the running back position. The team's decision to not select a running back in the NFL draft left some scratching their heads … that is until Jackson showered praise on his incumbent duo of Crowell and Duke Johnson. After seeing his backs in offseason workouts, Jackson went so far to say the duo is "as good as I've seen in a while" and called their talent "extreme." This coming from a coach who guided Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill to over 2,000 total yards and 14 total touchdowns a season ago in Cincinnati.
A victim of an anemic ground game the past two seasons, Crowell was still able to manage 13 total touchdowns and 1,582 yards from scrimmage since his debut in 2014. At age 23 and with 32 NFL games under his belt, Crowell has much room for improvement.
Last year, he finished as fantasy's RB27 with five touchdowns and 888 total yards. He was out-snapped by Johnson, but that had more to do with game script than anything else. His yards per carry averaged dropped a tad from 4.1 in 2014 to 3.8 in 2015, but not all of that is on him; the Browns' offensive line ranked 29th in the NFL in run blocking last year according to Football Outsiders. Since Cleveland was losing most of the time, Crowell averaged just 11.6 rush attempts per game. Under Jackson, who is a run-first game planner, that number should increase even if the Browns' offense isn't firing on all cylinders.
Crowell projects as the early-down banger despite the fact that his build isn't exactly ideal for that kind of role. Still, he runs without trepidation, has displayed impressive acceleration and burst when hitting creases at the line and may see some additional looks as a pass-catcher whenever Johnson isn't on the field.
The low-volume, explosive PPR gem: Bilal Powell, New York Jets
In a change-of-pace role behind Chris Ivory last year, Powell received double-digit carries for the first three games, all of which were Jets' wins in which the game script called for a heavy dose of the run (Ivory also had double-digit rush attempts in those three contests). Powell collected 207 total yards and recorded a 76.5 percent catch rate in that span. He has a tendency to get nicked up though, and he missed some time with groin and ankle issues mid-season. Then, he landed squarely back on the fantasy radar with a late-season hot streak that made him a viable RB2 option with three straight double-digit games in Weeks 13-15, scoring all three of his touchdowns for the season during that span and while piling up 269 yards from scrimmage. Expanding the window to Weeks 12-16 in which the Jets won five straight games, Powell was Ryan Fitzpatrick's third favorite target behind wideouts Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
Despite the fact that 30-year-old veteran Matt Forte is in line for the primary back role in New York, Powell's workload has a good chance to exceed what he posted last season running behind Ivory: 117 touches, 701 total yards and three total touchdowns.
As Brian Costello of the New York Post pointed out, Powell has survived three general manager changes and four OC changes since the Jets drafted him in 2011. It seems that his talent is valued among Jets' brass, no matter who it is. Costello also wrote that he expects "major touches" for Powell this year. It makes sense if the Jets try to keep Forte healthy and fresh for a potential playoff run.
The Jets have solid depth at running back, so if Forte were to miss time, don't assume that Powell will automatically slide into the primary back role. Veteran backups Khiry Robinson and Zac Stacy, both capable of handling a large workload, are waiting in the wings for a chance to prove they're worthy of more opportunities and would likely split the load with Powell in that case.
Draft Powell as a late-round bargain with the idea that he's an upside flex play, especially in PPR formats, as his skillset allows him to produce respectable fantasy numbers on a limited amount of touches.
The third-down specialist with breakout potential: Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
The team selected Thompson in the fifth round in 2013 as a change-of-pace candidate to work in behind the now departed Alfred Morris. But heading into 2015, Thompson had just nine career NFL touches to his name due to injury issues. Last year, he got his chance and served as the Redskins' third-down back behind both Morris and rookie Matt Jones. The Morris-Jones combination was not a very effective one, which, to the frustration of fantasy owners, allowed Thompson to capitalize on his limited opportunities.
While his year-end stat line wasn't anything that jumps off the page, there is reason to believe that Thompson can be a fantasy asset this season. During a six-game span last season between Weeks 3-9, he piled up 347 total yards while averaging 9.06 yards per rush attempt on his 18 carries. He finished the year with a 6.17 yards per carry average but only toted the rock 35 times, adding 35 receptions and two receiving touchdowns. Thompson flashed speed, the ability to gain big chunks of yardage in space and extreme versatility.
Entering 2016, Thompson projects as the third-down back again, this time with a much clearer path to playing time because he's moved up a rung on the depth chart with Morris gone. Jones is the projected early-down back and chain mover but the jury is still out on whether or not he has fixed his ball security issues. That said, Thompson should get plenty of work beyond the garbage time and no huddle situations where he saw most of his snaps on last year.
For a smaller back, his good pass-blocking skills are key to him seeing more playing time, and if he can carve out space for himself in a Washington offense that indeed has a lot of mouths to feed, there's a real chance that he can be a PPR monster that nobody saw coming.
The rookie who cannot be hyped enough: C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks
Every season, there's a rookie running back who emerges as a fantasy game changer. This season, that player is C.J. Prosise.
The hype surrounding Prosise and his projected role in Seattle's offense is palpable at this point, especially with Thomas Rawls on the mend. Coach Pete Carroll has showered his third-round pick with enough praise to last a lifetime and we have yet to see the pads come on.
As a converted slot receiver his route running is more polished than one might expect for a running back. Based on what Carroll has said, Prosise's role as Seattle's third down back is virtually locked in, but there is potential for him to be a lot more than just a role player. Due to his versatility (think a bigger version of Duke Johnson), Prosise has the size and strength to be a bell cow but possesses the footwork and speed of a deep-threat wideout too. He's shaping up as one of the most exciting fantasy prospects in recent memory. When he is on the field, his versatility will keep defenses guessing which could lead to some big week-winning plays and makes him a must-own in all fantasy formats.
For now, Prosise is worth reaching for earlier than his ADP suggests. Even if Rawls gets back to full strength by the season opener, there is a chance Seattle eases him into the game plan early on which will open up even more opportunities for the rookie to excel in an already uber-efficient offense. Prosise offers RB2 upside at virtually no cost in standard formats, so whatever you do don't let him go undrafted.
The handcuff who isn't necessarily a handcuff: Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is no question that Doug Martin is the best Bucs' back to own in fantasy. But Charles Sims proved last year that he's worth rostering, and starting on a weekly basis as a flex play with low-end RB2 upside. Sims gained over 1,000 total yards on his 158 touches last year and had double-digit touches in seven games. He averaged an impressive 4.9 yards per carry finishing as fantasy's RB22 in standard scoring and RB17 in PPR scoring.
Sims is an ideal player to target when searching for upside in the later rounds due to his volume as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Heralded for his soft hands coming out of college, he was essentially Tampa Bay's No. 2 receiver last year hauling in 51 of his 70 targets (second only to Mike Evans) for a 73 percent catch rate. Sims also tied tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for the team lead with four receiving scores.
With Jameis Winston developing and the Bucs offense headed into its second year in Dirk Koetter's scheme, Sims should benefit from what should be a more balanced offense. Tampa Bay's run percentage last season was 45.96, ninth in the NFL, and if the team finds itself on the winning side of a few more games, it could mean even more volume for the running backs. Even if Doug Martin stays healthy all year, there's a chance Sims is already in line for even more touches in 2016. So while some may draft him as a handcuff, the West Virgina product is better used as an upside flex play with Martin leading the way.
The deepest of sleepers: Zach Zenner, Detroit Lions
If there is a Detroit running back you want on your fantasy team this season, it's Ameer Abdullah. As a rookie, Abdullah led the Lions in rushing but for the most part he was considered a bust in fantasy due to his high draft price and ball security issues. Abdullah should take the next step in Year 2, but he won't be bearing 25 touches per game, especially coming off shoulder surgery.
Following a tremendous preseason in which he led the NFL in rushing yards (35-183-2) Zenner, an undrafted free agent, collected a mere 17 carries in regular season play before bowing out for the year with a severe rib injury. At full health, Zenner reportedly took first team reps during the Lions' minicamp sessions in mid-June. He'll be competing for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart with Stevan Ridley and George Winn, but with another strong showing in camp, Zenner should have no trouble winning that job. He will likely rotate in on short-yardage and goal-line situations, especially if Abdullah has trouble holding onto the ball.
It's becoming somewhat of a cliché in the NFL these days, but consider Zenner the thunder to Abduallah's lightning. He's a bruising, downhill runner with good speed once he gets to space, and has enough lateral quickness to make defenders miss at the line.
Also, don't discount the fact that Abdullah's efficiency, which lacked in the first half of the year, increased a great deal after Jim Bob Cooter took over the offense. With an entire offseason to learn the ins-and-outs of JBC's scheme, the young Lions' backfield is in a great position to exceed expectations after averaging a league-worst 83.4 rushing yards per game a season ago.
Joique Bell, whom the Lions parted ways with, was the team's primary option in red zone situations last year, pacing the backfield with 17 attempts and four touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line. The majority of those coveted looks should go Zenner's way if everything pans out. In terms of fantasy value, Zenner presents virtually zero risk on draft day and has the potential for high-end flex upside if he earns the role of the goal-line back.