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We've already talked a ton about over/under and how it creates game flow predictability both in general and for quarterbacks. Running back is a completely different animal though, especially in the early season. Most running backs only see a large number of carries if their team is ahead in the game by a decent margin unless their team is a very run heavy offense these days. Finding backs who can rack up 20+ carries is a huge feat for fantasy owners these days as it just doesn't happen that often in the age of injury prevention, committees and just an overall passing environment in the NFL today.
There were few guys racking up that many carries weekly last year and one of them was the injury prone Arian Foster who basically amassed 20 or more carries in every game he both came into and made it out of healthy, which sadly wasn't nearly as many as his owners would have liked. Another was DeMarco Murray for the Cowboys. Murray and the Cowboys are an interesting case that I really want to cover in this piece because he was a very special back last season. He was a guy labeled injury prone prior to last year, yet led the league in carries, came out unscathed and got a pretty big contract from the Eagles out of it. The Cowboys, despite many deficiencies on defense and in other areas, were favored weekly because of their elite running game thanks to the offensive line and Murray. Now, the chicken and egg question of whether we should give more credit to Murray or his linemen remains to be answered, but it leaves the Cowboys and fantasy owners in a very difficult position heading into the 2015 season.
The Cowboys, based off of last season's success will likely be favored often in the early going of the 2015 season despite the loss of Murray. Their impressive offensive line has come back and might have even improved with some offseason additions. The problem is they are left with a bunch of question marks in the backfield currently, namely Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden.
McFadden was a hot name a few years ago thanks to being a top five draft pick armed with blazing speed and a massive frame, but thanks to injuries, increasing age and playing for the Raiders, he's basically fallen off the fantasy map outside of a couple useful games over the past two years. He's a guy that's succeeded in a power running scheme like the Cowboys use in the past, but really struggled in zone schemes to the point where it was unsure if he'd even get another chance in the league this season.
Randle on the other hand looked great backing up Murray last season and averaged a healthy five yards per carry on less than 100 carries in 2014. He seems to be a fit for what the Cowboys are trying to do and all indications are he'll get the first crack at the starting job. Randle wasn't heavily hyped coming out of Oklahoma State, but has carved out a nice spot on the Cowboys roster thanks to his consistency and work ethic, but hadn't ever really shown much and certainly not nearly as much as McFadden, prior to last season.
Now that we've talked through the options above, the real question becomes how do we approach these runners in daily fantasy in the early season, when the Cowboys are sure to be favored often. The problem with no clear cut option is head coach Jason Garrett could pull the plug on the starter or turn to a rotation at any point, so it's likely going to come down to price tag when we're trying to attack this situation in the early going. Some kind of committee actually would likely give us the best price point to exploit, as the secondary option in a committee like this generally comes with a nice, low price tag, despite being just a few projected carries and yards behind the lead runner. In this case, it's likely to be McFadden, who has plenty of upside as the superior goal line back of the two as well as the better pass catcher, which helps exponentially in the PPR friendly daily fantasy world.
This is a situation I'll be keeping an eye on all preseason as there's going to be some massive value here at some point. The Cowboys simply aren't going to become a high-volume passing team with their defensive issues and the injury history of quarterback Tony Romo, so if one of these guys can run away with the clock-killing job on a team that's likely to be winning fairly often, they should far exceed their early season expected value.