RUNNING BACKS (Part 2 of 2)

Although you never know how your draft is going to unfold and which players will be available when your pick comes up, it never hurts to get your thoughts in line regarding how you're going to view certain players. The guys I'm talking about here are those who fall into the "gray area" on draft day. They're interesting, but they're not slam-dunk choices.

Draft Day Decisions is a series of articles addressing the primary fantasy positions - quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end. This one is the second of two parts covering running backs.

Darren McFadden, Oakland

Every fantasy owner appreciates the talents and potential of McFadden, but when push comes to shove on draft day, you're in one of two camps. You're going to either going to (1) shy away from him because you just know he's going to get injured or (2) throw caution to the wind and draft him despite his injury history. My guess is that the majority of owners are in camp 1.

I wish I could say what's going to happen with McFadden this year, but if I could, I'm the sure the Raiders would be willing to pay me a hefty "consulting fee." You can't dispute the facts - 19 missed games over the last four seasons including nine last year. But I also know that this is a guy who runs at close to 5 yards per carry; has topped 100 yards in eight of his last 20 games and can catch when called upon (47 receptions in 2010). A lot of attractive qualities here.

Sometimes it's what a team "doesn't do" that shows you what they're thinking. What the Raiders haven't done is find a suitable replacement for McFadden should he go down again. After losing Michael Bush to free agency, all the Raiders have done is trade for Carolina back Mike Goodson. He has had a few "fantasy moments" during his career, but has not established himself as a featured back. Taiwan Jones sits behind Goodson.

Bottom line: Most of the recent ADP reports show McFadden being taken in the second round as around the 7th RB off the board. I'm totally on board with that. In fact, given the uncertainty surrounding Maurice Jones-Drew and Marshawn Lynch, it wouldn't shock me if McFadden went higher.

I remember back several years when Jacksonville RB Fred Taylor was constantly labeled "injury prone". But then he piled up nearly 3700 total yards and 15 TDs in two consecutive injury-free seasons. Maybe McFadden will deliver likewise.

DeMarco Murray, Dallas

Fantasy owners are very optimistic about Murray this season. The early ADPs show that he's being taken early in the second round as around the 9th through 14th RB off the board depending on who you're talking to. Reports say that Murray is 100% healed from a broken ankle suffered in Week 14 of last season.

Murray didn't see much action last year until Week 7 when he exploded for 253 yards and a TD against the Rams. That was enough to convince Dallas head coach Jason Garrett that he had his featured back. Beginning with that game against St. Louis, Murray wowed fantasy owners with a seven-game stretch in which he ran for 799 yards (6.0 yards per rush) and caught 21 passes. The only criticism is that he scored just twice during this time. Picky, picky...

It's those numbers compiled by Murray in Weeks 7 through 13 that have fantasy owners excited about him for 2012.  With a full season under his belt, Murray could deliver a 1200+-yard rushing season and chip in another 400 via the air.

Although Dallas' 2011 TD production inside the 10-yard line was really skewed towards the pass (17 aerial vs. 4 ground), I don't take this as a sign that this will be the status quo. I think Murray is capable of an 8-10 scoring season.

Bottom Line: I like what I see here - good workload (as the starter, Murray saw 20+ carries in five of his seven full games); a terrific average per carry which, even it dropped some, wouldn't hurt much;  a good receiver who could be near 50 catches; and a guy who I have no reason to question will score more. I'd have no trouble taking him in the early second round. In fact, I think he could be a late first rounder depending on what happened with the early picks.

Beanie Wells, Arizona

Amid speculation that second year back Ryan Williams, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will play a more significant role this year, Wells' value has been the fantasy equivalent of Facebook's stock. Good initially, but not so much after the details are examined. Thanks mainly to a 10-TD performance in 2011, Wells finished the fantasy season strong ranking as the 17th best back. However, with the prospect that Williams will eat into Wells' workload, it's not surprising to see that many regard him as a RB3 that can probably be had in the 5th or 6th round.

Wells will feel Williams' impact in the area in which he can least afford it - carries. You see, Wells needs a strong workload to deliver good value. He's not a big breakaway back that will routinely pile up yards. In fact, he had just five runs last year of 20 yards or more. And you can't rely on him to augment his value in the passing game. His 10 receptions last season give him just 27 in his last 43 games.

You might still be swayed by Wells' 10 TDs a season ago. I question a repeat here since 10 scores is not an easy accomplishment. Only eight RBs scored hit the double-digit mark in both 2011 and 2010. Besides, if Williams is in the mix, he'll no doubt siphon away a few scoring opportunities.

Bottom line: I see more downside risk with Wells this season. In addition, I can't argue with the majority of backs ranked ahead of him on the recent ADPs. I think Wells definitely belongs down among the RB3s.

Frank Gore, San Francisco

Fantasy owners look to be more bearish on Gore's stock than just about any back this year. The thinking is that ex-Giants' RB Brandon Jacobs, who was signed during the off-season, is going to greatly infringe upon Gore's opportunities. Depending on which ADP source you look at, Gore is running around the 20th to even as low as the 30th RB this year. That's RB3 and RB4 territory. Is it warranted?

It's hard to dismiss the notion that Jacobs will impact Gore. But keep in mind too that Jacobs needs a clean slate after having worn out his welcome in New York with less than stellar production of late. I do think Jacobs will steal away enough carries so that Gore won't see the 282 he had last year. But the Niners know they have a workhorse in Gore and I can't imagine we'll see him with less than 230 by year's end. That's still adequate for a 1000+ yard season and decent yardage numbers on a weekly basis.

I can still see Gore in the 8-TD neighborhood that he was in a year ago. Sure Jacobs will see his fair share, but again, Gore is a very effective inside runner and San Fran knows it.

The area where I do think we'll see some upside from Gore is in the receiving game. He only caught 19 passes last season; way below what he's capable of. In the previous five years, he was good for 40-60 receptions per season. Even he catches a modest 30-40 passes this season that will augment his fantasy yardage stats not to mention how it will help his PPR value.

Bottom line: I fully suspect drafters will shy away from Gore in the early going and that's a good thing. If you're not totally sold on your first couple of RBs on draft day, I'd look for Gore as a RB3 who has upside.

See Dan's Draft Day Decisions: Running Backs (part 1)

See Dan's Draft Day Decisions: Wide Receivers