We go from the deepest position to draft in fantasy, to the most important one.
Running backs are a dime a dozen amongst fantasy leagues, often times causing you to reach for them in order to obtain any type of quality.
Every year we see an unknown or overlooked back take the spotlight as soon as they have their first big game. Owners scrounge to put in a waiver claim for them and then it’s a gamble from there. A lot of backs that have never been feature backs either go two ways: they get burnt out and injured or they underachieve after their breakout.
In 2011, the best waiver wire pickup for running backs was DeMarco Murray. He was a third round draft pick by Dallas, the sixth running back taken overall.
When you look at the backs that went before him, none of them had relevant fantasy rookie seasons. All Murray did was break Cowboy and All-Time NFL rookie records for yards in a game, yards per attempt average, and was the face of Dallas’ offense. The only thing that kept Murray from being one of the top running backs in fantasy was when he suffered a fractured right ankle and a high ankle sprain against the Giants in Week 14.
Is there another DeMarco Murray out there this season? There always is. What there isn’t, is an abundance of reliable options to draft.
You would think with 32 teams that there would be enough options to go around for every team to get at least two quality runners, but that is far from the case on an annual basis.
When you’re digging for sleepers in the middle rounds of your draft, you’ll actually find that the best options go undrafted.
So how do you find them?
You have to look for unstable backfields. Teams that don’t have that no-brainer feature back and have either brought in a highly regarded free agent or drafted a wishful savior.
Last year Murray started the season as the third string back, behind Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, and was just waiting for the right opportunity to take over.
This year, you might want to look at teams that have options that are either breaking down towards the tail end of their career or ones that just haven’t panned out. Let’s be honest, the NFC West is full of those.
It’s crazy to think that Steven Jackson was actually once the unanimous overall recommended option to draft. Since then, he hasn’t exactly given owners a reason to want to trust him.
Beanie Wells has done what just about every other Jim Tressel Buckeye product has done, underachieve tremendously in the NFL.
If you remember back to last year, the Cardinals selected former Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams. He suffered a ruptured patella tendon during a pre-season game against the Packers and was done for the year. Williams is the ideal candidate for this year’s fantasy running back breakout. If you look at the factors: Wells isn’t the dominant back he was drafted to be, Williams is a dual-threat, the Cardinals offense isn’t exactly thriving these days, and Ken Whisenhunt loves to run the ball.
Unfortunately all of those factors doesn’t put Ryan Williams into the top 10 running backs that you must draft NOW, but that will change as the season goes a long.
Let’s take a look at the reliable rushers that you need to go after in your draft early and often…
Ray Rice He was my top ranked option at running back last season and he remains at that spot this season. Trust me, I got a lot of raised eyebrows for that call last season, but the owners who followed through quickly agreed in Week 1. Rice is in the perfect offense for a fantasy running back: The Ravens use the run to set up the pass, Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron loves running the ball, Rice is a dual threat, and Joe Flacco isn’t exactly elite. Just to give you an idea of how weak Baltimore’s passing attack is, Rice led the team with 76 receptions in 2011. He enters this season with no competition to share or take carries away from him, especially with two rookies behind him. The offense essentially runs through him, with explains ranking second in the NFL last season with 291 total carries. Rice averages 4.7 yards per carry and can be the most reliable back in the league. You could go a lot of different directions at running back in the first six picks, but you can hardly find anyone else that essentially is his entire team’s offense.
LeSean McCoy ‘Ol Shady has been one of the best running backs to own in fantasy ever since his second NFL season. He would be a candidate for the overall fantasy back if it wasn’t for the other weapons in the Eagles offense and the fact that his quarterback likes to do some running himself. McCoy slightly trailed Foster for rush attempts last season with 273, but he did lead all running backs in rushing touchdowns with 17. The only person that beat him out was Cam Newton. McCoy averages close to five yards per carry and over six per reception, making him one of the elite dual threats in the league. You can expect the Eagles to hand the ball off a little more this season with the idea of trying to protect Vick a lot more. He’s been taking some shots early into this pre-season and Andy Reid will encourage Vick to not scramble as much this year. McCoy is a dual threat in an explosive offense, there will be more emphasis on the running game, he’s an elite scorer, and can turn any play into a big one. There’s no reason he should fall out of the top six picks in your draft.
Arian Foster He is the favorite by most fantasy experts to be this year’s overall pick in drafts, but he doesn’t have the importance in Houston that Rice has in Baltimore. Foster bounced back nicely last season, when healthy, and will look to take it to another level this season. Another reason why Foster isn’t the unanimous overall selection, even at his position, is the fact that there is a very viable back right behind him on the depth chart in Ben Tate. During Foster’s absence early into 2011, Tate showed owners why he was so highly coveted coming out of Auburn. Tate also went through his injury woes and a waiting period, but anyone that started him during the first three weeks benefited nicely. Foster is a dual threat back that ranked in the top of the league in rush attempts with 278 carries in 2011. He was able to score double digit touchdowns on the ground, but only two receiving. The AFC South is a joke as far as defenses, which means that Foster will be having a field day during divisional matchups. He’s a great pick anywhere in the top six overall selections, but keep in mind that Ben Tate isn’t going anywhere. Look for the two of them to share the same number of carries as last season, but Foster will be looking to stay healthy all season this time.
Adrian Peterson Why shouldn’t AP be in the top five running backs to draft? I understand he’s coming off an injury, but it wasn’t long ago that he was the unanimous overall draft pick in fantasy. Like Rice, Peterson is pretty much his team’s entire offense. I know that they have other players on the team, but no one that’s really going to be as big of a difference maker as he can be. Percy Harvin had to even play some running back at the tail end of 2011. Peterson has gradually progressed since his ACL surgery and has begun participating in contact drills. He will likely be held out of the final pre-season game in hopes of being ready for Week 1. Before he was injured, he scored 12 touchdowns in 12 games last season. I don’t know about you, but you’re not going to find a lot of backs that are reliable enough to get you a touchdown per week. He scored more touchdowns on the ground than Foster and just as many as Rice. All I’m saying is don’t be that owner that avoids considering Peterson at number seven overall versus Calvin Johnson. Even if he misses a game or two for recovery reasons, you just can’t pass up one of the best players in the league. You can easily find a substitute for a couple of weeks in the worst case scenario, that’s what the second half of the draft is for.