To many people on fantasy football draft day, running backs are like Lays potato chips. You can’t take just one. Or two. Or seven.
Except, like potato chips, hoarding too many running backs isn’t exactly good for your health. At least, your fantasy football team’s health.
And taking a running back early, a drafting strategy staple in the past, isn’t as necessary as it once seemed.
So how do you successfully draft your running backs? Much like my draft strategy posts for kickers and team defenses, here is how I personally am drafting my RB tandem in 2010 serpentine (snake) drafts.
Early first round
In most formats, if I own a top-four pick, I am going to take one of the big-4 … in my opinion, those include Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice. In what order, you ask? Check out my personal RB redraft rankings and player capsules for more info.
Why not go for a top WR or QB super-early? Good question. The answers is just four letters long: RBBC.
Running back by committee approaches have revolutionalized the game of football, both real-life and fantasy. There are only a handful of backs that will nail down the lion’s share of carries on their respective teams. Jones-Drew, Johnson, Peterson and Rice are four of those options.
Late first round, early second
The rest of the first round, again, for me, is a RB minefield. Before, I would have hammered out RB after RB and felt like I was doing the right thing. No more.
I just can’t bring myself to be super confident in guys like Michael Turner (gets all the carries, but was abysmal last year and is a non-factor in the passing game), Frank Gore (an elite RB when healthy, but that is less and less a sure thing each season) and Steven Jackson (another top back when he plays, but age and injury concerns make me squeamish).
That being said, I see myself going after players of a different color in the middle of the first round. More on that when I discuss my WR drafting strategy.
However, the late first-round offers some upside RBs who could be solid value picks if they hit their potential. Sure, these players have their own set of questions heading into the season, but no more, I feel, than Jackson, Gore and Turner. The benefit with the late-first-rounders is that you’ll get a better quality second-round player to rally behind if things go south with your top pick.
So, late first round, and early second, I’ll be happy to take guys like Rashard Mendenhall amd DeAngelo Williams. In most cases, I’ll probably snag a WR here, too, but that is for another post.
Second and third rounds
The second and third rounds offer a plethora of running back options. Sorting through those pieces for the best snags is the key.
For example, Jamaal Charles is ranked pretty high by some, but anyone who feels secure with him as their top RB is living dangerously. Sure, he did great things at the end of the 2009 season, but this is 2010. Thomas Jones is making a name for himself in the organization this preseason. Most of us have enough stress in our lives, so why add more in your fantasy football league?
Instead, I’ll take the quiet giants. Ryan Grant is a poster child for this category. No real backfield competition, coming off one of the quietest career seasons ever by a running back and in a high-powered offense that isn’t ready to slow down.
I’m also a fan of Beanie Wells in the mid-to-late second round (if you can get him in the third round of a 12-team league … that is grand theft). Wells may be “sharing” the load with Tim Hightower, but anyone who saw his advances as the 2009 season went on know that he’s ready for great things.
Certain that you’ve already seen my running back redraft rankings, because you’re such a good student and all, I know you noticed my unorthodox-ish ranking of Pierre Thomas. He’s another guy who will produce well this season, in my opinion, especially with the loss of Mike Bell to Philly and Lynell Hamilton to injury.
Some suggest that this is a good time to snag a Knowshon Moreno. Don’t believe them. Moreno was a top rookie runner last year, but he also didn’t have much competition. His yards per carry were pedestrian, and the Broncos don’t have a bonafide elite WR like they did in Brandon Marshall last year to stretch defenses. Add in Moreno’s recent injury problems, and he’s a guy that will go higher than you should jump.
Fourth and fifth rounds
Fourth and fifth round running backs are where the true gravy are. Snag a few of these, combined with smart selections early in your draft, and you’ll find an easy road to your respective playoffs.
Again, if you’ve seen my redraft rankings, or checked out my early sleepers post, you know that Felix Jones is a guy I’m high on. Not enough to take him in the third round … but mid- to late-fourth or fifth round is just about right. Sure, Jones has his injury concerns and a crowded backfield behind him, but as a fourth- or fifth-round selection, the upside is just too juice to pass up.
LeSean McCoy was one pick away from the fourth round in our recent chinstrapninjas.com mock draft. If you find him sitting around in the fourth round, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Sure, he may have lost some goal-line carries to the newly acquired Mike Bell, but he also is a long-term fixture in an Eagles offense that will use him both in the running and passing game. Too much upside to be drafted later than the fourth round.
Michael Bush is quickly climbing draft boards, and rightfully so. He proved that when his number is called, he can produce. The Raiders are finally willing to admit their past mistakes, moving beyond the JaMarcus Russell zoo and probably soon swallowing their pride with Darren McFadden, too. Michael Bush in the fifth round is a great proposition for any fantasy football owner.
Arian Foster has been a product of being in the right place at the right time. Last year, he took advantage of Steve Slaton’s fumbling struggles. This offseason, he’s benefited from the injury of rookie Ben Tate. He proved the end of last year that he’s capable of producing good numbers when his number is called. It will be a lot this year by the Texans.
Later round backs should be on the radar screen of all serious fantasy football owners. In the later rounds, you’re looking for value backs with upside … not necessarily those who have a clear path to the starter gig.
For example, Toby Gerhart is a great upside guy in an offense that will be in the red zone often and while he may seem barricaded behind Adrian Peterson, remember that Peterson had a bad cases of the dropsies last year when it mattered most.
Javon Ringer is a guy who will be around later in drafts, but is the only real option behind Chris Johnson this season. If Johnson struggles after being used so heavily last year, than Ringer sees an immediate uptick in value. LaGarrett Blount is too busy punching people to be part of this conversation.
Carnell Williams continues to fall in drafts much further than he should. He is still the starter with Tampa Bay, and while not a huge, flashy, upside option like Gerhart and Ringer, he will grind out some nice stats.
Bernard Scott is older than many realize, but young enough to carry the Bengals’ running-based offense if Cedric Benson falters. Considering Benson’s largely increased workload last year and the fact that he’s one bar-hopping incident from being hammered by commissioner Roger Goodell, it is reasonable to think that Scott will rise to the top of the heap at some point this season.
Overall, the running back position is saturated with part-time options with upside, and if you miss out on a top-ranked option early in your draft, you can still make waves in your league by snaring a number of upside guys in the middle rounds and using your own running-back-by-committee approach until some of your upside guys catch fire and carry you to the promised land.
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How are you addressing your running backs during drafts this summer? Let us know in the comments section below.