The concern over drafting a running back in the first round is rising. With the injury to Ryan Mathews, the knee problems with Trent Richardson and the off-the-field concerns with Marshawn Lynch…we’re scared. We don’t want to draft a player that’s not going to produce first round numbers.
However, we tend to forget that every player has some sort of risk associated to him. Some are tangible ones, like injury proneness, while others are intangible, like value to the fantasy football landscape.
I’m here to tell you that the first-round running backs still have value.
What we like: He’s shown signs of greatness. In 2010, McFadden had over 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games. If he can do that over 16 games, he’s easily a top-5 back.
Why we’re scared: He’s never been close to playing a full 16-game season. In fact, since he entered the league in 2008, DMC has yet to play more than 13 games in a single season.
What we like: He gets yardage on the ground and through the air. He’s had 1,400 or more total yards in each season he’s played, and at least 50 receptions. Forte has also only missed 4 games in 4 years – all coming in 2011.
Why we’re scared: He doesn’t get goal line looks, and with Michael Bush now in Chicago, many think he’ll impact Forte’s workload. He won’t be a double-digit touchdown guy, either. He’s only done that once in four years.
What we like: His yards per carry is out of this world good, and he can get yards in the receiving game, too. He’s one of the most explosive backs in the league, and when healthy in 2009 and 2010, was one of the best fantasy backs.
Why we’re scared: He’s coming off of a torn ACL, and now has Peyton Hillis in the backfield. He will definitely not see many goal line carries, either, which means we’re relying on his yardage to allow him to be fantasy relevant.
What we like: Just three years ago, Chris Johnson became CJ2K while rushing for over 2,000 yards on the ground. The year after, he posted 12 touchdowns and 1,600 total yards. He’s a talented back, and despite his size, is one of the most durable runners in the entire NFL.
Why we’re scared: A sure early first-round pick in 2011 turned into somewhat of a flop as CJ2K became CJ?K with 1,465 total yards and just 4 touchdowns. Many now question his work ethic, and are passing on him because of this “down” year. An evolving offense, too, doesn’t necessarily help Johnson’s case.
What we like: As a rookie, he had a single-game rushing total of 253 yards against the Rams, and followed it up with a couple of other 100-plus yard performances. He showed signs that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, too.
Why we’re scared: We only have a small sample size of DeMarco Murray, and this can be both a good and a bad thing. He has upside when you consider his 253-yard performance, but he also has downside when you remember his injury suffered last season. He’ll be the primary back, which is always valuable, but we’re all unsure as to how he can handle the load.
What we like: He’s consistent. He gets yards. He scored touchdowns. There’s not much not to like about MJD. He was the league’s leading rusher last season, and scored 11 times. There’s no sign of wear and tear on his body.
Why we’re scared: We saw it happen with Chris Johnson last year. Jones-Drew is holding out, which is frightening many fantasy owners. If he had a contract, he’d surely be the fourth ranked running back out of this class. With the contract dispute, and the fact that the offense is shaky, he becomes a giant risk in the first round.
What we like: He had a great 2011 campaign. Well, he had a great second half to his 2011 campaign. From Week 8 onward, Marshawn had just 3 non-100 yard rushing games. He was one of the best fantasy running backs over the second half of last season.
Why we’re scared: His off-the-field issues are horrendous. He was arrested for DUI in July, and while a suspension may not occur, this is yet another offense by the Seahawks running backs. As for on-the-field, Lynch has been inconsistent throughout his career, giving us all a little worry when it comes to drafting him. To expect those second half numbers throughout the entire 2012 season seems unfair.
You can find some sort of downside in almost every player at every position. For instance, Arian Foster has a talented Ben Tate behind him who will surely steal some carries. LeSean McCoy had a heavy reliance on touchdowns last season to make him a top fantasy back, and Ray Rice is in a great defensive division on an offense that can’t throw the ball efficiently.
At quarterback, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers may appear to be “flawless”, which they kind of are, but when you look at the competition throughout the NFL, the quarterback position is becoming much more competitive. When it comes to value based drafting, you’re still taking a risk with an early-round elite quarterback because you’re not obtaining as much value as you would at the running back position.
And at receiver, sure, Calvin Johnson is the top guy. But the position is so deep that, even in the fifth or sixth round, you can get a very good starter.
I’m still getting a running back early. Why? Because even though there are risks, there are also high rewards. You may think that getting Tom Brady early and loading up on middle-round running backs is a good plan (like Matthew Berry says), but in reality, you’re putting up a bigger risk than people taking running backs early because the rest of your lineup becomes more of a gamble.
All in all, it’s simple: The smaller number of true, proven, top-tier running backs there are, the more valuable getting those players becomes. When there’s less of something you need, demand becomes greater.
It’s understandable to see a large drop-off between the top-3 running backs to the rest of the position. But the running back position, as a whole, still yields more value than any other in fantasy football. That’s why you should continue to look at these players in the first round of your draft. It’s not as though they have no upside.