- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2012

I’ve talked plenty in this column about the “golden age” of quarterbacks and the new wave in fantasy football, but it’s been nice to see some old-school running back dominance of late. 

Given the way NFL offenses are run these days, which includes lots of passing and running by committee, it’s doubtful we’ll ever see the running back regain the position of prominence it held for so long. LaDainian Tomlinson’s 31-TD season feels like it happened a generation ago, even though it was 2006, and I think Emmitt Smith was wearing a leather helmet when he ran for 46 TDs in a two-season span. It was 1994-95, but you get the point.

Quarterbacks have been hogging an inordinate amount of the fantasy spotlight for years now, but Doug Martin and Adrian Peterson are making some nice headlines this year.

Martin, a rookie from Boise State, had what most assumed was his breakout game Thursday night in Week 8, gaining 214 total yards and scoring two TDs in the Bucs’ win over the Vikings. But the extra rest between games must have really energized him because he had a game for the ages last week against the Raiders. He ran for 251 yards and four TDs, making those scores count as three of them came from 40-plus yards (45, 67 and 70). Amazingly, he did all his fantasy damage in one half. He gained 220 of his yards and scored all four TDs during the third and fourth quarters.

A couple of quick league-related stories about Martin:

In one long-standing league I play in, the scoring system makes you earn your points when it comes to yardage, but makes up for it with plenty of bonuses for long TDs. As a result, it’s common for players who don’t score in a given week to put up zero points. Last week, in a game I needed to win, I had five such players, including my QB and three receivers. But I have Martin in that league. I won by 53 points, which, coincidentally, is the same number of points I got from him.

In another league, which is a mix of the aforementioned league’s system and standard scoring, Martin’s performance was worth 63 points. Perhaps even more amazing than Martin’s big day is that my nephew managed to lose with Martin and all those points in his lineup. Sorry, Deric, but at least you finally made the paper!

Martin has 608 total yards and seven TDs in his past three games. On the season, his seven rushing TDs are second in the league and his 794 rushing yards are third. There’s no reason to think he won’t stay among the league leaders in both categories as the season progresses. He’s one of the few full-time backs, and, despite having played only eight games in the NFL, he has gained the trust of his coach. In fact, Martin scored his fourth TD last week — a 1-yarder that sealed the victory — after being put back in the game following a fumble by his backup, LeGarrette Blount.

Adrian Peterson knows a little about rookie running back success. The Vikings veteran set the NFL single-game rushing record of 296 yards in the middle of his first season, but what he is doing in his sixth season is the most impressive feat of his career.

From a fantasy perspective, I had written him off as dead before the season. You’re not supposed to dominate any sport — much less a violent game like professional football — less than a year after major knee surgery. Yet after nine games and not even 11 months removed from the season-ending injury he suffered against the Redskins on Christmas Eve, Peterson leads the NFL with 957 rushing yards.

Like Martin, he is hitting his stride in recent weeks. In his past three games, Peterson has rushed for 458 yards and four of his six TDs. Last week, despite a loss to the Seahawks in which Minnesota only accounted for 63 passing yards, he ran for a season-high 182 yards. And Peterson is not Gale Sayers circa 1969. He’s not grinding out yards. He’s averaging 5.7 yards a carry, well over a yard more than his career average (4.4).

Next year, when draft time rolls around, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and the like won’t last long, but I think we’ll see that aside from the elite, proven QBs, the first couple of rounds will once again be primarily the domain of running backs. No more reaching for QBs with “upside” or receivers at all. Rookie or veteran, you need dependable backs to be competitive, and while the reality is that their importance can be overlooked in the real game, their dwindling numbers make their fantasy value more important than ever.