As the NFL morphs into more of a quarterback’s league with each passing year, the running back position becomes increasingly important — and volatile — in fantasy football.
The first few rounds of every draft are filled with owners stockpiling running backs. But the influence of the passing game and the uncertainty of the position (Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson all were first-round busts in 2013) result in a bevy of wasted picks.
Unfortunately, though, unless you can get your fellow owners to agree that a running back-heavy draft strategy is foolish in this day and age, you’ll be forced to join them as available players quickly dwindle in the first few rounds. Therefore, it is vital that you get the most value out of your RB selections.
The elite: Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles
Peterson is the safest bet; he’s scored double-digit touchdowns every year of his career. … McCoy led the NFL in rushing two seasons after leading the league in touchdowns; he gets the edge over Peterson as the top overall pick, especially in a PPR format … Forte is coming off a season in which he set career-highs in rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns on a still-developing offense. … Charles is going first in many mock drafts. That’s defensible, but there is some risk involved in assuming he will come close to repeating his numbers from 2013. He was never a touchdown-scorer until last season, and the Chiefs are destined for a setback, so don’t count on a repeat performance.
Overrated: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, DeMarco Murray
Lynch is still first-round-worthy, but there are red flags. He has more carries than any running back the past three seasons, and those are hard yards. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him hit the wall this season. … Injuries forced the Buccaneers to use multiple starters last season, and Martin was the only one who DIDN’T look good. His high ranking is baffling. … Speaking of injuries, let someone else draft Foster with the mistaken idea that the last two years were an aberration. … Continuing a theme, Murray is just not worth the risk. Plus, the Cowboys’ defense is so bad that Dallas actually will have a good reason to abandon the running game each week.
Underrated: Alfred Morris, Toby Gerhart, Rashad Jennings
Lost in the drama of Robert Griffin III’s return from a knee injury and the subsequent season-long feud with Mike Shanahan in 2013 was just how impressive Morris’ “down” year was on a 3-13 team. After a franchise-record 1,613 yards and 14 total touchdowns as a rookie, Morris fell back to 1,275 yards and 7 TDs. But considering the Redskins fell behind early and often most weeks, it’s amazing Morris was that productive (he also averaged 4.6 yards per carry). He should thrive in Jay Gruden’s offense, especially near the goal line. … Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is trying to put together a team in the image of his former employer — the Seahawks. That means running the ball A LOT. Gerhart is young and his legs are younger. He’ll get plenty of carries, especially if Bradley can get an up-and-coming defense to take another step forward. … David Wilson’s career-ending neck injury just sped up the inevitable — Jennings becoming the Giants’ primary back. He’s always shown flashes, and now he’ll get a shot to carry the load.
The sophomores: Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Giovani Bernard
Lacy is going in the top half of the first round in most mock drafts. He’s the least likely to fall victim to a second-year slump. … Stacy is a poor man’s Lacy, but he’s got competition in rookie Tre Mason. …Perhaps the Steelers signed LeGarrette Blount because Bell only reached 100 yards once last season and averaged a pedestrian 3.5 yards per carry. … Being The Guy Behind Peyton has everyone excited about Ball. If he can block, he’ll be a steal in the second round. … Bernard is the most complete player in this group; he’s a borderline first-rounder in deep PPR leagues.
Worth mentioning: Reggie Bush (although I like Joique Bell better if Bush gets injured), C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Frank Gore, Andre Ellington, Trent Richardson, Ben Tate, Chris Johnson, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Bishop Sankey, Pierre Thomas, Fred Jackson, Darren Sproles, Lamar Miller, DeAngelo Williams, Devonta Freeman.