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Offseason Extra: RB tiers for 2012

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

Dave Richard's tiers and strategies: QB | WR | TE

It's always been in the best interests of Fantasy owners to draft as many running backs as possible. Now it's a necessity.

The position continues to be minimized and compartmentalized. As it stands now, only nine teams appear to be ready to lean on one back for most of their rushing work. Most others will use two in some capacity that will limit both statistically but help the team win, which is all they care about. That's too bad because it means these tandem situations will still wreak havoc on Fantasy owners: Last year there were only 32 instances where running backs on the same team in the same game each had double-digit Fantasy points. Only one team, the Saints, accomplished the feat more than three times.

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Tandems are one issue, injuries are another. Three Fantasy running backs with first-round pedigrees tore their ACLs (two of them late in the year, jeopardizing their chances to start 2012 on time). A handful of other relevant backs were sidelined too.

And with tandems and injuries becoming factors, playing time and stats obviously become impacted. Only two running backs topped 300 carries in 2011, a dozen had 250-plus carries and 19 had 200-plus carries. That's it. And of the 34 running backs that had at least 100 Fantasy points in standard formats, a dozen played 16 games. Fifteen played in 14 or 15 games (which we as Fantasy owners can settle for). Seven, or roughly one fifth of the rushers we're talking about, played in 13 or fewer. Remember, these are the backs that actually did something! We're not talking about guys we lost for much of the year like Jamaal Charles and Jahvid Best.

What's more, passing numbers are up. The league set a season-high for passing yards with 117,601 and a second-best mark in touchdowns thrown with 745. Rushing attempts were up from the previous year by 51 carries, making the 13,971 attempts that running backs had in 2011 the second fewest since 2004. The 400 rushing touchdowns scored is a nice number, but it's flawed. Quarterbacks totaled 67 rushing touchdowns and receivers and tight ends ran for eight. So 325 touchdowns, or roughly 10 per team, were scored by running backs.

But this is Fantasy Football, and you cannot ignore running backs. The good news is that because so many teams use multiple running backs, there are plenty of players to choose from throughout your draft. The number of good backs capable of putting up 1,000-total-yard, seven-touchdown seasons has grown. According to early projections, there are 28 players with that kind of potential (including the elite backs), along with another nine or 10 guys that can get close. This does not include rookies like Trent Richardson, Lamar Miller and David Wilson, all of whom will be wildly popular in drafts this summer so long as they land with a team that isn't stocked at running back.

This is a good thing as it should afford owners the opportunity to at the very least build some quality depth and at the most land three or four quality rushers to begin the season. Tack on another couple of sleepers and you've got a running back corps you can feel good about. That's all you can ask for.

Consistency Counts
The average Fantasy point total per game among Top 12 RBs was 12.9 (standard scoring). Here's who had at least 13 Fantasy points in 40 pct. or more of games played.
Player No. of
13+ FPTS
Pct. Player No. of
13+ FPTS
Pct.
Ray Rice 13 81% Michael Bush 7 44%
LeSean McCoy 11 73% Kevin Smith 3 43%
Arian Foster 9 69% Adrian Peterson 5 42%
Maurice Jones-Drew 11 69% Matt Forte 5 42%
Marshawn Lynch 9 60% Ahmad Bradshaw 5 42%
Fred Jackson 6 60% Reggie Bush 6 40%
Darren McFadden 4 57% Frank Gore 6 40%
Ryan Mathews 7 50%      

The basics

Plan to draft a lot of running backs. This goes without saying. The more running backs you draft, the more opportunities you'll have to trade for help (or have depth at a slippery position). So long as your league allows, aim to minimize your backup quarterback and receiver roster spots and dedicate yourself to drafting running backs unless you can steal someone at another position.

Handcuffing backs is more important than ever. As we said before, only 12 of the 34 running backs that had at least 100 Fantasy points played 16 games last year. Backing up at least one rusher with the guy taking some work off his plate is just plain smart. More importantly, knowing when to expect your handcuff(s) to be taken should be part of your plan. You should check in with our draft averages before you make your picks to get an idea of where all the backups are going, then be prepared to draft accordingly. Remember, not all backups are created equally: The backup for Maurice Jones-Drew (Rashad Jennings) won't be picked as soon as, say, the backup for Darren McFadden (Michael Bush, potentially a Top-60 pick). You can only blame yourself if you don't draft the backup to your stud.

Get familiar with who's rehabbing and who's ready. Last year was awful for Fantasy owners as several reliable running backs suffered major injuries that could impact their careers -- none bigger than perennial first-rounder Adrian Peterson. He might not be a first-rounder this year. Here are the names you need to keep an eye on, along with their key teammates.

Player Injury Date Recovery time Key backup
Adrian Peterson ACL Dec. 24 9-12 months Toby Gerhart
Jamaal Charles ACL Sept. 18 9-12 months Dexter McCluster
Rashard Mendenhall ACL Jan. 1 9-12 months Isaac Redman
Darren McFadden Foot Oct. 23 TBD Michael Bush*
Fred Jackson Leg Nov. 20 2-4 months C.J. Spiller
Jahvid Best Head Oct. 16 TBD Mikel Leshoure
Mikel Leshoure Achilles Aug. 8 10-12 months Jahvid Best
Ryan Williams Patellar Aug. 19 8-12 months N/A
Tim Hightower ACL Oct. 23 9-12 months TBD*
* - subject to free agency

Waiting for running backs?

If you had asked me five years ago if I would endorse a draft strategy that didn't involve taking running backs early, I probably would have laughed at you. But if NFL teams aren't valuing running backs like they did five years ago, perhaps Fantasy owners shouldn't either.

We're already at the point where we can expect at least three quarterbacks to get picked within the first 12 picks on Draft Day. What if you're one of those owners? And what if you pick up a stud receiver in Round 2 and Round 3? Is your team toast?

Using our first 2012 mock draft as a guideline and picking out of the fourth overall spot, here's what a team might look like with that strategy:

Round 1: Drew Brees Round 2: Larry Fitzgerald Round 3: Greg Jennings
Round 4: Willis McGahee Round 5: Rashard Mendenhall Round 6: C.J. Spiller
Round 7: Isaac Redman Round 8: Mike Tolbert Round 9: Mikel Leshoure
Round 10: Pierre Thomas Round 11: Jabar Gaffney Round 12: Dustin Keller
Round 13: Eric Decker Round 14: Dolphins DST Round 15: Robbie Gould

Note the seven consecutive picks on running backs between Rounds 4 and 10. While the guys we picked aren't exactly studs, they're not horrendous, either. All have moderate expectations for 2012. We should be able to field a good lineup from these backs on a week-by-week basis while enjoying quality stats from Brees, Fitzgerald and Jennings.

In seasons past this strategy would not have worked as well because more running backs were taken in the first two rounds than what's expected in 2012.

Go early on running backs?

What about the exact opposite of waiting? Ditch quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends in favor of quality, capable running backs. After all, the quarterback crop is deeper than ever and tight ends seemingly grow on trees (well, at least those not named Gronkowski or Graham).

Here's a second mock team, again based on where players went in our initial mock draft:

Round 1: LeSean McCoy Round 2: Jamaal Charles Round 3: Frank Gore
Round 4: Willis McGahee Round 5: Jeremy Maclin Round 6: Matt Schaub
Round 7: Mark Ingram Round 8: Mike Williams Round 9: Torrey Smith
Round 10: Titus Young Round 11: Jermaine Gresham Round 12: Andy Dalton
Round 13: Dexter McCluster Round 14: Dolphins DST Round 15: Robbie Gould

Pretty easy to analyze this squad: The running backs are gorgeous while the rest of the team leaves a little bit to be desired. The receivers are young and in capable roles with their teams, which is always a plus. Ending up with Schaub at quarterback isn't exactly ideal, but it's not a disaster either. Heck, he's a phenomenal value in Round 6 -- you're just taking advantage of the deep talent pool at quarterback if you get him instead of a similar passer a round or two sooner. He's backed up properly with Dalton while Charles was handcuffed with McCluster. Again, the lineup should be solid with McCoy, Charles, Gore, Maclin and Schaub locked in from week to week.

Strategy dictated by draft slot?

One way to figure out your best plan of attack might be determined by where your first-round pick is.

If you're picking within the first five selections, you'll have a shot at picking a great running back. Thus, you could opt to go heavy on running backs with your first few picks or take a stud early then wait a few rounds before building up your depth at the position.

If you're picking toward the back of your draft, you'll need a miracle to land an elite rusher and might be in a better position to load up on quality talent at quarterback and wide receiver early, then load up on rushers a few rounds later.

Getting smart with sleepers

You might have felt like a genius for drafting DeMarco Murray last summer (owned in 41 pct. of leagues for Week 1), but you probably wound up looking like a fool for dropping him for someone who was actually putting up some numbers at the time (he was owned in 20 pct. of leagues for Week 6). The lesson here is simple: Don't draft sleepers unless you plan to commit to them for a while -- or unless you have a good reason for taking them.

Maybe your sleeper is a guy who can also be a handcuff for a stud you drafted. Someone like Kendall Hunter for Frank Gore or Jacquizz Rodgers for Michael Turner. That's cool. But maybe your sleeper happens to have a good early-season schedule, or is an injury away from not just seeing some playing time, but being a 15-to-20 touch rusher. Now we're talking -- it's not just about picking a sleeper on Draft Day, it's about picking a sleeper who has a chance to do something from the start of the season.

RBs that could start in place of stud RB to begin season: Toby Gerhart, Dexter McCluster, Isaac Redman
Free-agent-to-be RBs with goal-line potential: LeGarrette Blount, Peyton Hillis, Mike Tolbert
RBs playing behind injury-prone starters: Michael Bush (if he stays in OAK), Felix Jones, Daniel Thomas
RBs with goal-line potential: Mark Ingram, Stevan Ridley, Evan Royster
Deep sleepers: Alex Green, Taiwan Jones, Bilal Powell, Shane Vereen

I threw in the deep sleepers at the end to prove a point: Here are four young running backs with upside, but that's all we really know about them. They could end up riding the bench all season much less the first few games. It wouldn't pay to draft them if all you're going to do is drop them for whoever gets hot early in the season.

Let's get to the tiers

If you're looking for preparation beyond rankings, consider placing running backs into groups based on expected statistical production, or tiers. The idea is to get at least one back from every significant tier (or as many backs from as many high tiers as possible). During your draft, if you see a tier about to dry up and it's your turn to take someone, it's probably a good idea to pick the last remaining rusher from the tier.

This is the tier chart I'll use in my drafts, as of Feb. 1.

Elite tier Near-Elite Tier Excellent Tier Near-Excellent Tier
2000 total yards, 10+ TDs 1500+ total yards, 9+ TDs 1300+ total yards, 9+ TDs 1200+ total yards, 8+ TDs
Arian Foster Marshawn Lynch Darren Sproles Beanie Wells
LeSean McCoy Ryan Mathews Jamaal Charles Reggie Bush
Ray Rice Chris Johnson Frank Gore Michael Bush
Maurice Jones-Drew Adrian Peterson Fred Jackson Shonn Greene
Matt Forte Steven Jackson Ahmad Bradshaw  
  Michael Turner DeMarco Murray  
  Darren McFadden    
Very Good Tier Good Tier High-end backups Low-end backups
Roy Helu BenJarvus Green-Ellis Brandon Jacobs Montario Hardesty
Jonathan Stewart Cedric Benson Ben Tate Tim Hightower
C.J. Spiller LeGarrette Blount Felix Jones Bernard Scott
Willis McGahee Pierre Thomas Ryan Williams Evan Royster
Rashard Mendenhall Jahvid Best James Starks Ricky Williams
DeAngelo Williams Isaac Redman Kendall Hunter Danny Woodhead
Mikel Leshoure Stevan Ridley Toby Gerhart Joseph Addai
Peyton Hillis Mike Tolbert Knowshon Moreno Kahlil Bell
  Mark Ingram Dexter McCluster Dion Lewis
  Daniel Thomas Jacquizz Rodgers Shane Vereen
  Donald Brown   Taiwan Jones

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Report: Vikings' Adrian Peterson won't attend OTAs on Tuesday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5/24/2015) Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is reportedly set to skip organized team activities on Tuesday, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Peterson is frustrated with management in Minnesota for not showing him support through his legal case for child abuse. Peterson has not participated in any offseason activities so far, but skipping Tuesday's workout will cost him $250,000 in bonuses if he does not attend 90 percent of OTAs and minicamps.

Peterson has three years, $44.25 million left on his contract with Minnesota.


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The Cardinals will need a healthy Mathieu to offseason the loss of former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and cornerback Antonio Cromartie. In two seasons, Mathieu has 100 tackles and three interceptions but has been hampered by nagging injuries. 

"It just feels good to be free," he said. 


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"At the end of the day, I’m a DB,’" Jackson said, per the New York Post. "I think my strengths are cover skills, I got good speed and I got good ball skills. The thing it’s gonna take for me to get out there and make an impact is, I just got to learn the defense and really just communicate the calls fluently."

"It is all in front of him," coach Tom Coughlin said. "We think he can cover. He has done a good job of getting us lined up and then we will see how he plays."


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"I've been impressed with the way JD's been working," O'Brien said, per HoustonTexans.com. "He's been out there. He's in early. He's rehabbing. But he's also being able to take part in some of the things that we do in the weight room. He's not able to do all of the things that we do on the field just yet, because of his rehab. But he's on the right track."


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McCarron is now throwing deep again. "I feel great," McCarron said, per the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Body feels great and I feel like I'm slinging it better than I ever have, really."


Brooks Reed injured, may miss time at Falcons' OTAs
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(5/23/2015) Falcons linebacker Brooks Reed suffered a groin injury during the recently-completed voluntary minicamp, per ESPN.

The injury was termed "minor", but it still might keep Reed from full participation in the Falcons' upcoming OTAs, which start Tuesday. 


GM: EJ Manuel on 'equal footing' with Bills' other QBs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bills general manager Doug Whaley denied reports that the team is moving on from quarterback EJ Manuel

The team acquired Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor in the offseason.

In an interview with Jim Rome, Whaley said, "I look at it this way, in this business controversy sells,. The more controversy that you can drum up then the more intereste people are going to be."

"For us we’re excited about the future of all three of those guys," Whaley said. "It’s going to be a great competition. And we can keep three quarterbacks. So I dismiss that as just someone trying to get something stirred during this down time and lack of media stories for the NFL." 

Whaley said all three quarterbacks have an equal shot of winning the starting job. 

"I look for him to come in and compete and try to take the job," he said. "Everybody has got an equal footing. It’s a clean slate for all four of our quarterbacks. We’re not tied to anybody. We just want the best man to start."


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(5/23/2015) Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict's rehab may not be progressing as quickly as the team had hoped.

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This week, the team's website said that Burfict's status was "up in the air" and that a return by the start of the season would be a "tight call".

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(5/23/2015) First impressions aren't necessarily important for first-round picks in the NFL. They are far more critical to lower selections and undrafted free agents who desperately need to raise a few eyebrows immediately lest they be back out looking for work.

But whether necessary or not, Texans first-rounder Kevin Johnson is making one heck of a first impression on Bill O'Brien. The clornerback opened some eyes at minicamp.

"This is a guy that's a very quick guy," O'Brien said. "He's a tall guy. He's a guy that has really good transition ability. He's got what I call really good recover transition. If he's getting beat, he can stick his foot in the ground and really make up a lot of ground.

"He's a very bright player. If you ask him questions in the morning meeting, he really has obviously studied the night before. He's working out on his own and doing things to help stay up on material that's being installed."

Johnson believes he needs to do the little things right to make a big impact in his rookie year.

"From the training room to the classroom to the film study, everything is just more detailed," he told the team website. "I'm just trying to take it all in and use everything around here and just get better."


Bears CB Tim Jennings could transition into slot role
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(5/23/2015) Bears cornerback Tim Jennings is "still trying to figure out" where he will fit into the secondary this season, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.

The nine-year veteran, who is entering his sixth season in the Windy City, has 95 career starts and led the league in interceptions in 2012. He is even a two-time Pro Bowler. But he spent significant time as the slot corner in minicamp. That's an unsatisfying role for him that he just might be forced to embrace.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio prefers his outside corners tall and physical. Jennings is 5-8, 185 pounds. He might still earn an outside role opposite Kyle Fuller, but do achieve that goal he must at the very least outperform free agent pickup Alan Ball, who better fits the ideal description.

If the words of new coach John Fox are any indication, that's unlikely to happen.

"Dimension-wise, he's built like a nickel corner," Fox said. "He's played it before."

Jennings has started all but three games over the last seven years.


 
 
 
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