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Offseason Extra: RB tiers for 2012

Senior Fantasy Writer
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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
Raiders bring back Kaelin Burnett
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The Raiders have inked exclusive-rights free agent Kaelin Burnett to a one-year deal. He's expected to compete for a roster spot in training camp. 

Dekoda Watson moving to strong-side LB
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) In the wake of the release of veteran linebacker Russell Allen, the Jaguars are expected to make Dekoda Watson their new starting strong-side linebacker, ESPN reports. He'll also play as a pass rusher and potentially line up as a defensive end on third downs. 

Watson had 42 total tackles, two sacks, an interception, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a blocked punt with the Bucs last year. 


Brandon Gibson begins light jobbing
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) Brandon Gibson has begun light jogging as he works his way back from a torn patellar tendon, the Miami Herald reports. The Dolphins are expected to keep him on the roster, if only because of the cap hit he'll cost, per the report. He said recently he expects to be ready for Week 1. 

'Humbled' Richardson explains 2013, promises a better 2014
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) Colts running back Trent Richardson spoke openly about his disappointing 2013 season, saying that it took him too long to learn a new playbook and get over leaving Cleveland after Week 2. Richardson also told the official team website that he's planning to do everything within his power to be as prepared as possible for 2014. 

"Y'all will see a big significant difference in the way I play, the speed. I won't have to think about a lot of stuff," Richardson said earlier this offseason. "It's going to be big -- timing with the offensive line, timing with Andrew (Luck), just knowing a lot more with the program, the whole system.

"They haven't seen everything they're going to get out of me yet. A lot of it is going to come next year. A lot of it is going to come in the offseason. I'm going to put in a lot of work, as I've been doing this whole season. This season humbled me. ... This season was a lesson to me."

Colts coach Chuck Pagano has had Richardson's back, says the running back, and the coach stressed back in March that his running back's involvement in the offseason program will be key. 

"It's going to be very, very important for (Richardson) to be here for the offseason program and to dive into this thing full steam ahead, which he will," Pagano said. "He wants to be great. He's got all the talent. He's got all the ability. We would have never done what we did if we didn't believe that deep down in our core. So we look for him to have a great offseason and to have a great 2014 campaign."


Saints bring back Robert Meachem
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The Saints announced Friday that the club has re-signed veteran free agent wide receiver Robert Meachem to a one-year contract.

Meachem is a seven-year NFL veteran who was originally the club's first round draft pick (27th overall) in 2007. He re-signed with the Saints prior to the start of the 2013 regular season and appeared in 15 games with five starts. He finished with 16 receptions for 324 yards with two touchdowns.

Meachem said signing with the Saints now should help with his preparations as he will be able to take part in the team's offseason conditioning program, OTAs and mini-camp. Plus, "this is home," he said.


Can Chris Johnson turn into Tomlinson?
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The Jets are hoping running back Chris Johnson can do for them what LaDainian Tomlinson did in 2010, reports ESPN.

That season, Tomlinson came from San Diego to New York after he was released. He responded with a team-high 914 yards with six touchdowns on 219 carries and caught 52 passes. He was supposed to be Shonn Greene's backup, but Tomlinson was so impressive that he won the starting job and became an integral part of a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl.

Maybe Johnson, who was let go by the Titans, can do the same thing.

"I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me, to give me motivation, to keep me hungry and to keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong," he said Thursday.

Johnson had a disappointing year in 2013 when he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, but he played 13 games on a torn meniscus and was running behind a suspect offensive line for a team that didn't have its starting quarterback for half the season. The situation in New York should be improved, and hopefully being teamed with Chris Ivory will allow him to play like Tomlinson did in 2010.


Aikman worried about Tony Romo
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(4/18/2014) Former Cowboys quarterback and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman is worried about current Dallas quarterback Tony Romo coming off back surgery, reports the team's official website.

Romo, 34, is coming off back surgery in December, which was the second procedure on his back in a year.

"I came back in a relatively short period of time because of when I had my surgery, so he's at least afforded more time to get ready," Aikman said. "But having said that, two back surgeries in less than a year at his age, I would be a bit concerned.

"I'm hopeful that he's able to come back -- everybody is. This team won't be the same if he's not able to. I anticipate that he will come back. But to say that, 'Hey, he's ahead of schedule and everything's going fine,' I'm not sure how you can really measure that here in April."


Bengals, A.J. Green not talking extension - yet
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The Bengals are expected to exercise the fifth-year option on receiver A.J. Green's contract by May 3, reports Pro Football Talk. But the sides have yet to discuss a long-term contract extension, according to the report.

The Bengals hold the rights to Green through the 2015 season. And in 2016, if a long-term deal hasn't been signed yet, the Bengals can use the franchise tag on Green for that season.

The report says Green can force the issue by trying to boycott offseason workouts or hold out from training camp. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is confident Green will be there.


Chris Snee will give it a shot this spring
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) Giants guard Chris Snee will attempt to go through the Giants offseason program once he's healthy, the New York Daily News reports. Snee had hip surgery last season and an elbow surgery earlier this year. There is no timeline for him to be at 100 percent but he is expected to be on the field for the "bulk" of offseason activities. 

Report: Niners won't release Aldon Smith
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The 49ers might expect a suspension for pass rushing linebacker Aldon Smith, but they are not planning to release him, NFL Network reported on Friday.

Smith was arrested recently for making false bomb reports at a Los Angeles airport, the latest of a string of troubles for the highly talented linebacker. He was also arrested for suspicion of DUI in January, 2012 and again September, 2013. He also had marijuana on him during that September arrest. In October, 2013 he was charged with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon. 


 
 
 
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