Whether you stick to your guns and hoard running backs early or embrace the idea of taking a non-rusher with your first- and/or second-round choice, there's no denying that when you have good running backs, Fantasy is easy. Setting a lineup is a snap. The pressure's off, the drama is minimized and the roster seems better when you have rushers to spare.
Does it mean absolutely, positively taking one in Round 1? That's a different story.
The turnover at the position is sickening. Over the last seven seasons, anywhere from four to six backs (no more, no less) repeated as Top 12 finishers from year to year. And if that's not bad enough then get this: Only once in the last five years have more than half of the running backs with a first-round draft average finished in the Top 12.
Still want to take a running back with your first pick no matter what?
The work is where it's at
There's no magical mystery to know what it takes for a running back to be great for Fantasy. Guys who touch the ball a bunch will deliver. Last year, there were nine running backs that had at least 300 touches (carries plus catches) and all nine finished in the Top 12. Another six had between 275 and 299 touches -- one was a Top 12 back, the other five finished in the Top 20. And two of the three backs with 250 to 274 touches finished in the Top 12 (the one that didn't -- Ray Rice -- finished a gross 30th overall).
|2013 RB workload||Finished||Success rate|
|300+ touches (9)||Top 12: 9 Top 24: 0||100 pct.|
|275-299 touches (6)||Top 12: 1 Top 24: 5||100 pct.|
|250-274 touches (3)||Top 12: 2 Top 24: 0||66.7 pct.|
|225-249 touches (4)||Top 12: 0 Top 24: 2||50.0 pct.|
|200-224 touches (7)||Top 12: 0 Top 24: 2||28.6 pct.|
|175-199 touches (5)||Top 12: 0 Top 24: 2||40.0 pct.|
|150-174 touches (6)||Top 12: 0 Top 24: 1||16.7 pct.|
All of this is evidence that touches are where it's at, and when it comes to drafting backs this summer it'll be the guys with the potential for the most work to fly off the draft boards first. The ones with goal-line potential will supersede those that rely on their receiving prowess for productive numbers.
The only issue left is knowing when to take them.
Rush for running backs?
In the past I've been accused of being the guy who drafts too many running backs. Even in the mock we did during the playoffs I took seven running backs over 15 rounds and only two receivers! I'm not changing form now -- I still want as many running backs as I can squeeze onto my roster -- but I might change when I get my first few.
Think about why backs like Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy go ahead of ones like Zac Stacy and Alfred Morris. There's nothing wrong with Stacy and Morris, but the feeling is that they aren't going to be as productive and Charles and McCoy. I'd use the term "difference maker" to describe Charles and McCoy, and that appeal -- the potential to deliver big Fantasy points every week rather than only in favorable matchups or when they get near the goal line -- makes them unique to their position.
The same idea works for a select few at other positions, and it's those difference makers that should be considered among the other elite and near-elite running backs when it comes to drafting. And the premium placed on players like Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers -- guys who are roundly considered as close to sure things as you can find -- makes them more desirable to me than, say, a good running back who has big potential but also has an injury history, or a back that has potential and only potential (think David Wilson from 2013).
As big of an advocate as I am for taking running backs, I'm more comfortable taking the studs at other positions so long as there isn't a great running back to go after. Once those non-running back elitists are gone I'll go back to going after running backs. So I would consider a non-running back in the first and second rounds.
What I will stick to is aiming for running backs in the middle rounds -- more than I normally might if I take a lot of non-rushers early on. When I do chase them I'll go after the ones with a chance at 200 touches. Those are the ones with a good chance to finish as a Top 24 option. I'm sure I'll end up drafting pumpkins but the whole "lottery ticket" theory is in play: The more chances you take, the better chances you have of winding up with a productive player. Owners who drafted Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, Ryan Mathews, Le'Veon Bell and Fred Jackson -- all taken on average between 60th and 122nd overall last year -- will appreciate this philosophy.
Fighting through the tiers
The very best way to organize your running backs when preparing to draft is to sort them by expectations into groups, or tiers. The bigger stats you expect a player to have, the higher tier. Once you do this exercise you'll have a good feel for when the talent pool begins to shrink and can draft accordingly.
Obviously you should expect changes between now and August. I hope so, because there's a lot of white space in the first two tiers and the fifth tier. There are a bunch of rookies that will impact this as well as free agent movement. Consider this simply a first draft of what will eventually be a sensational, dynamic, mega-awesome tier system come August (cue the fireworks!).
|1,600+ total yards, 11+ TDs||1,400+ total yards, 9+ TDs||1,250+ total yards, 8+ TDs||1,100+ total yards, 7+ TDs|
|Jamaal Charles||Eddie Lacy||DeMarco Murray||Giovani Bernard|
|LeSean McCoy||Adrian Peterson||Doug Martin||Chris Johnson|
|Matt Forte||Le'Veon Bell||Arian Foster||Knowshon Moreno|
|Marshawn Lynch||Alfred Morris||Ray Rice|
|Ryan Mathews||C.J. Spiller|
|Zac Stacy||Steven Jackson|
|Reggie Bush||Maurice Jones-Drew|
|1,000+ total yards, 6+ TDs||900+ total yards, 5+ TDs||High-end backups||Low-end backups|
|Shane Vereen||Donald Brown||Stevan Ridley||Latavius Murray|
|Frank Gore||Chris Ivory||DeAngelo Williams||Marcus Lattimore|
|Ben Tate||Andre Ellington||Rashard Mendenhall||Darren McFadden|
|Fred Jackson||Andre Brown||Montee Ball||Bryce Brown|
|Lamar Miller||Shonn Greene||Mike Tolbert|
|Joique Bell||BenJarvus Green-Ellis||Mike James|
|Rashad Jennings||Pierre Thomas||Daniel Thomas|
|Danny Woodhead||James Starks|
|Khiry Robinson||Mark Ingram|
|Trent Richardson||Jacquizz Rodgers|