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More than ever I am here to tell you that you must get your running backs early. If you do not, consequences wait for you by October, and your season may be over before Thanksgiving. Yes, I understand there is a lot of uncertainty at the top at the position and that the stud quarterbacks and wide receivers are safer. But when has safe ever won this game? There really isn’t any way to slice it. If you pass on running back in the first two rounds, you’re either starting an unproven kid without a job or a veteran hanging on for dear life. Or, maybe both.
My full dynasty rankings will be posted soon, but for discussion’s sake I want to highlight a few rankings that really stuck out as odd to me.
#14 Jonathan Stewart
#17 Ben Tate
#18 Mikel LeShoure
#19 Ryan Williams
#25 Jacquizz Rodgers
I want nothing to do with starting any of these guys in Week 1, but given my ranking criteria for dynasty purposes they are all in my Top 25, which means I see them as RB2s. This doesn’t tell me much about how I feel about them. I know I really like them long-term and think they all have the potential to be very good fantasy starters in the right situation. However, it certainly tells me a lot about how I feel about the others!
Fact is, there are a lot of former mainstays that are nearing the end of their line, clouding the running back pool after the first couple of rounds. If you’re relying on any of them to lock down a starting spot week-to-week, a famous line from one Dirty Harry movie quickly comes to mind - ‘Do ya feel lucky ... punk?’ The coaching staffs for Atlanta and San Francisco have already said the workloads for Michael Turner and Frank Gore, respectively, will be reduced this year. The St. Louis Rams have not stated any changes to Steven Jackson’s role, but they drafted a running back in the second round this year. Willis McGahee played admirably last year, but Denver has a green rookie themselves coming in that fits the new offense better. Reggie Bush had his first healthy campaign of his career. Will lightning strike twice?
Those who don’t feel comfortable with these aging veterans nearing the cliff have the option to go with mediocre talents with tenuous holds on starting jobs instead. Not saying it’s a better choice, but it is an option. BenJarvus Green-Ellis lacks skills in the passing game and doesn’t have game breaking ability (zero 20-plus yard plays in 2011), but he is the starter for the Cincinnati Bengals. However, the coaching staff has indicated that Bernard Scott will eat into his touches. Isaac Redman appears to have a big role carved out for himself, but new offensive coordinator Todd Haley lobbied for a Dexter McCluster type (Chris Rainey) in the draft, and former lead back Rashard Mendenhall should be back from his torn ACL by October. Despite Redman outplaying Mendenhall for portions of 2011, will he get enough touches week-to-week to be a reliable starter?
Let’s also not forget those messy committee backs! Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Mark Ingram, Jahvid Best, Chris “Beanie” Wells, James Starks, the hot hand flavor of the week in Washington, and a host of others can’t be forgotten, either. Sure, someone from this group could emerge if they finally beat the injury bug or their competition falters/gets hurt, but this is something that won’t work itself out until during the season. There are enough concerns with all of these options that none of them are safe starts in Week 1.
There really is no other way to say it - the running back pool is a mess. If you leave the first two rounds without one you’re going to be dealing with a ‘Who should I start?’ headache every week unless you happen to be that lucky owner to stumble upon hidden gems like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles or DeMarco Murray from last year. If that’s a game you feel comfortable playing, by all means, enjoy. Just know that you’re not going to have any advantage if you make it to the playoffs.
Those teams that find their way to make it to the end? They’re the ones that nailed their running back picks early in drafts. If they’re also the ones that found value at other positions you may as well waive the white flag before the playoffs start. I know that if you don’t feel comfortable with the running backs you build your team around early, that you won't be there at the end. So, plan accordingly.
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