Monday - Jan 18, 2021

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Draft Strategy 08: Embrace The RB Carnage

If you managed to land a true one-two punch at running back last season then you were one of the lucky ones. For those of us who got burned (in my case repeatedly), I’ll dish out a few stat lines that’ll pour some salt in the wound:

  • In 2007 only 5 RB’s rushed for more than 1300 yards –

    not since 1997 have so few RB’s eclipsed the 1300 yard mark in a given season.

  • Last season LT’s 1474 yards rushing led the league – the lowest seasonal rushing total since 1993. In fact in each of the past 4 years, there have been at least 5 RB’s that have churned out more than 1474 yards.

  • 2

    007 saw only 3 RB’s with 12 or more rushing TD’s – the fewest number with 12+ TD’s since 2001.

So, following these numbers, am I going to launch into a diatribe about the lack of running back production in 07? No. I’m not going to do that. We all know what happened (I started Cedric Benson and Shaun Alexander for the first 5 weeks of the season, so you better believe that I know what happened). The RB situation was a mess. I really don’t need to mention the reasons for this, but here are a few: injuries, lack of commitment to the ground game, RB platoons, and just some really poor running.

There is, however, a positive element hidden in this situation. At least in the fantasy world. Here it is:

we are all in the same boat. Sound like a useless cliche? Just hear me out. Since there are only a handful of stud backs out there this year, few managers will be able to field a dynamic duo. In other words, if you’re in a 12 team league you probably won’t be drafting 2 great RB’s.

And neither will anyone else. So you don’t have to worry that you’re going to be the odd man out with just one star running back (of course this doesn’t mean that you won’t get lucky and land a second, but you really shouldn’t have high expectations for this years crop of # 2 backs). Okay. I know what you’re thinking. A few mock drafts, clever draft planning and a bit of research; you can get the jump on the running back situation. Don’t bet on it. Unless you know how to clone a fully formed LT you just have to accept the dearth of solid ball carriers. There simply aren’t many RB’s that are in favorable situations. You can expect that in the second round of your draft, virtually every available RB will have issues with either durability, playing time, goal line carries, or a ‘backup’ waiting to pounce at the first sign of poor production.

Once you’ve fully absorbed this reality, here’s how to work it. Appreciate that you’re no longer chained down by that crippled anachronism of drafting 2 backs in the first 3 rounds. There is absolutely no reason for it. The truth of the matter is this: the RB’s that’ll be drafted in round 3 will likely be no better than the RB’s that will go in round 6. I mean, think about it. Is Edgerrin James, who’ll probably go in the 3rd, going to provide better production than Fred Taylor, LenDale White or Selvin Young, who might slip to the 6th or 7th? And do any of these guys have any more or less value than Willie Parker, who might go as early as the 2nd? I know that questions like these were floating around draft boards last summer. This year, however, the issue has really compounded. Trust me. Everyone is going to feel the RB crunch. The key is not to overcompensate. Embrace it!

Once those top backs are gone in the first round, don’t start eyeballing RB’s like a maniac. Don’t inflate the value of a player just because he can trot up to the line of scrimmage to accept a handoff. In the early rounds you should feel free to select the best available

player, not the best available

running back. Let’s face it, RB’s are going to fly off the draft board and there won’t be much there after mid 2nd round. In fact it’s going to appear as if there is a run on the position. And you know what? Every year, in almost every draft, that’s exactly what happens. There is an immediate run on backs (no pun intended). In most cases managers try to steer clear of positional runs and the reason is simple. When they get caught up in such a situation they end up selecting a player not because they really want him on their roster, but because they’re afraid of ‘missing the boat’. I’m telling you right now that the running back situation is no different. People scoop up RB’s because they’re worried that there won’t be any left in the mid rounds. These managers end up grabbing backs that they’re not comfortable with given the high price. Again, this is a positional run; it’s not sound fantasy strategy. Don’t get caught up in it. If you think that a player has mediocre value then taking him in the 2nd or 3rd round makes no sense. No matter where he lines up on the football field.

It’s conceivable – depending on my draft position and how players come off the board – that I won’t even grab my

first back until round 3. Sound crazy? I just refuse to waste an early pick on a questionable player in a questionable situation. And I know that in the early rounds there will be superstar WR’s and QB’s there for the taking, since most managers – still clinging to the old school fantasy logic – will be gobbling up RB’s. In fact, if you take my advice, you might be the only manager in your league that isn’t afraid to leave the 3rd round with only one back. So use this to your advantage! Early in your draft, while your buddies are selecting players like Laurence Maroney and Reggie Bush, you can grab Tony Romo and Andre Johnson. Or Braylon Edwards and Reggie Wayne. Or Peyton Manning and Terrell Owens. You see? When you recognize the RB mess for what it is – when you embrace the situation rather than get caught up in it – you can really take advantage.

The thing to remember is that running backs are not magical (hmmmm… maybe LT and AP are). They are no more important to your fantasy team than receivers or quarterbacks. True, in the past they’ve been the standard bearers for fantasy football. But times have changed. Running back platoons are now a mainstay in the NFL. Some coaches switch their starting RB’s like they’re going out of style. And coaches are more willing than ever to throw young backs into the fire. This is all good. It’ll just take some getting used to. It actually makes the RB pool much deeper – deeper in mediocrity. So don’t reach for questionable backs! There’ll be questionable backs aplenty in rounds 4 through 8.

Maybe in 2008 the RB situation will right itself, but things aren’t going to clear up before draft time. So, since most of the other managers in your league will undoubtedly get trapped into taking 2 backs early, you can consider yourself ahead of the curve. If you heed my advice, that is. If not, well, I wish you good luck with Thomas Jones.

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