As the 2012 fantasy football season quickly approaches, owners will be faced with perhaps the strangest fantasy draft season they have ever encountered. Over the last few seasons, the NFL has made rule changes to protect the quarterback, as well as boost scoring totals throughout the league.
The trickle down effect of the rule changes has drastically altered the face of fantasy football. In 2011, three quarterbacks amassed more than 5,000 yards passing and five quarterbacks would throw for more than 30 touchdowns. In contrast to those eye-popping numbers, only two running backs would have more than 300 total carries last season, down from seven in 2010, six in 2009 and five in 2008. The most combined touchdowns by a running back last season was the 20 accumulated by LeSean McCoy, followed by Ray Rice and the 15 touchdowns he would score. To put that in perspective, there would be nine quarterbacks that accounted for 30 or more combined touchdowns in 2011.
Obviously, all of those passing touchdowns and yards had to go to someone, and the wide receiver and tight end positions have seen a significant rise in fantasy value as well. OK, chances are that if you are reading fantasy football articles in May, that you are not the owner who grabs a magazine on his/her way to the draft and “wings it.” I am not telling you anything you haven’t begun to see for yourself, or, more likely, experienced, in your own leagues. That being said, I am thoroughly convinced that these morphing fantasy values are the best thing to hit fantasy football since the incorporation of the Individual Defensive Player (IDP) format.
The marked increase of fantasy points now being spread throughout the passing game and the changing role of the running back position in the NFL has broken up the herd mentality of fantasy drafts. It would be easy to beat the “running back by committee (RBBC) has ruined the running back position in fantasy football” drum, and I actually do not see that as the case at all. From what I have discerned, I am admittedly not a statistician, nor play one on TV, it is more of a case of ‘RBBS,’ or more precisely ‘running back by specialty’ that has become the NFL’s newest fad. There are now more specialty position running backs than ever before in the league. There are now: short yardage/goal line backs, third down pass catching backs, who you don’t want to confuse with the third down pass protecting backs, and of course the halfback.
Not to be the “when I was young guy,” but here I go anyway. It is strikingly similar to the relief pitching roles in baseball and how they have evolved over the years. Gone are the days of Rich “Goose” Gossage and Lee Smith. Now there are long relievers, set up relievers for merely pitching the eighth inning and finally the closer. There are still plenty of bell cow running backs in the NFL and they are getting their carries. In 2011, there were 12 different running backs with more than 250 carries, which was up from 11 in 2010 and nine in 2009, so the dropoff in carries theory is a bit off the mark. The real dropoff has not been in how many carries that running backs are receiving as much as it has been in how many scoring chances are they still getting?
The biggest changes to fantasy scoring have been that the red zone offenses have shifted towards throwing the ball more than in the past. Seventeen teams threw more passes than attempted running plays in the red zone in 2011, and 11 teams actually threw the ball from the 5-yard line more than they attempted to run the ball. That is a lot of potential rushing touchdowns being thrown to other scoring options, and that is why fantasy drafts for 2012 will be so extraordinary. Gone are the days of there being the same 10 stud running backs or so being drafted in the first round. Gone are the days when drafting Antonio Gates in the third round was considered a bold move. For the first time ever in re-draft leagues, the tight end position will have value as a first-round fantasy draft selection. More than ever before, fantasy owners are going to need to personalize their respective draft boards according to how they best feel this shift in fantasy fortunes can be manipulated.