Draft Strategy: Running Backs Early or Often?

Running backs have always been the top target of any fantasy manager and they come off the draft board early and often.  Several years ago, I led the fight for drafting QBs and WRs in the early rounds over the often injured and almost always underperforming running backs. In 2013, we have another odd year of hard choices. 

What position should you draft in the first or even second round? 

Are their suitable running backs later in the draft?

I you own one of the first three picks in the draft, then your smartest move is to take Peterson or Foster, but after that decisions have to be made.  Sure Doug Martin, Jamaal Charles, and Marshawn Lynch look temping, but do you really want to double down on your first round pick with a promising rookie on a OK team, a stellar RB coming off of a bad injury, or a trouble maker like Lynch.  For the record, I like Martin in the first round, and I’m shocked that the consensus ADP over at Junkyard Jake has LeSean McCoy falling to the 9th pick! I’d be willing to go to Castle Jackpot and lay a bet down that McCoy is a far superior fantasy running back than Lynch, Charles, or even Martin.  McCoy and Spiller are the only two running backs that I would take late in the first round if they fell to me.  Both dominate in the passing game and are young and seem to stay relatively healthy.  Both are also team players and are willing to play hurt.  Heart can trump a better team in most cases and visit Castle Jackpot.    So I the first round, if you walk away with Calvin Johnson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, A.J. Green, or some other none running back based on your league rules, you will be OK. 

In the second round is where you can make your money at the RB position, but don’t reach too high.  Trent Richardson is a steal where he is going, so if you took Aaron Rodgers late in the first round, turn around and get Richardson.  I’m not 100% sold on Alfred Morris in his Sophomore season, and even though Mock Draft Central ADP loves this guy in the second round, I don’t.  There are far superior values in the second round that include WRs, TEs and QBs. Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, Drew Brees, and Dez Bryant are a few that come to mind.

So what is left for you if you don’t get ANY running backs in the first two rounds? Do not fret, there are plenty of more talented running backs for you to choose from.

DeMarco Murray, DAL, Matt Forte, CHI, Chris Johnson, TEN, Reggie Bush, DET, and Rashard Mendenhall (ARI).

What about David Wilson of the New York Giants?  Many are riding high on him and I know he’s a risky, but great pick in the late third or early fourth round pick. Lamar Miller, Ryan Matthews, and even the skilled Chris Ivory (Now with the NY Jets) will be available late as great 2nd and 3rd running backs for your fantasy team.  Going even deeper fantasy managers will find gambles like Eddie Lacy (GB), Shane Vereen (NE), and Ahmad Bradshaw (IND) to stock up your fantasy roster.

Then there are the late sleeper picks like Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy (STL),   Ben Tate (HOU), Montee Bell (DEN Way over valued with Ronnie Hillman in the mix), Daniel Thomas (MIA), Joique Bell (DET), and Pierre Thomas (NO). 

I promise, there will be injuries, there will be surprises.

So the untrue reality that you must go over and out to grab running backs early is a farce. Since most leagues are now PPR and the NFL is clearly a pass first league, make sure your fantasy team has the parts it needs to win a championship.  That means a great QB and heavy depth at WR.  Don’t ignore running backs, that is a recipe for disaster, but you can be patient and have an outstanding draft.