Drafting in fantasy football a couple years ago was so easy. Take a stud running back in the first round, and the rest will figure itself out. But things have changed over the past few years. First, this has become a quarterback-driven league. Second, teams have started to develop a running back by committee (RBBC) system to protect their studs and get healthy backs in there. So the amount of opportunities for running backs have dwindled, severely limiting your options of drafting a stud back. Nobody will argue that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both extremely talented running backs, but picking who of the two is going to get his stats week to week is maddening.
So this week, I’ll take my best stab at figuring out these RBBC situations, telling you who I think is overvalued as a starter, and who is undervalued as a backup.
Here are the teams that only have to worry about feeding the rock to one guy first and foremost: Philadelphia Eagles (LeSean McCoy), Baltimore Ravens (Ray Rice), Tennessee Titans (Chris Johnson…unless he starts sucking), San Diego Chargers (Ryan Matthews), Jacksonville Jaguars (Maurice Jones-Drew), Dallas Cowboys (DeMarco Murray…I don’t think Felix Jones will eat into his production), New York Jets (Shonn Greene…for better or worse), Minnesota Vikings (Adrian Peterson…once he gets back to full strength), Green Bay Packers (James Starks), Atlanta Falcons (Michael Turner), Miami Dolphins (Reggie Bush), Pittsburgh Steelers (Isaac Redman…for now), Cincinnati Bengals (Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis), St. Louis Rams (Stephen Jackson), Seattle Seahawks (Marshawn Lynch, if he’s not suspended), Denver Broncos (Willis McGahee), and the Cleveland Browns (Trent Richardson).
Obviously, out of that list, there are only so many studs. I’m going to try and make sense out of the rest.
Houston Texans - Arian Foster (ESPN Rank RB1, 1st Overall) and Ben Tate (RB27, 65th Overall): Last year, while Arian Foster was out injured, Ben Tate picked up the slack quite well, and got his share even when Foster was healthy and playing. I expect Tate to spell Foster quite a bit in 2012 as well. Obviously, with the exceptional blocking scheme of the Texans, I’m taking Foster 1st overall, especially in a league where QB throwing TD are only worth 4 points. But Tate would make for a nice RB3, and I nabbed him in a mock draft a couple weeks ago precisely for that purpose. Who knows? Foster might experience some “anti awesomeness” again, and I’d be VERY happy to have Ben Tate on my roster.
Chicago Bears - Matt Forte (RB8, 18th Overall) and Michael Bush (RB32, 76th Overall): Forte was threatening to hold out if he didn’t receive a contract extension earlier in the offseason. In a high-stakes game of chicken, Chicago proved that no matter how instrumental Forte was to the Bears offense in 2011, he too was expendable as they signed Michael Bush, who backed up Darren McFadden in Oakland last year and excelled when RunDMC came down with injury #239. Bush’s inclusion muddies the waters a little bit regarding Forte’s expected production in 2012. Last year, Forte was the beginning, middle, and end of the Bears offense. This year, he has a capable backup (as opposed to Marion Barber), and an actual receiving threat in Brandon Marshall. So at the very least, Forte won’t have the same amount of opportunities to do things with the ball as he had last year. There’s also the danger of Forte being complacent now that he got paid, as we saw with Chris Johnson last year. If you’ll recall, Forte’s been streaky throughout his career, so he has a chance to put up a stinker this year. I wouldn’t take Forte in Round 2. I’d probably take him in Round 3 if he’s available (which is where I took him last year). Like Ben Tate, I’d grab Michael Bush with the quickness as an RB3.
Kansas City Chiefs - Jamaal Charles (RB10, 24th Overall) and Peyton Hillis (RB36, 88th Overall): This is quite a different backfield situation than last year. Jackie Battle, we hardly knew ye. KC got a bargain when it picked up the mercurial Hillis this offseason. Hillis, who let the Madden 2012 cover get to his head and basically sabotaged his own season to get a contract that would never come, has something to prove this year. Charles will lose goal line carries to the bruiser, but JC has the chance to break some long ones and get some serious yards. I’m really high on Charles this year, and hopefully will scoop him up late in Round 2 or early in Round 3. Hillis will go in every draft, but I’d obviously like to get Ben Tate or Michael Bush before I grab “The Other Peyton.”
Oakland Raiders - Darren McFadden (RB12, 30th Overall) and Mike Goodson (RB49, 143rd Overall): I covered this in my first column a couple weeks ago, but it bears repeating: while this is Run’s House (for now), Goodson will most certainly benefit from McFadden’s eventual injury. He also managed to get some touches in Carolina (more on THAT quagmire later in the column), so I expect him to be in the mix while McFadden is healthy. Grab Goodson as an RB4 in the later rounds.
Buffalo Bills - Fred Jackson (RB14, 34th Overall) and CJ Spiller (RB34, 81st Overall): Those who were lucky enough to nab Fred Jackson (I got him in one league) reaped the benefits for a half a season, and then he went down to a season-ending fibula injury. In his place, CJ Spiller performed more than admirably, (almost) shedding the draft bust label. Here you have a platoon of guys whose backgrounds couldn’t have been any different. Last season, in training camp, the Division III former CFL player Jackson beat out the highly touted first round draft pick Spiller. This is a similar situation to what’s going on in Chicago, as you have the incumbent RB who is coming off major surgery and got paid in the offseason, with the younger, hungry backup ready to eat up some playing time. As great as Jackson was last year, I don’t think people should expect Freddy to put up the same production he had last year. I look at Jackson as an RB2, as opposed to the RB1 he was last year. Spiller has some value in ESPN leagues where he gets the coveted “slash” and can be slotted in as a Wide Receiver, so he definitely has value as an RB3.
San Francisco 49ers - Frank Gore (RB17, 38th Overall), Brandon Jacobs (RB53, 165th Overall), Kendall Hunter (RB63, 184th Overall), and LaMichael James (RB68, 205th Overall): Man, I want absolutely no part of this situation! Dealing with two running backs eating up playing time is frustrating enough, but FOUR??? Obviously Gore is the featured back here, but his fantasy value in past years has been based on getting the bulk of carries. He’s got Jacobs potentially vulturing short-yardage touchdowns from him, Hunter and LMJ in on third downs, and a new supply of passing weapons for Alex Smith in Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. This is simply a case of not enough footballs to go around. If you want to take Gore as an RB2, god bless ya. I’m not touching this offense with a 40 foot pole. As an offense, the 49ers will get their points, but it’ll be hair-pulling trying to guess who’s going to get it each week.
Washington Redskins - Roy Helu (RB18, 42nd Overall), Evan Royster (RB57, 171st Overall), and Tim Hightower (RB70, 211th Overall): Washington shouldn’t be in this column, but here they are. It’s obvious to even the least analytical football fan that Roy Helu is THE MAN in Washington. But we’re dealing with fantasy football’s worst enemy, the evil Mike Shanahan. He plays roulette with his running backs week after week. Helu did a great job for players (including me) at the end of last year, but it took the entire year and a Tim Hightower season-ending injury for him to get his opportunity. There’s no telling what Shanny is thinking this year. I’m high on Helu based solely on his talent, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll even be the starter when training camp ends. Keep your eye on Royster, but I personally think that Hightower is cooked. Will Shanahan think that? Who knows…
New Orleans Saints - Darren Sproles (RB19, 43rd Overall), Mark Ingram (RB33, 78th Overall), and Pierre Thomas (RB45, 119th Overall): It’s obvious that Sproles is the back I’d want, as he along with Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston got to eat first in the Saints’s pass-first offense. Ingram and Thomas were left fighting for scraps, along with the second tier of WRs such as Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, and Lance Moore. Basically, if I was going to start either Ingram or Thomas, I’d have to do it if the other one isn’t playing. If Sproles goes down at some point during the season, I’d lean more toward starting Ingram due to being the younger, superior talent.
New York Giants - Ahmad Bradshaw (RB20, 44th Overall) and David Wilson (RB40, 97th Overall): After Brandon Jacobs got a “thanks for the memories” at the end of last season, it was obvious that the Giants were looking for a RB in the draft. And after having Tampa Bay swoop in and trade up to nab Boise State’s Doug Martin the very pick before, the Giants had to settle for Virginia Tech’s David Wilson…if you want to call getting the ACC Offensive Player of the Year “settling.” I feel good about selecting either guy, as I felt good about selecting either Bradshaw or Jacobs last year. Bradshaw’s the guy I’d want to start, but Wilson’s the guy I’d want to stash. Bradshaw’s a high-end RB2, and Wilson’s a low-end RB3, whose value obviously goes up when the injury-prone Bradshaw is forced to sit out because of the inevitable problem with his foot.
Carolina Panthers - Jonathan Stewart (RB24, 54th Overall), DeAngelo Williams (RB28, 58th Overall), and Mike Tolbert (RB47, 127th Overall): I’ve always avoided the Carolina running back situation like the plague when it comes to fantasy. It’s just a headache I’d prefer not to deal with every week. Either Stewart or Williams gets the big stat sheet, sometimes neither, never both. Add to the fact that neither are getting goal line touches, plus the signing of Mike Tolbert, who himself has put up some big stat lines for the Chargers, and this is one RB squad that’s better off being somebody else’s problem. If one of them works out, mazel tov to the guy who drafted him. I’m not taking either Stewart or DeAngelo unless one of them falls ridiculously low and I can get him as an RB3 or even an RB4. And if one goes down, I’m grabbing Tolbert off the waiver wire if he’s there. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Arizona Cardinals - Beanie Wells (RB26, 62nd Overall) and Ryan Williams (RB54, 168th Overall): Few people remember, because he went down for the count in the preseason, but Ryan Williams was set to claim the starting RB job from the brittle, disappointing Beanie Wells in 2011. Circumstances were what they were, and the Cardinals rolled with Beans because they basically had no choice, and the former Ohio State standout went nuts and came up with the best season of his career. There’s no telling how Williams will produce with no NFL experience, but it’s not a stretch to say that Beanie’s hold on the incumbent spot for starting RB of the Cardinals is a lock. Williams is worth a speculative late-round draft pick or waiver wire add.
Detroit Lions - Jahvid Best (RB29, 70th Overall), Kevin Smith (RB48, 141st Overall), and Mikel Leshoure (RB78, 228th Overall): What a mess. What an absolute mess. I’d obviously want to get a piece of the Detroit offense because it’s so prolific, but what do I do with the running backs? You’ve got Best, who’s one of the most injury prone backs in the league and has suffered from repeated concussions (and still hasn’t been cleared as we speak), Smith who came back from the dead at the end of last season to rise to fantasy relevance, and Leshoure who, like Ryan Williams, got put on IR in the preseason and hasn’t had an opportunity to prove himself. Either one of these three could conceivably be the starter for Detroit, and we haven’t even brought up MoMo, Maurice Morris, in the conversation yet. Because of this, I’m staying away from Best as anything more than an RB3, and probably picking up Smith late in drafts as a speculative RB4. Bill Simmons was right…it would be so much easier if you just drafted team RB corps rather than individual players.
New England Patriots - Stevan Ridley (RB31, 75th Overall), Shane Vereen (RB52, 163rd Overall), and Danny Woodhead (RB73, 214th Overall): Unlike the Lions, here’s a prolific offense where I don’t want any piece of the running backs. And like the Packers, there are just too many mouths to feed in the receiving corps. With the Patriots, you have Gronk, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deon Branch, and Jabar Gaffney. Tom Brady is going to be throwing a LOT, and I have a feeling the running backs are only really going to be used to keep the defenses honest and set up the play action. Belechick isn’t Shanahan levels of evil when it comes to his running back corps, but he’s just a step under. I took waiver wire fliers on both Ridley and Vereen last year, and the results were too inconsistent for my liking. Plus, there’s always Danny Woodhead rearing his little head to make things more interesting. Good luck figuring out who’s going to get the stats. I’m looking elsewhere.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Doug Martin (RB35, 83rd Overall) and LeGarette Blount (RB46, 121st Overall): I touched on this two weeks ago, but Martin is a real bargain here at RB35. He might be such a bargain that players are going to figure this out before draft days and suddenly you’re forced to spend a high pick on him (I’m looking at you, Felix Jones). You know what? Forget I said anything here. Move on.
Indianapolis Colts - Donald Brown (RB39, 95th Overall) and Delone Carter (RB56, 170th Overall): Don’t bother asking me, because I don’t know. We got a rude awakening as to just how valuable Peyton Manning was to the Indianapolis Colts, as his absence saw the horseshoes lose 13 straight games before figuring out that they’ve sucked enough for Luck. One of the major pieces of the offense that suffered was the running game, which was damn near nonexistent last year. I have no idea what Andrew Luck’s presence will mean for the running game in 2012. Either he needs to rely on the run to keep defenses honest, or he’s such a prolific passer in the same vein as Peyton that the running game doesn’t move the needle any more than it did last year. Brown’s a solid enough RB3, but not somebody I’d feel comfortable starting week after week unless I see constant production.
“Nobody Wants to Hear About Your Fantasy Team!”
This week, I want to relive the highs and lows of the 2007 season. Anybody remember Brady to Moss? Of course you do. I know John C. had both on one of his teams.
You have to realize how hard this was for me. As a Giants fan who liked the Jets as well (that stopped after Hard Knocks), I had a rule of not drafting anybody from the Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys, Patriots, Bills or Dolphins out of loyalty to my two New York teams. I was playing with my heart, not my head (don’t worry, I came to my senses the next year…I actually started playing fantasy football by ONLY drafting Giants and Jets). So taking Brady took a huge leap of faith.
As the season progresses, obviously I’m feeling better and better about my decision to take a Patriot. Brady (and Moss) are steamrolling everybody and putting up video game numbers (in this league, QB touchdowns are worth 6, so I’m destroying people). I’m winning games solely on Brady’s numbers. I figure that I’m running away with this league. I made it to the playoffs in Week 15 as the overwhelming number 1 seed.
I’ll never forget the game. It was Patriots vs. Jets in Foxboro. The weather was awful. There was no way Brady was going to get his video game numbers, but I figured he was good enough to get SOMETHING, right? Here’s his stat line from that day:
14 for 27, 140 yards passing, 0 TDs, 1 INT, for a whopping point total of 3.
I got creamed in the first round of the playoffs, making everything I had done for the 14 previous weeks moot. Even second place gets their money back; third place gets nothing.
That’s the interesting thing about fantasy football. Your team doesn’t get or lose momentum. It’s a team of individual players from different teams that have no idea they’re really a team. That’s why my goal is always just to get to the playoffs. I don’t care if it’s first seed or fourth seed. When Week 15 hits, the records might as well all be 0-0. As I mentioned last week, I snuck in the fourth seed one week and upset the top seed in the first round to make it to the championship. Unless your league pays money out to the regular season winner, always shoot for the playoffs and playoffs only.
See you all next week, as I try to figure out who will be the top WR scorer on all 32 teams. Don’t forget to comment below and follow me on Twitter @PocketSeagull!