Many fantasy owners are foregoing risky high-round running backs in favor of more dependable wide receivers this year. It’s hard to fault them given how consistently excellent guys like Antonio Brown and A.J. Green have been throughout their careers. Especially when comparing those two to backs who’ve yet to play a pro down (Ezekiel Elliott) or who might miss games to suspension (Le’Veon Bell).
That said, most leagues still require their members to start two running backs. As such, having a solid group of backs remains vital to a fantasy squad’s success. But if you were already of the mind to double or triple up on wide receiver then you’d be wise to give it a few more rounds before you start stockpiling running backs.
That’s not to say avoid the position altogether, but you’re better off getting one trustworthy stud and then loading up on mid-to-late round backs. Many of the options there are just more appealing than the ones going a few round earlier.
Those who load up at receiver are typically looking to draft a starting running back or two in Rounds 4, 5 and 6. The options there though are highly underwhelming. For instance, backs like Frank Gore, Chris Ivory and Melvin Gordon are usually selected within those frames. One can’t help but to surmise it’s simply because they’re listed as starters, rather than any upside they might have.
Gore, for one, is 33 and noticeably declined last year. It’s tough to bank on him having one more starter-worthy year. Ivory had a strong 2015, but his physical style makes him susceptible to injury and he’s now part of a committee backfield in Jacksonville. And while Gordon’s still young enough to rebound, he had a putrid rookie season (3.5 yards per carry) and scored as many touchdowns as you.
If you’re not going running back early, don’t chase middling starters at the position when you don’t need to. Instead, continue to bolster your strength at receiver and aim for above average players at quarterback and tight end. There should be lots of promise at running back in your draft’s later rounds.
Shortly after the trio of aforementioned runners go off the board, promising youngsters like Duke Johnson Jr., Giovani Bernard and Ameer Abdullah join them. It’s curious that three backs under 25 who’ve all proven to be multi-talented go after some unspectacular veterans. But the fact that Johnson and Bernard are part of timeshare backfields themselves likely plays a part.
Both runners are the lightning to someone else’s thunder. The adept receivers aren’t getting the goal-line totes, but they do get a steady share of the work. In fact, Bernard’s never been a regular starter and has still gone over 1,000 scrimmage yards in each of his three pro seasons. Johnson’s only got one year under his belt, but fell just short of 1,000 total yards. Don’t let the fact that these two aren’t listed as starters deter you, they’ll get double-digit touches more often than not.
As for Abdullah, his case is a bit different. He soared up fantasy draft boards last season, but never took charge of Detroit’s backfield. He was certainly a solid on-field factor, but, from a fantasy perspective, his first pro season was a disappointment. This year, though, Abdullah doesn’t have much competition in the backfield. Not to mention the retirement of Calvin Johnson leaves Detroit in need of as many playmakers as it can get. Because of this, Abdullah’s a sneaky solid mid-round target.
A few rounds later, even, there’s productive runners on the board. Namely, TJ Yeldon and Charles Sims. Like some of the backs mentioned above, drafters are sour on them because they share a backfield with another runner. And, like some of the backs mentioned above, that shouldn’t stop them from producing.
Yeldon had a strong rookie campaign, totaling 1,020 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns in just 12 games. Ivory wasn’t brought in because of anything Yeldon did wrong, but to strengthen Jacksonville’s offense further. Based on the Jaguars’ preseason opener, in which each back ran for 26 yards, this will be a formidable one-two punch all year long. Granted, Ivory’s the better bet to score, but the explosive Yeldon is always a threat to take one the distance – or at least a good chunk of it.
As for Sims, he’s more of a clear understudy. That said, he’s one who Tampa Bay utilizes with great success. Last season, even while Doug Martin managed an incredible resurgence, Sims got about 10 touches a game and produced to the tune of 1,100 scrimmage yards. Not only is the adept receiver a solid high-floor pick, but he’s also got potential to be a steal.
By now you ought to see that, for fantasy purposes, the NFL is more running back-rich than it’s been in some time. The difference is that it’s because of, and not in spite of, committee backfields. A stud runner remains a great advantage, but by the time you get one nowadays you’ll have to cross your fingers and hope a top-10 receiver gets to you. That’s not to say running back should be neglected early on, but prioritizing positions over running back if you don’t like the backs on the board could prove a successful strategy.