Each season, there are at least a handful of running backs who are called “studs” in the fantasy football world. These players are guaranteed to carry your team throughout the season and rarely, if ever, turn in a subpar performance. However, the 2012 fantasy football season presents owners with a bit of dilemma.
If you don’t have a top 3 pick in your draft, you’re not guaranteed to get a stud ball carrier to shoulder the scoring load for your team. The Philadelphia Eagles’ LeSean McCoy, Houston Texans’ Arian Foster and Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice are the only three perennial studs who are guaranteed to stay true to form this year. Well, almost; Rice may hold out, which puts his health in jeopardy.
Speaking of which, the fourth would-be stud this year, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew, is also holding out, which keeps him from being a sure thing in 2012. Now it’s early, so these players might get new deals before training camp and be ready to rock and roll. If not, these holdouts could really hinder their production this year, as we saw with the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson last year.
So what to do in 2012? Take your typical level of covetousness for running backs and dial it down considerably, especially if you don’t land Foster, McCoy, Rice or Jones-Drew, but even the latter two are gambles at this point. Nobody is a safe bet, so draft “purely” as some of the old-school NFL coaches say. In other words, take the best player available at all times.
Yes, this will affect when you draft players who have always been perennial workhorses, like the San Francisco 49ers’ Frank Gore and the St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson to name two.
Let’s say you have the sixth pick in your league’s 10-team snake draft. McCoy, Foster, Rice, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson will more than likely be the top five picks. That leaves you in a tough position; do you take MJD and hope he doesn’t hold out?
If you don’t take MJD here, you have three options: 1) take an elite QB like the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady or New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees; 2) take the next best receiver – either the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald or the Texans’ Andre Johnson; 3) roll the dice on a potential RB stud like the San Diego Chargers’ Ryan Mathews or the Dallas Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray.
We’re talking RBs here, so let’s say you roll the dice on Mathews. You have a player who might be the Hercules-type leader you need to make a run at the championship, he might be a bust or the Chargers might unexpectedly employ a backfield committee. You took Mathews No. 6 overall, though, so we’re betting he’s a hoss in 2012.
Now in Round 2 you can’t go wrong with a solid No. 1 receiver, such as the Packers’ Greg Jennings. From here, it’s up to you when you want to take a QB; some folks get a stud early so they can start him every week with no hesitation while others wait and grab a second-tier fantasy passer and stack up on RB and WR depth early.
If you go QB in Round 3, don’t automatically look for RB2 in Round 4. That’s the natural thing to do, but remember – the rules have changed…well, sort of. Is a player like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Doug Martin worth a shot here? He is if the best receiver available is the Tennessee Titans’ Kenny Britt. However, most owners are going to employ the old tactic and gobble up all the RBs they can early, which means you might land another dynamite receiver in Round 4 like the Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green.
Are you sweating now? Do you look at your one lonely RB in Mathews and go into panic mode? No! Martin might have been a good pick in Round 4, but the Packers’ James Starks will likely see just as many carries and he’ll probably still be available in Round 8 or 9.
You see, there are so many RBs that might or might not be solid fantasy players this season that you can now wait on them like we once waited on QBs. Meanwhile, stack up on receivers and possibly a stud tight end, such as the Saints’ Jimmy Graham.
Use this new strategy and you’ll probably end up with a team like this:
QB – Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
RB1 – Ryan Mathews, Chargers
RB2 – James Starks, Packers
WR1 – Greg Jennings, Packers
WR2 – A.J. Green, Bengals
WR3 – Brandon Lloyd, Patriots
TE – Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
D/ST – New York Giants
K – Jason Hanson, Lions
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears QB
Steven Ridley, Patriots RB
Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts RB
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers RB
Erick Decker, Broncos WR
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins WR
Based on previous years’ numbers, you might look at this roster and pass out cold. However, if you look at the upcoming year’s situations, your RBs have truckloads of upside.
Mathews is now the lone workhorse in San Diego, at least according to Chargers coach Norv Turner. He’ll get somewhere in the neighborhood of 225 carries and 30 receptions. Likewise, Starks is now the main man in Green Bay and we know what he’s capable of when he’s alone in the backfield (remember the Packers’ Super Bowl run?).
With BenJarvis Green-Ellis now in Cincinnati, Ridley is the primary ball carrier in New England and, although the Patriots are a passing team, he could be a surprise 1,000-yard rusher like BGE was in 2010. Joseph Addai is now gone, so Brown is the finally the No. 1 RB in Indy, which means he might get a ton of carries with a rookie quarterback under center. While the Colts say they’re still going to run a high-flying offensive attack, Brown will be a three-down back, which means he’ll get receptions along with his carries.
Williams was once a fantasy superstar, so he’s worth a late-round flyer to round out your roster.
You have five RBs with upside and the rest of your roster is rock solid. Remember: a team full of “B” players beats a team with a few “A” players and a ton of “C” players any day of the week. Don’t reach for RBs in 2012 and you’ll have a consistent team ready to contend for a fantasy title!