Taking a running back in the first round of fantasy football drafts has been a popular strategy for years, but back when teams all had a workhorse runner, owners could get away with taking a quarterback or top wide receiver and wait to grab their starting running backs.
In 2013, however, the landscape of the NFL has changed so much that there are very few true starting running backs. Because of this, the number of backs guaranteed to see 15-20 touches per game has dwindled, which makes taking a top-tier running back in the first round more important than ever.
When looking at running backs entering 2013 fantasy football drafts, the drop-off after the top 10 or 12 is severe. After guys like Alfred Morris, Matt Forte and Steven Jackson, starters who all have their question marks, there are injury-prone backs such as DeMarco Murray and Darren McFadden, and backs in their first year with an expanded role who have shot up draft boards and are gone by the fifth round like Christopher Ivory and Lamar Miller.
In a recent draft (PPR) done at the start of June, Aaron Rodgers (329 fantasy points in 2012) was taken at 2.06 and Peyton Manning (304 points) went at 5.06. Meanwhile at running back, Arian Foster (248 points) was taken at 1.06 while Darren McFadden (101 points) and Frank Gore (190 points) were taken three rounds later. The difference in points between Foster and Gore is more than double the difference between Rodgers and Manning, yet they were taken a similar distance apart.
Going even further, the difference from fifth-rounder Tony Romo (271) and 13th-rounder Andy Dalton (239) was miniscule compared to the difference between the fourth-rounder Gore and 12th round pick Pierre Thomas (85 points).
While there are more guys who “could” get touches now than there were years ago, there are fewer players that “will” see 15-20 touches in a game and also get scoring opportunities. Too many committees not only share the workload but also split roles and take scoring chances away from the lead back.
Ponder this: would you rather take Jamaal Charles, an RB2 and two wide receivers before taking Manning as your QB1, or have Rodgers as your QB1, Chris Johnson as your RB1 then your pick of what’s left at RB and WR?
With plenty of viable QB1s available after the first few rounds and tons of depth at WR this year, taking care of your backfield early will pay dividends later in your draft.