This year's running back class is amazingly thin at the top and offers tremendous value near the midpoint, if you are willing to gamble on midrange dudes to fill out your virtual backfield.
The only backs I consider to be locks for RB1 production are Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews and Chris Johnson. Fantasy footballers have to realize that even though a back is ranked as a top 12, there are not 12 RBs worthy of being a No. 1 on your team. This is where how you opt to construct your squad comes into play.
If you are an owner that likes to go quarterback or wide receiver in the first round or two, be prepared to roll with a back like Willis McGahee, Ahmad Bradshaw, Fred Jackson, Shonn Greene or Beanie Wells as your No. 1, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. You just have to make sure that the strategy you have chosen is best for your scoring format and is adaptable to the available player pool.
In other words, ready yourself for more on-paper running back question marks than answers after the draft. Gambling with high-risk, high-reward runners can make or kill your team as a playoff-bound unit.
Value can be found in the middle rounds with backs like Roy Helu, Beanie Wells, Isaac Redman and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. A few rushers that go in the same neighborhood of the middle rounds that intrigue me: Donald Brown, Jahvid Best, Stevan Ridley and Peyton Hillis.
Brown showed enough last season that maybe he is being sold short by fantasy owners because of his overall reputation as a first-round bust. Best is ultra talented but needs to stay healthy; you can capitalize on other owners' fears if you choose to take the plunge. Ridley is probably the best gamble in a crowded backfield, and Hillis is in a good situation to rebound, especially early in the year when Jamaal Charles (knee) is likely to be limited.
Several backs will go in the top 10 of the position that scare the tar out of me. Trent Richardson, Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte are all about as risky as you can get with that high of a selection. I'm also down on Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner, based on the sheer volume of work they have each received over the past few years. MJD and Turner are less risky, though.
Digging a little deeper, a few low-risk RBs that I gravitate toward are Jacquizz Rodgers, Taiwan Jones, Daniel Thomas, Isaiah Pead (PPR only), Ronnie Hillman (primarily PPR), Brandon Jackson (PPR only) and Le'Ron McClain (TD-heavy leagues).
That is how the running back position breaks down for me from the 30,000-foot view. Detailed analysis can be found in our fantasy football player analysis, which will be released throughout the rest of the week. As always, drop me a line with any specific questions or comments.
About Cory J. Bonini
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.
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