You Don't Need a Running Back in the First!
While I can’t argue against padding your backfield with a top-3 selection, I think after that point, there’s a little more flexibility than people realize, mostly because this year’s class of running backs has a surprising amount of top level depth. I could very sell see any of the five players detailed at the bottom of this article having better fantasy seasons than second year players Doug Martin or Alfred Morris, and maybe Ray Rice loses a step or two this year on Super Bowl hangover as well.
Here’s this year’s top 10 as provided by ESPN’s rankings:
1. Adrian Peterson
2. Arian Foster
3. Marshawn Lynch
4. Ray Rice
5. Doug Martin
6. Jamaal Charles
7. CJ Spiller
8. Trent Richardson
9. Alfred Morris
10. LeSean McCoy
There’s a definite drop-off in quality after that top-10, but not so much of a drop that these 10 need to be considered must-have players. And additionally, there’s always such a huge durability question for all running backs that you’re never drafting a sure thing even with guys like Peterson, Foster and Lynch.
Here’s the next 5 according to ESPN:
11. Steven Jackson
12. Matt Forte
13. Stevan Ridley
14. Frank Gore
15. Chris Johnson
A lot of guys outside of the top 15 ESPN running backs have great potential to be solid #1 running backs this year. So don’t be afraid of taking the first wide receiver or quarterback off the board, because here are 5 running backs that could make you extremely happy that you did, all of which should be available mid-to-late second round or later:
Maurice Jones-Drew - He got off to a decent start last season before a foot fracture ended his season early, but let’s not forget who led the NFL in rushing in his last complete NFL season. In 2011, MJD ran for 1606 yards with 8 touchdowns. Then throw in 374 receiving yards and 3 more touchdowns and you have yourself a dandy of a #1 running back. Will the Jags be any better this year? Probably not, but a poor supporting cast hasn’t prevented Jones-Drew from tallying at least 1,000 yards or 9 touchdowns in any of his 6 full seasons in Jacksonville.
Darren McFadden - Yeah, I know it as much as you. The injury bug is always looming over Run-DMC and last year was a significant disappointment even when he was on the field. But one of these years, the former Razorback is going to find a way to stay productive all year, and when he does, you’ll wish he was on your roster.
DeMarco Murray - Another big running back with injury history, Murray has excelled in every opportunity he’s received in Dallas. His first start in week 7 of 2011 he rushed for a ridiculous 253 yards against the Rams and last year he would have posted solid #1 running back numbers if he’d been able to play a complete season. The Cowboys should have another high scoring offense this year, so why not cash in?
Montee Ball - The buzz is out for a reason. Ball was a touchdown machine at Wisconsin and now he’s playing for a Denver offense that should be providing him with plenty of goal-line touches. Ronnie Hillman should take some middle of the field carries away from him, but in the redzone, it’s going to be all Ball.
Le’Veon Bell - The Steelers like featured backs, and one of the reasons they struggled so much near the end of last season was because neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Isaac Redman could handle the increased workload. Bell, on the other hand, was an absolute workhorse at Michigan State and has all the tools to be a feature back in the NFL, so don’t be surprised to see something similar to the 242 carries Rashard Mendenhall received in his first full season in Pittsburgh.