Choosing fantasy football running backs can be a nightmare in fantasy football, because so much of a running backs’ success depends on factors like health, scoring opportunities, number of carries and the kind of offense the running back plays in. With each passing year, fewer NFL running backs are the sole ball carrier in their offense.
With platoon running back situations and the dreaded running-back-by-committee increasingly becoming an NFL reality, choosing a good fantasy football running back becomes more of a crap shoot every year.
The task of choosing a fantasy football running back wouldn’t be so daunting, if so many fantasy football championships weren’t decided by who gets the best player at the running back position. It’s a fantasy football truism that the team with the best running backs is the best team in fantasy football.
While that’s not always the case, it’s the case a big enough percentage of the time that most fantasy football owners spend their highest draft picks trying to find that running back combination which is going to win their fantasy football league title.
So here’s how you choose fantasy football running backs and give yourself the best chance to win your local fantasy football league. Remember, nothing is certain in NFL football, mainly because injuries can happen at any time.
Draft Primary Ball Carriers
When drafting in the 1st round of a fantasy football draft, find running backs who will be the main player running the ball. Don’t draft a platoon runner with your 1st overall pick. In the 2nd round, you’ll find platoon runners like Marion Barber going. I don’t even like drafting platoon runners in the 2nd round, though the list of players who are on the field every play starts to get thin at that point. By the 3rd round, players like Ronnie Brown and Pierre Thomas, both in full platoon situations, are flying off the board.
That’s why I seem to have ended up with Kevin Smith on a lot of teams these last couple of years, because he’s the only guy all day. While having a Lions runner has gotten a lot of laughs, he’s frankly been a more consistent flex player than most teams’ flex position.
Check out the running back situations every single year. These change with rapidity, due to free agency, injuries and offseason workouts. For instance, Ray Rice took the Baltimore Ravens job in the 2009 offseason, simply because he had a great offseason workout program.
If you can’t decide between two runners, figure out which one is likely to be on the field more. Consistent production is about getting touches and a running back can’t produce, if he’s not on the field.
Draft Young Running Backs
Youth is served in the NFL, especially at the running back position. Running the ball in the NFL is about athleticism, speed, quickness and explosion. NFL running backs take the most punishment in a game, too, because they are getting slammed into by multiple defenders 20-25 times a game. RBs in the NFL just wear out quickly. Sure, there are a few that can stretch into a 10 year successful career, but most NFL ball carriers are lucky if they’re considered elite for 5 years.
A running back who is 28 or 29 is quickly reaching the end of the line, while NFL quarterbacks and even wide receivers can be elite all the way into their mid-30′s. The list is tiny of 30-year old NFL running backs who have been truly elite runners. Most are just a shell of their former self, such as the examples of Ladainian Tomlinson with the San Diego Chargers and Brian Westbrook of the Philadelphia Eagles right now.
If you’re looking for solid fantasy football running backs in a redraft league, try to target players in their 2nd to 7th year. This 5- to 6-year window represents the prime of an NFL running back’s career. Anything beyond that usually is getting beyond the age of 27, when running back skills begin to erode quickly.
Not only do skills diminish, but nagging injuries begin to limit effectiveness and eat into that runner’s playing time. As time is missed with injury concerns, other running backs on the roster step up and the coaches get more confidence in that player, and perhaps lose confidence in your aging running back.
It’s just better to get young running backs who are at the top of their games and who are less likely to get injured. One thing new fantasy football players don’t grasp immediately is the biggest name is not always the best name to draft. That definitely is the case when drafting running backs.
If you’re drafting running backs in a keeper league or dynasty league, draft young. Draft rookie runners and then have the patiece to let them produce. Some rookie runners are a valuable asset on fantasy football teams, so you might be helping yourself out immediately by drafting them. Many show promise their rookie year and become a much bigger factor in their second NFL season, when they’ve learned the blocking assignments and have spent a full offseason in their team’s workout program.
Trade Veteran Running Backs in Keeper Leagues
Finally, if you have an RB reaching his 6th or 7th year in the league, trade him for a younger running back. Even if you’re going to screw up on the timing of trading that RB, you want that player off your roster a year too early instead of a year too late. At least you get full value trading the player too early. It might look like a foolish move in the short term, but you maximize the return you get in the trade. And if you trade a running back, make it a rule that you always get a running back in return.
Draft a Lot of Running Backs
I see a lot of new fantasy football team managers draft two or three running backs and assume that will do the trick. When injuries and bye weeks happen, you have to start marginal runners who aren’t likely to get you many points. You want to have talented runners sitting on your bench that can contribute in a pinch.
So draft a few starting running backs in the early rounds, but don’t forget to keep dipping into the running back pool every few rounds. Draft talented backups on good offenses. Draft runners in the second position of platoon situations, if they’re on a good running offense. Draft rookie running backs who might be hidden talents.
Remember there are always talented receivers to get off the waiver wire in the first month of free agency. Remember that quarterbacks are the easiest position to trade for in fantasy football. But if you don’t have decent running backs, you’re likely to go the entire season without having any. That will kill your fantasy football season and ruin your fun for that year.
Handcuff Your Star Running Backs
“Handcuffing” is drafting the primary backup to your own runner. You handcuff those two players together, making sure you have a starting running back in case of injury. Many teams will draft the backup for the first couple of runners they draft, as an insurance policy that their high draft pick isn’t going to be completely wasted when an injury happens.
Sometimes, a less touted runner will be just as productive when given the chance, either because they’re a hidden talent on the bench or because they come in mid-season, when their legs are fresh and the defensive players chasing them have been worn down from half a year of NFL football.
So if you have a running back you think has high upside, but is a bit of an injury risk, draft his backup. If you have a running back in an offense that should make any runner great, draft the backup to make sure you get that production. You won’t be able to do this with most runners on your roster, since you have limited roster spots and your opponents will be drafting, too.
If someone drafts your handcuff, don’t decide there’s no reason to draft a running back in that spot. Just get the next most talented runner still on the draft board and hope for the best.