It may well be an age where wide receivers, quarterbacks and even tight ends have worked their way into the first round of football drafts. However, the fact remains that whether due to the growing number of committee backfields or the attrition that strikes the position, it's as important as ever that your fantasy team have both talent and depth at the running back position.
That makes identifying and targeting potential value picks at running back essential to fantasy success.
Whether you're one of those owners who just has to have Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the first round or you just like to load up at the position, here's a trio of ball-carriers that you should absolutely keep your eye on when your league's draft rolls around.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
You have to feel for St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, who has toiled for most of his eight-year NFL career on teams that have ranged from mediocre to outright horrendous.
That hasn't stopped the 29-year-old from being productive, however, as Jackson has topped 1,000 rushing yards in seven straight seasons, including racking up over 1,400 total yards each of the past four years.
That productivity has carried over into fantasy football as well, as Jackson has finished among the top 15 options at his position in fantasy leagues that award a point for receptions in each of those seven seasons, with four top-10 fantasy campaigns over that stretch.
No active running back in the National Football League has more career carries than Jackson's 2.138. That heavy workload has led many to speculate that 2012 could be the season that Jackson begins to break down, which in turn has led Jackson's average draft position in fantasy leagues to drop this year.
According to MyFantasyLeague.com, Jackson is currently being selected in the fourth round of fantasy football drafts as the 15th running back off draft boards.
Even with rookie Isaiah Pead taking some carries from Jackson this season, that draft slot makes Steven Jackson an excellent fantasy value in 2012, especially for teams that pass on the running back position in the first round.
Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
For the first time since 2007, running back Willis McGahee topped 240 carries with the Denver Broncos in 2011, and that workload equated to one of the more productive seasons of McGahee's career, with the 30-year-old gaining nearly 1,200 yards on the ground and scoring four touchdowns.
Last year also marked the first time since 2007 that McGahee cracked the top 25 fantasy running backs, but apparently many fantasy drafters aren't expecting an encore, as McGahee isn't being selected as one of the top 30 backs off draft boards and is dropping well into the eighth round.
Granted, McGahee isn't likely to carry the ball again 249 times this year with the arrival of quarterback Peyton Manning in the Mile High City, but Manning's arrival in Denver should also open up the offense and running lanes as opposing defenses are forced to respect the Broncos' aerial attack.
Also, according to the Denver Post, McGahee showed up to training camp in phenomenal shape and has set a personal goal of 1,200 rushing yards in 2012, and if McGahee meets his goal this season, the 10th-year pro will more than justify his current ADP.
Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
We'll conclude our nickel tour of the running back position with a late-round under-the-radar play, as running back Pierre Thomas of the New Orleans Saints is the 50th running back being chosen in fantasy drafts so far this summer with an average draft position in the 13th round.
The 27-year-old gained fewer than 600 yards on the ground a season ago, but Thomas did average over five yards a carry and chipped in over 400 receiving yards and six touchdowns, which was enough to land the sixth-year veteran in RB2 territory in PPR fantasy football leagues last year.
With second-year pro Mark Ingram returning from an injury-marred and disappointing rookie season, Thomas may well be the most dependable rushing option for a prolific New Orleans offense in 2012.
If Ingram can stay healthy Thomas will be hard-pressed to duplicate his 160 touches from 2011, but he should at least see enough action to merit fantasy consideration as a "flex" play or bye-week fill-in, which would make Pierre Thomas a bargain given his currently modest asking price.