Top Fantasy Football Players 2012: Safest RBs with First-Round Value
The NFL is now a passing league, and nowhere has that philosophical shift been felt more than in fantasy football drafts.
According to ESPN's Live Draft Results, just five running backs are being selected in the first round of snake drafts (in 10-team leagues). No longer is the first round the domain of the running back in fantasy football; now, quarterbacks and wide receivers are joining the party too.
It doesn't help that the running back position is full of questions, at least from a fantasy football perspective, this season. From injuries to lockouts to running back committees, there are few certainties at the position. That includes those backs being selected in the first round.
Let's take a look at the five backs being selected in the top 10 picks and rank just how safe of a selection they are in standard-scoring leagues.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans
2011 Stats: 13 games, 278 rushes for 1224 yards, 53 receptions for 617 yards, 12 touchdowns
Overview: There are two reasons Foster won't get the best safety grade in this article: Ben Tate and the three weeks (two out with a hamstring injury) that spoiled the beginning of his 2011 season.
Foster puts up big numbers in a system now built around him, so he's going to get his carries. And if he stays healthy, he'll produce. But Ben Tate is going to get some carries too, and Foster has accounted for so many touches the past two years, some wear and tear is always a possibility.
The rewards far outweigh the risks when it comes to Foster, and only one player is a safer selection in the first round at the running back position.
Safety Grade: A
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
2011 Stats: 16 games, 291 rushes for 1364 yards, 76 receptions for 704 yards, 15 touchdowns
Overview: Rice hasn't missed a game in three years. His backup is rookie Bernard Pierce. He was the top fantasy running back in 2011. He got his contract extension and should be a happy camper. Even against stout defenses, he's still a factor given his ability as a receiver.
What's not to like about Ray Rice?
As running backs go, Ray Rice is by far the safest selection you can make in the first round. There are no guarantees in fantasy football, but given Rice's history, he's about as close as you'll get. Even the old knock against him, that he didn't score touchdowns, was erased last season.
If you have the first pick in your draft, you should be debating between selecting Aaron Rodgers and Rice.
Safety Grade: A+
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
2011 Stats: 15 games, 273 rushes for 1309 yards, 48 receptions for 315 yards, 20 touchdowns
Overview: Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: McCoy is probably not going to score 20 touchdowns again this season. Heck, he might not even score 15.
And he still has a ton of fantasy value.
While he probably won't be quite the workhorse he was for the Philadelphia offense last year, McCoy is a dynamic runner who is a perfect fit behind offensive line coach Howard Mudd's blocking schemes. Shifty and able to consistently find the seam in a defense, McCoy is a serious threat as a runner.
Last year, his threat out of the backfield as a receiver was less than in years past, but he's still fully capable of torching a team on a long touchdown off a screen or gaining a few tough yards on a swing pass. Philadelphia has a dynamic offense, so yards and touchdowns will be there for the taking.
But given a slightly diminished workload and a crazy 2011 campaign in terms of scoring touchdowns, there might just be a few less yards and touchdowns for McCoy this season.
Safety Grade: A-
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
2011 Stats: 16 games, 343 carries for 1606 yards, 43 receptions for 374 yards, 11 touchdowns
Overview: Remember when Chris Johnson held out last season, came back to the team out of shape and never lived up to his fantasy billing last season?
If you do, you know just how tenuous this Maurice Jones-Drew holdout makes his own fantasy value. And he was a risk before he decided to ditch camp and hold out for a new contract—a holdout that may last into September.
He's had 312, 299 and a whopping 343 carries (last year) in his past three seasons. Along with the 53, 34 and 43 receptions he's accumulated in those seasons, Drew has taken a lot of wear and tear in the past three years.
I still think Jones-Drew has a lot of good football left in him, but his holdout, alongside his usage in the past three years, can't be ignored. Monitor him closely, but know he's a risk in the first round.
Safety Grade: C
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
2011 Stats: 16 games, 262 carries for 1047 yards, 57 receptions for 418 yards, four touchdowns
Overview: How confident you are in when drafting Johnson depends on which version of the exciting running back you think you will get.
Will you get the Johnson who showed out of shape after a long holdout last season and was one of fantasy football's biggest busts? Or will you get the Johnson who rushed for 4598 yards and scored 38 total touchdowns in his first three seasons?
Who is the safest first-round running back?
I would tend to side with the latter, but if Johnson burned you last season, I understand your reservations. The thing is, if you are drafting late in the first round and really want a running back, who else will you select?
Matt Forte will have touchdowns stolen by Michael Bush. Marshawn Lynch has been inconsistent (to say the least) in his career. A slew of other backs have major injury concerns or are coming off serious injuries.
Meanwhile, Johnson has missed just one game in his four-year career and will see the majority of the touches in the backfield. Believe it or not, he's one of the safest running backs in this draft. Whether he'll provide the value you want out of a first-round pick, however, is the true question.
Safety Grade: B
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