5 Running Backs You Must Draft in Fantasy Football This Year
Today's pass-happy National Football League has had its effect on the world of fantasy football as well.
Gone are the days where the first round was a roll call for running backs, with quarterbacks, wide receivers and even a tight end or two working their way into the first round of fantasy drafts.
However, that doesn't mean that having a solid stable of running backs isn't absolutely essential to fantasy success. Whether you're looking for a bell cow to build around or a late-round flier here's a look at a handful of running backs who should absolutely be on your fantasy radar come draft day.
Average draft position courtesy of MyFantasyLeague.com.
RB1: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
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Average Draft Position: Third Round (Pick 25, RB12)
However, Charles has shown the ability to be a dominant fantasy force in the past, posting over 1,900 total yards and finishing as a top-three player at his position in 2010.
Granted, the arrival of Peyton Hillis in Kansas City means that Charles will be involved in a timeshare, but Charles has thrived in one before, looks to be fully recovered from last year's injury and represents an excellent value pick for fantasy owners who eschew the running back position in the first round.
RB2: Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
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Average Draft Position: Fourth Round (Pick 40, RB16)
Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson appeared to be on the verge of a career season in 2011, as the 31-year-old averaged 5.5 yards a carry and gained over 1,300 total yards through the first 10 games of last season.
However, a broken leg ended Jackson's season prematurely, and the solid play of youngster C.J. Spiller in Jackson's stead has apparently led many fantasy drafters to presume that the Bills will employ a committee backfield this year.
With that said, the fact remains that Jackson was a top-five fantasy running back in points per game last season. Even if he should lose a few touches per game to Spiller, Jackson still has an excellent chance at outperforming his current average draft position.
RB3: Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
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Average Draft Position: Eighth Round (Pick 93, RB32)
After two mostly forgettable seasons in the National Football League the light bulb appeared to finally come on somewhat last year for Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown, who set career highs across the board while averaging a robust 4.8 yards per carry.
The former Connecticut standout has carried that momentum into the 2012 preseason, finding the end zone in each of Indy's first two exhibition contests.
With a rookie quarterback under center this season the Colts will all but certainly lean heavily on the running game, which should give Brown a solid shot at both besting last year's production and outperforming his draft slot.
RB4: Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions
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Average Draft Position: 11th Round (Pick 127, RB41)
When the Detroit Lions running back corps was ravaged by injuries in 2011 the team turned to a face from their past, bringing back fifth-year pro Kevin Smith after releasing him earlier in the year.
Smith responded, tallying over 500 total yards and scoring seven touchdowns in only seven games.
With Jahvid Best still not cleared for contact and Mikel Leshoure returning from an Achilles tear and suspended for the first two weeks of the season it will once again fall to Smith to shoulder the load in the Detroit backfield. Furthermore, if Smith can stay healthy himself he may well not give the job back.
RB5: Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
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Average Draft Position: 13th Round (Pick 150, RB50)
The New Orleans Saints drafted former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram to be their featured back last year, but Ingram never got on track as the result of a knee injury, forcing the team to turn back to Pierre Thomas to help move the chains on the ground.
The sixth-year veteran got the job done, gaining nearly 1,000 total yards, averaging over five yards a carry and finishing the season as a top-20 fantasy option at his position in leagues that award a point for receptions.
Ingram's knee is still a lingering issue, and given Thomas' ability to pick up yardage as both a runner and receiver, the 27-year-old is a fantastic late addition for fantasy teams in PPR leagues.