Running back is perhaps the most important position in fantasy football, which makes me sound crazy when I tell you never to draft one in the first round.
In most standard formats—unless you have some ludicrous points-per-rushing-touchdown league—the production that you can get from the position can be adequately filled with mid- to late-round picks.
When you consider just how many “elite” running backs there are in the league—Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Trent Richardson, Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, Steven Jackson and Maurice Jones-Drew, just to name a few—there is plenty of talent to go well into the second round and beyond.
Let’s take a look at a few more reasons why you should use your first-round pick on another position this fantasy season.
Just last year, a number of players—such as Willis McGahee and DeMarco Murray—burst onto the scene during the season and became viable No. 1 RB options.
Each and every year, without fail, a handful of guys with an average draft position of “undrafted” break out and have monster seasons.
One of the best strategies that many fantasy gurus employ is angling for a top waiver pick in Week 2 or 3, when they can take advantage of a freak injury to a top guy or a surprise stud who turns out not to be a fluke.
I’d recommend you take another positional player with your top pick and watch the waivers for a solid RB option in the first few weeks.
The NFL is becoming dominated by pass-first offenses, which really limits the effectiveness of a rusher.
In PPR leagues, there are a few RBs who could almost double as a WRs—such as LeSean McCoy—and these are the only backs that should ever be considered in the first round.
In a standard scoring system, go with a high-scoring QB, an elite WR or one of the dominant TEs with your first-rounder and start looking at RB in the second or later.
According to Rotoworld's Mike Clay (via USA Today):
The most injury-prone of the four top fantasy positions is running back. Top backs touch the ball nearly 20 times each game and a good chunk of those touches include them running full speed into what is essentially a brick wall with legs. This, not surprisingly, leads to a higher injury rate than that of other positions.
Think about it. These guys are taking a pounding, and the elite backs that made the biggest impact in fantasy last year took an absolute beating. Who knows how their bodies will hold up in 2012?
Take Jamaal Charles, for example. In 2010, he ran 230 times for 1,467 yards and five touchdowns. He also had 45 receptions for 468 yards and three TDs.
In 2011, he had 12 carries for 83 yards and five receptions for nine yards before going down with a season-ending ACL injury.
Charles was a first-round draft pick in almost every league that season, but wise owners avoided him and took a safer player—like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Calvin Johnson—who played a different position.
If you are going to take a running back with your first pick, you should reconsider and look at one of the players below.
WR: Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham
Those are just a few options you have in the first round, which obviously depends heavily on where your pick falls in that round.
Regardless, avoid the RBs and take another position, and you will not be disappointed with your fantasy squad in 2012.