Fantasy Football: 3 Running Back Busts Being Picked in the First Two Rounds

Bruce ChenAnalyst IAugust 2, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 23:  Running back Trent Richardson #33 of the Cleveland Browns rushes against the Denver Broncos during a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 23, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Browns 34-12. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Some fantasy "experts" will tell you that you must stick to the tried and true strategy of picking a running back with your first two picks. Others will tell you that you must pick up a top-flight quarterback if you can't get your hands on a runner you like. Whatever your draft strategy for the upcoming fantasy football season, you will fall flat on your face if you draft players with a high pick that don't live up to those expectations.

It's a simple reality. Last year, if you drafted Chris Johnson in the first round, you got a guy who wasn't even giving you flex-worthy production for the first half of the season.

You should probably expect your RB1 to be your highest scoring player other than your QB each week. You aren't winning any of your weeks if you find yourself with subpar or inconsistent production when the backbone of your team fails to produce.

So if you picked Johnson, you probably didn't make the playoffs, unless you found first-round production elsewhere to be your No.1 runner. Maybe you had to take a flier on Doug Martin in the third or fourth round, or you needed to be the lucky guy who got Alfred Morris off of waivers.

As much as it is our job as fantasy players and analysts to find the next sleeper (like Morris), it's just as important to identify the land mines that are planted in the early rounds (Johnson). 

I'll be taking a look at three players whose ADP (average draft position) are significantly higher than they should be. They are players you can't afford to take a risk on, like Johnson last year.

All ADP's are courtesy of FantasyPros.


Alfred Morris (ADP: 12)

The sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic was an amazing surprise last year. Mike Shanahan has rarely stuck with one back since the days of Clinton Portis in Denver. 

If you had Alfred Morris, chances are you picked him up in the very late rounds. This year, the rankings have appropriated him as a first-round pick and an unquestioned RB1. 

Put me in the category of people who are questioning that "unquestioned" claim. 

Before last year, counting on Shanahan to stick to one back was like counting on Hank Moody to stick with one girl. Before Morris, the last man to be a 1,000 yard rusher for Shanahan was Tatum Bell. 

And that was in 2006.

Since then, the likes of Selvin Young, Peyton Hillis, Portis again, Ryan Torain, Roy Helu, Tim Hightower and Evan Royster have seemed like the guy Shanahan would stick to. None of them held on to the job for more than half the season, and certainly didn't produce 1,000 yards. 

No one cares to know who Royster is now, yet last year he was garnering mid-round status and "sleeper" designation just because he was who would logically take the starting job. And then the Alfred Morris show took over.

I'm not saying that Morris will lose his job. He's every bit of the first-rounder you spend on him if he's the starter. While Shanahan doesn't stay with one back for a while, if he does, they will produce. It's because of Shanahan that fantasy players and casual NFL fans have no idea what the definition of "zone-blocking" means, but salivate like dogs when they hear that a back will be running in that system.

Counting on Morris to keep his job is the logical thing to assume. It seemed logical at the time for all of those poor guys I mentioned above, too. I'm not going to assume any "logical" moves from a guy who held a quarterback competition between John Beck and Rex Grossman.


Matt Forte (ADP:16)

Forte is going a bit lower than the first round, but at this point you're still probably in the RB1 range. While Forte has the talent, skill, offense, and workload to fill that void for you, there's a couple gaping holes in his game you just can't ignore.

It's our job as fantasy analysts to make positive correlations between certain trends and recognize when those trends can be bucked. There is a huge correlation between goal-to-go carries and fantasy production, because that's opportunity for the almighty touchdown.

As good as Forte is catching the ball, hitting the hole, making people miss and picking up blitzes, he's a horrible goal-line back. There's no other way to say it. 

ESPN Stats and Information reports that Forte has had 98 carries in goal-to-go situations in his career, converting just 12 of them. Forte had eight rushing scores in his rookie year and, since then, hasn't gotten more than six.

The reason he's still a borderline RB1 is he catches a ton of passes. But, in 2012, Forte's receptions dipped to a career-low 44. New coach Marc Trestman loves runners that make plays out of the backfield, and some think Forte could have 1,000 yards rushing and 100 receptions in this new offense. 

Call me a doubter, considering the Bears still haven't fixed their offensive line problems. Throw that in with Forte's ongoing durability issues (he was questionable for literally half of the 2012 season) and his five missed games in the last two years, and I'm just not sold on Forte as a sure thing heading into 2013.

Trent Richardson (ADP:9)

Richardson had good season last year, fantasy-wise. And he will probably have a decent one this year, too. 

But if you're going to be picked one spot behind Ray Rice and ahead of LeSean McCoy, there's no choice but to grade you on the toughest curve.  I don't know how bell-curving works at Alabama, but fantasy players don't scale up for injuries and a poor offense.

Cleveland was 30th in the league in third-down conversion and 28th in first-downs made. Red-zone touchdowns are a volatile statistic—higher number of rushing scores are often hard to duplicate. 

Of Richardson's 11 rushing touchdowns last season, eight of them came in the red-zone. If that number dips, Richardson becomes an ordinary fantasy back. 

In all likelihood, it will. It's clearly a fluke that Richardson got that many red-zone touches in such a horrible offense. Cleveland's offense has a below-average line, aside from Joe Thomas, and no other explosive playmakers, other than Josh Gordon, who is inconsistent at best. Brandon Weeden is one bad season away from the Browns giving up on him, and I don't think Cleveland gets in the red-zone much this season.

Unlike Forte, who is draft-worthy every year despite his anemic touchdown production because of his open-field running abilities, Richardson's rookie season featured an ugly 3.6 yards a rush, easily the lowest among any back with 250 carries. Heck, he only had 950 rushing yards.

I haven't even mentioned the broken ribs in Week 6 or the knee surgery he had in August. Defenses will key on him and stack eight-man fronts because they know Cleveland doesn't have anyone else. The workload intensity led to injuries last year, and the lack of outside help led to a horrible yards per rush. 

I don't see any of that changing this year. And if the touchdown production dives, Richardson will be a bust.