Fantasy leagues cannot be won in the first round, but they can be lost.
The first round is the most critical element in all of fantasy football. Owners who nail the first round can ensure themselves quality fantasy production all season long and even afford a few gambles later on in a draft.
Every year a certain number of players are locks to be off the board in the first round. One such example in a game that places such importance on running backs is actually wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
All first-round picks are not created equal. Some players simply do not end up fulfilling their end of the bargain as a top selection, and it is the owners that know how to differentiate between the players who will and won't produce that end up winning leagues.
The following are players sure to be off the board in the first round, but the best owners will know to avoid.
Note: All fantasy rankings courtesy of FantasyPros.com.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
Player Ranking: 6th RB, 6th Overall
Arian Foster is the biggest first-round lock to avoid in any format or league type because the Houston Texans have abused him to the point of no return the past three seasons with carry totals of 327, 329 and 405.
Foster has been banged up all offseason dating back to OTAs in May. He swears he'll be back in time for the regular season, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, but the damage may be done:
Texans RB Arian Foster, asked if he'll be ready for the regular-season opener vs the Chargers on Monday Sept. 9: “Yeah, I’ll be ready.”— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 22, 2013
Houston is obviously going to want to tread lightly with its best player, and has the means to do so since Ben Tate is one of the best backups in the NFL, when not dealing with injury issues of his own. Tate rushed for almost 1,000 yards in 2011 while acting as the starter in Foster's absence.
While the 1,411 yards and 15 touchdowns from last season sure look sexy, 2013 is the cutoff point for Foster's reliability in fantasy leagues.
Fantasy owners are finally seeing the wear and tear catch up to Foster. Avoid the injury headache and go with LeSean McCoy or Calvin Johnson.
Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns
Player Ranking: 8th RB, 8th Overall
Trent Richardson arrived in the NFL last year to much fanfare as possibly the most talented back to enter the league since Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.
Which first-round should owners avoid the most?
Richardson partially lived up to the hype by rushing for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games. He also added another 367 yards in the passing game, making for a fine fantasy output.
The problem with Richardson is that total could have been higher had his body been able to hold up for all 16 games. Richardson was banged up leading to the draft itself, and was on the sidelines for numerous occasions last year dealing with minor tweaks and issues.
It's hard to tell if Richardson's body will hold up if he receives another 260 or more carries. That actually brings up another issue, as Richardson is a bit of a volume runner considering he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
Richardson is the youngest back being taken in the first, but also the only one with a per-carry average lower than four yards. Add in a coordinator change and Richardson is a must-avoid for fantasy success.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Player Ranking: 9th RB, 9th Overall
Ray Rice may only be 26-years-old, but he has accumulated 1,527 touches in his brief five-year career. Rice has no doubt been an effective workhorse, but now is not the time for fantasy owners to start gambling on an abused body holding up.
The Ravens' coaching staff knows this better than anyone. Rice has seen his carry count drop in each of the past three seasons, all the way down to 257 last year, which he used to tally 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns on a 4.4 average.
Fantasy owners should beware of this decline, as it's only going to continue with impressive second-year running back Bernard Pierce showing well in his rookie season.
Pierce was given 108 carries last year and made the most of each with a 4.9 yards per carry average and 532 yards. That may not seem like much, but Pierce is going to see his workload increased next season.
RB Bernard Pierce has gotten "bigger and faster" since last year, Harbaugh said.— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) July 26, 2013
ESPN's Chris Mortensen said on NFL Insiders via Rotoworld that the Ravens are going to split Rice out wide and keep Pierce in the backfield to handle carries in some formations.
That's great news for the Ravens, and horrible news for fantasy owners. It's time to jump off the Ray Rice bandwagon as the Ravens too move to more of a committee approach like most of the league.
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