Running backs aren't going anywhere, folks.
Fantasy owners worldwide make the same mistake every year and get cute in the early rounds of drafts. A quarterback here. A wideout there. Maybe even a tight end because, well, reasons.
But the savvy owners understand that the game hasn't changed. The NFL is a passing league, sure, but the game of fantasy football itself is still very much slanted toward running back production being most important of all.
Yes, it has become more complicated in recent years with the league shifting to a committee approach, but that should do nothing but make owners salivate—the best truly will rise to the top and win leagues.
Let's take a moment to look at the top names this year before draft season kicks into full gear.
Early Top 10 RBs
|1||Adrian Peterson||Minnesota Vikings|
|2||LeSean McCoy||Philadelphia Eagles|
|3||Jamaal Charles||Kansas City Chiefs|
|4||Eddie Lacy||Green Bay Packers|
|5||Matt Forte||Chicago Bears|
|6||Doug Martin||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|7||Alfred Morris||Washington Redskins|
|8||Arian Foster||Houston Texans|
|9||DeMarco Murray||Dallas Cowboys|
|10||Marshawn Lynch||Seattle Seahawks|
Case in point.
At face value, Eddie Lacy is a tough sell. Not only is he a member of a pass-first offense that includes Aaron Rodgers, but the coaching staff would also like to incorporate more James Starks and DuJuan Harris next season.
That sounds scary, but coach Mike McCarthy has also said this offseason that he views the Alabama product as a three-down back, meaning Lacy could see even more snaps as a sophomore. Last year, he was on the field about 60 percent of the time, per ESPN.com, and he racked up 1,435 total yards and 11 scores.
Is Lacy a top-5 fantasy back in 2014?
That output equated to 198 total points, good for No. 6 at the position.
It's important to remember that a bulk of his production also came with Rodgers injured on the sidelines, meaning defenses will have to respect the pass once again, widening running lanes. Plus, there certainly isn't another back on the roster getting those goal-line carries.
This preseason, it's critical to keep an eye on Lacy's health and that of those around him. As long as his form appears the same, there are few backs worth drafting before him.
The type of player who can make or break an owner's season is one who either has questions about his health or who has players around him who may steal some of the workload.
In Doug Martin's case, both are major issues.
Last year's campaign was cut short by a season-ending shoulder injury, so Martin has that floating over his head. More important, though, are those around him.
There's Mike James, who flirted with a five-yards-per-carry average on 60 attempts in Martin's absence. There's Bobby Rainey, who certainly had his flashes. There is also rookie Charles Sims out of West Virginia, a top-70 pick by a front office that did not originally draft Martin.
So, Martin might just be the most important back of all to watch. The main concern is that his time with the rock sees a reduction, although new head coach Lovie Smith has been quick to shoot down such talk this offseason.
"That chatter, that's that baseball chatter before a guy gets to bat: 'Hey, batter, batter, swing' stuff," Smith said, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. "Don't pay any attention to that. Doug's a good football player. He knows that. You don't see Doug complaining. He knows what our plans are for him."
What Smith says holds weight. In Chicago, Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson were both productive despite playing with each other. Besides, a reduction won't be very significant when one takes into account how many more snaps Martin has seen in comparison to the average back, as noted by Football Guys' Austin Lee:
In 2012 Doug Martin had 77% of the Bucs' rushing attempts, which is the highest percentage for any player over the past 3 seasons.— Austin Lee (@AustinNFL) July 12, 2014
Still, it is critical to monitor Martin's health and usage as well as the comments coming out of the organization. There is no question he is worth a top-10 selection, but that could change quickly.
Marshawn Lynch is in the same boat as Martin.
Yes, Lynch was No. 4 overall in scoring last year at his position, but the days of him seeing more than 300 carries are gone. Simply put, his workload the last three years has been entirely too much:
Now 28 years old, Lynch is not only getting up there in usage rate, but he is also surrounded by quality talent. Robert Turbin is a former fourth-round pick who oozes talent, and Christine Michael was a second-round pick in 2013 and arguably the most talented back in the class.
In fact, Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times suggests Lynch may lose somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-50 carries next season.
He'll still get goal-line touches and see more totes than anyone else on the roster, but the days of Lynch rolling for 280 or more carries are gone. Not only is his body an issue at this point, but the coaching staff will also have no qualms about rolling with a hot hand should one of the other backs get on a roll.
Lynch is still a first-round pick, but where might just be predicated on how the preseason proceeds.
Note: All scoring info based on ESPN standard leagues unless otherwise specified.