Drafting a Running Back Early Could Ruin Your Fantasy Football Season

Bobby KittlebergerCorrespondent IAugust 14, 2014

Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson, right, tries to avoid the tackle of Houston Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson on his way to an 18-yard gain on a catch during the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Last year I was in a 10-team standard fantasy football league in a snake-style drafting format.

My first pick was seventh overall.

With that pick I had planned to take a running back and had in my notes that I would take Trent Richardson, should he be available.

He was.

Like many analysts, experts, football enthusiasts and even casual fantasy football fans, I believed in Richardson's potential and thought that he had a fantastic year ahead of him. Had it not been for my second pick, Richardson would have doomed my season.

Since I picked seventh, I got to pick again at the 14th spot.

By a miracle that cannot be explained in the natural realm, Jamaal Charles was still available. I took him at 14th overall.

He saved my season with the help of Jimmy Graham, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas, and took me all the way to the No. 1 seed and a championship in that league.

But I got lucky. Charles shouldn't have been there and was initially viewed as a luxurious addition to my "brilliant" Richardson pick.

The lesson learned was simple: Drafting a running back early could have ruined my season.

And it could happen to you.


The Problems with the 2014 NFL Running Back

There are a number of headaches that the 2014 NFL running back will present to their respective fantasy owners. First, the featured-back role, though not dead (I agree with Barry Sanders on this one), is far less common than it used to be.

The running-back-by-committee approach is more typical, making it difficult to build a fantasy team around that position.

So if you want to draft a running back high, you need to make sure you get one of the few backs who are getting a significant amount of carries and the lion's share of snaps for their team.

Unfortunately, those backs are becoming fewer and fewer.

The second issue spells trouble whether you're willing to put up with a shared backfield or not. That is, the fact that running backs are incredibly prone to injury.

In a league where defenders are faster and stronger then ever before, the body of the ball-carrier is at far greater risk. So even if you do get a premier back like Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy, the risk of them missing time is disturbingly high.

And keep in mind, those guys are costing you your first overall pick.

That's a high price to pay for someone to sit on your bench.

The third and equally disheartening issue is that running backs have been prime "bust" candidates in recent years, often carrying high average draft positions (ADP) into a season in which final statistics hardly justified a waiver-wire pickup. Richardson is a good example, but Ray Rice, C.J. Spiller and Alfred Morris all performed significantly lower than what their 2013 ADP would suggest they were capable of.

That means roughly half of the running backs taken in the first round last year were busts, or at least not worth their early selection.


Avoiding the Coin Flip

So it's reasonable to say that first-round running backs are a 50-50 proposition. They'll either make your season (thank you Jamaal) or ruin it for you.

A strategy worth considering is one that would allow you to avoid that coin flip entirely.

Target Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning or Jimmy Graham in the first round and count on finding some sleeper running backs in the later rounds.

Remember, Knowshon Moreno went from third on the Denver Broncos depth chart to a top-five runner in 2013. If you can target running backs late in your draft, you might be able to pick up someone who can put up decent numbers with a far more manageable price tag.

A first-round pick should be as close to a sure thing as possible, and unfortunately, running backs are becoming less and less of a certainty for fantasy owners.

My advice would be to go with the safer bets.


Bobby Kittleberger writes about fantasy football for The FF White Papers. You can get in touch with him via Twitter.