The running back position in fantasy football has lost a bit of its luster the last few years as the emphasis has shifted to elite quarterbacks and wide receivers in the NFL. However the position is still a requirement in our fantasy football leagues and running backs play an important role in your team’s success. This year there are some notable names slipping to the later rounds and simply being counted on to provide quality numbers despite age, injury and declining skills while others are looking to rebound into stud RB1 territory. Here is a look at a few such players – one’s to target and others to seriously think twice about.
Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans
Average Draft Position: 1.07
Johnson appears to have benefited from reputation alone. Are people forgetting last season? It was a brutal year – not interrupted by injuries but slowed by Johnson’s apparent apathy and the fact that he is a smallish back running behind a smallish offensive line. So what has changed? Unfortunately not much expect for a slightly better attitude heading into camp. A look at the trends raise huge red flags – in the last three years he has gone from 358 to 316 to 262 carries; from 5.6 to 4.3 to 4.0 yards per carry; and from 14 to 11 to 4 rushing touchdowns. Yup, Johnson is trending exactly the wrong way and is still the fifth back being drafted in mocks this season. The addition of rookie Kendall Wright and the presence of Javon Ringer will certainly limit Johnson’s touches. He was a bust last year and his situation hasn’t improved – late second/early third round is OK for Johnson. Middle of the first round is not.
Matt Forte – Chicago Bears
Average Draft Position: 1.11
There is no denying the talent of Mr. Forte but there are is no shortage of red flags ahead. The screen-happy Mike Martz is gone as offensive coordinator and Forte is coming off an sprained MCL suffered in Week 13 last season. Finally, there is the Bears’ acquisition of Michael Bush who figures to snake goaline opportunities from Forte. Matt is a nice player for sure but to count on him as your first running back pick may be a little overly optimistic. Late second round, early third is OK for Forte but first is just too rich.
Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings
Average Draft Position: 2.07
Don’t be fooled by the videos of AP working out, looking chiseled and shrugging off an injury that should take 12 months to get over. It was only December that AP had reconstructive surgery on three, count ‘em three ligaments in his knee. I guess that Peterson could be the exception to the rule but I am expecting at least mid-season before he is back to full strength. Add in the fact that he is playing on a subpar team and Peterson looks like the biggest risk on the board. Let’s face it – Christian Ponder scares absolutely nobody and Percy Harvin is as big a question mark as Peterson. Let someone else gamble on AP this year in the second round – if he is there late in the third/early in the fourth round then take the gamble.
Shonn Greene – New York Jets
Average Draft Position: 5.06
I know, I know – Greene has been underwhelming but a look at the Jets backfield situation reveals that Greene is a virtual lock for 250-300 touches this season. He finished 17th among fantasy backs last season with LaDainian Tomlinson snaking a portion of his opportunities. This season he is the 23rd RB off the board and he has just Joe McKnight to compete with…? He is durable and is evolving into a decent pass catching back and will be the feature back in a run heavy offense – what’s not to like? He has certainly been underwhelming in the past but with the opportunities he is certain to get, he is a rock solid RB2 and may be worthy of at least a fourth round pick.
Willis McGahee – Denver Broncos
Average Draft Position: 5.11
With all of the noise that Peyton Manning has made in Denver, it is Willis McGahee that has slipped between the fantasy draft cracks. Absolutely nobody is talking about him. Last season he had 1199 yards, 4.8 yards per carry and but only four rushing TDs – something that is bound to change now that the touchdown snake Tim Tebow has left town. Knowshon Moreno isn’t going to threaten his touches; Lance Ball isn’t either and the only other competition for McGahee is Ronnie Hillman – a smallish back that won’t be on the field in the red zone. The Broncos are a far superior offensive team to the one that took the field in 2011 and McGahee, arguably their best and most consistent contributor from last season, figures to benefit from the holes that are bound to be open with the presence of Mr. Manning. McGahee as a RB2 in the fifth is a steal – 1200 yards and 10 scores is value as the 25th RB off the board!
James Starks – Green Bay Packers
Average Draft Position: 6.09
It is not often that you can bank on getting the unquestioned backfield leader of a powerful offense in the sixth round but that is exactly what you get in James Starks. Sure, he hasn’t scored since the first game of the 2011 season and sure he only had 162 touches last year. But entering 2012, Ryan Grant is gone and his competition for carries is Brandon Saine – Brandon who? My guess is that Starks hits 1000 combined yards this season with 6-8 scores. As mentioned, he has no competition and remember – Aaron Rodgers is just one open field hit away from another serious concussion. Green Bay has to run more this season and Starks has to be the beneficiary.