Fantasy Football: The case against a first round running back

The conventional wisdom in fantasy football circles, perhaps best articulated in this fantastic video, is that you should always draft a stud running back in round one. Always. However, much like the pop culture references in the video, that strategy is outdated and fundamentally ineffective. There are two big reasons that this advice isn’t something you should be following anymore.

  1. There’s value to be had later. Now the point of this article isn’t to say that you shouldn’t draft a running back in round one. Just think about it first. The top 4 running backs in fantasy last year based on standard scoring were:
  1. Jamaal Charles – An obvious stud
  2. LeSean McCoy – A borderline first rounder at the time of the draft.
  3. Matt Forte – A second round pick in most leagues.
  4. Marshawn Lynch – Another stud.

However, after these four it gets a lot messier.

  1. Knowshon Moreno – Undrafted in some leagues, a mid-late round pick in others.
  2. Eddie Lacy – Third round pick.
  3. DeMarco Murray – Third round pick.
  4. Adrian Peterson – Consensus first pick overall.
  5. Chris Johnson – Second round pick.
  6. Fred Jackson – Late round pick between the ninth and 12th rounds.

So, of the top 10 running backs in standard leagues, only about half of them were drafted in the first round of a standard league. This is hardly unusual and probably unsurprising to very few experienced fantasy players. Drafting is all about getting value, and if you know that adequate or even superior value can be had later in the draft, it probably isn’t a good idea to spend a pick on a position that is so likely to disappoint given later options, which brings me to my second point:

  1. “Stud” running backs aren’t very studly.

First round running backs who were considered “studs” last year included Arian Foster, Ray Rice, C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin and Trent Richardson. Gross right? And that’s just for 10-team leagues! If there was a serious run on RBs, bigger leagues could have also seem players like Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson and David Wilson were also fringe first round talents.

fantasy football

He SEEMED like a good pick… (Photo credit: Matt Kryger/The Star)

All this being said, running back is still the most important position in fantasy football, and the chance to get one of the top running backs in the league with your first round pick is often too good to pass up. But as a C.J. Spiller owner last year, I’m kicking myself for drafting him over the likes of Jimmy Graham, Calvin Johnson, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. Studs are studs no matter the position, and historically, drafting a seemingly B+ RB over an A+ QB/WR/TE hasn’t worked out well. I love Eddie Lacy, but a lot of analysts have projected that he should go as the sixth overall pick in this year’s fantasy draft. Are you really taking a rookie in a pass-first offense over the best player in fantasy last year in Peyton Manning? Even if Peyton Manning throws 500 fewer yards, 10 fewer touchdowns and 5 more interceptions, that still would be enough fantasy points to rank as the second best quarterback behind only Drew Brees. Want to win your league? Be bold and buck the trend!

  • DarkStreams

    All this reading about “studs” brings a huge smile as my “stud” is HealthyMale. I do drive a pantara and you do not and I just came from London whereas you can not afford it.