Sports media conglomerate ESPN recently released its 2010 fantasy football rankings, and everyone's favourite San Francisco 49ers running back, Frank Gore, makes an extremely impressive appearance (ranked 6th overall). While it's encouraging to see Gore get this kind of dap, it's a tad surprising that the "engine that can" is ranked ahead of players like Drew Brees (ranked 8th) and Aaron Rodgers (ranked 14th). Both Brees and Rodgers were fantasy monsters in 2009, but QBs are generally overlooked as top 6 fantasy selections. While RBs are quickest to fly off draft boards, the position isn't necessarily the most productive. However, from an overall fantasy team compilation perspective, a stud RB is better at six, than a stud QB.
There is much value having a solid RB corps, especially in leagues that award points per reception (PPR). If you're staring down the barrell of Frank Gore vs. Drew Brees with the sixth overall selection, it would be stupid to ignore the fact that QBs can carry fantasy rosters just as easily as RBs (but it would be stupid to take Brees). According to the website fantasyfootballchallenge.com, Drew Brees averaged 22.43 fantasy points per contest, while Frank the Tank averaged 15.02 fppg (good for 4th in the RB position). Are you willing to give up 7 fantasy points per week to take a low tier one RB, or would you rather spend that selection and hope to land a solid RB in round 2?
Frankly, taking a RB over Brees isn't a bad decision (again, especially in a PPR league). Why? In 2009, there were 22 QBs that averaged more fantasy points per game than Frank Gore (17 of those QBs averaged more fppg than all RBs but Chris Johnson; 5 of them were better than Every Coach's Dream). Also keep in mind most fantasy football rosters require teams to start 2 RBs, and just one QB. Grabbing one stud to shore up the RB1 slot in round one is never unwise; you'll still have a shot at your QB1 later. Guys like Kyle Orton, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, David Garrard and even Matthew Stafford all averaged more fppg than Gore. If you're in a league that sees guys like this go before Frank Gore, congratulations in advance on winning the league championship. Now I know Brees, Rodgers and guys like Peyton Manning all could get drafted early, but it's much easier to scramble and grab a QB later than it is. With the tendency of RBs simply disappearing early and often in fantasy drafts, it makes sense to prioritize that need regardless of fppg production numbers. The bottom line is, take Frank Gore ahead of the top 3 fantasy QBs because you'll be able to get a top 10 QB in rounds 2-5. It's a daunting task to land a top 10 RB in round 2 alone (more so if you are indeed picking sixth).
After the jump, I switch gears to the NFC West, and where Gore stacks up in the division...
Mike Sando's article "Gore over Jackson? Breaston over Housh?" focuses on the NFC west (based on ESPN rankings), and Gore is ranked as the best fantasy player. St. Louis' Steven Jackson is ranked right after Gore, but the drop off is considerable at RB from there. Beanie Wells is ranked 4th (Larry Fitzgerald 3rd) while LenDale White and Tim Hightower are 7th and 10th. Wells averaged 8.03 fppg in 2009, White wasn't much use behing Johnson with the Titans and Hightower actually out pointed Wells, averaging 8.09 per contest. 2010 could see an increase in both Wells' and White's numbers, but it's not guaranteed. Wells has a better chance at producing a lot of fantasy points, because Arizona's backfield isn't crowded like Seattle's. Neither Wells nor White should be more than a rotational RB2 at best. Steven Jackson and Frank Gore, however, are solid options as RB1 every week.
Taking a guy like Drew Brees sixth overall, might force your hand into having to rely on a guy like Wells to be your weekly RB2, and that wouldn't be a good thing (not with Matt Leinart in town). Ditto for White with Charile Whitehurst possibly unseating Matt Hasselbeck as the Seahawks signal caller (and the 4 RBs on Seattle's roster). Would you really be comfortable relying on either player to produce consistent numbers on a weekly basis? I wouldn't. If you are on the back side of your league's draft (selecting 8th or later), you might not have a choice but to take Brees (and that's fine). However, it would be wise to use a mid (5-7) first rounder on a solid RB. Only a handful averaged over 15 fppg in 2009, while an absolute bread basket of QBs met reasonable expectations. Having one of those stud RBs that can get you 15 points per week is just something you shouldn't pass on.
Let's say you get Gore (15 fppg), Jamaal Charles (11 fppg) and Donovan McNabb (19 fppg) with your first three fantasy draft picks; that's 45 fantasy points a week. Assuming you are drafting sixth, and you decide to go with Brees (22 fppg), Charles (11) and you have to settle for a Knowshon Moreno (9 fppg) or Fred Jackson (9 fppg); that's only 42 fantasy points. Does a three-point difference mean that much? Quite possibly, especially if you do draft Brees and Charles. With that scenario, you'd be tempted to go WR in Round 3 (which would then lead to a Wells/White RB2 situation), a position that typically produces less than RB. With Gore, Charles and McNabb, a healthy WR corps could easily be assembled in Rounds 4 and 5. At the end of the day, the wise choice is going RB in picks 1-7, because there's really no point grabbing the best player at a stocked position that high.
What are your thoughts? Would you take a QB higher than 8th in a fantasy draft?