Fooch's Note: Don't forget to check out DuckNeck Merton's previous look at fantasy quarterbacks and Alex Smith.
In the land of fantasy football, running backs are a source of much praise and regret come week 17. They are taken early and often, but aren't exactly known for being consistent from year to year. Sometimes they succumb to injuries others succumb to father time. More often than not, they will help you rack up points, especially in Point Per Reception (PPR) leagues.
Most of us will be selecting a running back in the first two rounds. It is a deep position, but the drop from great, to good, to serviceable is brutal. Picking the top three is relatively easy with Ray Rice, Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy being your options. The next tier starts with Maurice Jones Drew, Ryan Matthews and Chris Johnson. If you opt to choose an elite quarterback or Calvin Johnson in the first round you are going to have some tough decisions in the second.
If you are looking for a bigger headache try making sense of the 49er backfield from a fantasy perspective. The variables are endless and you have to imagine the passing attack will play a bigger role. This week we'll focus on the dilemma of missing out on an elite running back and take an early look at the fantasy value of the 49er backfield.
The first round of the draft is over. With the fifth overall pick you opted to go with Aaron Rodgers over any available running back. Not a bad move. Quarterbacks are more consistent and you got arguably the best one available. Now it is the second round and you are set on picking up a running back. Do you choose a rookie with high upside? How about a big name coming off an injury? Or, do you go for a proven commodity in a veteran whose best days are behind him. We won't cover every back going in the second round, but we will examine the backs with huge question marks going into the season.
The Rookie Gamble
Plain and simple, this is a debate on how early you can draft Trent Richardson. He is a superb talent on a bad team with either a new or ineffective quarterback. This does not seem to give the experts pause as he is being ranked high as 8th best among fantasy running backs. Richardson's lack of NFL experience creates a gamble even in the second round. If I don't have a RB1 going into the second I'll be looking for a safer option. Darren Sproles, Jamaal Charles and DeMarco Murray should still be available. However, if I'm in a keeper league I could easily convince myself to buy into the Richardson hype.
Out of the Infirmary
I'm neither a fantasy expert nor a doctor (though Dr. Duckneck has a nice ring to it). However, I am weary of drafting Jamaal Charles, Darren McFadden and Adrian Peterson. All three are going in or around the second round. Picking one out of this bunch depends how you weigh past injuries. McFadden has never played a complete season, Charles only played 5 quarters last year and Peterson may not be ready for the first game. Momma didn't raise no Raider fan, but McFadden looks awfully tempting here. With Michael Bush gone and a competent quarterback leading the offense, McFadden could be a top 5 back when it is all said and done. You just have to hope his feet or toes don't explode during all the saying and doing. Charles has the same potential and a shorter list of past injuries. I just prefer Run DMC's situation and offense. For the record, Kansas City's addition of Peyton Hillis shouldn't sway your opinion too heavily. Charles became a fantasy star while sharing carries with Thomas Jones and Hillis wasn't exactly a world-beater last year. Adrian Peterson is a fine primary running back in fantasy, but a smart owner would spend a later pick on Toby Gerhart for security and monitor his progress closely.
Once More With Feeling
Even further down the second round running back ladder are two former NFC giants, Michael Turner and Steven Jackson. Neither back had a phenomenal 2011, but Turner did finish as the 5th best fantasy back. Look at his numbers in the final weeks (excluding the season finale in Tampa) and you see a man who is slowing down. Steven Jackson is in the better situation as there is no clear backup to vulture touches. Jeff Fisher does love to lean on his running backs and their offense has nowhere to go but up.
Gore and Company
The real game of football does not always directly correlate to fantasy. The 49ers had the 8th best rushing attack last year, but Frank Gore did not live up to fantasy expectations. We expected he would lose a few touches, but no one saw the drop in receptions (46 catches in 2010 and only 17 in 2011). Simply put, avoid the 49er backfield on draft day.
Gore and is currently going in the third/fourth round. San Francisco added Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James in the off-season. This complicates an already confusing picture that still includes Kendall Hunter and a man named Boobie. The Niners will run the ball and run it well, but I don't see any back finishing in the fantasy top 15. Gore is still a solid RB2 or flex option, but I'd rather roll the dice on Roy Helu or Reggie Bush around the same pick. An 1100 yard, 7 TD, 20 reception season is about the best you can expect from our number 21.
What is your strategy for drafting a running back late? Out of the second round backs mentioned who do you think finishes the best? Leave a comment and let me know.