A “zero-RB” draft strategy would have worked to perfection last season. Owners who passed on running back busts like Trent Richardson, C.J. Spiller and David Wilson laughed all the way to the bank as they rode safe wideouts like Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green.
So with the 2013 outcome as a backdrop, many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat. Good idea? Nope.
Back to the backs
Yes, running backs have the highest bust rates and get hurt the most. But they also have the most week-to-week consistency and are the scarcest position in fantasy, which is why the first five names on my board (and seven of the top-12) are running backs. When it’s time to go to the waiver wire in Week 4, we all know receivers and quarterbacks will be readily available, while the running back options will be almost nil.
Stick your board early on
Now that we’ve established a lean toward running back, it doesn’t mean we should stray from our board. The top two tiers of wideouts (along with tight end Jimmy Graham) are incredibly safe and come with plenty of upside, and I’m OK with emerging from the first two rounds with zero RBs — especially in shallower 10- or 12-team leagues. We just need to be sure to get the Gio Bernard, Andre Ellington, Toby Gerhart, Zac Stacy, Shane Vereen types in Rounds 3-5.
Wait on quarterback
Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are going to have great seasons. But they’re not worth a first- or second-round pick when we can get Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan or Tony Romo in the ninth round. Quarterback is the deepest position in fantasy, we only start one of them a week and they sustain health better than the other positions. There’s little reason to make a big investment on them early on — that’s when we need to be racking up running back and receiver depth.
Top sleeper at each position
QB Jay Cutler, Bears – Thanks to the Trestman scheme and a bevy of TD-scorers, Cutler is a near lock for 30-plus TDs and 4,000-plus yards.
RB Bernard Pierce, Ravens – A better fit for Kubiak’s one-cut scheme than broken down/suspended Ray Rice.
WR Markus Wheaton, Steelers – Speedy second-year man locked as an every-down player in Pittsburgh’s pass-based offense.
TE Zach Ertz, Eagles – A mismatch waiting to happen at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. Will be a target monster in the red zone.
Top bust at each position
QB Nick Foles, Eagles – A sharp regression is coming as teams get tape on Foles, who is now playing without space-creator DeSean Jackson.
RB Le’Veon Bell, Steelers – Preseason usage suggests LeGarrette Blount will be mixed in often, especially around goal line.
WR Pierre Garcon, Redskins – Led the league in targets last year because he was Kyle Shanahan’s “X.” Jay Gruden spreads the wealth.
TE Vernon Davis – Averaged just 4.6 targets per game last season (including playoffs) when Michael Crabtree suited up.
1.) LeSean McCoy – In prime at 26, has an elite offensive line and is in a run-based offense.
2.) Jamaal Charles – This version of Andy Reid’s offense is hyper-dependent on the running back spot.
3.) Adrian Peterson – Norv Turner annually maximizes running back talent, and now he’s got the horse.
4.) Matt Forte – Forte’s unique three-down ability keeps his floor really high for this high-powered CHI offense.
5.) Eddie Lacy – Excellent bet to lead the league in rushing touchdowns. Dominant battering ram.
6.) Calvin Johnson – Top-three fantasy wideout for three straight years. Will make it four.
7.) Demaryius Thomas – Eric Decker fleeing to the Jets means even more red-zone chances for Thomas.
8.) Jimmy Graham – The biggest weekly difference-maker in the league thanks to sharp tiers at TE.
9.) Dez Bryant – New playcaller Scott Linehan knows how to get 1A WRs open. See Moss, Holt, Calvin.
10.) DeMarco Murray – The underrated, all-around Murray has blowup potential behind a dominant o-line.
11.) Julio Jones – Was on a 131-1,856-6 pace before injury last season. Just needs foot to hold up.
12.) Montee Ball – If Knowshon can be fantasy RB5 with Peyton, sky is the limit for Ball.
Follow Metro fantasy sports writer Adam Levitan on Twitter @adamlevitan.