The advice is always the same every year – get your running backs first. The position is thin, there are too many committee situations and when it comes to fantasy football, he who touches the ball the most stands the best chance to score the most points. Top-flight running backs are the key to your success. But while the advice is still solid, this year seems to be more of a nightmare with regard to the position. Well, more of a nightmare than usual, it seems.
In looking at the top 15 running backs, according to preseason ADP, less than half of them are panning out to be worthwhile picks, given where they went in most drafts. All of them went within the first three rounds (two really, but there were a couple of stragglers) and very few of them are offering a return value worthy of a pick that high. Some might be dealing with an injury, some may have fallen into a committee situation, but the fact remains that you made a significant investment, have failed to receive a sufficient return and are now struggling with what to do with some of these guys as your team comes up short in the win column each week.
Here’s a quick look at some of the position’s biggest busts thus far and what you may expect from them moving forward.
Doug Martin, TB – He’s probably one of the most frustrating players to own right now. He cost you a first-round pick to get him and he’s already being outscored by players such as Bilal Powell and Joique Bell. He seeing plenty of touches each game but just hasn’t been able to break through yet and many are wondering if that breakthrough will ever come. But before you put him on the trading block (are you really going to get first-round value in return for him right now anyway?), keep in mind that it wasn’t until Week 7 last year when Martin posted his first 100-plus yard game and pushed his way into the upper echelon of running backs. He’s got a tough match-up against the Falcons this week, but with Mike Glennon showing week-to-week improvement and becoming more comfortable leading the offense, the rest of the Bucs should follow suit.
Trent Richardson, IND – Expectations have been running high for Richardson since he came out of Alabama and while he put together a solid rookie campaign with the Browns last year, the overall performance still fell a bit short of what many fantasy owners thought he would do. Still, he was a young, dynamic runner and surely he was going to improve in his second year, right? Definite first-round material or so they thought. The season opened slowly for him, his yards-per-carry average was on a downward turn and before you knew it he was headed to Indianapolis in a rare in-season deal. In four games with the Colts, his yards-per-carry average has dropped even further, his carries have dropped in each of the last three games and Donald Brown is even starting to see an increase in work. He’ll remain the lead back for the Colts but with a match-up against Denver’s top-ranked run defense, things could continue to just sputter along.
Darren McFadden, OAK – It had to be the lack of depth at the position which helped vault McFadden’s ranking into the top 10 of running backs this season, because his injury history alone should have kept him further down. But owners shunned the past and still went with the one they like to call Run-DMC and they’re now paying for it, much like his past owners have over the years. He’s posted one decent game in the five he’s played, having missed Week 5 with a hamstring injury and heads into the bye with questions still surrounding his abilities. The first four games after the bye should tell you exactly what you have here as the match-ups look both soft and tasty. If successful, he may just have a shot at giving you a positive return value on your draft-day investment, but he’ll obviously have to stay healthy through the end of the season to ensure that.
C.J. Spiller, BUF – Though his value in standard leagues was considered slightly lower than in PPR leagues, Spiller was still a first-round draft choice in most leagues. Now, those who took him are kicking themselves as the seemingly ageless Fred Jackson continues to shove him down the depth chart. Spiller was even supposed to be the primary pass-catcher out of the backfield, but Jackson has out-produced him there as well with 21 catches to Spiller’s 11. You can put some of the blame on a recent ankle injury, but truth be told, he is simply being outplayed. Jackson’s performance may have been unexpected, but the Bills know his history and aren’t going to put him out to pasture just yet. Consider the split in work to pretty even moving forward.
Ray Rice, BAL – After four-straight 1,000-plus yard seasons with an average of eight touchdowns per year in that span, Rice was considered a no-brainer when it came to drafting a running back in the first round. But if you took a closer look at the schedule, you may have thought differently as five of the six teams the Ravens have faced are sitting in the top 10 of the league in run defense. He missed one game with an injury and wasn’t quite himself for his one favorable match-up and now owners are shopping him around their respective leagues. Is he someone to give up on or is he a really nice buy-low candidate? Well, over the next seven weeks, the lowest ranked run defense he’s facing is the Bears who are ranked 16th against the run right now and there’s a bye week in there too. Doesn’t sound too promising, does it?
Some may rebound and some may not, but one of the biggest problems surrounding these players is that, due to position scarcity, giving up on them is extremely tough. You may not see them as having a strong value right now, but when it comes to fantasy football, value becomes a lot more relative. Simple economics – high demand plus short supply means higher costs. If the majority of running backs are falling short of expectations, which seems to be the case this year, then even a middling back like Alfred Morris is considered a strong play at the position and upgrading from him will be extremely costly. Asking for a guy like Morris on the trade market will undoubtedly bring you requests of your most elite talents despite the fact that he is scoring fewer points than players like Torrey Smith and Denarius Moore.
So just be careful when evaluating your team’s needs, particularly at the running back position. Obviously you want high-performance players at every spot on your roster, but make sure that those whom you feel you need to upgrade are actually worth trying to upgrade. They still might be your best option moving forward given the comparison to the rest of the players at their position and the last thing you want to do is downgrade your overall team in an attempt to upgrade one spot. It just might pay to stay the course.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. You can find his personal musings on RotobuzzGuy.com and for questions, thoughts or comments, you can follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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