People want to talk about running backs, so let's talk about running backs. They're at least 75% of the fantasy football discussion every pre-season, but I've seen a lot more running backs selected in the first round ruin a fantasy season, than win one. Are they important? Yes. Do you want to have a couple of the top 15 runners in your lineup? Absolutely. Just remember, you want to have a couple of the top 15 runners at the end of THIS season, not just a couple guys who were top 15 runners the year before.
In 2011 3 of the 8 RB's with an ADP in the first round, finished outside the top 15 in PPR scoring. On the flip side, 5 of the top 15 PPR scorers had 2011 ADP's outside the 5th round. Or in other words, whether it be injuries, or role changes, things change fast in the running game. Don't think you're good to go because you took 2 RB's back to back in the first two rounds like a good little soldier. Waiting to take a couple solid RB2's in the 3rd-7th round is absolutely viable if you pick the right ones. So here's my thoughts on some of the backs available.
Brown seems to be locking up his spot at the top of the depth chart, and is starting to get a lot of attention for it. Catching a 63 yard touchdown in the pre-season doesn't hurt, but it's also pretty meaningless. What I like: He's got the size and first round pedigree to be a true feature back. He's also shown he can be a good receiver, catching 20 passes in a limited role in 2011, and it sounds like they are going to allow Luck to sling it. What I don't like: His current ADP is between 80-90 and he's an absolute steal there. But I've seen him going as early as the 4th round in recent mocks, and that's a bit higher than I'm willing to gamble at this point. Brown was unable to pass Addai on the depth chart either of the past 2 seasons despite Addai dealing with injuries, and Delone Carter basically passed Brown until he showed he couldn't hang on to the ball. I'd consider Brown in the 5th as a solid RB2, but don't kid yourself on the upside. Nothing about his time in the NFL so far has revealed him to be an elite back.
Helu is one of the most enigmatic runners from a fantasy standpoint. It took a gaggle of injuries for Shanahan to give him a chance in 2011, and despite some moments of brilliance, he's again fighting an injury and will probably miss the first 2 pre-season games. What I like: Well, his pass catching ability obviously. Helu hauled in 49 receptions in just over half a season's worth of opportunity. He looked like a legit feature back at times last year, and there is really no elite talent in front of him. What I don't like: An ADP in the 60's. He's way too big a risk for such a steep investment. The arrival of RG3 could mean some of those short dump offs turn into QB tuck and runs, reducing his upside as a receiver. Then there's all the competition. Hightower is a guaranteed carry stealer when he's healthy. Evan Royster will be getting a good look with Helu on the sidelines, and now even rookie Alfred Morris is rumored to be in the mix. To me, Helu looks like clearly the most talented player, but give Shanahan a chance to make things confusing and he will. Unless Helu comes back healthy and dominant in the final 2 preseason games, or slips considerably down the draft board, I can't touch him.
Big surprise, with MJD holding out, the Jags are talking up how pleased they are with Jennings. Take it with a grain of salt. Jones-Drew holds none of the cards in his attempt to renegotiate, and any talk about Jennings right now is a message to their superstar back. That said, with season 3 weeks away, it's time to start evaluating Jennings and where he could be reasonably drafted should Maurice be traded or sit out. What I like: Jennings would be a rare clear starter and has the size to sustain a feature role. He has excellent hands and has excelled in the passing game when he's on the field. What I don't like: There is a false sense of security with Jennings that bothers me. Yes, he's had a nice YPC in the past, and excellent numbers as a fill in, often considered a must own handicap for MJD owners. But man, this is a guy who's only had double digit carries 3 times in a career that started in 2009 and is coming off a concussion and a knee injury that cost him all of 2011. If he truly ends up the week 1 feature back, I still couldn't consider him before the 5th round where his upside makes him a value.
The rookie has competition, but he seems like he's way ahead. What I like: Blount is not a great blocker despite his size, and showed very little explosiveness in 2011. The new regime drafted Martin, so he's their guy, and I expect him to start. At 5'9 223, he has the frame to be an every down back. He has excellent hands, and Tampa Bay actually completed 82 passes to RB's last year. What I don't like: He's not exactly a steal with an ADP of 37. Martin is no secret, and if he misfires the investment will hurt you. It's also hard to know what to expect out of the offense in general. A lot of the passes to RBs were a function of the Bucs' dysfunction, and the checkdown became the only pass Josh Freeman could complete. I'll be watching Tampa very carefully in the pre-season before I select any of them. If you can't wait a couple more weeks to decide.. the upside is still probably worth the plunge because Martin seems special.
Rodgers is one of the most talked about "sleepers" at the position this year, with potential owners speculating on a Sproles like break-out season. What I like: Rodgers speed, size and hands fit the Sproles model, and Turner is an aging 1 dimensional back that has never had any real role as a receiver. What I don't like: Rodgers has no real chance to become the sole feature back at his size, and needs to be a big presence in the passing game to have any value at all. If Turner was injured, Jason Snelling would still likely see half the carries. All the talk out of camp is that the Falcons are going to feature a lot of 3 WR sets, with only 1 back. Sproles was the lone back in a lot of the Saints' sets last year, and it is possible we see Rodgers out there a lot. Still, I'm not sure I trust former Jags OC Dirk Koetter to scheme Rodgers to the same kind of production as Sproles even if he gets a similar amount of opportunity. He's still a real nice grab if his ADP stays over 100, but I wouldn't make him a big part of my strategy.