Walls Closing in for RB Options

Posted: October 23, 2012 in Fantasy
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This is not your slightly older brother’s fantasy football.

The day of the running back is dead, they’ve said. Merely average running backs are getting drafted too damn high!

Some of this is true. Going RB-RB-RB in the first three rounds of drafts no longer seems feasible, let alone wise, even in leagues that allow starting one at a flex position. Quarterbacks are posting obscene totals, wide receiver is deep and whoa, the tight ends! Fantasy football is as mainstream as ever, so how can the wise, veteran player not change with the times when your buddy from school who can’t name last year’s Super Bowl winner can adapt?

Provided there’s not significant values to be had at their QB or TE, I’ve always been of the wait-and-see variety for both. This year? I was willing to veer from tradition and spend early there like many have done. We’re now essentially a week shy of the halfway mark, so how are things going for those who followed suit?

Frankly, I saw greater values in Round 2 to be scooped when faced with the opportunity to pull the trigger on either Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham, but if faced with a choice, my instinct was Graham as the safer bet. Too many moving parts (see: Lloyd, Hernandez) with Gronk, Graham seemed safer. Now, Gronkowski leads all TEs in scoring, and Graham trails him by 28 points in standard leagues. Other names behind Graham? Jermichael Finley, Antonio Gates, and Aaron Hernandez. All these guys were recommended (myself included) as guys to scoop early. If you got Gronkowski, great. Chances are you’re sitting perfectly well. If not, we’ll get to that shortly.

Quarterback has been roughly a 50/50 shot at the top as well. Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have all been big hits. But a majority of major sources also recommended Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford and Michael Vick in the top three rounds. In standard scoring, Cam Newton clocks in as the highest of those three, ranked No. 13 overall at the position. Where do they finish? Cheap K-Mart Magic 8-Ball says ask again later.

Here’s the takeaways:

1) I’m not sure I can feel good about drafting fewer than two top-tier RBs in the near future in leagues where you’re able to start one at a flex. If you bust rather than boom with your top-flight QB/TE, chances are you’re rolling the dice on a riskier option at RB (DeMarco Murray, Steven Jackson, etc.). As a personal anecdote, I had the misfortune of drafting Vick in a 10-team league that only starts two backs, but still went heavy on RB. Vick is a problem, but I’m getting plenty of offers with a RB core featuring Arien Foster, Ryan Mathews, Steven Ridley and C.J. Spiller. Either way, this applies to every league: Having two good ones is good enough this year, and you still can’t draft enough.

2) The Newton situation is all food for thought when the RGIII Draft Debate comes up next year. Cam looked unstoppable last year connecting to Steve Smith. And oh, the designed runs! Look, he’s still getting those, and the schedule gets easier for Newton. I’m not betting against him finishing right around fifth when it’s all done this season, either. But I worry about Griffin taking hits and missing time more so than Newton, and game-planning for him will improve slightly after an off-season. He won’t be a bargain. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Some other gear-grinding qualms I have in the fantasy department:

  • Fantasy players hold grudges. You get burned by a guy one too many times, he’s don’t touch. Even some of the most well-known names in the industry live by the principle. But whatever Kevin Smith did to Jim Schwartz, Chris Johnson must have done worse to the fantasy industry insiders. Look, we knew the pitfalls: A so-so work ethic, a patchwork offensive line. But the same folks who recommended him as a top-five option at RB in the preseason were quick to abandon and undervalue him quickly in their rest-of-season rankings. Now? It seems like a strain to get some to admit he’s start-able again. WHAT?! Look, I realize Buffalo’s defense is more than just a leaky faucet, but he had a good day and volume of carries against at Houston. Considering everything we know about the depth of the position this season, how can you consider benching this guy? It’s not like his potential to have explosive games just came about. It just doesn’t make sense.
  • Owners that took up insurance policies on their running backs are paying off on several fronts. This wasn’t the way I thought Maurice Jones-Drew would go down, but Rashad Jennings is the top waiver pickup this week and will be a RB2 option over the next two or three games. Again, backs getting high-volume carries are valuable commodities now more than ever, save for the most barren situations. Also, kudos if you added Montario Hardesty or Felix Jones. These guys are more flex-options, but I won’t be surprised to see them as RB2’s in a lot of lineups.
  • A few guys either outside of the elite and/or that I like more than most for Week 8: Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford, Willis McGahee, Antonio Brown, Malcolm Floyd.
  • Conventional wisdom would tell you maybe this is a good week to play tight end Coby Fleener if you’re desperate at the position. The Titans have given up the most points to TEs this year (13.2 PPG) by a good margin. But consider also that they’ve faced four of the six highest-scoring TEs to-date this season. Again, only if you’re desperate.
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