The 2012 With Leather Fantasy Football Draft Guide: Selecting Your Running Backs

By now, you should have already read what I assume will be the world’s foremost guide on choosing which fantasy quarterback is right for you. Now that we have that out of the way, we can move on to the position that really matters – the running back. In this era of overexposure and mushy brains, almost every NFL team uses some sort of running back system that has made the elite RB as rare as a virgin quarterback.

Most people who arrogantly call themselves “fantasy experts” believe that it is important to draft one of the elite RBs before any other player, and this is the one instance in which I agree with them. But remember, I write these things to offer my honest gut instinct as a guide for beginners and people who rip themselves to shreds with indecision. My humble opinion is that a top RB is worth more to you than any other player on a draft list. However, if you have gigantic testicles, don’t let me stop you from going elsewhere.

But if you agree with me that the elite RB is a dying breed, then let’s examine which guys are worth a damn and which guys will break your heart.

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Ol' faithful.

The Unicorns

This is probably the easiest thing to write in any sort of fantasy football column, whether you call yourself an “expert” or you’re like me and you readily admit that this is all guessing and there’s hardly any science to it.

Arian Foster – If you have the No. 1 pick (I did) then you can’t go wrong by picking Foster (like I did), even if you’re worried that him being a vegan somehow hurts his value (it doesn’t). He should be good for 100 yards and 1-3 TD per week, which is miraculous in this day and age.

Ray Rice – Thanks to Joe Flacco’s “elite” ability to dump the ball off a ton, Rice is a receiving beast, which translates well for PPR. Luckily, he’s also an all-around beast, too, so he produces a ton of points. I argued with one friend who said people who would take Rice No. 1 are crazy. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched.

LeSean McCoy – And I’d argue McCoy could go No. 1, too. I don’t think there’s too much of a difference between the 3 of these guys. I only think it’s a reach to think that McCoy will score 20 TD again, but who the hell knows with that offense?

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Being married hurts, but she's still great.

The Next Best

The dropoff between the elite and the next class isn’t as severe as some people like to tell you, but it’s still significant. You can get by with these guys as your RBs, or you can roll the dice on an elite QB or Calvin Johnson.

Chris Johnson – I know people who are avoiding CJ like the plague, and I don’t necessarily blame them. But I also think the guy is more than capable of having that bounce back year that some experts think he’s going to have. Compared to a lot of the alternatives (even a few of those below this) he’s worth a chance.

Darren McFadden – My gut LOVES McFadden this season and Totino’s Pizza Rolls. Two problems: he’s always injured and the Raiders look like doodie poops right now. But I think that has a lot to do with McFadden’s preservation for the regular season. If my instinct is correct, he could jump to elite status with a full season and no Michael Bush.

DeMarco Murray – People are really, really high on Murray and I get why, but I’m not in a hurry to take him in the first round. Second round, sure, and I know the difference seems negligible, but if I’m looking at him or Calvin Johnson, then my choice is pretty easy.

Matt Forte – I don’t know what to think of Forte this season. He’s happy that he got paid, and that Bears offense should be incredible now that Jay Cutler finally has some receivers, but the offensive line is always a question mark and now Michael Bush is there as part of this idea that Mike Tice has that he can create a system that cultivates two 1,000-yard rushers. I’d really just like to see Forte do his thing and be a poor man’s Marshall Faulk.

Marshawn Lynch – Lynch carried me to one championship last year and almost to another, as I nabbed him in late rounds and benefited from his hot streak. That said, he’s going early this year and I understand why, but – and I say this with so much appreciation for his performances last year – I’m not ready to trust him again. But his upside is better than most, I guess.

Adrian Peterson – I took Peterson with my 2/3 swing pick, which of course made my ulcer bubble a little, but the reward… oh man, the reward. I see it like this – he’s just an absolute freak, and he’s still only 26, so there’s no way he can be on a decline yet, despite that whole, you know, knee thing. Right? Please say right. Also, this video is shockingly accurate.

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Kids? 32? Yikes.

The Oldies But Goodies

I am a longtime subscriber to the theory that workhorses are usually bad news. I also think that 30 is a bad, bad number when it comes to RB age. I’m not saying I don’t like these guys, but buyer beware.

Steven Jackson – I keep reading that Jackson’s days are numbered and he’ll probably be traded if the St. Louis Rams suck this season, and he probably will because they probably will. That said, I’ve always enjoyed the guy, and while his age suggests his best days are behind him, I still think he could surprise us with one more big season.

Fred Jackson – Until he got hurt last year, Jackson was one of the top fantasy RBs, much to the surprise of pretty much everyone. I don’t normally subscribe to the whole “He’s got fresh legs” chatter because I’m a natural pessimist and he’s 31. But he’s been playing well in the preseason, so I’d trust him as a decent No. 1 or a great No. 2.

Darren Sproles – Drew Brees loves throwing to Sproles in the red zone. That’s all you need to know. He’s 29, but he qualifies under that “fresh legs” idea, and in PPR leagues he was a monster last year. Just like Jackson, he’s a fantastic No. 2 RB.

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38 and still talking about cleaning up her act. Cool.

The Clean Yourselves Up Alreadys

These guys either need to get healthy or just get their sh*t together. Either way, they’re all big gambles.

Ryan Matthews – Before he broke his collar bone, I was starting to buy into the Matthews hype. I don’t know why, I just was. Then he got hurt and my response was, “Oh yeah.” So here’s the question, now that this guy has fallen from the No. 4 pre-rank spot of most experts, where do you take him? My answer? Let somebody else worry about it.

Maurice Jones Drew – I believe that Mojo’s contract will be settled soon. In this era, he’d be foolish to keep this up, when there are more and more young backs looking for a shot to become a starter. He’ll find work, sure, but he’s killing his stock. We don’t care about stock, though. We care about points, and as long as he’s behind a capable O-line, he’s going to score. The question is when.

Jamaal Charles – I loved this guy last year and people rightfully ripped me for it. Thank God I didn’t draft him at all. I still think he can be awesome, but he can prove it on someone else’s roster.

Ahmad Bradshaw – I love Bradshaw this year. I also loved him last year and he didn’t love me back as much, but I think with Brandon Jacobs gone, he could have a really special year if he stays healthy. If not, David Wilson will ruin Bradshaw’s value.

Beanie Wells – On one hand, Wells showed flashes of brilliance last season, from a fantasy perspective. On the other hand, not only is he perpetually questionable, he also plays for the Cardinals. Yikes. If he can’t stay healthy, Ryan Williams will get his shot.

Kevin Smith – I got to watch Smith’s 2,000-yard season in college under a magnifying glass and I want nothing but good things for this guy. But he was worked too hard in college and his body is paying for it now. I like Smith for a few weeks this season, but keep an eye on Mikel Leshoure.

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