The With Leather Fantasy Football Guide: How To Pick The Right Running Back(s) For You

Now that we have the fourth easiest part of drafting your fantasy football team out of the way – picking the right quarterback for you – it’s time to move on to the most important part, which is drafting multiple running backs that will last you the majority of the season and will provide you the least amount of mental anguish as you try to defeat the other people in your league who probably had a better first round pick and therefore got one of the elite RBs.

But that’s the good thing about this year – there are a lot of options beyond the first tier. Only two years ago, it seemed like the days of the elite RB were behind us, as Adrian Peterson looked too roughed up to keep going and Arian Foster seemed like the last of a dying breed. Sure, a few others made their presences known, but there weren’t enough guys to cover the 12 teams that should be in your league (no more, no less), which left some owners facing their worst nightmare – getting creative.

Let’s Talk About Draft Picks

By my estimation (which, as I pointed out yesterday, is basically worthless and just for novelty value), there is one elite RB this year and six RBs that could be elite if all goes well. While I was optimistic with the prospects of QBs, I’m the kind of fella who takes a more conservative approach to RBs, because they’re like your children through all 16 (or 17 if your league goes the distance and risks MVPs not playing) weeks. You want the guys who will not only give you 10+ points per week consistently, but also those that don’t get hurt. In a perfect world, no athletes would ever get hurt for our enjoyment, but it’s a reality.

So if you’re worried that because you have a late round pick and won’t get one of the stud RBs unless someone inexplicably goes for Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees with an early pick, don’t worry. You will survive, because the good news is that your two picks that are close together can net you two similar second tier RBs and great cumulative production.

“But what if my strategy is to go best player available and I feel like going QB/WR with my first two picks toward the end of my league’s snake draft,” you ask as I snap my pencil in half. You’re free to do whatever you want in drafting your team, but I strongly recommend making one of your first two picks an RB. HOWEVER, as I have the 12th pick in my own draft, I may actually buck that trend and go with something completely different, but please keep in mind that I am still euphoric from my steamroller 16-1 (Week 17 is a special matchup unrelated to the regular season or playoffs) season, and that will admittedly be my downfall.

Anyway, that’s my stance – no matter which pick you have, your first pick should be an RB. I know, it’s so bold of me to say that. Whatever, let’s name names.

The Only Guy You’ll Draft With The No. 1 Pick

Unless he is injured within the next few days before most logically-planned drafts begin, Adrian Peterson is the only player who will be picked No. 1. The only exception is if you’re in one of those leagues that awards QBs like 100 points per week because of some stupid scoring system, but if that is the case, quit that league, because it’s stupid.

I’ve seen several drafts online and in “expert” leagues (*rolls eyes*) in which people have taken CJ Spiller, and I understand that, but it’s stupid. Until Spiller proves that he can give you the numbers that Peterson gave me and so many other thankful fans last season, AP is your No. 1 pick.

So What About Those Other Almost Elite Guys

I do not have a confident ranking for these running backs, because I’d only been planning for my 12 pick until I learned that I have the No. 4 pick in my other league. So now I get to look at this from both sides, and the conclusion that I’ve come to is that for picks 2-7 I would be fine with any of the following guys:

CJ Spiller
Jamaal Charles
LeSean McCoy
Doug Martin
Marshawn Lynch
Ray Rice

Those are not in order, mind you, because I need to keep my cards a little close to my chest. I will say that before the preseason began, my thoughts on Spiller were in the stratosphere. My gut told me for sure that he’s going to be the star RB of the NFL this season. I have now come down from those clouds as the realization sets in that he still plays for the Buffalo Bills. “But they’ve looked great in the preseason thus far, you hater,” is what your mom says. I don’t really care about preseason numbers, because they’re meaningless sample sizes, except in the cases of guys like Foster and Alfred Morris, who don’t show up until the end of the preseason and you’re like, “Well hello, sleeper.”

Hey, Speaking Of… Aren’t You Forgetting Someone?

Even before the news broke that Arian Foster’s back injury is now affecting his legs, my gut whispered to me, “Burnsy, don’t bother with this guy. He’s only going to break your heart this year.” And that sucks, because me and Foster have been through thick and thin together these past few seasons, and he’s turned into one of my favorite players in the entire NFL. I pray that I’m wrong and he has his typically great season, but between the back and legs and the reduced carries for the season?

My feelings can best be summed up by this Chicago classic.

Okay, So What About Us Suckers With Late Round Picks?

Like I rambled earlier, don’t stress out about your pick. First of all, if everyone follows my advice, the person with the 8th pick should be staring at Foster, and I would definitely take him later in the first round and then pray to Cthulhu and Poseidon that he comes through and proves me wrong. But let’s say he still goes in the Top 5, because he realistically should, and you’re sitting at No. 8 with 7 consecutive RBs having gone in front of you, who do you take? Well, you’re getting one of the seven guys not named Adrian Peterson that I’ve already mentioned. Or you can try your hands at one of the next level guys that could be making the jump:

Alfred Morris
Trent Richardson

Both of these RBs had spectacular seasons last year, with Richardson suffering an injury toward the end while also hurting at times from that whole “playing for the Browns” thing. I love Morris as a human being and a professional football running back, so I don’t think any spot is too early for him. However, I’m always wary of second year RBs, so both of these guys get raised eyebrows from me.

Again, I have the 12 pick in the league that I obsess over, and I’m not sure that either of these guys will be on my radar. That’s mainly because I think they’ll go before me, but if and when that happens, I’ll be more relieved than upset. (And I will most likely eat those words, but I can live with that.)

Also, it’s important to remember that someone will take Calvin Johnson and possibly Rodgers toward the back end of the first round, so scoring will play a big part in these selections.

What About Those Second Round RBs? Who Should I Take?

This is where things become very personal between me and certain RBs, so you can probably finally break out the pitchforks here and get ready to call me an idiot. If you have one of the early second round picks and you either took Johnson or Rodgers and need a first RB or you’re (wisely) going RB/RB, you’ll be choosing from the following:

Matt Forte
Stevan Ridley
Steven Jackson
Maurice Jones-Drew
Chris Johnson
DeMarco Murray
Reggie Bush

The only reason I’m including Bush in this segment is because he gets receptions, and paired with Matt Stafford he might be the top receiving back in football this season. If you’re not in a PPR (or at least a .5PR like me) then Bush’s low YPC and TD numbers won’t matter much to you. As for the other guys, any of them would make a solid counterpart for your No. 1 RB, but we’re all big boys here and can talk about the elephants in the room… Murray, CJ and MJD will drive sane men to early graves.

(Also, I don’t know why I’ve seen Ridley slipping to the third round in some leagues, other than the concern that Shane Vereen will steal reps as the receiving back, but it’s not like Ridley has done anything to not warrant the No. 1 spot in New England. And that team is going to have to run early on. I’m just saying that out of those names, he’s likely my favorite.)

Blah, Blah, Blah… Who Should We Stay Far, Far Away From?

I like that you want to get right to the important stuff. Normally, I have a list of approximately 10 guys that are turning my guts over and over, RBs that I wouldn’t draft with your pick. The Hall of Famer in this regard has been Shonn Greene for the past few seasons, but he looks either doomed to spend life in backup purgatory or eventually take over for Chris Johnson and average 2.3 YPC in Tennessee.

This year’s 10-Foot Pole All-Star RBs are limited, but they are:

Maurice Jones-Drew (I know I listed him above, but I won’t go anywhere near him)
Chris Johnson (Sorry pal, but we just don’t get along)
Frank Gore (Maybe as a No. 3, but his time is coming to an end)
Darren McFadden (The contract year is alluring, but who the hell is blocking for him?)
Ryan Matthews (I mean, this is a given)

And whatever the hell is happening in Carolina. DeAngelo Williams and/or Jonathan Stewart, no thanks.

What About Sleepers? What Guys Can I Take In Middle Rounds To Wow My Friends?

Well, middle rounds aren’t sleepers as much as they’re value picks.

Okay, Dick. What About “Value Picks”?

Rashard Mendenhall (If he stays healthy…)
David Wilson (If he and Andre Brown aren’t splitting 50/50)
Darren Sproles (Like Bush, more for a PPR league)
Mark Ingram (Chris Ivory’s gone, so someone has to get red zone scraps)
Ben Tate (Now more than just a handcuff)
Vick Ballard (Depending on Ahmad Bradshaw’s health, but Ballard earned his shot and I think the Colts respect that)
Lamar Miller

I want to get into detail about Miller for a second. Remember, I’m a Miami Dolphins fan and I’m also usually the first to pour gasoline all over myself and light the match, because that’s what being a Dolphins fan will do to you. I don’t really get the Miller love in the rankings, at least as far as him being the premium pick of the third tier crop. That O-line is still weak and the offense still has so much growth ahead of it. I won’t not consider him if I’m in the 6th round and in need of a quality third RB, but I don’t like that I’ve seen people leaning on him as a No. 2.

What About Some Young Guys? Is There Another Alfred Morris?

No. Alfred Morris is a unicorn and we should all treat him as such. But there are some other guys that might be 2/3 as good, but I won’t get into their names because I’ve already said way too much for the spies out there to pick apart, but if you look at the depth charts, you’ll notice a few guys. That’s all I’m going to say for now.

Tomorrow: The wonderful, vast world of wide receivers and why there are plenty for everyone (but also how you can steal the best of them).