Did you enjoy the quarterback preview? Wait, you didn't read it! That's ok. Scroll down, learn something, and scroll back up. Then you'll be ready for more useful stats, facts and opinions - only this time for running backs.
NEED TO KNOW NUMBERS:
Let me put something into perspective for you. Imagine you're at your draft. It's a ten team league. The first pick is taken, and so on down the line. At the end of five rounds, how many running backs do you think have been taken out of the 50 players selected? 12? 15? I was in four leagues last year and when I averaged all four drafts together, the number was 22! I'm assuming this number is similar to yours, especially if you're in a standard scoring league. That's almost half the players picked. What's so interesting about that, you ask? Well, of the top 50 scoring players last year, only 11 were running backs (according to ESPN standard scoring). We drafted twice that many. And yes, I'm a girl who's in four fantasy football leagues. You can stop drooling.
In breaking down the data from last season, I'm removing Adrian Peterson from the equation. He had 50 points more than the next running back and including him skews the numbers. He's clearly the first RB off the board and probably the first overall player. Not including Peterson, there were only seven guys who had over 1,000 yards (rushing and receiving) and 10+ touchdowns (rushing and receiving): A. Foster, D. Martin, M. Lynch, A. Morris, R. Rice, S. Ridley, T. Richardson. Of those guys, only Foster, Lynch and Rice had 1,000 yards and 10+ TD's the year before. In fact, the other four guys weren't even in the league.
Touchdowns are hard to predict, yet are the primary factor in a running back's fantasy success. According to ESPN's Matthew Berry, from 2002-2011, nearly 200 players had over 10 touchdowns in a season, yet two-thirds of them failed to score 10 touchdowns the next season. So if you do the math, one can assume that only three RB's who scored 10 TD's in 2012 will score 10 TD's in 2013.
If you take what's written above to heart, there are only a few running backs who are top tier guys from year to year. That means sleepers are that much more important. The first guy I like is LaMichael James. He averaged 5.0 yards a carry down the stretch last year and had some big plays in the playoffs. Frank Gore is always solid, but he's 30 years old and nearing 2,000 carries for his career. Plus, with Crabtree out, the 49ers are all of the sudden lacking speedy, versatile playmakers and James can fit that mold. I also like Bernard Pierce. He was getting more and more playing time last year as Ray Rice had limited effectiveness and a case of the fumbles. I'm not necessarily predicting it, but I wouldn't be surprised if Pierce is getting more carries than Rice by mid-season. Then there's the rookies: Montee Ball, Le'Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, among others. Ball seems like the consensus rookie pick among your standard fantasy gurus, and I would agree. But if there's a sleeper in the group it's Stacy. He has an inside track to win the Rams starting job with his main competition suspended for Week 1. Not only that, but Stacy played four years against SEC defenses at Vanderbilt and as a junior and senior posted 5.9 and 5.5 yards per carry with a combined 24 TD's. Check out some youtube highlights since Vanderbilt isn't usually the featured college team on Saturdays.
Again, I'm disqualifying Adrian Peterson. If you want someone other than AP who's going to get over 1,200 yards, around 10 touchdowns and 200 fantasy points, go with Marshawn Lynch. He has 13 scores inside the five yard line over the last two years and he should continue to get those carries. Don't be turned off by the Seahawks addition of Percy Harvin and the continued development of Russell Wilson either. In fact, this is probably good news for Lynch owners. The more outside weapons defenses have to worry about, the less they can focus on Lynch. And if you're worried about his off-field issues, you shouldn't have to be until late December.
MORAL OF THE STORY:
Last season (and really for a few seasons before that) it was trendy to say the NFL was a passing league. If the NFL was an US Weekly issue, "passing league" would of been a cover story from August to January. But by the time the lights went out in New Orleans, the trend had seemed to shift. Certain football minds were starting to say that effective rushing attacks were even more important than passing. That train of thought is likely to continue into this season with the emergence of running quarterbacks and Adrian Peterson's silly numbers and more teams testing out the read option in training camp. Don't be fooled when it comes to fantasy! There are still only a handful of RB's that you can count on to get 15+ fantasy points a game for you, and that's assuming they don't get hurt. Read those numbers at the top again. You can count on two hands the number of guys who had 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and history tells us more than half of them won't score as many TD's this year. If you want two good starting running backs you better get them early. A productive quarterback will be there down the line.