Positional strategies: Running backs have lost draft value

I'm a fan off all things paranormal. I don't know why, it's just very interesting to me. From television shows to movies and real-life accounts, if it has some sort of paranormal aspect I'll watch it. I rarely get scared, though. It's almost as if I watch to see if there's something that might actually make me jump out of my seat. Remember that scene in "The Ring" when Samara comes out of the television and does that decrepit walk? OK, that was cool and creepy. So was the scene in "Paranormal Activity 2" when all of the cabinets and drawers suddenly opened at the same time. Yeah, I admit to jumping a bit there.

But just a bit.

Want to know something else that will definitely scare the bejeezus out of me? Take a look at the running back position this season. You thought Linda Blair's head spinning in "The Exorcist" was frightening? How about trying to decide on drafting either Darren McFadden or Adrian Peterson? And the scares don't stop there - several big-name running backs have question marks for 2012.

Want some frightening examples?

Peterson, Jamal Charles and Rashard Mendehall are all coming off major knee reconstruction. Do you really want to sink a first-round pick into someone coming off such a serious operation? I don't. Marshawn Lynch is coming off a career year, and I'm not expecting him to repeat his huge 2011 totals. What about McFadden, you say? Sure, I love his potential to post huge fantasy totals. But to do that he needs to stay on the football field. Since 2010, he's missed a combined 12 games with injuries. That's tough to trust. Michael Turner is 30 and is coming off his third 300-carry season in the last four years. That means wear and tear.

Other runners like DeMarco Murray, Jahvid Best, Beanie Wells and Fred Jackson are all talented backs, but each of them is coming back from injuries of his own. Steven Jackson and Frank Gore are getting up there in age, and Maurice Jones-Drew is a training camp holdout. And then there's Chris Johnson, who might have been the biggest bust in fantasy football last season (I do like him to bounce back in 2012, though). Even Ryan Mathews, who I absolute love from a fantasy perspective, has some question marks due to his tendency to endure bumps and bruises during the season.

So ... have I scared you enough yet?

Making you quiver in your shoes like some poor teenager at Crystal Lake right before Jason Voorhies separates him from his head wasn't the point. The point is that are only a handful of running backs you can trust to post solid totals this season. That will decrease the number of runners to target in Round 1. 

That statement comes from someone who has lived and died with the position for most of his 12 years in this business! Clearly, I'm not telling you to stay clear of runners altogether. If you have a chance to get Arian Foster, Ray Rice or LeSean McCoy in Round 1, you should do it. But I think the time of taking a chance on a runner in Round 1 is over. The NFL has become a passing league after all, and some of the elite quarterbacks should now be considered right alongside the top running backs when it comes time to draft your team.

Here's an example. If I have the No. 5 overall pick in a 10-team league and Foster, Rice and McCoy are off the board, I'm taking the best signal-caller left from Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. In that scenario, I can take a running back in Round 2 (someone like McFadden, Murray or Trent Richardson should be on the board), a wide receiver in Round 3 and the best player available at those positions in Rounds 4 and 5. Heck, I wouldn't even think about drafting another quarterback until the later rounds. Why should I when I have a stud like Rodgers or Brady? Outside of gaining potential trade bait, it's not worth it. On the flip side, which is a scenario that has you landing Foster, Rice or McCoy in Round 1, you can wait until after the fifth round for a quarterback. Believe me, there are going to be some good names on the board late at the position.

Want some proof? Well, check out the ADP information on NFL.com. As it stands, Peyton Manning is still available into Round 5. On average, Ben Roethlisberger is around in Round 9! And if you like rookies, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck are still undrafted heading into Round 8.

Alright, so let's review. I'm not telling you to avoid running backs in Round 1, but I am telling you not to reach for them either. That's a thing of the past. Even an old fantasy dinosaur like me sees that. There's just too many question marks out there. In a 10-team league, I'd have a tough time advising you to draft anyone but Foster, Rice, McCoy or Mathews in the first round.

If we get into 12- and 14-team leagues, then CJ2K becomes a more attractive option. Regardless of what you do in the first stanza, I think it's imperative to have at least two running backs and two wide receivers on your roster after your first five picks. In standard formats, I'd like to finish the draft with five running backs total. The fifth of those backs could very well end up being a vital handcuff (Ex. you land Peterson and draft Toby Gerhart later for insurance).

Like Yoda said in Empire Strikes Back, "you must unlearn what you have learned." In this case, that means having a different view of the running back position in 2012 drafts.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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