Young running backs will be popular picks early on draft day

Ray Rice was an absolute steal in fantasy drafts last season. Which running backs do you think will be the best draft values, much like Rice, in 2010? - M. Halbany, Detroit, Mich.

Michael Fabiano: I was in experts leagues last season where Rice came off the board as soon as Rounds 4-5, and it's hard to envision a scenario where a running back will be on the board at that point with the potential to post close to 80 receptions and 2,000-plus scrimmage yards in 2010. With that said, I do see a few runners that could be solid value picks. That list includes Knowshon Moreno, Beanie Wells and LeSean McCoy. If you want to go deeper, I think Justin Forsett, Ben Tate, Cadillac Williams, Montario Hardesty and Michael Bush could also be strong bargains. None of them will post Rice-like numbers, but their totals could be solid nonetheless.

I have the No. 12 overall pick in a standard 12-team league, and I'm banking on making Aaron Rodgers my first selection. I'm also expecting to get Marques Colston in the third round and Greg Jennings in Round 4. However, I'm having trouble deciding if I should pick up Reggie Wayne (or another elite wideout) or DeAngelo Williams in the second round. I don't want to roll the dice on someone like Ryan Mathews or Shonn Greene, and I don't want Cedric Benson or Ryan Grant. Should I stock up on wide receivers in the first three rounds and grab someone like Moreno in Round 4 or take Williams in Round 2? - B. Keane, Spokane, Wash.

M.F.: First off, I don't know that you can guarantee getting any of those players. Rodgers should be taken before the last pick in Round 1, which would throw your entire scenario into a tailspin. Sure, Colston and Jennings could be available in the third and fourth rounds, but will they be there when it's your turn to pick? Rather than base your strategy on taking individual players, base it on targeting positions. If Rodgers isn't on the board in Round 1, take Drew Brees if landing a quarterback with that pick is your primary objective. In the event that you are able to land Rodgers, I would take a running back in Round 2. Personally, I'd take either a pair of running backs or a running back and a wide receiver with my first two picks (based on your draft position). You can still get a nice quarterback in Rounds 3-5.

Our league holds an auction draft, so every player is up for grabs. What's your feeling on drafting teammates to be your primary starters? - R. Atagi, Cleveland, Ohio

M.F.: Utilizing the elite quarterback-wide receiver combination strategy is always something to consider on draft day. Whether it's Rodgers and Jennings, Brees and Colston or Tom Brady and Randy Moss, it's always nice to double up on their fantasy points. You can't really plan on it happening, though. I also don't think it's a bad thing to have, for example, a wide receiver and tight end on the same team. One thing I tend to avoid is landing running backs in shared committees. There are exceptions to the rule (Williams and Jonathan Stewart, for example), but I wouldn't want to choose between starting Darren McFadden or Michael Bush on a regular basis. If I do take teammates at the running back spot, it would be for handcuff purposes. In that case, I would target someone like Willis McGahee to insure Rice or Thomas Jones to insure Jamaal Charles.

This is my first year playing fantasy football on NFL.com. As a Chargers fan, I was wondering how the Vincent Jackson situation affects the fantasy value of Philip Rivers and Malcom Floyd. Does Rivers fall out of the top 10 at quarterback? - B. Griffen, Australia

M.F.: Glad to have you on the NFL.com fantasy bandwagon! When the news broke that Jackson was suspended by the league for the first three games, I dropped Rivers from fifth among quarterbacks to seventh. While he still has Antonio Gates at his disposal, losing his best wideout hurts. Furthermore, the fact that Jackson has threatened to hold out until November makes this situation even more tenuous. Floyd does become a nice sleeper while Jackson is out of action, but be aware that his role as the Chargers' No. 1 wideout could be short lived. He's also going to face the opposition's top cornerback on a regular basis, so don't expect him to light the world on fire. As it stands, I see Rivers coming off the board in Rounds 4-5 and Floyd in the middle rounds.

I saw your blog on the Chris Johnson situation. I understand that he's a safer pick with no holdout looming, but you also mentioned some pretty compelling reasons for not taking him with the first overall selection. How good do you think C.J. will be in 2010? - S. George, Irvine, Calif.

M.F.: The point of that blog wasn't to scare you away from drafting Johnson, it was to temper expectations. I remember a few years back when Tom Brady threw for 50 touchdowns, and everyone was all over him in fantasy drafts the following season. He never had any chance to duplicate such a high level of statistical success. The same holds true for Johnson. As history has shown us, running backs who reach the 2,000-yard rushing mark don't come close to reaching that number the following year. That doesn't mean that C.J. won't rush for 1,400-1,500 yards, catch 40-50 passes out of the backfield and score double-digit touchdowns. Chances are, he will. He's one of the few featured backs left in the league -- he's explosive, versatile and durable. For all intents and purposes, Johnson is also playing to earn a major pay raise in the very near future.

Where would you draft Wes Welker in a 12-team, PPR league? - K. Farris, Lincoln, Neb.

M.F.: Welker's return from reconstructive knee surgery is ahead of schedule -- he even practiced some during offseason workouts -- but whether he will be on the field in time for Week 1 when the Patriots host the Bengals remains to be seen. Because of his high value in PPR leagues, I would roll the dice on him somewhere in the neighborhood of Round 6. Even if he is back for the regular-season opener, it's hard to envision a scenario where the Texas Tech product would post another season with 100-plus catches. It typically takes a player a full year to re-gain full mental and physical confidence in a reconstructed knee, so Welker will be a risk-reward player in drafts regardless.

Which rookie running backs, outside of the big names like Mathews, Jahvid Best and C.J. Spiller, have the most potential as fantasy players this season? - C. Harrison, New Zealand

M.F.: This year's rookie class has a number of potential sleepers, leading with Ben Tate. He'll have to earn a prominent role with Arian Foster and Steve Slaton in the mix, but the Auburn product has a mile of potential for coach Gary Kubiak. Montario Hardesty is another back to remember in drafts. While fantasy owners remember the big impact of Jerome Harrison at the end of last season, he's not likely to post such immense numbers again. In fact, Hardesty will have a chance to unseat Harrison atop the depth chart with an impressive training camp. The other running back with draft value is Toby Gerhart, but that's more as a handcuff for owners who land Adrian Peterson.

I have the No. 3 overall pick in a 12-team PPR league that awards six points for all touchdowns. My plan is to take Maurice Jones-Drew or Ray Rice in Round 1 and wide receivers in Rounds 2-3. However, I have a bad feeling that most of the top wideouts will be drafted after my first pick. Should I consider taking Andre Johnson ahead of Jones-Drew or Rice? - M. Barrie, Tampa, Fla.

M.F.: Johnson is the lone wideout who's worth a first-round pick in my opinion, but there's no way I'm taking him ahead of Jones-Drew or Rice, even in a PPR league. Running backs with versatile skills sets such as Jones-Drew and Rice are gold in fantasy football, and their value just increases when the scoring system rewards points for catches. While there likely will be some sort of run on wide receivers in the early rounds, I think you'll still be able to land a nice option with the No. 22 overall pick.

I've seen that you're very skeptical of drafting Steven Jackson. Personally, I think he's a much better option than either Rashard Mendenhall or Mathews. If you had to argue for drafting Jackson in Round 1, what would you say are his biggest assets? - P. Franklin, Seaside Heights, N.J.

M.F.: That's a good question. Obviously, he's coming off a season with 51 receptions and better than 1,400 rushing yards. He's also been a fantasy star in the past and has been a first-round staple in most leagues. The offense around Jackson should be improved, at least somewhat, with Sam Bradford under center and Laurent Robinson back from an injured leg. The biggest reason to draft him, though, is the fact that he has a very favorable schedule. Jackson will face the Seahawks (2), Saints, Panthers, Lions, Buccaneers and the AFC West. I still think there are more cons than pros when it comes to Jackson, so the decision to draft him comes with a real level of risk.

I play in a 10-team league with a snake draft. We reward six points for all touchdowns and a point for every 20 passing, rushing and receiving yards. I have the No. 5 overall pick, where Frank Gore and Rodgers will likely be available. Based on the scoring system, who would you draft? - M. Swanson, New Mexico

M.F.: The fact that quarterbacks are rewarded on the same level as running backs and wide receivers for yardage success makes me side with Rodgers. If you look at the numbers, he would have put up 100 more fantasy points than Chris Johnson last season based on that sort of rule. I would also assume that a ton of quarterbacks will come off the board in the first two rounds based on the scoring system, so there should be a good number of running backs still available in Rounds 2-4.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com!

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