Monday, September 23, 2013

Is the Running Back Position Antiquated In Fantasy Football?

The first forward pass occurred in 1906. One hundred and seven years later it seems to have made the position of running back obsolete. Or at least it might feel that way to fantasy football players three weeks into the NFL season. The running back has been the staple of winning fantasy football teams since the sport was invented, and prevailing wisdom was you need to load up with running backs to win, but this season that tactic has been more likely to lead you to a slow start than fantasy victory. Almost every expert touted the traditional approach of drafting running backs early and often this year, pointing to the dearth of productive players at the position as rationalization. But after week one, where star performances from the running back position fizzled, almost every aware fantasy player in the world realized at the same time this wasn't a trend, this was the new reality. You're not going to get huge points from your running backs anymore. Teams simply don't want to rely on one player that much, and are utilizing multiple running backs, thereby diluting the value of any one back. The problem is you have to play two, and conventional wisdom has always been if you play a flex player, that player should be a running back, because then you at least can guarantee that player will get a certain amount of touches. But that's not true anymore. So, how should one approach the new reality in order to win at fantasy football?

Wide receiver is where it's at. Try to aim for two anchors at running back, then focus your attention on wide receiver. Don't expect those two running backs to win it for you every week. Just try to not get into a situation where you have no possibility of getting any points at running back. Here's an example from one of my own teams. In a keeper league I almost felt forced to keep Stevan Ridley and Trent Richardson. They were touchdown machines last year, but I always sense they were slow, plodding, and lack the ability to elude a tackle. Most of the weeks they were struggling to amass forty yards, so I had a sneaking feeling I was in big trouble when the touchdowns dried up. Which they did. I now have an 0-3 team with two bum running backs. In other leagues busts like David Wilson set me back, but what really slowed down my fantasy season was buying into the old way of looking at the running back as your main producer, and a requirement at the flex position. If I had piled up wide receivers with bust out potential, like Victor Cruz, Pierre Garcon, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones etc I'd have been far better off than feeling like I had to take someone like Ryan Mathhews because I had to fill that flex position with a running back. I now feel like I'd be better just plugging in two stiffs at running back, concentrating my energy elsewhere, and feeling glad if I got anything from those running backs.

I've noticed a lot of players in leagues who allow it are playing two Tight Ends, and why not? If someone scores, play them. I wonder if next year the experts will give the same advice they did this year that the diminishing pool of running backs who actually touch the ball makes them even more valuable, or if the prevailing opinion will be to take any running back because they all are a lost cause. If you drafted Ray Rice, CJ Spiller, Arian Foster, Trent Richardson in the first round, and most of us did, or the plethora of second and third round picks that turned out to be duds, and I won't even make a list because you might have flashbacks and start wrecking your man cave, you are wishing you had just drafted someone who was going to score some damn points, not to fill in a position you were told was essential, but scarce.

If you're 0-3, 1-2, 2-1, or even 3-0, but you're just not getting anything from the running back position, what should you do.

I say do nothing. Unless you're clearly playing someone who is destined to get you zero points because they're not on the field, put the best two running backs you can find in your lineup, put a QB, wide receiver, or tight end in at flex, depending on what your league allows, and relax in the knowledge that the other team is also playing two players that in most cases aren't going to sink your battleship. Almost every one of us could have had Lesean McCoy, no matter where we drafted, but he is gone. You're probably not playing against him this week. Terelle Pryor was leading the league in rushing until Monday night in week one. That's not an anomaly, that's the new reality. 

Relive the beginning of the worst fantasy football season ever and wonder why you'd take anything I had to say about fantasy football seriously.

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