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Waiting on Running Backs in Fantasy Football Drafts

Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson stiff arms Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Lions defeated the Eagles 26-23 in overtime – US PRESSWIRE

The sudden – and very much expected – depth at the running back position has created a welcomed opening for fantasy footballers fixated on elite wide receivers.

This is why drafting in the dark days of February and March offers only a vague framework of players’ fantasy football value, as team rosters are still a mystery even to coaches and general managers.

It was back in the dead of winter that there were about 15 running backs who offered any clear fantasy value. We saw that much in March’s Sports Jerks Network Mockdraftpocalypse.

This June, like every June, we have more clarity, and with clarity comes positional depth. Guys like Montee Ball, LeVeon Bell, Rashard Mendenhall, Shane Vereen, and new Indianapolis Colts lead runner Ahmad Bradshaw have deepened the pool of useable running backs and made it theoretically possible to take wide receivers early on.

Why receivers? Because I’d never recommend burning high draft picks on quarterbacks and tight ends.

I tested the extremes of that new running back depth using Fantasy Pros mock draft simulator, a fancy little machine that lets degenerates like me breeze through a practice draft in a mere five minutes. I suggest you give it a try when you’re fiending for a fantasy fix.

The first lineup, drafting from the 12th spot, is one in which I used four of my first six picks on wide receivers, netting a rather startling receiving core of Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and Percy Harvin.

The total season-long projected fantasy points are listed below the lineup. I chose Pro Football Focus’s projected point totals over my own in an effort to be as objective as possible.

QB – Sam Bradford, STL
RB – DeMarco Murray, DAL
RB – LeVeon Bell, PIT
WR – Calvin Johnson, DET
WR – Dez Bryant, DAL
WR – Percy Harvin, SEA
TE – Jermichael Finley, GB
FLEX – Pierre Garcon, WAS

Starting lineup: 1,819 points

Bench
Rashard Mendenhall, ARZ
Ahmad Bradshaw, IND
Brian Hartline, MIA
Mike Williams, TB
Jordan Cameron, CLE
Ryan Broyles, DET

  • I should note that I project Bradford for about 40 points more than PFF. The Rams’ offense, for the first time, will run through him, and he’ll have a host of aerial weapons with which to bring you fantasy happiness.
  • Securing four useable running back options, I think, is encouraging for those who want to lock up the top-heavy wide receiver talent this summer. Mendenhall reportedly has a stranglehold on the Cardinals’ backfield and Bradshaw is (rightfully) projected to be the Colts’ lead runner with so little competition for carries.

I’m willing to sacrifice for you, dear reader, so I drafted a running back-heavy team – using three of my first four selections on backs – and calculated the projected point totals (once again drafting the the 12th spot). The results, in short, have kept me firmly aboard the early-round running back bandwagon, with all its adherents nodding with pompous approval.

QB – Tony Romo, DAL
RB – CJ Spiller, BUF
RB – Matt Forte, CHI
WR – Roddy White, ATL
WR – Pierre Garcon, WAS
WR – Danario Alexander, SD
TE – Tony Gonzalez, ATL
FLEX – Darren Sproles, NO

Starting lineup: 1,906 points

Bench
Ryan Broyles, DET
Jared Cook, STL
Emmanuel Sanders, PIT
Rashard Mendenhall, ARZ
Ronnie Hillman, DEN
Vincent Brown, SD

  • I’m not one to grasp for the 12th and final quarterback off the draft board, but it would’ve been somewhere between silly and crazy to forgo Romo in the 10th round.
  • For those committed to the running back-heavy approach, I think it’ll be important to focus on big bodied wide receivers who prove relevant everywhere on the field, not just between the 20s. Garcon, White, and Alexander fit that bill, as does Vincent Brown, who is by no means a towering receiver, but one who plays a lot bigger than he is, high pointing deep throws and muscling cornerbacks.
  • Gonzalez fell to the seventh round. This would never happen in a league populated by people with pulses, but I couldn’t resist, even as a proponent of streaming tight ends in 2013.
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