Unless you play in one of *those* leagues that start two quarterbacks (or a league that only requires one starting running back and an absurd number of flex players) then drafting several running backs early and often is the most important thing you can do to help win your fantasy football league.
Fortunately, if you play in a standard re-draft league, the depth at running back seems greater than it has been in years, thanks mainly to the emergence of rookies Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris a year ago, all of whom should go in the first round of a standard 10- or 12-team league.
Over the next few days, we'll have a division-by-division breakdown of the running back situations, followed by a cheat sheet of the top players at the position, five potential sleeper picks and five must-have handcuffs.
Today, we will focus on the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys --
DeMarco Murray is solidly entrenched as the starter in Big D, but there are fewer players who give fantasy players bigger headaches, simply because of how often he is injured. Trust me, I've owned him in several leagues in his first two seasons. Murray is at the tail end of the RB1 rankings when healthy, the problem is, he hasn't been healthy much of his first two years. He missed most of October and all of November last season. When he did return, if you played him, he was a solid No. 2, scoring TDs in three straight games, although never cracking 100 yards. He gets a slight bump up the ranks in a points per reception league, averaging 3.5 catches per game in 10 appearances last year. In a TD only league, he's not nearly as valuable.
Murray shouldn't come off the board until the middle to late second round of your draft, about the 15th RB selected.
The Cowboys spent a fifth-round draft choice on Joseph Randle, but as is the case with all rookies, it's not clear that he would be the unquestioned starter if (when?) Murray gets hurt and misses time.
, so keep an eye on him in training camp and the preseason. Randle did have a nose for the end zone in college, and considering that's where Murray falls short, he could find a role as a TD vulture this year. That coupled with Murray's injury history makes Randle worth a late-round flier or handcuff.
Among the Cowboys other backs like Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner, none of them are worth owning on your fantasy squads.
New York Giants --
David Wilson is one of the more buzzy names you'll hear this fantasy football offseason. After finding himself in the doghouse of taskmaster coach Tom Coughlin for fumbling on just his second career carry,
and averaging 5-plus yards a carry during that stretch. Even his 3-carry, 17-yard outing against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Ravens was saved by a 14-yard touchdown.
But Wilson is going to cost you this year.
is about the middle of the third round, and he's being as drafted as high in the second round in some mocks. While the upside is definitely there, that's not a price I'm willing to pay for a guy who very likely will be in a timeshare situation this year with Andre Brown, a former journeyman back who emerged in 2012 with eight touchdowns. He will continue to get carries around the goal line and, unless Wilson improves in pass protection in a big way, looks like he might be on the field on third downs as well.
, and it certainly sounds like he favors Brown over Wilson at this point. If you can somehow get Wilson as an RB3, do it and hope for the best, but he's being drafted as an RB2 and his year-end stats likely won't warrant that high of a draft pick. Meanwhile, Brown has value even as simply a TD vulture. He scored in 7 of the 8 games he played last season. His ADP of late round 7 seems a bit high for me too, but that's about four rounds later than Wilson and they will likely end up with similar total points at year's end.
Philadelphia Eagles --
In a few drafts last year, LeSean McCoy may have been the first running back off the board. This year, he may not be taken in the first round.
. He may be rejuvenated under new head coach Chip Kelly and a run-heavy offense, but Shady has a new challenge as far as fantasy owners are concerned, and that's the emergence of Bryce Brown. In two games when McCoy missed time, Brown exploded to rush for 178 and 169 yards in back-to-back games, adding 2 touchdowns in each. The downside? He lost a combined 3 fumbles in those two games.
McCoy is still the back to own here, and he should improve his touchdown numbers from a year ago, although the 20 spikes from 2011 likely won't be replicated. Touchdowns, in fact, are the most unpredictable stat in fantasy football, and my best advice to give anyone is to never draft an RB based solely on touchdown numbers (unless you are specifically targeting a TD vulture to stash on your bench) and instead look at total touches. Touchdowns are a product of opportunity, and the more touches a player gets, the more opportunity to take it to the house, whether from 1-yard out or 99.
And in that regard, both McCoy and Brown are worth owning because
. Bryce Brown is probably worth more than a handcuff to McCoy, as he should get about 10 touches a game. With his explosiveness, that could lead to some big outings.
Washington Redskins --
This time a year ago, even the most die hard Redskins fans probably weren't sure who Alfred Morris was. And fantasy owners knew this to be true -- never settle on a running back on a Mike Shanahan-coached team. But like the great Rowdy Roddy Piper used to say, just when you think you have the answers, Shanahan went and changed the question.
Morris became the third-leading rookie rusher
in NFL history
and crossed the goal line 13 times to boot. While Morris doesn't catch a lot of passes, lowering his value a touch in a PPR league, you can certainly expect the Redskins to continue to hand the ball to him on the reg,
and continue to cross their figures that RGIII returns to full health.
Barring injury to the physical Morris, there is nothing to stop him from being equally effective as he was in his rookie season. In fact, he could be even better. Morris says he was "a lost little puppy" in the NFL last year. Now that he has a better handle on things,
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Backups Roy Helu, Evan Royster and diminutive rookie Chris Thompson pose no threat to turning this situation into a time share, so you can draft Morris in the latter part of the first round with confidence.