Running back is arguably the most important position in a fantasy football draft. They tend to fly off the board in the first few rounds, often in a long line of consecutive picks. But if your picks come at the tail end of that string of running back picks, it may be wiser to go a different direction.
Generally, once that stretch of consecutive picks ends, there are a few solid choices that end up falling because all of the other teams start going in other directions. If you choose based on value rather than position, there are still options available later in the draft.
It’s also important to note that you need depth at the running back position. Your starters will likely be hurt at some point, so having a reliable producer to plug into the starting lineup is a necessity. So without further ado, here’s this year’s list of best and worst “bang for your buck” running backs, with their draft position noted in parentheses.
1) Shonn Greene (Round 3)
This is a classic case of buyer’s remorse causing a player to become a steal. Greene was a hot pick last season and often was drafted at the end of the first round. He responded by not living up to expectations.
Greene finished the year with just 766 yards and two touchdowns, and broke the 100-yard mark only once all season. That has caused fantasy owners to overreact and avoid him like the plague.
But Greene should have a much more productive season this year. The aging LaDainian Tomlinson is expected to see a much lighter workload this season, and the Jets remain a run-dominant team. Greene should not be your No. 1 running back, but he is more than serviceable as a No. 2 starter.
And with an ability to select him late in the third round, that is a steal. You can focus on taking a top-tier quarterback or receiver with your second pick instead of reaching for whatever is left after the slew of running back picks.
2) Daniel Thomas (Round 7)
The Dolphins’ running back is the most intriguing rookie in this year’s fantasy draft. With Ronnie Brown already gone and Ricky Williams on his way out of Miami, Thomas will immediately step into a run-heavy team as the go-to guy.
Reggie Bush also will be part of the Miami backfield, but he likely will be used more as an all-purpose back than a pure runner. He should not take much of the load away from Thomas, and could help if the Dolphins continue to use their Wildcat formation.
The 6-foot, 230-pound Thomas is capable of becoming the workhorse of an NFL backfield. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns on 298 carries last season with Kansas State. Running backs historically also have the easiest transition from college to the NFL, so there shouldn’t be any concerns about Thomas being a rookie.
Still available in the seventh round, when your entire starting lineup should already be solidified, Thomas has the potential to be one of the biggest steals of the draft at any position. He offers no risk, since he won’t need to carry your team, but he could easily becoming a reliable starter if he performs well.
3) BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Round 8 )
In addition to having one of its strangest names, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is coming off one of the most surprising years in the NFL. He had a 1,000-yard season and scored 13 touchdowns while only starting 11 games.
He enters 2011 firmly implanted as the starting running back of the Patriots, whose offense as a whole should only get better with the addition of Chad Ochocinco. New England will remain a predominantly passing offense, which is likely the only reason Green-Ellis isn’t drafted higher.
But playing for that same offense last season, Green-Ellis had a total of 241 touches, which is on par with the rest of the league. Keep in mind that the Patriots should be in position to win most of their games, which will mean they will need to run the clock out late in games.
That means they will need to run the ball, which should result in Green-Ellis getting plenty of easy points in garbage time. They won’t be pretty, but that doesn’t matter in fantasy football.
Yes, Danny Woodhead is in the same backfield, but like the situation in Miami he should be used more as a flex than a pure runner. His presence should not adversely affect Green-Ellis, who you can count on to be a solid No. 3.
1) Arian Foster (No. 1 overall)
This pick may be a tad controversial, but again it’s all about value. Foster has had only one good year. While it was admittedly a monster season, it’s still just one sample.
The fantasy football landscape is littered with guys who catapulted to the top of the draft because of one good year and then never repeated their success (Matt Forte anyone?). It’s a much safer investment to go with Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson, guys who have proved productive for years on end.
This is only a question of selecting Foster first overall. That pick has to be a 100 percent guarantee, and I just don’t think Foster can be that after only one successful season. The Texans focused much more on the run last year after the loss of Andre Johnson, and will not have the same game plan with Johnson back in the lineup.
The Texans likely will have a much more balanced attack, which could be beneficial for Foster’s productivity. It could open up defenses and give him bigger holes. Or it could take away from his touches and yards, and Johnson’s dominance in the red zone could cut into Foster’s touchdowns.
There’s just no way of knowing, which you should never be able to say about a No. 1 overall pick. If you get the No. 4 pick and Foster is still sitting there, grab him. But if you get the top pick, I recommend the proven dominance of Peterson or Johnson.
2) DeAngelo Williams (Round 4)
Why DeAngelo Williams remains a relatively high pick, I have no idea. Yes, he’s only two years removed from a 1,000-yard season and is only 28 years old, but he’s coming off a year cut short by injury and is playing for a dismal offense.
Nobody on the Panthers’ offense can be trusted this year, since it’s impossible to know how much improvement it will see. Jimmy Clausen looked plain awful last year, and if he remains the starter teams will stack the box and focus on Williams and teammate Jonathan Stewart.
If Carolina chooses to go with rookie Cam Newton under center, that could present even more challenges. Breaking in a rookie quarterback in a bad offense was exactly what the Panthers did last season, and things did not look good.
Williams also will have to deal with the previously-mentioned Stewart getting short-yardage and goal line carries as well as the emergence of the young Mike Goodson. Goodson flashed brilliance replacing Williams last year, rushing for back-to-back 100-yard games while also catching 40 passes.
A crowded backfield, a young quarterback and a struggling offense in general do not make a recipe for a successful running back. He certainly is not worth picking in the fourth round, with guys like Dez Bryant, Wes Welker and Ryan Mathews still on the board.
3) Peyton Hillis (Round 3)
Hillis’ value skyrocketed last year when he came out of nowhere and took the league by storm for the Browns. Everybody remembers that part, but seems to forget that he visibly faded down the stretch. He averaged just 55 yards in the last five games of the year and did not score any touchdowns in that span.
Hillis’ obvious wear as the season progressed caused the Browns to sign a new backfield mate in Brandon Jackson. Jackson joins Hillis and Montario Hardesty in a pretty talented backfield, which should prevent Hillis from getting the number of carries he did last year.
Hillis still will be used in goal line work, so he should still rack up a sizable number of touchdowns. But he won’t put up comparable yardage numbers, which means he’ll be very inconsistent.
His overall production will depend on touchdowns too much, so when Cleveland plays a solid defense Hillis cannot be relied upon for strong numbers. And Cleveland will face the Ravens and Steelers a total of four times in the final five weeks of the season, which is when you’ll need production the most. Plus, he’s on the Madden cover this year. Just saying.