The last time we met I was blathering on and on about quarterbacks and if they had or had not lived up to their Average Draft Position, i.e. ADP. i.e. place where lots of people picked that player. So this time I’m going to change things up completely and talk about running backs instead of quarterbacks. You see, running backs run, while quarter backs quarter, which I guess is a fancy term for what your grandpa did when he found quarters behind your ear or I guess in this case, your back.
Last season, we as a fantasy football community, had some big misses. This is the way of the oft-injured, oft-hit running back position, but just like the seasons of yore, the rewards if you hit on the right back were great. Let’s see how our collective consciousness made out.
Arian Foster – ADP 1 (Finish 2) – Foster was the number one pick in ADP on every site used by Fantasy Pros. There wasn’t much debate. And really there shouldn’t have been. All signs pointed to him once again being the every down back on a good run first team.
We want bell-cow backs, and we got a bell-cow back in Foster. He was used and used often on his way to 391 regular season touches. It was a down year for Foster in terms of per touch productivity, but I doubt his fantasy owners are going to complain too much, especially when he totaled 17 touchdowns on the season. Those touchdowns made him a safe top-25 running back in 15 of his 16 starts.
Of course his steady decline in yards per carry from 4.9 in 2010, 4.4 in 2011 and 4.1 last season is worrisome, but when you consider the alternatives out there, an every down back like Foster is still quite rare, which outweighs the possibility of injury from overuse in my book. If you are really afraid of him, then you’ll rank him third overall and never have to draft him.
Ray Rice – ADP 2 (Finish 6) – After finishing as the best fantasy running back in 2011, the only real debate over who should be the #1 pick was Foster versus Rice. Foster seemed to have won in a landslide, but Rice had all the prospects to repeat his great 2011.
Rice’s sixth place finish wasn’t a fantasy back breaker, but it was slightly disappointing. That disappointment mostly stemmed from Rice’s decrease in touches from the previous two seasons. In 2010 he ran and caught the ball 370 times, in 2011, 367 times, and last season 318 times. Those extra 40 touches are the difference in tying Foster as the second best fantasy back.
Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Rice’s decrease in touches coincided with his team winning the Super Bowl. We will most likely see a similar workload next season. Especially with Bernard Pierce taking a step forward in the second half of 2012.
LeSean McCoy – ADP 3 (Finish 21) – 2012 was a lost season for McCoy and the Eagles. The offense couldn’t move while the defense also couldn’t move as receivers caught touchdown after touchdown against them. McCoy went the way of the offense as a whole and even if all things were equal to the previous season, had little chance to live up to his 20 touchdowns from 2011. But of course all things weren’t equal and besides the team being horrible, McCoy missed four games to injury.
The expectations will be high for McCoy to rebound next season. There are many variables to consider going into 2013 that make McCoy seem risky. A new coach, system and oft-injured quarterback being the main three I'll have sleepless nights over. There is no doubting his ability and in a more stable environment he’d be hard to pass up on draft day 2013, but if he once again comes off the board as a top-5 back I may just have to.
Chris Johnson – ADP 4 (Finish 13) – In 2011 Johnson finished as the 16th best running back with 157 standard fantasy points and in 2012 he finished 13th with 162 fantasy points. Those numbers are eerily familiar. The bounce back season is starting to look like a fantasy and not the good kind where he scores a bazillion points.
Johnson did his best Jekyl and Hyde impersonation all season. With only eight top-25 weekly running back finishes, and just two of those being top-5 finishes, his consistency was quite inconsistent. His ADP was driven up in the preseason with some nice preseason games, the absence of a hold out, and the memory/mystery of the bygone days of the mythical beast CJ2K.
With two subpar years, it will be hard justifying an early pick on Johnson. Of course much will depend on his ADP, but if it’s not out of the top 10, I’m not biting.
Darren McFadden – ADP 5 (Finish 28) – Run DMC should have walked a different way because whatever he was doing last season was the opposite of the way that could possibly help your fake team.
The knock on McFadden has of course been his health and for good reason, but the upside of even a 12-14 game season for McFadden was still worth a high draft pick due to his numbers over the previous two seasons. Let’s take a quick look so as not to forget how good McFadden has been. In 2011/2012 McFadden played in 20 games and rushed for 1,771 yards and 13 touchdowns on 336 carries for a 5.27 yards per carry average. He also caught 66 passes for 661 yards and four touchdowns. That’s a whopping 2,432 total yards on 402 touches. Adrian Peterson touched the ball 388 times for 2,314 yards this season. That per play explosiveness is nothing to scoff at and it’s hard to fault those who grabbed McFadden early last year.
But of course hindsight is better than frontsight usually and picking him early was the wrong choice. The interesting/depressing thing last season was that his health wasn’t the main problem. Of course his old injury woes haunted him again, but when he was on the field his production was nearly non-existent. His 3.3 yards per carry was quite a drop off from his 5.4 over the previous two seasons. That kind of drop off doesn’t just happen out of the blue. Blocking scheme and playing with an injury will be the two main culprits bandied about and with a new power running scheme over last season’s failed zone blocking scheme, the bounce back articles will be abundant. I may write a couple for fun. But there is no doubt the guy has trouble when touched or touching things at velocity.
Matt Forte -- ADP 6 (Finish 12) – Mr. Forte’s season showed bursts of promise, but never seemed to get fully on-track, especially after an ankle injury that only kept him out a game, but obviously hurt his production. His biggest problem this season was his lack of production through the air. As long as he was able to put up around 500 receiving yards a season, it would balance out his touchdown problem. Also, there’s the touchdown problem. Over the last four seasons his total touchdowns have gone from 4 to 9 to 4 and then 6 last year. The odds of him getting into double digits at this point are slim. His value will remain in his versatility as a pass catcher, which should resurface next season, if he can stay in one piece.
DeMarco Murray -- ADP 7 (Finish 25) – DeMarco Murray wowed us in 2011 with a couple of huge games, which also helped him win the job as the starting running back of THE Dallas Cowboys. Tony Dorsett? Emmitt Smith? DeMarco Murray? Nope, not DeMarco Murray, at least not last season.
His prospects looked great with some strong preseason running and 131 yards rushing in week one, but that all took a nose dive pretty quickly. He never reached the 100 yard mark again. His running style is similar to punching everyone in the mouth as you try to run by them. But he was then punched back a few too many times and missed six games due to injury. With a full season his numbers would have put him around 12th overall for running backs, so that isn’t all that bad. The worry of course is how well he’ll hold up, especially since his record is 100% for not holding up.
Maurice Jones-Drew – ADP 8 (Finish 50) – The decline of MJD had long been talked about, but in 2011 he thwarted all talk and finished as the third best fantasy running back in the league after taking his team squarely on his shoulders. That year allowed us to forget some of our angst over his decline, so of course he declined, at least physically. Jones-Drew only played in five games and sadly enough for the Jaguars, still led the team in rushing. But I digress since talking about the Jaguars in a normal way is pointless.
Jones-Drew looks to be on track to be back in June, but there are many questions for him going into next season. And by many, I mean two; his newly healed broken foot and a new zone-blocking scheme brought in by new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. That’s a lot of new. But MJD is a ball of muscle that when healthy pretty much gets the job done no matter. At least right now I might be giving him a shot next season as long as his ADP doesn’t go too high.