Wednesday, 14 January 2015 00:00

Big picture lessons from 2014: Running backs still important

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When it comes to running backs, always look for the dual threat of receiving and rushing. Jamal Charles is a great example of a running back that can go both. When it comes to running backs, always look for the dual threat of receiving and rushing. Jamal Charles is a great example of a running back that can go both. Barry Lenard/Flickr

Editor's note: This is the first of several articles where we will analyze what lessons we learned based on data from the 2014 NFL season and use that data to help us draft better fantasy football teams in the future.

When it comes to drafting a fantasy football team, the running back position is the backbone and the core of what will eventually be (hopefully) a quality fantasy team. After 2014, that lesson remains true and continues to grow even more important.

The running back position is so important and yet it's also unpredictable. Over the past three seasons, the top running backs have been Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray. All of those running backs weren't listed in the top 3 heading into their respective drafts in 2012, 2013 and 2014. They all ranked in the 8-10 range depending on which site you looked at. It's because of this unpredictability that makes it so vital to draft several running backs and adopt a quantity over quality philosophy. This is perhaps the best way to ensure you'll hit on at least one running back.

This is the one position you must value over all the others, since running backs are often the most consistently productive players in fantasy.It makes sense really. I mean think about it. Even the best wide receivers can go an entire game without catching a pass. Several factors like gameflow, a decent cornerback covering them, an inaccurate quarterback, drops and just plain old changing up the game plan to exploit other matchups can all work against a wide receivers production on any given week. Quarterbacks are perhaps the second most consistent but you only need one of those in most standard leagues, so drafting a quality one is only one click away. Plus quarterbacks, like running backs, have the ball in their hands on every play.

The great thing about drafting quality running backs is that they will always see production. You can't defend a handoff (unless you're Jadeveon Clowney of course.

As far as the quarterback position goes, unless you're drafting a rock (guys like Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson) who will be a weekly starter and likely matchup proof, then opting to draft several running backs is one of the biggest keys for your success in fantasy football. Stockpile those guys like they're nuclear warheads and your fantasy team just entered the Cold War.

More reasons to draft running backs

In addition to their value as a whole, the running back position is often the hardest to find sleepers in late in the draft. While there were some in 2014 (Jeremy Hill, Le'Veon Bell, Ahmad Bradshaw and Mark Ingram to name a few), a lot of those running backs were either not starters going in and benefited from a stroke of luck. For example, Cincinnati Bengals starter Giovani Bernard went down with an injury early in the season and Hill eventually succeeded him and played so well he eventually found himself in the starting role for the remainder of the season. Hill finished with 1,124 yards, averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored nine touchdowns. Fantastic rookie numbers for an RB. He also benefited from Bengals OC Hue Jackson's run-heavy scheme.

Bradshaw had a similar situation, although instead of an injury giving him the fantasy edge, it was lackluster play by starter Trent Richardson. Richardson struggled behind an below average offensive line, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry which eventually led to him getting benched for Bradshaw. Bradshaw played a key role in the receiving game for Indy, catching 38 passes for 300 yards and six touchdowns. Bradshaw may go down as one of the best ADP bargains of 2014, as he was drafted near the tail end of each 12-team fantasy draft on average in 2014.

Another big reason to draft running backs is because they're versatile. Guys like Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Ahmad Bradshaw, and several others I'm sure I missed all contributed in the receiving game as well as the passing game. I know, McCoy had a down year, but traditionally he's been a solid receiving back.

Final lesson

As time has continued to show, never neglect the running back position in fantasy football. It's the most important, and if you don't have them, you're likely to struggle with consistent point totals from week to week.

View Barry Lenard's Flickr page here.

Last modified on Thursday, 15 January 2015 05:49
George Banko

George Banko started talking about fantasy football shortly after graduating college. He started as an intern at before working as a staff writer for Fantasy Knuckleheads. He currently contributes to the Fantasy Hot Read podcast, which is available on itunes. He also educated himself on player evaluation and is a graduate of The Scouting Academy in 2015, which is an online course run by former NFL Scout Dan Hatman. He started Fantasy Football Helpers as a blog in 2011 and converted it to a full-scale website in 2014. Read more.

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We believe Fantasy Football success comes down to two things — opportunity and talent. You will have Fantasy Football mastered once you understand how good a player is and how good of an opportunity he has to gain yards and score touchdowns. The thing is, you'll never master Fantasy Football. But you can get pretty darn good at it when you have even a slightly better understanding of opportunity and talent than the average Joe. That's what Fantasy Football Helpers is dedicated to doing.

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