DON'T OVERREACH FOR A TIER 2 RUNNING BACK AT THE END OF ROUND 1
THE COMBINATION OF PASSING-FRIENDLY NFL RULES, AN unusually high number of runners returning from injury and the evolution of backfields-by-committee has left only three elite backs, in my opinion—Ray Rice, Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy—who should be taken at the top of the draft. After that you have a runner who's a workhorse for an offense that may not score many points (Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew) and another back (Chris Johnson) who could be extraordinary (as he was in 2009) or ordinary (2011).
Both Jones-Drew and Johnson are worthy of late-first-round picks, but it's hard to make a case for anyone else. Don't draft injury-prone Darren McFadden or unproven Trent Richardson at the end of round 1 just because, say, six of the first eight picks are backs. You're better off with a Tier 1 QB or receiver or Gronkowski.
Also, remember that running backs miss games due to injury more than any other fantasy position, so as the season wears on, you can add contributors to your team with pickups off the waiver wire. Last season my top four backs at the start of the season were Shonn Greene (third round in a 12-team league), Tim Hightower (fourth), Fred Jackson (seventh) and James Starks (eighth). Starks was bad, Greene was mediocre, and Hightower and Jackson were lost to season-ending injuries. So I patched together a backfield that received key late-season contributions from C.J. Spiller, Felix Jones, Ben Tate and—even in my title game—Evan Royster, all of whom I picked up off the wire.
BACK UP YOUR STUD RUNNING BACKS
IF YOU'RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO LAND RICE, FOSTER, MCCOY or anyone who emerges as a featured back, you need to support that selection by also taking his backup. Otherwise you're at risk of losing significant production if that starter is lost to injury.
This season the key backups for this strategy will be Bernard Pierce (Rice), Tate (Foster), Dion Lewis (McCoy), Rashad Jennings (Jones-Drew), Javon Ringer (Johnson) and Robert Turbin (Marshawn Lynch). If at any point in the season one of these players is available on the waiver wire and you have the roster space to add him, do it. As we saw last year, nagging injuries pile up over the course of the season.
GRAB ONE OF THE TOP THREE TIGHT ENDS