About the Author
Recent posts by Mike Wilkening
I feel old. I opened a door for a 20-ish bridesmaid this weekend, and she called me “Sir.” (If I had recorded this, it would be wife’s ringtone forever and ever after.)
I will feel old during my various fantasy football drafts this summer, too, because something tells me I’m going to be taking running backs in Rounds One and Two, particularly if I’m drafting near the back of the order.
Yes, there’s no fool like an old fool. (I like the running game, and I'm a touch self-conscious about it.) There is a higher premium on passing talent than ever before. QB runs will start early in drafts. Someone will take the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, another owner will take the Patriots' Tom Brady, or the Saints' Drew Brees, or the Panthers' Cam Newton, and it’s off to the races. The competition for elite wideouts will be fierce, too. Want Lions WR Calvin Johnson? You better draft him in Round One.
Running backs? They are passé. A mere two runners — the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew and the Falcons' Michael Turner — cracked 300 carries in 2011. Numerous teams take a committee approach in the backfield. Late-season ACL injuries to a pair of featured backs — the Vikings' Adrian Peterson and the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall — winnows the pool of dependable producers even further and makes it all the easier for fantasy owners to look to address their passing games early and worry about the backs a little later.
Still, there I was, taking Chargers RB Ryan Mathews No. 11 overall in a recent fantasy draft for PFW's 2012 Fantasy Football Guide. Three picks later, I took Bears RB Matt Forté. The next day, I spent about one-fifth of my budget on Forté in an auction league.
I have no qualms with such a pass-happy strategy for owners, especially if you load up on top talent. An example: taking Saints TE Jimmy Graham early is prudent; missing on Graham or the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski and getting caught in a run on the second-tier players at the position is not.
The problem with the pass-first strategy is that if your high-round picks don't pan out, you could be in for a long season. With less top-tier runners than in past seasons, locking up passing-game players early will leave you to bank on later-round running backs — not an attractive proposition, in my view.
The “passing league” idea cuts both ways. Yes, it’s wonderful to have Rodgers or Brees, but fine passing talent can be found far down the board. The Eagles’ Michael Vick and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers are fantasy starters who don’t figure to go in the first two rounds, and each could outperform expectations.
To me, the QB depth is better than the RB depth in drafts, and the WR depth is significantly better than the RB depth. Calvin Johnson should go in Round One — he scored 16.51 fantasy points per game a season ago, per PFW statistics, almost three points more than every other wideout who played a full season. But if you don’t draft Johnson, you should not panic. There are many other capable receivers. Ten other wideouts, all of whom played at least 12 games, averaged 11 fantasy points or more in 2011, and this group does not include the Giants’ Hakeem Nicks or the Steelers’ Mike Wallace, who each figure to be drafted as go-to targets.
The RB draftboard begins with the Texans' Arian Foster (19.47 points per game in ’11). The Eagles’ LeSean McCoy (18.76), the Ravens’ Ray Rice (18.68) and Jones-Drew (16.44) also are highly regarded. All figure to be first-round picks. After that, opinions figure to vary widely. I am high on Mathews (13.47 ppg), who’s talented and versatile and could get more touches with Mike Tolbert no longer in the picture. I slightly prefer him to the well-rounded Forté, considering that Chicago added Michael Bush in free agency.
Forté (14.23 ppg) is no slam-dunk pick, and neither is Mathews. But if I’m picking late in Round One, I would rather roll the dice on a versatile featured back who can rack up rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns than a wide receiver or a quarterback. By then, Rodgers will be long gone, as will Brees. “Megatron” also will be off the board.
Yes, you need passing talent to win your fantasy league, and I will not pass on elite players at the QB, WR and TE positions. But if those players are off the board, I will be looking at running backs. You do need to start two of them in most fantasy leagues, as I recall, and the handoff has yet to be outlawed.
I'm fine with taking a couple of featured backs early. I'll find my QB and WR help later.