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Running Back Draft and Auction Strategy 2012

Updated on July 10, 2015
Jones-Drew, Foster, Rice
Jones-Drew, Foster, Rice

Having explored the wide receiver draft and auction strategy for 2012, we now move to running backs. Running backs might actually be the simplest of all positions: bid big on the big boys or go to the well.

Will Chris Johnson return to elite RB status?

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Most of the running back tiers are pretty clear. There are the unquestioned elite (presented in alphabetical order and not in ranked order): Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice. Maurice Jones-Drew usually comes in step behind those three but a step ahead of everyone else. You then get the players who easily could end up as top-3 but have more question marks than any of the top-4 RBs: Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch (is a suspension coming?), Ryan Mathews and Darren McFadden. At that point, with the exception of Trent Richardson and maybe DeMarco Murray, there is no RB expected to get a full three-down and goal-line workload. The drop-off thus comes here, after these 8-10 RBs.

Michael Bush and Matt Forte, Chicago Bears RBBC
Michael Bush and Matt Forte, Chicago Bears RBBC

The next tier of RBs -- those who could put up #1 RB numbers -- is lengthy, perhaps around fifteen deep. Moreover, with the proliferation of the running-back-by-committee in the NFL, there are many further RBs available later who will put useful stats either as a second RB (i.e., C.J. Spiller) or a goal-line back (Michael Bush). Thus, the need to spend a high draft pick or significant auction dollars on those lesser RBs is diminished: there will be plenty of valuable and viable choices in later rounds or for cheaper!

Will Marshawn Lynch continue to score TDs on a near-weekly basis?

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While it is clear that spending big on any RB after the top-25 is not wise, what do you do with RBs in that middle tier, from 10-25? I would argue that, barring a great value pick or price or a hunch or sleeper pick, you pass. First of all, that tier is lengthy but closely bunched: odds are that you will get a similar-valued RB later or cheaper. Second, the question is the relative value. Usually, your choice comes down to a second-tier RB or a first-tier WR. Would you rather spend big on a very questionable RB or, for a similar pick or price, get a MUCH better and more reliable player at another position? The second-tier RBs -- the numbers 10-25 -- just don't offer enough in 2012 given the depth of the third tier behind them.

Will Ryan Mathews succeed as a full-time RB?

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Moving up to those 4th-10th ranked RBs, that's all up to you. Are you really confident that MJD can repeat, or that Richardson is an immediate star or that McFadden will play 13+ games? If so, they're worth their cost. If not, get the guys in the lower tiers instead: the previous paragraph applies to them, too!

Will Darren McFadden stay healthy (13+ games) this year?

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Thus, your running back draft or auction strategy for 2012 becomes quite clear. Either big bid on the big boys (the top-3 plus any other of the top-10 in whom you have high confidence) or go to the well with lower-ranked guys. Believe me, you won't be excited about getting your #20 RB while a top-10 WR is sitting there. If you have a hunch or a sleeper on a 10-25 ranked-RB whom you think will emerge as a legitimate #1 RB, definitely play it and go get him. Otherwise, if you don't get one of the big boys, save your draft picks or auction money for other players; you can get reliable serviceable RBs -- without much drop-off -- in the later rounds or for less money. While everyone else is scrambling to assemble a team full of #2 RBs, you'll be stacked at other positions with little drop-off in your RBs.

Question or responses? Let me know in the Comments section below!

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