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Running Back Draft and Auction Strategy 2012
Will Chris Johnson return to elite RB status?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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!