Fantasy football: Running backs not as valuable?

Most of the fantasy football-playing world is waiting for Maurice Jones-Drew to say he’s ending his holdout. They’ll have to keep waiting. However, on a video conference sponsored by DirecTV, the Jacksonville Jaguars star did have plenty to say about fantasy running backs and the perception that they’re not nearly as valuable in an NFL that favors passing games.

“Running backs in fantasy, we can catch the ball, we can run the ball, we can return,” said Jones-Drew. “Receivers really are only going to catch the ball and might return. A quarterback can only throw. So we’re more of a dual threat.”

It’s sound logic, and if everyone had the same skill set as MJD, running backs really would still rule fantasy football. Unfortunately with the majority of NFL teams plugging in running backs like Legos, it’s hard to find a ball carrier who will see enough touches to be a sure-fire first-round fantasy draft pick.

Consider the 2001 season, when 10 different running backs posted 300 or more carries and all but one of those backs — Stephen Davis — caught at least 30 passes. Fast forward to last season; only two RBs, MJD and Michael Turner, cracked the 300-carry ceiling — and Turner logged just 17 receptions. It’s enough to make a man consider changing the rules of fantasy football.

The worse news? That number could actually drop. Jones-Drew is increasingly in danger of missing the season opener, possibly jeopardizing his chance to top 300 carries for the second straight season. Turner’s numbers could suffer with the emergence of Jacquizz Rodgers and the Falcons insistence on throwing the ball more this season. Arian Foster could reasonably run the ball 300 times this year, although the Texans aren’t shy about using Ben Tate. The only other backs that might hit the mark are Chris JohnsonLeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch – of that group, only Johnson has previously accomplished it.

That’s all a convoluted way of saying running backs aren’t the fantasy game changers they used to be. But that leads to this seemingly counter-intuitive piece of advice: if you have a top three pick, draft a running back! If you decide to take Aaron Rodgers at the top of the draft, you won’t be ridiculed. But there’s still quality QB production to be found in the second round. Meanwhile, the drop-off from the first tier of RBs to the second is so great that you’ll likely rue the day you passed on Ray Rice and instead rested your fantasy fortunes on the tortured shoulders of Darren McFadden.

Follow Marcas Grant on Twitter @MarcasG

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