With the NFL preseason in full form and the regular season just around the corner, I think it’s time to talk a little fantasy football. As my drafts approach, I’ve already started thinking about who I might take in the early rounds. I’m not even just talking about what player — what I really mean is what position. The formula was once fairly simple and every fantasy guru would advise you to follow it: RB-RB-WR. There were of course a few exceptions, but that was a general rule of thumb for drafting a safe fantasy football team.
Two things have happened over the last few seasons in the NFL that have put the kibosh on that formula:
1. The NFL has become a passing league
The statistics to support this claim are pretty astonishing. I looked at the passing statistics from the NFL over the last five regular seasons and found that there has been a huge increase in both passing yardage and touchdown passes league-wide. Here’s a breakdown of those two categories over the last five years:
2005 — QBs w/ 4000+ passing yards: 2 ………. QBs w/ 25+ touchdown passes: 3
2006 — QBs w/ 4000+ passing yards: 5 ………. QBs w/ 25+ touchdown passes: 2
2007 — QBs w/ 4000+ passing yards: 7 ………. QBs w/ 25+ touchdown passes: 10
2008 — QBs w/ 4000+ passing yards: 6 ………. QBs w/ 25+ touchdown passes: 7
2009 — QBs w/ 4000+ passing yards: 10 ………. QBs w/ 25+ touchdown passes: 12
Look at how inflated those stats were last year. With the exception of the numbers being down slightly in 2008, passing statistics across the NFL have soared over the last five seasons. For whatever reason, teams are throwing the ball more. Maybe it’s more exciting for the fans. Maybe players are getting so big that it’s tougher to run the ball. Whatever the case, these numbers are a perfect example of why quarterbacks and wide receivers have become increasingly valuable in fantasy football leagues over the past five years.
2. One running back can no longer own a backfield
Most teams across the NFL have decided to move to a running back-by-committee backfield. This is an attempt to preserve the longevity of running backs in the NFL. When a player gets almost 100% of the carries for a given offense, they end up like Priest Holmes, Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis, LaDainian Tomlinson, and the list goes on and on. Running backs take too much of a beating, and unless a team is content with getting three productive seasons from an early-round draft pick, it’s in their best interest to split carries amongst two or more backs.
There are still a few exceptions — Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones Drew, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice (so far), Michael Turner (so far) and a couple others. But players like Steven Jackson and Frank Gore are already starting to break down after only a few seasons in the NFL. Running back tandems like DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart and Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams are becoming more common across the league. This makes it significantly tougher to select a running back in the early rounds of a fantasy draft and can make for a frustrating year if you take a guy in the first or second round that ends up getting just over 50% of the carries.
So what does this all mean? It means if you can’t get your hands on one of the guys I mentioned above who doesn’t split carries, don’t be afraid to take a wide receiver or quarterback in the early rounds and even the first round. It’s becoming more and more common for quarterbacks to throw for 250+ yards and 2+ touchdowns per game. In standard scoring leagues (4 pts TD pass, 1 pt every 25 passing yards) that’s an 18-point day. Not to mention, quarterbacks are exceeding those stats frequently each game as the years pass.
Bottom line: don’t get hung up on running backs. Take your Adrian Petersons and Maurice Jones Drews at the top of the first round, but don’t be afraid to draft a guy like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, and plenty of others that aren’t running backs when those guys are gone. The times are a-changin’.Google+