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The importance of RB combos

Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock sang it takes two to make a thing go right. This does not apply to running backs and fantasy football.

Love or hate that song, we wish we could shoot them for bringing that mantra to minds of NFL decision-makers and offenses. We want to shop at Home Depot and find the Do-It-Yourselfers at this pivotal position.

There is really no such thing in this modern NFL, so it makes mining the running back position all that more important before draft day. We conveniently waited until after preseason Week 3 to give you an analysis of all the running back combos going into the season, so hopefully this weekend doesn't give us serious injuries and shuffle the deck all over again.

We care so much about this position in fantasy football because it is where commodities are the most crucial. There are just only so many good, healthy and productive fantasy backs out there. If you don't get your hands on some, you're going to be left spending a lot of your free time planning your family's holiday get-together ... or Thanksgiving dinner ... or Halloween party.

You see what we are getting at? You could be out of contention by mid-October without having solved the puzzle that is the running back position in the NFL.

If you draft the first guy, you better make sure to get his backup in the later rounds. We see these as the most-important handcuffs to lock up on draft day.

1. Arian Foster and Ben Tate, Texans2. Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams, St. Louis3. Ryan Grant and James Starks, Packers4. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, Dolphins5. Shonn Green and LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets

Tate could be this year's Foster story, flipping the script from last year's preseason. You know the story about Foster now, but did you know Tate was potentially the Texans' leading back in 2010 before going down with injury?

Foster's story -- the rise to last year's most-productive fantasy running back -- is a case study in why backing up your backs is so paramount to success. Jackson is aging and Cadillac has looked good this preseason. Grant has looked bad and Starks could steal his job. Bush has never held his own as the go-to man and Thomas was originally drafted to start.

Last but not least, Green will finally -- hopefully -- put L.T. to fantasy pasture, but the future Hall of Famer could be right back into fantasy prominence with one Green fumble followed by a Rex Ryan scowl.

These backs are so closely related it makes it tough to choose between the two. In fact, you are best off avoiding these situations because you likely cannot get both backs and you will probably get the wrong one by some evil twist of fate.

Even if you do get both, you might never know which way the wind is blowing with them. And taking both will likely require premium mid-round picks, which will leave you thin elsewhere and suck up roster flexibility.

1. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Panthers|2. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, Chiefs3. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Bills4. Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Ryan Torain, Redskins5. Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, Bengals

We have already learned plenty from the Panthers' and Bills' situations. If they were elite teams, both back combos could be productive. On the stinker squads that they are -- the Panthers with no viable starting quarterback -- the backs will likely be just as disappointing as they were a year ago.

Charles and Jones are on a potentially good team again, but the Chiefs are playing a far tougher first-place schedule now and that could make their running game a lot less useful. Head coach Todd Haley already is stingy with the touches for Charles, and Jones is technically still the starter and goal-line back. It's too bad, too, because Charles could be one of the elite backs in this league, like he was a year ago.

Hightower has been a quick riser this preseason, but there isn't much to really like about that Redskins' offense. It might be as bad as the Bengals' offense under rookie Andy Dalton, which makes Benson (he is in jail as we type this!) pretty underwhelming.

Now here is where this exercise can really help us. These are the top backs who have backups, sure -- everyone does -- but their backups are so seldom used or unimpressive that the lion's share of touches, and most important, touchdowns, go to them.

1. Adrian Peterson (Toby Gerhart), Vikings2. Rashard Mendenhall (Isaac Redman/Mewelde Moore), Steelers3. Ray Rice (Ricky Williams), Ravens4. LeGarrette Blount (Earnest Graham), Buccaneers5. Beanie Wells (La'Rod Stephens-Howling), Cardinals6. Honorable mention: Jahvid Best (Maurice Morris/Jerome Harrison), Lions

The first three are obvious here. A.P. should clearly be the No. 1 back picked on draft day for this reason. Mendenhall is on one of the best running teams in football and has a couple of ho-hum backups. Rice was going to finally break out of Willis McGahee's TD-vulture shadow with McGahee now in Denver. The Williams offseason signing could be problematic, but the Ravens vow to make the in-his-prime Rice their do-it-all back.

The second three in this group are the great sleepers, and two of them (Wells and Best) rose in prominence this training camp with the injuries to the rookies drafted to back them up (Ryan Williams and Mikel LeShoure). The third, Blount, should go higher than he is, because Graham is old and unimpressive. Blount could be the most featured back in all of the NFL, seriously.

The handcuffs of this group might be underwhelming, but they still could be pretty useful and pretty easy to get late.

This will be one of your most essentials guides for draft day. No one wants to get left out of running backs. Even in the late rounds, you might get some value by attacking those down the depth chart.

And because no thorough discussion of a position could be complete without a full set of rankings, here are the backs ranked and tiered one through 80.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com and will outline all the news and nuggets game-by-game every week of the NFL season in his Fantasy Football Fast Forward. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy.

ON SALE: Sports Illustrated's Fantasy Football 2011 issue tells you where all the free agents landed and what their fantasy impact will be, along with the critical draft strategy and stats analysis you need to win your league. Order one now.

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