With the bulk of Fantasy Football drafts coming in the next two weeks, it's really time to start nailing down your strategy. After dissecting the backfields around the NFL the last two weeks, you know how important I think it is to come away with at least two reliable full time running backs. Sure there are going to be running backs popping up on the waiver wire during the season, but while other owners are scrambling around trying to figure out which RBs might get half of a job, you'll be able to focus on the more volatile values at wide receiver.
Other than an emphasis on running backs, though, you can't head into a draft with a set plan. Every draft is different and successful owners are able to adjust on the fly. Get your RBs and then simply take the best player that falls to you. The owners that win are those that really know who the best players are. Too many times, Fantasy owners listen to too much of the buzz coming from the Fantasy industry or they follow the ADPs without questioning whether it's best for their team. Remember, ADPs are what other people are doing, not necessarily what you should do. If you can ignore the preconceived notions pumped out by many Fantasy sites and enter your draft with your mind focused solely on talent and opportunity, you'll be headed for a playoff season.
Don't know what preconceived notions I'm talking about? I'm talking about when the industry makes generalizations about players without really looking at the individual. For instance:
Smaller running backs are injury prone and can't handle a full time workload.
I keep hearing how Jahvid Best, C.J. Spiller and other smaller running backs are risky because their small frames can't take the pounding. Somebody forgot to tell Walter Payton and Barry Sanders that they were supposed to be frail little scatbacks. These Hall of Famers seemed to do okay despite their "diminutive" size. Yeah, but the NFL has changed you say? Players are bigger and faster than ever before. Maybe so, but Chris Johnson hasn't seemed to notice. He's pretty much the consensus first pick in Fantasy drafts this year and stands 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. Best is an inch shorter but actually outweighs Johnson by five to seven pounds. No one is saying that Best or Spiller are Payton or even Johnson, but they also can't be summarily dismissed because of their size.
Instead of lumping these smaller running backs together, we need to look at their individual skills when we make our Fantasy evaluations. Spiller and Best are in entirely different situations. Spiller averaged about 16 carries per game in his final year of college. So despite his high draft slot, he didn't even carry the full load in college. The questions about durability and his ability to run between the tackles in the NFL are valid. He's also facing some pretty solid competition in Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. Either Jackson or Lynch will get the ball in the red zone. Even in a best case scenario, Spiller is going to have inconsistent Fantasy value. He's going to have some explosive games and some where he disappears.
Best is in a different situation. He faces virtually no competition for regular carries and even has a shot of getting the ball at the goal line. By all accounts, Best has excelled running the ball inside as well as his explosive outside bursts. Best did miss time last year with concussion problems, which could be an issue, but he's no more of a health risk than 90 percent of other NFL running backs. Getting hit by huge men is a health risk, period. Ask Brandon Jacobs about that.
The addition of Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth instantly vault Joe Flacco into the QB1 ranks.
Yes, the Ravens have some nice offensive weapons. Three outstanding receivers and one of the game's best receivers out of the backfield give Flacco nice ammunition to work with. They don't change what he is, though. Sometimes a strong QB makes a receiver look better than they are and sometimes it works the other way around. The point is that Flacco is a QB who shows flashes, but is wildly inconsistent, as evidenced by his poor play for much of the second half of 2009. The new arsenal won't hurt, but Flacco is still a marginal Fantasy QB until he proves otherwise. In a related note, don't expect Boldin to suddenly morph back into a WR1 either. His lack of red zone action has made him a borderline WR1 for the last few years and that was with Kurt Warner feeding him the ball. The change of scenery just brings more variables into the equation.
Frank Gore is a lock to be a Top Five running back.
Gore's 1,120 yards and 10 TDs in 2009 look nice, especially considering that he missed two games with injuries. If you look at his game logs though, it tells a different story. He ran for more than 100 yards just five times and was held under 75 yards seven times. This isn't rotisserie baseball where we just look at final numbers. I need a running back that shows up each week and helps me win games. Gore is going to have some huge days, but he also disappears. Many experts are also downplaying the addition of Brian Westbrook. He may not steal many carries from Gore, but the Niners are going to give Westbrook a ton of third down work in an effort to keep Gore fresh and healthy. This helps San Francisco, but may put a serious dent in Gore's reception totals. For my fantasy money, I'm more interested in lower rated backs like MichaelTurner, Rashard Mendenhall, and Shonn Greene. There are just too many issues surrounding Gore.
Putting a Close to 2011: That's right I said 2011. The following middle relievers could end up closing games next year. Shrewd owners in Keeper leagues can snag serious value while others are focusing on pigskin.
Johnny Venters (LHP, ATL): Billy Wagner is set to retire and Venters is making a serious claim to the job. His 1.187 ERA, 1.038 WHIP, and 65 Ks in 60.2 innings is the start to a good resume.
Jason Motte (RHP, STL): Motte blew his chance last year, but his performance this year (2.70 ERA, 42 Ks in 46 IP) puts him in line for a shot whenever the Cards turn away from Ryan Franklin.
Brandon League (RHP, SEA): David Aardsma has pitched better as of late, but League has the better numbers overall. Don't think the Mariners wouldn't like to see the pitcher they gave up Brandon Morrow for turn into something valuable.
Luke Gregerson (RHP, SD): Gregerson has been arguably the best reliever in baseball. His ERA has "ballooned" all the way up to 2.76, but he still has the ridiculous 0.80 WHIP and 70 Ks in 58 2/3 IP. The Padres may be winning, but Heath Bell still makes a nice trade chip this offseason.
Joaquin Benoit (RHP, TB): The 0.61 WHIP must be a misprint. The 60 strikeouts in under 50 innings is outrageous. Rafael Soriano is a free agent and Tampa Bay won't spend money when they have an excellent replacement on the roster.
Nick Masset (RHP, CIN): After an outstanding 2009 season, Masset struggled early this year and is again looking like a late inning option. Francisco Cordero is under contract for one more year, but the Reds have to be losing patience after his recent struggles.
Don't forget to check out our Xclusive Edge Rankings for help with tough lineup decisions.
Wake up every morning with RotoExperts on Sirius XM's new Fantasy Sports Radio channel. Listen live starting at 7 am ET as RotoExperts.com covers all Fantasy Sports and takes your calls on Sirius channel 211 and XM channel 147.
Doug Anderson is the Executive Editor at RotoExperts.com. Look for Man in a Box every Tuesday and catch him on The Fantasy War Room, Thursdays at 8 ET. Wanna climb in the box and talk Fantasy sports? E-mail Doug at email@example.com.