It is the most often-asked question in fantasy: Who should be the No. 1 overall pick?
The answer is almost always a running back, and this year it is one of Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy or Ray Rice. We say Foster, for reasons stated below, but only about eight percent of fantasy owners should care. That fortunate minority is the only sect that has to make that call. The rest of us are just mostly picking through the leftovers.
Running backs don't score as many points as other positions in fantasy, particularly quarterbacks, but the elite ones are the most valuable commodities in the fantasy marketplace. They are just so scarce. It makes spending the most of your time analyzing the top of the RB rankings paramount before draft day.
How you fill your RB position(s) will determine your fantasy fate, even in this record-setting, pass-heavy NFL.
Foster should be the choice over Rice, McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew, last year's top fantasy backs, because of his incredibly high ceiling, his record as the No. 1 before, the offense that is built around the running back and the fact he has a mop-up man (Ben Tate) to keep from being overused early in the season.
It is great to have the highest scoring in September, but that usually leads to diminishing returns later in the season. Foster figures to be kept productive in a powerful Texans offense still built to run the ball. He has had some of the biggest games in fantasy the past few seasons and even posted 132 rushing yards against a strong Ravens run defense in the playoffs last January, proving he performs well against elite run defenses.
Still, the best argument for Foster over McCoy -- who scored more times a year ago -- and Rice -- who was more durable and gets more touches -- is his quarterback situation. Matt Schaub isn't necessarily a slouch, but he isn't in the fantasy class of McCoy's Michael Vick or Rice's improving Joe Flacco. Those backs can be "rested" by their teams relying on the passing game. That just won't happen in Houston with Schaub and Tate to take some of the load off.
Foster is still the bell cow of the best running game in football (even if they lost two starters this offseason). Make him the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy, if you're lucky to land in that draft position.
We break down the entire RB position in depth here, including the top 85 potential draft picks by tiers below:
The factors combined for a heavy workload for MJD, who was drafted a bit later into the NFL because it was thought he was undersized and couldn't handle the punishment. Instead, he led all backs in touches (343 carries and 43 catches) last season. MJD has held up far beyond expectations, especially since he was coming off a troublesome knee issue that cost him a couple games in '10.
This might be the year things collapse on him. His holdout is particularly problematic, because the Jags say Jennings will be their starter to open the season. MJD has to earn his job back once he reports to the team, proving first to be not only in shape, but in football game shape. Once ready to start again, a poor offense and lack of supporting cast to take the pressure off him should worry you as well.
Ingram is going to be on the board much later, and it should be remembered he was Richardson a year earlier. Ingram is also in a much more explosive offense than Richardson and has a chip on his shoulder after a disappointing year. Ingram looks healthy now and capable of changing the way the Saints approach their game plans. He won't take the ball out of Drew Brees' hands but he can grind out the clock when Brees lights teams up in the first half. Ingram is a comeback story before he has ever truly arrived.
The Redskins hope Hightower is ready for the start of the season after ACL surgery around nine months ago. If he is, they say he will start. That might be news enough to lower Helu from being a top-20 back to moving out of the top-35. In terms of talent and effectiveness in a Mike Shannahan rhythm passing game, Helu is an outstanding sleeper out of the first few tiers. Three consecutive 100-yard games late last season show he is ready to be a workhorse back even if Shannahan's Redskins aren't willing to feature him as such. They really want Helu to prove more durable this preseason. If he does, look out.