The fantasy community frequently absorbs injuries in the preseason that have an impact on drafts and auctions. This is an immutable fact and it's why leagues should draft as close to the start of the regular season as possible. However, the fantasy community rarely sees two of its likely first rounders go down in the first week of August, causing major changes to the complexion of the top of the consensus draft board. That is precisely what has happened this year, with the Chargers' Ryan Mathews and the Browns' Trent Richardson both on the shelf for the remainder of the preseason. While they're expected back early in the regular season -- they both could end up playing Week 1 -- their injuries have doubtlessly shook up the early rounds of every fantasy draft.
Mathews was seen as potentially the fourth pick behind the Arian Foster-Ray Rice-LeSean McCoy triumvirate, and Richardson, thanks to his assumed status as one of the few true workhorse running backs, was going at the back end of the first round after Calvin Johnson and the elite quarterbacks were coming off the board.
With those two out of the first-round picture, the running back pool becomes even shallower than it already was. Despite the rise of the passing game in today's NFL and the fact that yards are yards and touchdowns are touchdowns, no matter if they're on the ground or through the air, I don't think you can ignore running backs for a QB-WR or WR-WR combo this year. There are simply too many quality receivers to be found in the middle rounds to do that. All the running backs after the trio listed above have their question marks, but that doesn't mean they don't warrant your early attention.
Who steps into the breach created by the injuries to Mathews and Richardson? Let's take a look at the running backs who can conceivably round out the top five at the position.
Still, it was disconcerting to see Johnson not really show up for the Titans' first preseason game, and even more so to see Ringer come in and outperform him. While you'd expect Ringer to put up better numbers playing against a second-team defense, he also looked the more decisive runner. The Titans look to be starting an unproven Jake Locker, and with Kenny Britt's 2012 status up in the air, the passing game will likely leave plenty to be desired. Johnson is still just 26-years old and is freakishly talented, so I'm perfectly willing to buy into a bounce back season from him. He's sixth on my running back board going into the season, though I can't guarantee I won't take this next guy over him, depending on what happens the next few weeks.