With most fantasy football drafts focusing primarily on running backs in the first round — between five and eight of the top 10 picks being running backs in most leagues — this year should have been the year of the running back. But, wow, it has been a disappointment. Most of this can be attributed to catastrophic injuries. Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles suffered a torn ACL after a great start to the season. Arian Foster tore his Achilles tendon and his career may be finished. Le’Veon Bell tore his MCL and PCL and will be out for the year. Matt Forte is battling an injured MCL. Even upstart Patriots running back Dion Lewis tore his ACL last weekend.
Injuries are not the only cause of these running back nightmares. Eddie Lacy has been almost nonexistent for the Green Bay Packers as he has battled injuries and weight issues and has now lost his starting job to James Starks. Jeremy Hill has yet to run for over 70 yards in a game this year for the Cincinnati Bengals and is looking, dare I say it, like Trent Richardson 2.0 — a running back who similarly slipped incredibly far during his sophomore season. Marshawn Lynch’s days of “beast mode” seem to be coming to an end up in Seattle with a season marked by injuries and inconsistent production. Additionally, Denver Bronco C.J. Anderson has had only one game of double-digit fantasy points and is now splitting carries with Ronnie Hillman.
That was painful to recap. Running backs have traditionally been viewed as the most valuable assetS in fantasy, despite their large bust rates, but this year’s bust rate has been historically bad. Only Adrian Peterson has lived up to his first-round pedigree. Instead, breakout candidates at the running back spot include Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons, who has slowed down after his monumental start, Lamar Miller of the Miami Dolphins, who is finally receiving the carries he deserves and rookie Todd Gurley of the St. Louis Rams.
Gurley is the real rock star here and the only one who has ultimate staying power. While this year’s running back fiasco will undoubtedly discourage some fantasy owners from choosing running backs early in drafts next year, Gurley deserves to be the No. 1 pick next year. So, what does this all mean? Should fantasy owners begin viewing another position — namely wide receivers — as fantasy gold? This year’s top five wide receivers to date are Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Larry Fitzgerald. According to ESPN.com, these individuals ranked as their fifth, 13th, first, fourth and 36th best wide receivers, respectively, coming into the season.
So, at the top of the position we are seeing that wide receivers often justify their draft positions. Out of the top 10 wide receivers entering this year — excluding Jordy Nelson, who faced an injury in the preseason — only Dez Bryant could be considered a relatively large “disappointment.” Even Bryant is now back in uniform and bound to deliver nice results for his fantasy owners. Overall, there is simply more consistency at the wide receiver position.
However, this is not to say that wide receivers are the undisputed cream of the crop for fantasy owners going forward. Injuries are impossible to predict year-to-year and that has been the main factor for running back busts this year. While the consistency of wide receivers will definitely be the main focus for the rest of this fantasy campaign and into next season — you heard it here first — my real question is: What can we do to save these running backs’ knees? Really, pre-med Georgetown students out there, what can we do? Because while you might win your fantasy football matchup because your fantasy opponent loses Charles one week or Foster the next, no one really wins. Fantasy football is about having fun, and it is most fun when we get to see the best show their stuff on the field.
Until next time, fantasy owners, play on.
Joe Lanzilla is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Fantasy Football Corner appears every other Friday.
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