By Adam Harris-
(CBS) Old school fantasy footballers have been lost the past couple of seasons, stuck in their ways of relying on running backs to carry their teams.
I’m one of those old school’ers, playing since I was 9. I remember sitting on the floor of my darkened family room, because my dad liked watching football with the shades drawn, cheering on his cleverly named Master of Domain’s (Seinfeld team reference) countless running backs, from Marshall Faulk to Terrell Davis to Curtis Martin and who could forget that 2003 magical year for Jamal Lewis when he rushed for 2,066 yards.
This was before the Internet took over fantasy, so all scoring was done by hand. Points-per-reception formats and the fraction point system were almost unheard of, but drafting running backs early and often was the way of life back then. My dad would preach the importance of having an edge at the running back position because, “It’s about the touches!”
So it began, my life as a running back snob. When my friends were old enough to manage their own fantasy football squads, Vandely Industries was born and so was my running back prowess. Over the years, I have owned the likes of Sean Alexander, Steven Jackson (’06 S-Jax had 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns), Chris Johnson during his 2,006-yard season of 2009 and Arian Foster during his breakout year of 2010 with 2,220 total yards and 18 scores.
Those were the days. The first few rounds were never too difficult because the decision was always best available RB/RB, one and two. I’m proud to say, though, that I’m not an old curmudgeon fantasy footballer who doesn’t adapt. The RB position was a must-get back then to gain an edge on your opponent based on touches and value. Nowadays, fantasy owners must use the same reasoning, but that leads us to a different result.
Teams are throwing more than ever now because of rule changes in the NFL. The game has gone airborne, and fantasy owners must do so as well. The slash position (WR/RB/TE) was a place for teams to get their edge, drafting a solid running back to sit there all year and collect touches and points. If you didn’t have a solid running back at the slash spot, you were already playing catch-up.
Now the slash position has evened out, especially in PPR leagues, with WR3’s the main squeeze there from various NFL teams. Garbage time has become the time for everyone’s slash player to shine, making for an exciting matchup each week and many points scored.
The edge must be found in other ways now, and that is to say in other positions. Find yourself the blow-up potential guys. Don’t draft based on position but based on value. Jimmy Graham (TE-NO) is the ultimate value guy, outscoring the second best tight end last year by 73.5 points in half-PPR formats.
Also last year, Josh Gordon (WR-CLE) was the difference maker, averaging 19.5 points per week, averaging about three more points per week than the second-best fantasy wideout. Jamaal Charles (RB-KC) scored 40 more points than LeSean McCoy (RB-PHI), which is 2.5 more points each week on average. Similarly, Peyton Manning (QB-DEN) scored nearly four more points per week than Drew Brees (QB-NO) in standard scoring leagues. Those points add up and can make or break a season. Winning a few weeks by a few points can get you into the playoffs, and that’s really all you should be thinking about.
This year, the edge is in the tight end position with Graham, Rob Gronkowski (TE-NE) and Julius Thomas (TE-DEN). The value of Calvin Johnson (WR-DET), Demaryius Thomas (WR-DEN), Dez Bryant (WR-DEN) and Julio Jones (WR-ATL) can’t be matched, and McCoy, Charles (RB-KC) and Adrian Peterson (RB-MIN) give you the edge each week as well at running back. To have the potential of a playoff year, you must target these big potential players in the first few rounds regardless of the position they play.
This isn’t the year to draft safely. Go for a high-potential guy, and hopefully you can hit.
Here are some value players you can find late in the draft who could hit it big down the road:
T.Y. Hilton (WR-IND), Percy Harvin (WR-SEA), Cordarrelle Patterson (WR-MIN), DeSean Jackson (WR-WAS), Joique Bell (RB-DET), Bishop Sankey (RB-TEN), Chris Johnson (RB-NYJ) and Rashad Jennings (RB-NYG).
The fantasy game has changed, and we all must change with it. This is going to be the year of the receiver, so get a stud. If you draft in the first five picks, get yourself a stud running back but then get right on the receiver train after. The position is deep, but there are only a certain number of difference-makers.
Enjoy Week 1 everyone! And remember, adapt or die.
Adam Harris is a producer for 670 The Score. He co-hosts the Fantasy Nerd Herd every Friday night with Joe Ostrowski. Follow him on Twitter @aharris670 and feel free to ask fantasy questions.