I remember when I first started my voyage into fantasy football, you could draft Rams RB Marshall Faulk or Chiefs RB Priest Holmes and you knew you were set for at least 2000 total yards from scrimmage and double-digit touchdowns. My how times have changed. More teams are taking the Running Back By Committee approach as the years go by. Also, many running backs who come out of college these days simply don’t excel as both a strong runner and have the ability to rack up receptions and receiving yards. Yes there are a few, but it seems not as many as there used to be.
There is no doubt that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is a top 5 talent, but he has yet to exceed 43 receptions during his five years in the league. Ravens running back Ray Rice and Eagles running back LeSean McCoy are, in my opinion, the top two running backs who are complete backs as both a rusher and receiver. And two healthier ones to boot.
Below are the top five backfields I would avoid going into the Summer months. Between injury risks and a shared backfield, you likely won’t find one of these guys on any of my teams next year.
1. New England Patriots
I’ve tried staying away from this backfield for years. Not since the days of Corey Dillon has Bill Belichick felt comfortable enough giving one guy the ball for a majority of the snaps. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is an unrestricted free agent, but there is belief that he will be re-signed. Stevan Ridley had shown some promise during the regular season, but fumbled his way into the doghouse. Shane Vereen dealt with hamstring problems, but he is another player that could get into the mix for carries. And with Danny Woodhead also in the mix, there is no way I am taking anyone from this backfield. What a mess. Each player offers something to the offense, but none are that complete player who can not only carry the ball 20+ times a game, but also put up consistent numbers every week.
2. Washington Redskins
Fantasy owners know the pain of owning a running back under Mike Shanahan. Sometimes I think Shanny purposely fiddles around with his backfields just to mess with our minds. To find a full-time running back who had success under Shanny, we have to go all the way back to 2003 when both Shanny and Clinton Portis were in Denver. Looking to 2012, the starting job should be Roy Helu’s to lose. After averaging a mere 24.8 yards a game from Weeks 1-11, Helu ripped off three-straight 100 yard games in Weeks 12-14. But not so fast. Fellow rookie Evan Royster ended the 2011 season on a high note with two-straight 100 yard games of his own in Weeks 16 and 17. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said both Helu and Royster are two guys who can help you in the future, which means I won’t be looking at either of these guys if I can help it. Don’t be surprised to see the Shanahans bring in some competition to add more fuel to the RBBC fire.
3. Green Bay Packers
Like the Patriots, the Packers have been relying more on their passing game than their running game to succeed. While it has worked for the most part due to Aaron Rodgers, imagine how much better the Packers would be if they had a running back who could handle a full workload? After being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a hamstring injury in 2010, James Starks was supposed to break through in 2011. That didn’t happen. Between knee and ankle injuries and the presence of Ryan Grant, Starks’ 44.5 rushing yards per game average was a disappointment. Grant is a free agent, but could be re-signed if he doesn’t get much interest on the market. At 29 years old and on the decline, I doubt teams are going to give Grant a chance to compete for a big role. Starks has yet to prove that he can carry a full workload. And with the belief that the Packers will add more talent to the position, this backfield isn’t worth the heartache it could give fantasy owners in 2012.
4. Indianapolis Colts
It’s going to be weird not seeing No. 18 under center this year. The Colts are going to look like a whole new team, but will that include the backfield? Joseph Addai still has two years left on his deal. But after averaging 3.7 yards per carry in 2011, I don’t see the Colts giving him much of a role in 2012. There is a chance he could be cut outright. Donald Brown outperformed Addai, but only averaged 44.3 yards a game. One of my 2011 Fantasy Football Sleepers Delone Carter had one big game in Week 7, rushing 10 times for 89 yards against the Saints. But outside of that one game, he didn’t show much play-making ability. With changes expected at quarterback and receiver (Bye Reggie Wayne), the backfield might not find much running room this year. Especially if the passing game gets off to a slow start. Avoid this backfield like the plague.
5. Detroit Lions
This last spot is debatable. I had considered the Raiders and Darren McFadden’s inability to stay healthy. I could have also went with the Cardinals and Beanie Wells’ inconsistencies. But the Lions should be considered as one of those teams who could have a very shaky backfield heading into next season. Jahvid Best is one more concussion away from early retirement. He’s a great dual threat, but the fact that he is so fragile is huge cause for concern. Last year’s rookie sleeper Mikel Leshoure, who was lost for the entire season after tearing his Achilles, might be ready for training camp. But that’s a big ??. Kevin Smith, who was re-signed in early November, would like to re-sign again with the team. And at the right price, I believe the Lions would bring him back. But with his injury history, can he be trusted? Keiland Williams is also in the mix, but he’s nothing special. The team is expected to focus more on their defense this offseason, but will likely bring in competition. Even so, I don’t see the team breaking the bank on a guy like Michael Bush if he becomes available. So if the team goes into training camp with Smith, Best and Leshoure as their top three running backs, Matthew Stafford’s arm is going to be needed a lot.