Heading into 2012 fantasy football drafts, there appears to be a lot of parity after the top two or three players at each position, including running back. In recent years, running backs have filled most of the first round in fantasy drafts, but that may begin to change this season. In my opinion, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice are the only definite first-round running backs, with Maurice Jones-Drew possibly being thrown in as well. Other candidates are either unproven (Ryan Mathews, Trent Richardson), inconsistent (Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch) or will be coming off of injuries (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles).
To me, your draft position should determine if you take a running back with your first pick this year. If you have one of the first three or four picks, a running back should be safe. If not, you may want to consider selecting a top quarterback (Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady) and then looking for good value at running back in the second round. Depending on your position and the way your league's owners are drafting, you should be able to get Peterson, Charles, Richardson, DeMarco Murray or Matt Forte in the second round.
If you do draft a running back first, though, then I would recommend using your second pick for a tight end. In a 12-team snake draft, if you pick in the top five and are able to secure a top running back, your next selection will be around pick number 20-24. By that time, the top quarterbacks and wide receivers will likely be gone. Available receivers could include Victor Cruz or Brandon Marshall, but by that point the parity at wide receiver is much more obvious.
However, if you take tight ends Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham with your second pick, a good wide receiver will still be available in the third round. According to Yahoo Sports' current preseason rankings, Gronkowski is ranked 15th among all fantasy players, with Graham ranked 26th. But these two players are likely going to perform much better than most others at their position. Picking Gronkowski or Graham in the second round provides top-tier tight end production, possible top 20 fantasy production and still likely leaves the option to pick a wide receiver like Mike Wallace, A.J. Green or Roddy White in the third round.
Comparing the choices, I would feel more comfortable with Gronkowski or Graham over the rest of the available tight ends. To me, there is not nearly as much of a difference in drafting Cruz or White, as each player has the same potential in my opinion.
Quarterbacks Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford could be available in the third round, while quality passers like Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Michael Vick and Tony Romo could be there even later.
I have never prepared for fantasy drafts ready to take a tight end second, but this year I believe the strategy could work.
Yahoo Sports - preseason rankings
Mike Patton is a co-host on the Deep Sleeper Fantasy Football Podcast. He has been a fantasy enthusiast since 1997 and has won championships in baseball, football, basketball, hockey and pick 'em leagues.