Survey the fantasy landscape and it's impossible not to notice how far and wide ripple effects created by the RB apocalypse have stretched. The once lush range, handsomely populated with well-fed, burly beasts of burden only a few short seasons ago, lays virtually barren. Today, fewer than 10 tireless workhorses dot the landscape. The days dominated by Curtis Martin, Edgerrin James(notes) and Priest Holmes(notes) are long in the past.
Mathews steps into a fantasy-friendly system.
As pundits and experienced players have continuously stressed over the past few seasons, the dramatic shift across the league from traditional balanced offenses to pass-centric systems has attacked conventional draft concepts. Due to an emphasis on versatility and durability, common blue collar backs, gas guzzlers who work tooth and nail to move the chains and wear down opponents, have been replaced by more efficient hybrid models. To coaches calling the shots from the sidelines it's a move necessary to preserve vitality over a prolonged season. However, to the Cheetos-consuming fanatic watching Red Zone from the couch, platoons are the bane of their fantasy playing existence.
In a post-apocalyptic world dominated by timeshares and spread offenses, the Lightning Bolt from heaven is John Connor, Mad Max and Tallahassee rolled into one – a man destined to save the virtual game from the clutches of quarterbacks. Fellow rookie sidekick Best, an explosive, multipurpose back who Jim Schwartz admitted moves his man meter, could also help in the rescue. They are the youthful, hard-working saviors the position sorely needs.
Mathews and Best, both blessed with All-Pro pedigrees, enter into ideal circumstances where carries and scoring opportunities will be aplenty. Though high-profiled rookie rushers are often times a crapshoot (see Beanie Wells(notes) last year), 2010's ballyhooed tandem could leave an indelible mark similar to Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch(notes) in 2007. Based on the pair's aggressive ADP numbers (Mathews: 16.47, Best: 37.20), it's understandable why many owners are drooling over their RB1 upside like tween girls at a Justin Bieber concert.
But can this dynamic duo really save the position?
Look at the chart below:
*Bust#= Number of preseason top 12 backs that failed to finish in the RB top 15
*FRate% = percentage of RBs that failed to fulfill RB1 (or close to) expectations
As you can clearly see, selecting either unproven rusher, or any back for that matter, doesn't come without risk. The failure rate over the past five seasons among declared RB1s is close to 50 percent. Early round running backs outside the established aristocracy (e.g. Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), Ray Rice(notes), Frank Gore(notes) and Michael Turner(notes)) are volatile assets one fumble, shredded tendon or Kubiak encounter away from fantasy bankruptcy. Ask any owner who shells out significant greenbacks for a mid-to-late-first round plowshare (e.g. Steven Jackson, Rashard Mendenhall(notes), Jamaal Charles(notes) or Mathews) and they'll tell you an unforeseen collapse is certainly a possibility. Essentially, RBs, the foundation of outdated draft strategies, are the ultimate high-risk, high-reward picks. This explains why handcuffing has been a popular drafting tactic for decades. There simply aren't any guarantees.
Due to these uncertainties and the abundance of mid-to-late round gems that are always uncovered – top 15 performers Charles, Mendenhall, Ricky Williams(notes) and Cedric Benson(notes) were selected between picks 80 and 160 in average 12-team formats last year; Arian Foster(notes) (ADP: 112.9), Michael Bush(notes) (88.0), Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) (80.4) and Montario Hardesty(notes) (102.0) could reach similar heights this year – it's no wonder many owners are diversifying portfolios earlier in drafts than ever before. Dependability has become the measuring stick for assessing a player's true overall worth.
Mathews and Best have the skills and, most importantly, the situation to inject new life into the position. But in an ever-growing RB wasteland, going QB or WR after pick No. 6 might be the key to survival.
Running Back – Tiers
– Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Michael Turner, Frank Gore
– Thomas Jones(notes), Michael Bush, Reggie Bush(notes), Brandon Jacobs(notes), Justin Forsett(notes), Ricky Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, Marion Barber(notes), Fred Jackson(notes), Jerome Harrison(notes), Montario Hardesty, C.J. Spiller(notes), Ben Tate(notes), Arian Foster, Carnell Williams(notes), Clinton Portis(notes)
– Donald Brown(notes), Steve Slaton(notes), Laurence Maroney(notes), Tim Hightower(notes), LaDainian Tomlinson(notes), Chester Taylor(notes), Willis McGahee(notes), Darren McFadden(notes), Darren Sproles(notes), Marshawn Lynch, Larry Johnson(notes), Correll Buckhalter(notes), Derrick Ward(notes), Mike Bell(notes)
Top 5 Running Backs – Undervalued
1.) Jahvid Best – An absolute beast in the making. His explosiveness and versatility should thrive in an improved Lions offense. True RB1 upside at RB2 cost.
1.) Marion Barber – Barber has shown us that less can be more, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he produces more fantasy points than Felix Jones despite a "backup" role.
1.) Michael Bush – Every time I see him play, I come away impressed. And I have absolutely no faith in his running mate, Darren McFadden.
Top 5 Running Backs – Overvalued
1.) Rashard Mendenhall – My unhealthy feelings for Rashard are obvious, but Big Ben and Colon's absences along with tough schedule are Round 1 deterrents.
1.) Jamaal Charles – Let me just say this: I'm a huge fan of his talent. But I loathe a situation in which he is being forced into a RBBC with Thomas Jones.
1.) Shonn Greene – I love him as a runner and obviously the Jets line is outstanding, but Greene has no pass-catching skills and LT will steal some of the sugar.
Top 5 Running Backs – Rookies
1.) Ryan Mathews – Hidden in Fresno he dominated the college scene, averaging over 6.0 ypc. Despite O-line concerns, he will be a studly RB1.
1.) Ryan Mathews – Not much to be said here. He inherits a featured job for a head coach that is fantasy-friendly to RBs.
1.) Ryan Mathews – Norv Turner loves to feed stats to his featured back and Mathews is working hard to be a full-purpose player as well. I'll be stunned if Mathews isn't very good in his first year. Go get him.