2009 Draft Prep: Running (backs) on empty?

There seems to be a major transition going on at the running back position in Fantasy Football. Longtime studs like LaDainian Tomlinson and Brian Westbrook are falling out of the first round in many leagues while last year's stars -- 2008 rookies and breakout runners -- are taking up space among the top picks in drafts.

The in crowd ... Matt Forte , Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton .

So yesterday ... Westbrook, Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson .

The cool guys ... Michael Turner , DeAngelo Williams and Pierre Thomas .

Been there, done that ... Joseph Addai , Willie Parker and Willis McGahee .

About the only thing that didn't change was Adrian Peterson as an elite, top-of-the-line Fantasy running back. He's still the best you can draft in standard formats.

As this changing of the guard is happening at running back, there's another major transition going on in Fantasy, but at the receiver position. As we've covered, the talent pool among wideouts is very top-heavy, opening the floodgates for Fantasy owners to nab their starting receivers sooner than they're used to. With receivers gaining popularity, and quarterbacks still being taken here and there throughout the first couple of rounds, running backs have practically taken a backseat on the priority list after the first eight-to-10 overall picks.

That's good news. Really good news.

It wasn't long ago when you almost had to spend three of your first four picks on running backs if you wanted to have a shot at winning your league. The idea of doing that was to lock up as many potential 1,000-yard rushers as you could, and there weren't that many out there. Now, you can still take potential 1,000-yard rushers as late as Round 5.

The reasons for this expand beyond the 'wide receiver boom.' Last year we saw the Giants, Panthers and Titans enjoy tremendous success using two running backs regularly in their offense. Not only did those teams win, but their respective rushers were all solid stat producers for Fantasy owners, and almost on a consistent basis too. The trend is growing as the Buccaneers, Colts, Cowboys, Jets, Ravens and Seahawks have all moved into a direction where they'll use multiple backs more often.

While this takes potential elite rushers out of early-round consideration, it also adds plenty of names to pad running back rank lists. The position is deeper than it's been in years, and that will benefit smart Fantasy drafters.

About the only bad news is that the incoming class of rookie running backs is average at best. Only six were taken in the first 110 picks (11 last year) and of those six, three have a chance at seeing at least half of the rushing workload. Not one rookie rusher will be a full-time, every-down running back.

Let's get tiered

Coming up with a draft strategy for taking running backs really depends on what you want to do at other positions. In a deep PPR league that starts three wide receivers? You probably won't take too many running backs early. In a small league with a standard format that starts two running backs and two wide receivers? Shooting for running backs early might pay off.

So with draft strategies for running backs varying from owner to owner and league to league, your best pre-draft move is to sort them by tiers, or levels of expected production. It goes without saying that you should pick from the highest tier available whenever you're picking a running back. As a result, your drafting will go much smoother and without many hiccups.

Here's our look at tiered running backs heading into 2009 drafts, with a basic projected stat line and Fantasy production total:

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4
1,500 total yards,
12+ TDs
1,400 total yards,
10+ TDs
1,300 total yards,
9+ TDs
1,200 total yards,
7+ TDs
225 Fantasy points 200 Fantasy points 180 Fantasy points 160 Fantasy points
Adrian Peterson Frank Gore Marion Barber Ronnie Brown
Maurice Jones-Drew Steve Slaton Clinton Portis Darren McFadden
Matt Forte Chris Johnson Brandon Jacobs Ryan Grant
Michael Turner Steven Jackson Pierre Thomas Larry Johnson
DeAngelo Williams Brian Westbrook Kevin Smith Marshawn Lynch
  LaDainian Tomlinson   Thomas Jones
Tier 5 Tier 6 Tier 7 Tier 8
1,000 total yards, 6+ TDs 900 total yards, 5+ TDs 800 total yards, 4+ TDs Quality reserves
140 Fantasy points 120 Fantasy points 100 Fantasy points  
Joseph Addai Darren Sproles Willis McGahee Jamaal Charles
LenDale White Earnest Graham Fred Jackson Michael Bush
Knowshon Moreno Ray Rice Chester Taylor Rashard Mendenhall
Willie Parker Jamal Lewis Julius Jones T.J. Duckett
Reggie Bush Tim Hightower LeSean McCoy Maurice Morris
Jonathan Stewart Felix Jones Ahmad Bradshaw Le'Ron McClain
Beanie Wells Leon Washington Ricky Williams Shonn Greene
Derrick Ward Jerious Norwood Sammy Morris Jerome Harrison
Cedric Benson   Fred Taylor Greg Jones
Donald Brown     Kevin Faulk
For up-to-the-minute running back rankings, check out our positional rankings.

Bye-week cheat sheet

Last year, we ran a cheat sheet for owners to use on Draft Day to find potential bye-week replacements for their starting running backs. To call it popular would be a mild understatement. Thus, we're giving you the 2009 version.

Some Fantasy owners completely ignore bye weeks when drafting. Others won't take two running backs with the same week off in the same draft. Our take on byes and running backs is simple: As long as you don't take a bunch with the same early-season bye week, you can do no wrong. If you draft two great rushers and a third comes available and has the same late-season bye week as one of your first two, you should still draft him and deal with the problems later on.

Bye Week Teams on bye Teams with projected favorable running matchups
Week 4 Eagles, Cardinals, Falcons, Panthers 49ers (vs. STL); Bears (vs. DET); Bengals (at CLE); Browns (vs. CIN); Cowboys (at DEN); Jets (at NO); Texans (vs. OAK); Titans (at JAC)
Week 5 Bears, Chargers, Packers, Saints Bills (vs. CLE); Cardinals (off bye vs. HOU); Giants (vs. OAK); Ravens (vs. CIN); Seahawks (vs. JAC); Steelers (at DET); Titans (vs. IND); Vikings (at STL)
Week 6 49ers, Cowboys, Dolphins, Colts Chargers (off bye vs. DEN); Eagles (at OAK); Giants (at NO); Jaguars (vs. STL); Jets (vs. BUF); Packers (off bye vs. DET); Redskins (vs. KC); Steelers (vs. CLE)
Week 7 Broncos, Jaguars, Lions, Ravens, Seahawks, Titans Colts (at STL); Cowboys (off bye vs. ATL); Dolphins (vs. NO); Packers (at CLE); Panthers (vs. BUF)
Week 8 Bengals, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Patriots, Redskins, Steelers Bears (vs. CLE); Chargers (vs. OAK); Falcons (at NO); Lions (off bye vs. STL); Ravens (off bye vs. DEN); Titans (off bye vs. JAC)
Week 9 Bills, Browns, Jets, Raiders, Rams, Vikings Patriots (off bye vs. MIA); Ravens (at CIN); Steelers (off bye at DEN)
Week 10 Giants, Texans Jets (off bye vs. JAC); Raiders (off bye vs. KC); Rams (off bye vs. NO); Redskins (vs. DEN); Saints (at STL); Vikings (off bye vs. DET)

Have a question or a comment for Dave about Fantasy Football? Send your thoughts or questions to DMFantasyFootball@cbs.com and he'll get to as many as he can. Be sure to put Attn: Running Backs in the subject field. Include your full name, hometown and state.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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