2015 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Running back strategy

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Running backs no longer dominate Fantasy Football as in years past. The NFL has changed with different rules for receivers, better passing games and tandems devaluing the position.

But you still need good running backs to be successful, and finding the right ones is always the key. It could be via the draft, which is important, but the waiver wire can be just as vital to your chances at backfield success.

Go back to 2014 and compare Average Draft Position to how the running backs finished. Of the first 12 running backs drafted based on ADP -- LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, Montee Ball, DeMarco Murray, Giovani Bernard, Doug Martin, Arian Foster and Le'Veon Bell -- eight finished as top-12 options (Murray, Bell, Lynch, Forte, Foster, Lacy, Charles and McCoy) in standard leagues.

Two who crashed the party weren't drafted at all in the majority of leagues in C.J. Anderson and Justin Forsett, and Lamar Miller and Jeremy Hill were drafted after Round 9. Mark Ingram and Jonathan Stewart were also drafted late and reaped big rewards, and there's no definitive formula for finding stud running backs.

Sure, we have an idea of the guys who should do well. You want running backs with the chance to work on all three downs, can catch the ball and get goal-line opportunities. Those are typically the running backs who will be drafted in the first three or four rounds, with the elite options going in Round 1.

But if you miss on those early standouts you can still win your league. The way receivers dominate the game, you can pair mediocre talent at running back with superstar wideouts and still bring home a Fantasy championship. Throw in the right quarterback and tight end, and running back can be a complement to your Fantasy roster, not the main event.

It all depends on how you like to build your team. The owners who drafted one of the elite guys last year like Murray, Bell or Forte will tell you the ability to have a stud running back on your roster can be a huge comfort factor. Then there are the owners who passed on running back early in the draft but landed Anderson, Forsett, Ingram or Stewart. For them, waiting on running back is the way to go.

There are numerous ways to approach drafting running backs, and I wanted to give you four different scenarios on a strategy for the position: go with the flow, load up early, be patient and the Zero RB theory. I used ADP to put together four teams of 14 rounds in a 12-team league with these strategies in mind, but I deviated slightly at times to balance the rosters.

Let's see how each team turned out, and the projected Fantasy points are based on CBS Sports 2015 projections.

Go with the flow

From No. 1 overall …

Round | Overall selection | Player | Projected Fantasy points for 2015

1 | 1 | Le'Veon Bell, RB, Steelers | 218
2 | 24 | Randall Cobb, WR, Packers | 175
3 | 25 | Justin Forsett, RB, Ravens | 162
4 | 48 | DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans | 138
5 | 49 | T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jaguars | 129
6 | 72 | Jarvis Landry, WR, Dolphins | 127
7 | 73 | Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions | 311
8 | 96 | Alfred Blue, RB, Texans | 86
9 | 97 | Steve Smith, WR, Ravens | 123
10 | 120 | John Brown, WR, Cardinals | 115
11 | 121 | Bishop Sankey, RB, Titans | 60
12 | 144 | Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals | 67
13 | 145 | Chiefs DST | 187
14 | 168 | Dan Carpenter, K, Bills| 139
Total points: 2,037

This is essentially like taking the best player available, and I like this team a lot, especially if Foster is out for half of the season with his injured groin. That would allow this team to start Blue as a potential flex for the first two games with Bell suspended. If you can manage to get two standout receivers like Cobb and Hopkins then that allows you to take three running backs in your first five picks, like we did here. There is still plenty of talent at receiver on the bench with Landry, Smith and Brown, and the only issue could be Stafford at quarterback or Eifert at tight end. I love both guys, so I'd take this team in any format.

Load up early

From No. 7 overall …

Round | Overall selection | Player | Projected Fantasy points for 2015

1 | 7 | C.J. Anderson, RB, Broncos | 200
2 | 18 | Jeremy Hill, RB, Bengals | 173
3 | 31 | Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins | 163
4 | 42 | Brandin Cooks, WR, Saints | 135
5 | 55 | Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders | 115
6 | 66 | Martellus Bennett, TE, Bears | 109
7 | 79 | Eli Manning, QB, Giants | 305
8 | 90 | Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers | 110
9 | 103 | Devonta Freeman, RB, Falcons | 113
10 | 114 | Charles Johnson, WR, Vikings | 104
11 | 127 | Duke Johnson, RB, Browns | 61
12 | 138 | Steve Johnson, WR, Chargers | 67
13 | 151 | Dolphins DST | 147
14 | 164 | Dan Bailey, K, Cowboys| 135
Total points: 1,937

It's doubtful many Fantasy owners will go this route, even in standard leagues, because you lose out on an elite receiver in Round 2. The better approach here in the middle of the first round is to draft a running back like Anderson at No. 7 and then take a No. 1 receiver like A.J. Green. You can still get Miller in Round 3 and go with another running back in Round 4 like Latavius Murray instead of Cooks or Stewart in Round 5 instead of Cooper. Now, this strategy could work with the receivers similar to the Zero RB theory if Cooper turns into this year's version of Odell Beckham, Jackson rebounds and Charles Johnson has a breakout campaign, but I'd look for more balance in either the second or third round and not load up on running backs. You want depth at that position, but not at the expense of a standout receiver.

Be patient

From No. 10 overall …

Round | Overall selection | Player | Projected Fantasy points for 2015

1 | 10 | Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos | 214
2 | 15 | Odell Beckham, WR, Giants | 196
3 | 34 | Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins | 138
4 | 39 | Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders | 134
5 | 58 | Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers | 118
6 | 63 | Cam Newton, QB, Panthers | 323
7 | 82 | Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers | 94
8 | 87 | Jordan Cameron, TE, Dolphins | 90
9 | 106 | Brandon LaFell, WR, Patriots | 111
10 | 111 | Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals | 99
11 | 130 | Matt Jones, RB, Redskins | 54
12 | 135 | Roy Helu, RB, Raiders | 62
13 | 154 | Ravens DST | 173
14 | 161 | Matt Bryant, K, Falcons| 139
Total points: 1,945

I love going this route when I draft toward the end of Round 1. You can lock up two awesome receivers like Thomas and Beckham and still get three quality running backs in Morris, Murray and Stewart. Martin could easily be a Top 24 running back this season and is available in the Round 6 or 7 range, and you can still land handcuffs for Morris (Jones) and Murray (Helu) and possibly Stewart with Cameron Artis-Payne. With a standout quarterback and tight end in Newton and Cameron, this team would be competitive in any format.

Zero RB theory

From No. 9 overall …

Round | Overall selection | Player | Projected Fantasy points for 2015

1 | 9 | Andrew Luck, QB, Colts | 388
2 | 16 | Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots | 161
3 | 33 | Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers | 165
4 | 40 | Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles | 154
5 | 57 | Sammy Watkins, WR, Bills | 143
6 | 64 | LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots | 119
7 | 81 | Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons | 98
8 | 88 | Chris Ivory, RB, Jets | 121
9 | 105 | Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars | 106
10 | 112 | David Cobb, RB, Titans | 95
11 | 129 | Knile Davis, RB, Chiefs | 74
12 | 136 | Davante Adams, WR, Packers | 74
13 | 153 | Bengals DST | 164
14 | 162 | Chandler Catanzaro, K, Cardinals| 139
Total points: 2,001

Even though this team was second in terms of total points, it's not my favorite squad. There are too many ifs for my liking. Now, don't get me wrong, having Luck, Gronkowski, Benjamin, Matthews and Watkins as my first five picks is awesome, especially in a PPR league, but you're going to need some help from Blount, Coleman, Ivory and Cobb to have almost perfect seasons or Davis getting some starts for the Chiefs. It can work, especially if you hit on the waiver wire at running back, but I would still feel somewhat unsettled after my draft if this was my final roster. I would probably look for someone like Stewart in Round 5 and stop passing on running back after my first four picks.

The way I prefer to build my teams is to go with the flow if I pick early or middle in the first round. I'll draft a running back first and then a receiver in the second round to get one of the elite options, and then I can improve on my running back depth throughout the draft.

If I select toward the end of Round 1, around No. 8 overall, then I'm typically starting with two receivers with my first two picks or Gronkowski, and then I'll start loading up on running backs beginning in Round 3. The running backs you're looking at in this range are Frank Gore, Morris, Carlos Hyde, Ingram, Latavius Murray, Andre Ellington and Joseph Randle, and I try to get three of these guys if possible through Round 5. You still have three potential Top 24 running backs with two amazing receivers, and you then focus on depth in your backfield after looking at quarterback and tight end.

The running backs I tend to gravitate toward this season after the first-round guys are Ingram, Gore, Miller, Forsett, Randle, Melvin Gordon, Stewart, Latavius Murray, Yeldon and Ellington. I've had a mini-man crush on Ameer Abdullah since the NFL Draft, and I try to get him on all my teams, although the preseason hype is driving up his value, which is somewhat frustrating. You can say the same thing about Randle, who could be special behind that offensive line.

Heading into the second week of preseason action, I still plan to gamble on Foster based on the lack of a definitive timetable with his groin. He could miss only a few games to start the season, and he's worth drafting as early as Round 7 as of now. I also like Martin, Blount, Isaiah Crowell and C.J. Spiller in this range, especially Spiller in PPR leagues. His value is down because of arthroscopic knee surgery, but he should reap big rewards with his move to New Orleans.

Some sleepers who intrigue me this season are both Falcons running backs in Coleman and Freeman (and you can pair them together with mid-round picks), Ivory, Cobb, Duke Johnson and David Johnson. I'm not worried about Chris Johnson being a factor for the Cardinals, and I want to lock up Ellington and David Johnson whenever possible. I also try to draft Davis or Jerick McKinnon whenever possible because of their lottery-ticket potential.

There are a lot of running backs to like this season, and the position feels deeper than it did a year ago. Hopefully the players we're counting on to deliver come through. Running backs might not be the difference makers they once were for Fantasy owners, but the right ones will definitely pay big dividends this year.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Jamey Eisenberg has been a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBS Sports since 2006 with a focus on Fantasy Football. A University of Florida grad (class of '98), Jamey got his start in the newspaper business and... Full Bio

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