One of the dirty secrets about fantasy football is that more can go wrong than go right. The NFL is a league about randomness and chaos. Every season is the strangest season, but in its own way. All we can do is try to prepare for it.
So many signature players are hurting fantasy managers right now. Most of the vanity quarterbacks are off to a slow start. The entire tight end position looks like a mess. Wide receiver has been a little smoother, but there are injured players and some ranking and rostering conundrums there too.
And then we turn our eyes, our lonely tired eyes, to the running backs. If you solve the running back position, you likely rule your fantasy league. But as usual, the backfields have seen a ton of attrition.
Consider what's happened with some of the early and middle-round picks, and we're only through two weeks.
— Nick Chubb is out for the year, which sucks. Nick Chubb is a national treasure.
— The inspiring J.K. Dobbins comeback was over before Week 1 was out.
— Despite plenty of usage, Josh Jacobs is the RB33 in half-point PPR leagues.
— Breece Hall is blocked by Dalvin Cook and held back by Zach Wilson.
— Najee Harris looks sluggish and is getting pushed by Jaylen Warren. The Pittsburgh offense has been a difficult watch.
— Jonathan Taylor and the Colts remain divided and unhappy, with him out on the PUP list until at least Week 5.
— Dameon Pierce can't find a running lane behind the makeshift Houston line.
— Alexander Mattison was stuffed in his first two games.
This is not meant to be a complete list. There's red ink everywhere, there's blood in the streets. The goal today is to help you deal with these challenges, a combination of accepting them and hopefully solving them, too.
First let's consider who the right answers have been, for whatever two games mean to you. Check the list of Yahoo MVPs, the players who appear most often in the top 500 Public League teams:
— Brian Robinson charts at 43.4%. He's been solid running inside and is no longer a zero in the pass game.
— Raheem Mostert checks in at 33.8%. He's always had elite speed, and being tied to a Mike McDaniel offense is a lovely thing. But how long can Mostert stay healthy? (It's interesting to note that colleague Sal Vetri suggests trading Robinson and Mostert right now.)
— Tony Pollard rates at 33.6%. You want an early-round right answer, Pollard checks all the plausible boxes. Just stay healthy, kid.
— Aaron Jones sits at 29.6% on the MVP list, a good example of how this stat can be misleading. That said, Jones is a difference-maker when healthy, and note that A.J. Dillon did very little in Jones's absence last week.
— Tyler Allgeier charts at 24.8% for MVPs. He's always going be the No. 2 in Atlanta so long as the amazing Bijan Robinson is healthy, but Arthur Smith loves running the ball more than you love your dog.
— Christian McCaffrey is the last name we'll mention; he's at 23.4%. So much for the summer narrative that Elijah Mitchell would get in McCaffrey's way.
Now that we've taken a good look around the running back landscape, let's give you three things to think about (and maybe feel good about) as we consider this challenging position.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king
In previous fantasy football eras, you generally needed two unmistakable bell cows to contend for a championship. That idea is basically dead now, as there simply aren't that many bell cows to go around. Teams draft, use and even pay the position far differently than they used to.
But this new world order can be a feature for us, not a bug. In most of my leagues, I am somewhat content with having one back I can hang my hat on and a collection of rotation options for RB2 and RB3 work. The bar to clear for RB2 and RB3 relevance is far lower than it used to be. Hopefully, these new realities help you sleep a little better at night.
If you are blessed with RB depth, you're in a gigantic position of leverage
There's probably one or two managers in every league who hit the green lights with running backs. Maybe they found the right middle-round gems, perhaps injury attrition has elevated some of their speculative plays. Today, these managers might have more starting backs than they know what to do with.
This is the perfect elixir for trading. Someone in every league is stuck at running back at any given point in time, and the waiver wire isn't always teeming with replacement options. If you're deep at quarterback, sometimes it's impossible to move one. If you're loaded at running back, you are dealing from a position of strength.
Also consider that the bye week season isn't far off — they return in Week 5. That's when deals really start cooking, as teams have separation in the standings and the prospect of key talent being unavailable starts encouraging managers to make moves based on immediate need, perhaps even desperation.
Many of your bench spots should be speculative running backs
This week's FAB darling was Jerome Ford, Cleveland's new feature back after the unfortunate Chubb injury. Ford is far from a sure thing — it looks like Kareem Hunt is back in town — but he has a path to being a no-doubt RB2 the rest of the way (Kevin Stefanski named him the starter on Wednesday), and maybe his upside is a little higher than that. Ford went for a heavy offer, perhaps the max offer, in a lot of leagues.
But the goal when it comes to this type of player is to hopefully roster them at the lowest acquisition cost, not the highest. Your bench needs to have a handful of players who are just one news item away (usually an injury) before their value spikes. Running back is the cleanest place to consider this frame, because so much of fantasy running back value is tied to usage.
(If the Dolphins, say, lose one of their star wideouts, it doesn't mean a new automatic fantasy starter is instantly minted.)
One of the goals in the early part of a fantasy season is to build the most dynamic roster. We're trying to play for big innings. Later in the year, when our willing paths become more defined and narrow, we might want to do a few things that are about safety and insurance. We'll have a discussion about that at the appropriate time. For now, I want you to keep dreaming big with most of your bench players.
It's another messy season, but we can turn into the skid. We can try to benefit when the inevitable chaos hits. Keep making sound, proactive decisions.