"Draft your running backs early." That mantra has been around almost as long as fantasy football has, and for the most part it's a tried-and-true strategy. Running back is the most important position and also one of the most shallow. The difference between the Top 5 backs and guys in the 15-20 range is massive, and getting an elite player or two early is critical.
That said, the mad rush to acquire a running back leads to some players being overdrafted. In other words, reaching for an RB2 in the third round when Drew Brees or Julio Jones is sitting there is not an optimal strategy. At that point, you can afford to be patient and look for sleepers in the mid-rounds.
Here are five running backs who are going too high in drafts. All average draft position data collected from Fantasy Football Calculator.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders, Average draft position: 39.0
McFadden's injury woes are well documented at this point, but there are more pressing concerns that make him a gamble. The Raiders are going to be one of the worst teams this year and their offense will have to pass its way out of big deficits, limiting McFadden's run carries. Throw in an offensive line that's a complete mess and you have a recipe for disaster, even if he's healthy. Some drafts have him going as high as the second round, which is just madness. Let someone else jump on this grenade.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers, Average draft position: 47.0
Mathews is looking much better in preseason (thanks largely to first-round pick D.J. Fluker, who is an absolute mauler at RT), but he will be losing snaps to Danny Woodhead and is not an asset in the passing game. And that's without going into his injury history. Daryl Richardson, Giovani Bernard and Montee Ball have better value at the end of the fourth round, where Mathews is currently going.
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Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals, Average draft position: 66.2
Mendenhall's red flags continue to increase. Jonathan Cooper broke his leg and is possibly done for the season, so the Cardinals' suspect line takes another hit. The team is also switching to a pass-happy offense under Bruce Arians and will likely be playing from behind often. Mendenhall also missed ten games last year and is dealing with a sore knee. There isn't much to like here.
Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos, Average draft position: 96.9
Hillman went into the preseason as the nominal starter, but he hasn't done much to earn it, running for just 3.5 yards per carry and fumbling three times. He's also still struggling at pass protection, a big deal with Peyton Manning under center. Look for the Broncos to go with some timeshare of Montee Ball and Knowshon Moreno, while Hillman is relegated to change-of-pace duties. He's not worth a ninth round pick.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans, Average draft position: 14.7
CJ?K almost looks like his old self in preseason--the Titans' upgraded offensive line is already paying dividends--but he'll be losing goal line carries to Shonn Greene. Plus, be honest, do you really want to take this roller coaster again? Stevan Ridley, Matt Forte and Alfred Morris are much safer bets at the top of the second round.