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Which top running back will be a fantasy football bust?

Saquon Barkley didn't live up to his top-five fantasy draft status last year

Saquon Barkley didn’t live up to his top-five fantasy draft status last year
photo: AP

With upcoming untimely why-the-hell-did-you-schedule-it-on-a-Saturday-afternoon-when-i-said-i-have-a-wedding-fantasy-designs-turn-up-when-you-if Unless you scan random internet top 100 lists to solidify your matching top 100 list, you are breaking the unwritten rules of procrastination. You know the rest of the drunk idiots smoking weed and cramming for the big day are looking at the same information, so no matter how accurate the experts are, what you find after 20 minutes of Googling is a pretty good starting point.

Let’s face it, we all just draft against space anyway. Choose your bidding battles – or let a randomly generated order of queues determine your fate – and hope you don’t spend precious draft funds on David Johnson or Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliot. In addition to building or revealing characters, auction drafts have made the most desirable players available for each team.

Whether you want to target a top five player is a matter of strategy, but there are typically few irresponsible backers per league, and their early sprees can open up a potential franchise cornerstone if the nomination process goes right. (Or you could be stuck in a queue with a top 5 pick because the marbles literally didn’t fall your way.)

Regardless of how you find yourself in the sparsely studied draft material with a shot at what appears to be a top-five pick, one of these running backs will ruin your season. Barkley made the top 5 pundits last year, and I personally know how that turned out. (Editor’s note: me too, unfortunately). Zeke finished in the top six or seven in 2021, but the year before he didn’t rush for 1,000 yards and finished with eight total touchdowns. Christian McCaffrey ruined many teams in 2020 (and 21) and David Johnson was the sunk prize in 2019.

So first, before I name the double agent in the top 5, who are the consensus top defenders? My cursory research says it’s a mix of these five:

  • Jonathan Taylor
  • Derrick Henry
  • Christian McCaffery
  • Austin Ekeler
  • Joe Mixon

I’ve seen Dalvin Cook in a few mocks instead of Mixon, but he has a long injury history and would be too obvious a choice. Of those remaining players, Taylor gets a pass for the fireball he was last year, and Mixon’s past consistency and role on a strong offense make him feel secure – albeit reluctantly.

That leaves Henry, McCaffrey and Ekeler – and all three have major health concerns. I know it feels crazy to assume Run CMC will be permanent considering he’s played 10 games total over the past two seasons. Carolina has the least impressive quarterback situation, however, and whether it’s Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold, he’ll be at the bottom of many checkdowns and handoffs. For what it’s worth, he’s adamant this is the best thing he’s ever feltand I’d be willing to bet on his pedigree.

At 26, McCaffrey is also the youngest of the three, which is demure. As for age, Deadspin staffer Jon Hoefling recently pointed this out For five years there has not been a top 5 over 27 years old. This means that by default – or whimsical anomaly – Ekeler (27) and Henry (28) are the old men.

So between a running back with the physique of Terry Crews, who had nearly 1,000 yards in eight games in an injury-cut season, and a 5-foot-10, 200-pound all-purpose back whose longest game from scrimmage last year 40 was yards, it’s a pretty easy decision. Henry is an all-time great. Adrian Peterson had 1,400 yards by the age of 30. Ladanian Tomlinson had nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage at 28. That’s the kind of aristocracy that King Henry finds himself in.

What Ekeler did in 21 was worthy of a top-five pick, and if he gets another 20 touchdowns after hitting 11 the previous season, that’s good for him. While I’m sure Henry’s 2021 ruined the season for a large portion of the wrong GMs who picked him, Ekeler’s first year of working full-time in 2020 was similarly destructive — it just wasn’t as well known. Prone to injury, he has only held the role for two years. Was I one of the many managers whose 2020 was repeatedly ruined by the Chargers running back’s ever-strained Achilles tendon? Maybe, maybe not, maybe fuck yourself.

I know he’s elite off the backfield, but the most quick tries he made in a game last year was 17. The money is in the guaranteed touches, and when some of those are taken away, especially in the red zone , it will be hard to justify what you spent on him. head coach said Brandon Staley, speaking about Ekeler’s role this season“Hopefully we can do more with him.”

That’s fine and all, but you might want him to be healthy later in the year — he missed week 15 (also a fantasy playoff round) in 2021 — lest you gag another playoff spot. Los Angeles also added the fourth-round pick running back Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller, who gets some representatives of the first team in the camp.

All the press Justin Herbert and the other LA NFL team have received this offseason has me nervous too. Wouldn’t it be a Peak Chargers to dig themselves into an impassable hole as soon as we forget they’re not the Chargers?

If you’re complaining that my reasoning is based solely on gut feeling and luck, you’re missing the point. Injuries or strange circumstances determine the outcome of Fantasy Football. There’s always a back or wide receiver in the top five to shatter your tenuous hopes of winning the trophy.

The roulette game with the most expensive skill players is why fantasy experts rant about the value of the players later in the draft. (Or, for you plebeians out there, it’s why people who get a top 5 pick in a Snake Draft lament their luck. Because if you screw it up, you don’t pick again for almost two rounds. )

So if you’re in the middle of a bidding war with the league’s self-proclaimed genius, say, “That seems like a lot for Austin Ekeler.” Back off — or hope he beats your $65 bid.

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