The fact my first article on this subject focused on the quarterback position was not an arbitrary choice – that position provided the simplest context in which to explain the whole concept of dynasty roles. In most formats, you really only want to devote two, maybe three roster spots to quarterbacks, so it’s very simple to examine how the players you draft at that position should complement each other from a dynasty role perspective.
Clearly, running back is an entirely different animal altogether. You might start anywhere between one to four running backs depending on your league format, which means you might roster anywhere from 4-8 of them. Examining the different roles each running back plays on your dynasty roster is a more complex endeavor, but I still think it is one worth undertaking. Lumping all running backs in one ranking together still presents the same awkward comparisons like the Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Tannehill example I used in the quarterback article.
While preparing for a startup draft, before you have any idea what your roster makeup will be, can you really confidently compare and rank two players like Frank Gore and Shane Vereen? To some extent, you certainly can. You would begin by considering your personal evaluations of each player, followed by the application of your own roster-building philosophy, in a general sense. Some people will always take youth, while others will tend to lean towards the one or two years of reliable production. Personally, I believe the true dynasty Jedi enters a startup with a completely open mind and simply takes the best player available in each of the first 4-5 rounds, regardless of age or position. Around the round 4-5 mark, you can pause, evaluate what your team core looks like (young, old, RB heavy, WR heavy, etc.), then commit to that direction for the rest of the draft.
This is the ideal approach to a dynasty startup draft in my opinion, but the problem with it is until you know what direction your team is going in, it is almost a complete waste of time to try and determine how valuable Frank Gore is going to be for your team relative to Shane Vereen.
Hence, dynasty roles.
I briefly considered whether or not there needed to be additional or different roles created in the classification of running backs, but ultimately found them to be redundant, so I will be sticking with the original three categories (Starter, Upsider, Backup) for this and all future articles.
Without further ado, here are my current running back rankings based on their dynasty roles. Please note that these are PPR based:
Just as a reminder, Starters are players I expect to be productive enough in the short-term (1-3 years) to justify a starting spot in your lineup. Now obviously this is largely dependant on your league depth and starting requirements, but for the sake of this list, I’ve envisioned a 12-team league with one flex spot. The last group of players on this list I would consider worthy of being a low-end flex option. And remember, these are dynasty rankings, so I am discounting players who are older and may only be relied upon for one solid year of production.
The primary focus of this article is to continue to flesh out the idea of dynasty roles, not so much to tout my personal rankings, but that does not mean I don’t stand by them and I am happy to respond to questions or criticism.
Perhaps the ranking that might stand out the most is Chris Johnson checking in at #20. As pedestrian a talent as Shonn Greene is, he has proven to be very durable, and likely will take away a significant amount of goal line work from Johnson, who has never had a backup as proven as Greene behind him (that was as strange for me to type as it was for you to read). Also, I worry about Johnson’s long-term viability as speed backs have a tendency to fall off a cliff as soon as their speed declines even small amount.
Right ahead of him at #19 is Chris Ivory, who might also be a surprise, but for the opposite reason as Johnson. Let’s just say I am a big fan of Ivory’s ability, and the only reason he isn’t higher on this list is that he’s somewhat struggled to stay healthy in New Orleans and does not have a track record of catching a lot of passes, although I would argue that could easily be due to how the Saints used him (or rather how they used Darren Sproles). I love his ability and situation – he’s much higher on my non-PPR rankings.
Moving on, the next dynasty role is the Upsider role, which consists of players who I do not expect to be productive enough to qualify as a starter right now, but have the upside to become so.
One player who was very difficult to classify was the one at the top of this group – Shane Vereen. There’s a very good argument to be made that he will be productive enough in 2013 to be a flex option, which would put him in a Starter role. However, when I began to think about how I want to use the idea of role-based rankings in the context of a draft, I decided it made more sense to put him with the Upsiders. The reason for this is because when I take Vereen in a startup, the main reason I’m taking him is for his rather substantial upside. I recently look him in the round eight of the Dynasty Football World Championship, and I did not do so because I think he’s going to carve out a nice Danny Woodhead “plus” role in New England, it’s because if he ever forces Stevan Ridley out of the primary ballcarrier role, Vereen will become a PPR monster.
Now it’s certainly true you can draft a player for more than one specific reason. Obviously I have Montee Ball grouped with the Starters and I think he has considerable upside if he works out. But the gap between Vereen’s short-term expected production (modest) and his potential ceiling if he “hits” (monstrous) is so large, I think I have to rank him accordingly, and thus he sits atop the Upsider list.
So the “rule” that can be taken from the Shane Vereen question that I expect may come into play when doing this exercise with WR and TE is that if a player is somewhat in the grey area between two dynasty roles, he should be placed in the role that best suits the primary reason for his value.
And lastly, we have the Backup role. These players lack both the productivity to make them a starter right now and the upside (in my opinion) to ever achieve it, with the exception of short-term injury related periods.
I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the classification of some of these players between Upsider and Backup will generate the most disagreement. Many of the names on this list are or have been favorite dynasty stashes, but if they’re on this list, I don’t believe they have the chops to make it as a perennial fantasy starter. Ben Tate might be the most glaring snub, as he has been a popular sleeper for people who are waiting for Arian Foster to fall apart, but I just don’t see it happening for him. These are players you really only want as handcuffs or as one week additions to get you through a bad bye week or a couple of untimely injuries. They will put up a big game here or there, but are the definition of a weekly lottery ticket (and some of them aren’t even that).
Thank you again for reading, and for the strong response to the original quarterback article. I trust that the running back rankings will generate some more controversy than did the quarterback ones, and look forward to reading and responding to your comments.