A few years ago, it wasn't uncommon to see nine or 10 running backs selected in the first round of fantasy football drafts. Not anymore.
Don't be surprised if owners draft at least four quarterbacks, a couple of wide receivers and possibly a tight end, in the first round of a 12-team league.
Star running backs remain the most cherished commodity. The problem is there aren't enough dependable running backs that warrant a first-round selection, especially after the top four or five are off the board.
Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Ryan Matthews, Darren McFadden, Michael Turner, Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray could have highly productive seasons. But those seven backs, and other top 20 running backs, carry some risk because of injuries, lack of receiving skills, inconsistent play or wear and tear (age).
That's why an elite quarterback like Drew Brees, Tom Brady or even Matthew Stafford might be a safer first-round value than a running back.
NFL rule changes in recent years have produced a passing Renaissance. It was rare for a quarterback to go in the first round six or seven years ago. Another development is someone is catching those passes, so wide receivers and tight ends have more value.
If there's a running back you like, someone you're confident will provide consistent production — 1,200 rushing yards and 10 or more touchdowns — grab them at any point in the first or second round. But if you have doubts, don't hesitate to take a quarterback or an elite wide receiver.
It's not mandatory, but it's wise to select at least one running back the first two rounds before the running back “guessing game” gets more unpredictable. Landing two productive running backs is essential. The problem is avoiding running backs that turn out to be busts.
Fantasy football has evolved. So should your draft approach.
Ranking the quarterbacks
Grabbing an elite QB in the first or second round can pay huge dividends but several quality QBs will be available in rounds four, five and six. Be sure to select a quality backup by rounds 10 or 11.
High risk/high reward: Michael Vick can put up monster games but is an injury risk. After sitting out last season no one knows how Peyton Manning will perform in Denver.
Under the radar: Matt Schaub, always an injury risk, could be a gold mine if he stays healthy. Jay Cutler isn't viewed as a fantasy starter but provides consistent production.
Sleepers: Josh Freeman slumped his third season but threw 25 TDs with only six interceptions two years ago. Joe Flacco has reliable insurance value as a backup.
Red flag: Phillip Rivers might return to his 30. TD days. But here are his interceptions since 2009: 9. 13. 20.
Rookie watch: It's always risky to select a rookie QB. Cam Newton was the exception. Some see Robert Griffin III as Cam Newton 2.0 but that's unlikely. Let someone else take Griffin. Andrew Luck has a bright future but plays on a rebuilding team.
Top Okies: Sam Bradford, OU) finally has some weapons but isn't a top 20 fantasy quarterback, yet. Brandon Weeden, OSU) should exceed preseason rankings, No. 30 average) but is a No. 3 fantasy quarterback.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay: Worthy of the No. 4 or 5 overall pick.
2. Drew Brees, New Orleans: Another QB worthy of taking mid-first round.
3. Tom Brady, New England: Money in the bank late in the first.
4. Matthew Stafford, Detroit: Might go late first round; worth it.
5. Tony Romo, Dallas: Debate his clutch gene but solid fantasy QB.
6. Cam Newton, Carolina: Don't expect 14 rush TDs again but legs a weapon.
7. Eli Manning, New York Giants: Pencil in 30 TDs and 15-plus INTs.
8. Michael Vick, Philadelphia: Carries you when he's on but very unreliable.
9. Matt Ryan, Atlanta: Hasn't joined top tier but good fall-back option.
10. Peyton Manning, Denver: Do you feel like rolling the dice?
11. Phillip Rivers, San Diego: Has regressed but still capable of a big year.
12. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: Might throw more w/out Mendenhall.
13. Matt Schaub, Houston: If healthy, might be a steal who produces big.
14. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay: Wasn't very good in '11 but was good in '10.
15. Jay Cutler, Chicago: Sometimes an enigma but has dependable stats.
16. Joe Flacco, Baltimore: Expect typical production (23 TDs, 12 INTs).
17. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati: Can he take next step after solid rookie year?
18. Carson Palmer, Oakland: Only 32; still has something left.
19. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: Capable of stats to keep Tebow on bench.
20. Robert Griffin III, Washington: Ignore all the hype; he might struggle.
Best of the rest: 21. Matt Cassel, Kansas City; 22. Alex Smith, San Francisco; 23. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo; 24. Sam Bradford, St. Louis; 25. Matt Flynn, Seattle; 26. Kevin Kolb, Arizona; 27. Andrew Luck, Indiana; 28. Christian Ponder, Minnesota; 29. Brandon Weeden, Cleveland; 30. Jake Locker, Tennessee; 31. Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee; 32. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville; 33. Tim Tebow, New York Jets; 34. Matt Moore, Miami.