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It's Time to Rethink Your 2008 Strategy

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By Gene Wang
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; 9:56 PM

With fantasy titles to be decided this weekend in many leagues, now is a good time to look ahead to the 2008 draft, and in particular which long-standing strategy may no longer be valid.

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The most common lament among owners this season has been the lack of production from the preceived top running backs. A handful of elite backs -- most notably LaDainian Tomlinson, Joseph Addai, Brian Westbrook and Willie Parker -- were worth high first-round picks. The rest of the coveted runners mostly failed to meet expectations and in some cases were of virtually no consequence.

Injuries forced out Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams and hampered Shaun Alexander and Brandon Jacobs. Poor teams and injury doomed Frank Gore, Larry Johnson, Rudi Johnson and Steven Jackson, who only recently has rounded into form. A pass-first offense severely limited Laurence Maroney's value.

Current must-starts Earnest Graham and Ryan Grant were most likely not rated on any draft list, and neither was Justin Fargas, who became a No. 1 fantasy back until his injury last week. Fred Taylor was rated well below Jaguars backup Maurice Jones-Drew. Surging Jamal Lewis was available well out of the first two rounds, though his value through 14 games is as a first-rounder.

This trend of backups producing major fantasy numbers may signal a fundamental shift in draft tactics -- that being the widely-held approach of acquiring running backs in the first round no longer applies.

Next season the top five fantasy backs figure to be Tomlinson, the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, Addai, Westbrook and Parker. Just behind that group probably are Jackson, Larry Johnson, Grant and Marshawn Lynch. But how many owners would be willing to gamble that Jackson, Johnson and Lynch won't get hurt again or that Grant isn't a one-season hit?

With backfield-by-committee en vogue, owners should think long about whether to risk a first-round pick on a running back. Maybe the most prudent draft plan is to select the best players available first, then fill out the rest of the roster in the middle and late rounds.


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