Fantasy football: Wide receivers usurp running backs atop draft boards

Fantasy football is in for a changing of the guard this season.

For the first time in a long while — perhaps the first time ever — running backs are no longer the consensus top players on standard-scoring draft boards. Where fantasy owners once debated Adrian Peterson (RB, Vikings) and Jamaal Charles (RB, Chiefs) with the No. 1 pick, now they’re choosing between Antonio Brown (WR, Steelers) and Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, Giants).

The shift in dynamic has been driven by two major, related factors. The NFL has been a passing-oriented league for some time, which is no surprise to anyone paying attention. That led to the dawn of super receivers piling up monster yards.

In NFL history, players have compiled 1,500 or more receiving yards 41 times. Of those, 15 occurred during the past five seasons. Three of the top four yardage totals ever happened in that time — two were last season.

The leaguewide focus on aerial attacks has diminished the value of running backs. Elite RBs no longer average 300 rush attempts. In 2005, the top 10 leaders averaged 340 carries. That figure dipped to 312 in 2010 and plummeted to 259 a year ago. It wouldn’t be a shock if this becomes the first season since 1990 without a 300-attempt rusher.

That said, don’t skimp on RBs just yet. Once Brown, Beckham and Julio Jones (WR, Falcons) are off the board, the bulk of the next two rounds still should go heavy on rushers.

Running backs often are more consistent week-to-week than receivers, especially beyond the top-flight WRs. Unless their team falls behind early and abandons the run in the second half of games, most starting RBs still get 15-20 touches per outing. RBs such as Devonta Freeman (Falcons) and David Johnson (Cardinals) who frequently are part of the passing game have even more value.

WR remains a deeper position than RB as well, so make sure to grab a few reliable rushers before getting stuck with aging Frank Gore (RB, Colts) and Justin Forsett (RB, Ravens) as starters. Just make sure you aim for one of the behemoth pass catchers if drafting in the top five.