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Fantasy Preview: RBs & WRs
By on September 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm

For the many of you that have your 2011 Fantasy Football drafts in one of the next several nights, here’s a quick look at the running back and wide receiver positions.

Running Backs

The strategy with running backs has changed drastically in the last 5-10 years of fantasy football. The predominant strategy used to be to take an RB in each of the 1st two rounds and then possibly a 3rd back in round 4 or 5 because you couldn’t win in Fantasy without elite running backs. However, with the growing popularity of the 2-back system for many teams around the league, there are far more fantasy relevant backs and, at the same time, far fewer backs that are among the fantasy elite. Because of this, the difference between the RB you get in round 2 compared to the one you could get in round 4 is not as great in 2011 as it was in 2001. So what does all of this mean? It means that the best strategy this year is to take one of the elite running backs in the 1st round (Peterson, CJ, Rice, Foster, Charles, MJD, etc) and then not touch the position until the 4th or 5th round. I’d much rather go with a LeGarrette Blount or a Knowshon Moreno in round 5, than use a 2nd round pick on Frank Gore or Steven Jackson, a pair of runners that might have their best days behind them. Here are some running backs to keep your eye on in the middle rounds:

Jahvid Best – the Lions 2nd year tailback has tremendous upside in 2011. The Lions drafted Mikel Leshoure in the 2nd round of April’s draft to complement Best in the backfield. But after LeShoure sustained a season-ending injury, Best should be the focal point of the Detroit rushing attack. Best is a huge threat as receiver as well as a rusher, something that makes him even more valuable in PPR (point per reception) leagues. The Lions play 11 of their 16 games indoors, a fact that should help Best use his blazing speed. With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson leading a what should be a prolific passing game, Best won’t see too many 8-man fronts and should be able to top 1,000 yards rushing if he stays healthy. The health has always been a concern for Best, but like Darren McFadden last year, if he plays all 16 games this could be a terrific season for the young runner.

Tim Hightower – all reports indicate that Hightower has won the starting running back job with the Redskins thanks to an impressive preseason featuring 25 carries for 170 yards with two scores. The Redskins acquired Hightower from the Cardinals in July and the back could be primed for a breakout season in Mike Shanahan’s offensive system that has produced a multitude of 1,000 yard rushers over the years. Hightower also was an effective goal-line back with Arizona, rushing for 10 TDs in 2008 and 8 in ’09, so there’s no reason to worry that another back will vulture TDs from him.

Beanie Wells – coinciding with Hightower’s departure from Arizona, and a season-ending injury for rookie Ryan Williams, Wells has become the unquestioned #1 RB in Arizona. While the Cardinals did pick up Chester Taylor, this is still Beanie’s time to shine. Wells hasn’t been to kind to fantasy owners in the past, but in 2011 the Cardinals offense will have a greater threat of a passing game with Kevin Kolb and the schedule is the NFL’s easiest on paper including matchups with the lowly Browns and Bengals in the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 15 & 16).

Wide Receivers

With wide receivers in 2011, I would say the best strategy is to make sure you get one of the elite options early by taking one in the 2nd or 3rd round. I see 10 wide receivers who are clear cut #1 receivers for their team that are safe bets to get early and often on offenses that will be successful with the passing game. Those 10 are: Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Hakeem Nicks, Larry Fitzgerald, Miles Austin, Vincent Jackson, DeSean Jackson & Mike Wallace. I say you NEED one of those guys, and if you can get two of them, you’re in great shape. After that, I have a few receivers that you might want to target in round 4 or 5:

Brandon Marshall – Marshall will be undervalued nationally because he only scored 3 touchdowns in 2010. Most fantasy rankings have him ranked as a 4th or 5th round guy, but I believe he’ll produce like a Top 10 fantasy WR in 2011 thanks to the new Dolphins offense under Brian Daboll as well as an improved Chad Henne. Also, Marshall is fully healthy after missing most of the 2010 off-season; Marshall’s improved physical condition was evidenced by his dynamic 60 yard TD reception versus Tampa Bay.

Dez Bryant – this physically gifted receiver has all the talent in the world, and now has a healthy Tony Romo at quarterback. With Miles Austin on the opposite side and Jason Witten running down the middle of the field; it will be hard for opposing teams to double Dez. Dallas’ defense also appears to have some holes so the Cowboys could be in many shootouts this year, allowing Bryant to pile up nice some nice fantasy numbers.

Kenny Britt – Britt needs to avoid off-the-field trouble, and was fortunate to not be suspended for any games after several run-ins with law enforcement this off-season. Having said that, Britt is an immensely talented receiver who is clearly the #1 receiving option in Tennessee. I expect opposing defenses to load up against Chris Johnson, and allow opportunities for Matt Hassellbeck and Britt to connect. Britt had 9 TDs in 12 games last year, so expecting double digits touchdowns isn’t too farfetched for this playmaker.

In case you missed by look at quarterbacks, you can check out my analysis of the position here.

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The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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