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Fantasy football: Not drafting high-end RB will leave you grumpy

"Grumpy Old Man," aka Dana Carvey, prefers the old days of fantasy football, when running backs ruled the early rounds. | NBC

One of my favorite “Saturday Night Live” characters of all time is “Grumpy Old Man,” played by Dana Carvey.

Look it up on YouTube, kids.

“When I was a boy, we didn’t have these video games,” Grumpy Old Man would say in his Grumpy Old Man voice. “We made up our own games like Chew the Bark Off the Tree. And there were no winners. Everybody was a loser. It rotted your teeth and left your intestines scarred and knotted. And that’s the way it was, and we liked it! We loved it!”

Imagine Grumpy Old Man reminiscing about fantasy football:

“In my day, we didn’t draft receivers in the first round,” he’d say. “We took running backs with every single pick, even into the second round. It was mindless and boring, and if you didn’t follow along, you’d be mocked and ostracized and your team would be lousy. And that’s the way it was, and we liked it! We loved it!”

He wouldn’t love this. Receivers are all the rage now, with perhaps three going off the board first in re-draft leagues. After a season marred by injuries and ineffectiveness, running backs have taken a hit. There’s a belief that if you can’t trust even the top runners, why risk an early pick on one? Why not employ the Zero-RB strategy, which calls for owners to focus on receivers first and unearth runners in the middle rounds?

Sure, it can work, but you’d better be active in trade talks and on the waiver wire because you’re going to have to make up for that deficiency at running back.

When I’m assembling a roster, I’m trying to beat my opponent at every position. If I’m punting on running backs, not only will I have lost that position, but I’ll have lost at the position with the most scarcity. Granted, quality running backs pop up from time to time because of injuries, but you’d better have the right waiver-claim spot or enough free-agent dollars to take him.

I tried Zero-RB in a basic mock draft, and the results were mixed. Wide receiver Julio Jones fell to me at No. 6 overall, and I took tight end Rob Gronkowski at No. 15 in Round 2 (snake format). I then took receivers Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

My first running back was Ryan Mathews in Round 6 at No. 55, followed by Frank Gore. Both are starters, but both have issues — a history of injury for the former and age and attrition for the latter.

This team could have the edge over many opponents at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end, but running back will come up short. Making up for that imbalance won’t be easy.

I’m not suggesting a return to the Running Back Epoch, but you can’t let too many runners go by early. Many fantasy analysts recommend waiting to draft a quarterback because there’s little difference among them after the elite. That’s true, but isn’t it the same story at wide receiver, the deepest position of all? Take a wideout early if you want, but you can afford to wait on another. That’s not the case at running back. You’re going to need one of those early.

That’s the way it is, and you’re going to like it.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffreyA22.

Email: jagrest@suntimes.com

DRAFT BOARDS

(Top 20 overall players in parentheses)

QUARTERBACKS

  1. Cam Newton, Panthers
  2. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
  3. Russell Wilson, Seahawks
  4. Andrew Luck, Colts
  5. Drew Brees, Saints
  6. Tom Brady, Patriots
  7. Carson Palmer, Cardinals
  8. Eli Manning, Giants
  9. Philip Rivers, Chargers
  10. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
  11. Tyrod Taylor, Bills
  12. Kirk Cousins, Redskins
  13. Derek Carr, Raiders
  14. Blake Bortles, Jaguars
  15. Matthew Stafford, Lions
  16. Andy Dalton, Bengals
  17. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers
  18. Marcus Mariota, Titans
  19. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
  20. Matt Ryan, Falcons

Stud – Rivers: A great value pick if you choose to wait on QBs.

Dud – Ryan: Has fallen from top 10 to top 20, even with Julio Jones.

Sleeper – Stafford: Change in coordinator last year sparked strong finish.

RUNNING BACKS

  1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (4)
  2. Todd Gurley, Rams (5)
  3. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers (7)
  4. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (8)
  5. David Johnson, Cardinals (9)
  6. Lamar Miller, Texans (10)
  7. Mark Ingram, Saints (12)
  8. Devonta Freeman, Falcons (15)
  9. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs (16)
  10. Doug Martin, Buccaneers
  11. Eddie Lacy, Packers
  12. LeSean McCoy, Bills
  13. C.J. Anderson, Broncos
  14. Carlos Hyde, 49ers
  15. Thomas Rawls, Seahawks
  16. Jeremy Hill, Bengals
  17. Latavius Murray, Raiders
  18. Matt Forte, Jets
  19. Ryan Mathews, Eagles
  20. Frank Gore, Colts

Stud – Miller: Will have a much greater workload than with Dolphins.

Dud – Matt Jones, Redskins (33): Opportunity is there, but he hasn’t shown he can take advantage.

Sleeper – Melvin Gordon, Chargers (22): Worked out with Adrian Peterson in offseason.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  1. Antonio Brown, Steelers (1)
  2. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants (2)
  3. Julio Jones, Falcons (3)
  4. DeAndre Hopkins, Texans (6)
  5. A.J. Green, Bengals (13)
  6. Allen Robinson, Jaguars (14)
  7. Jordy Nelson, Packers (17)
  8. Mike Evans, Buccaneers (18)
  9. Dez Bryant, Cowboys (19)
  10. Brandon Marshall, Jets (20)
  11. Keenan Allen, Chargers
  12. Brandin Cooks, Saints
  13. Alshon Jeffery, Bears
  14. Amari Cooper, Raiders
  15. Sammy Watkins, Bills
  16. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
  17. Randall Cobb, Packers
  18. Julian Edelman, Patriots
  19. T.Y. Hilton, Colts
  20. Eric Decker, Jets
  21. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
  22. Jarvis Landry, Dolphins
  23. Jeremy Maclin, Chiefs
  24. Golden Tate, Lions
  25. Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers
  26. Michael Floyd, Cardinals
  27. John Brown, Cardinals
  28. Donte Moncrief, Colts
  29. Marvin Jones, Lions
  30. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals

Stud – Allen: Was on pace for 134 catches for 1,450 yards and 8 TDs when he got hurt.

Dud – Baldwin: Very good receiver, but he won’t repeat his second-half pace.

Sleeper – Josh Gordon, Browns (35): Has WR1 potential after serving 4-game suspension.

TIGHT ENDS

  1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots (11)
  2. Greg Olsen, Panthers
  3. Jordan Reed, Redskins
  4. Delanie Walker, Titans
  5. Travis Kelce, Chiefs
  6. Coby Fleener, Saints
  7. Gary Barnidge, Browns
  8. Zach Ertz, Eagles
  9. Julius Thomas, Jaguars
  10. Antonio Gates, Chargers

Stud – Fleener: New member of top 10 should thrive away from timeshare with Colts.

Dud – Tyler Eifert, Bengals (12): Out until Week 4 at earliest; TD rate last year unsustainable.

Sleeper – Jared Cook, Packers (14): In best situation of his career with this offense.