Quarterback or running back: Which should you take first?

Aaron Rodgers, the top quarterback, outscored Ray Rice, the top running back, by 102 points last season. (AP Photos)

Greetings and welcome back to Fantasy Island. I haven't posted here in far too long, and that's a combination of too much work - this isn't my real job - and even more work. Therefore, I decided to take the fantasy baseball season off this year (just like the Phillies*), but I am back and ready for some football.

I'll have more details coming soon on exactly what you can expect from me this season in terms of posts, single-day fantasy games, chats and more.

Thanks again for reading, and I look forward to the season.

*Don't worry, I'll be here all week

Last season, when I was ranking the running backs, I noticed a trend that told me quarterback has taken over as the most valuable position in fantasy football.

Each of the last 10 years, the ratio of quarterbacks to running backs in the top 10 of total points scored (ESPN Standard Scoring) has increased. Here's a look at the numbers:

2002 7 3
2003* 7 2
2004 5 5
2005* 6 3
2006 6 4
2007* 2 7
2008 2 8
2009 2 8
2010 1 9
2011 2 8
*WR also in top 10

While another running back crept into the top ten in '11, the disparity at the top of the board was incredible.

In 2010, Arian Foster led all players in scoring with 313 points, but was also the only non-quarterback to crack the top 10. Last season, however, the top five players were all quarterbacks and the fifth-ranked QB (Matt Stafford - 333) was 50 points ahead of the top running back (Ray Rice - 283).

What does that mean for you? A few things:

1. Don't feel the need to draft a running back with your top pick. The scoring differential between the top quarterback (Aaron Rodgers - 385) and the No. 10 quarterback (Mark Sanchez - 227) was 158 points, while the difference at running back was just 113 points (Rice's 283 to Steven Jackson's 170). This would suggest that there is greater value at quarterback, especially at the top of the board. While most leagues require you to start two running backs, the points appear to be more evenly distributed at that position, leading to greater value lower in the draft.

2. Make sure you get a top-flight quarterback. If you see quarterbacks getting picked up quickly, don't decide to get that second running back and wait for a Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Flacco. Try to get one of the top five guys. Last year, there was a 60 point drop off from No. 5 (Stafford) to No. 6 (Eli Manning).

3. Don't undervalue running backs. Sure, everything I've written above seems to be doing exactly what this point is telling you not to do. But don't pick a quarterback just for the sake of picking one. If the right running back is on the board, go for it - even if you already have one on your roster. However, if your drafts are anything like mine over the last few years, your opponents will likley take all the top running backs early in the first round, leaving a few upper-echelon QB's there for the taking.

Despite this trend, ESPN still has just three quarterbacks projected for their top 10 in 2012. I have a feeling that there will be a few more than that when the season comes to a close.


I am currently in the process of ranking the top 20 players at each position, and will be bringing them to you over the next week or so. For now, here's a look at my 2011 running back rankings and how they compared to the actual totals for the season. I had a few hits, and more misses - but that is somewhat expected.

Because I like opening myself up to being ripped in the comments section - and because I believe in full disclosure - I will try to provide these for each of the positions I rank, no matter how bad the results make me look.

My Pick Ranking Actual*
Arian Foster (HOU) 1 Ray Rice - 283
Adrian Peterson (MIN) 2 LeSean McCoy - 270
Jamaal Charles (KC) 3 Maurice Jones-Drew - 249
Chris Johnson (TEN) 4 Arian Foster - 238
Ray Rice (BAL) 5 Michael Turner - 203
LeSean McCoy (PHI) 6 Marshawn Lynch - 203
Frank Gore (SF) 7 Adrian Peterson - 181
Michael Turner (ATL) 8 Darren Sproles - 176
Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC) 9 Ryan Mathews - 173
Rashard Mendenhall (PIT) 10 Steven Jackson - 170
Steven Jackson (STL) 11 Michael Bush - 170
Darren McFadden (OAK) 12 Reggie Bush - 165
Peyton Hillis (CLE) 13 Frank Gore - 162
Matt Forte (CHI) 14 Fred Jackson - 162
DeAngelo Williams (CAR) 15 Beanie Wells - 159
Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) 16 Chris Johnson - 157
Ryan Mathews (SD) 17 Matt Forte - 157
Jahvid Best (DET) 18 Rashard Mendenhall - 149
Jonathan Stewart (CAR) 19 Shonn Greene - 148
Knowshon Moreno (DEN) 20 Ahmad Bradshaw - 146
*2011 point total in ESPN Standard Scoring league

I had seven of the top 11 running backs in my top 11, but not in the right order (obviously). I also had Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles in my top 10, but their injuries caused them to fall off.

This year I am going for 20-for-20, but I'll settle for much less.

Matt Mullin is a sports producer at philly.com. You can reach him by e-mail at mmullin@philly.com. Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin