What The Game Of Risk Has Taught Me About First-Round Running Backs

Can Kamchatka really give us fantasy football insight?

You don’t go for Asia at the beginning of the game, man.

Personally, I like Africa. It’s not difficult to defend at all, and the benefit in getting three-army builds per turn makes it more advantageous - in my eyes - than trying to snag South America. I can understand the Australia appeal, though: it’s safe and dependable. Whoever gets Australia is going to compete. Bet on it.

But you don’t enter a game of Risk thinking, “Awesome, I drew Irkutsk and Kamchatka!” The only time you’d feel good about that is if you’re playing with a bunch of beginners.

Risk – a strategy game I’ve been playing since NHL ’94 was a thing - has taught me a lot about “go big or go home” strategies, something important to understand in fantasy football. No, I’m not thinking about a potential Brazil attack (remember, I like Africa) when I draft LeSean McCoy in the first round. I do, however, notice that LeSean McCoy represents some sort of risk vs. reward factor. And in some bizarre way, going after the Eagles running back in the first round brings me back to the colorful Risk board. It reminds me of the fundamental strategies I learned at a young age.

So when I’m up to pick in the first round of my draft, it’s as though I subconsciously ask myself, “Is this player akin to going after Africa at the beginning of a Risk game?” Some may not like Africa. Perhaps you’re a North America guy. If that’s your strategy, then who should be your first round draft selection? I’ve got the answers for you below.

Adrian Peterson: North America

Upside Comparable: LaDainian Tomlinson in 2003, 346 Fantasy Points

Downside Comparable: Warrick Dunn in 2005, 188 Fantasy Points

North America’s always there for the taking. While initial battles typically occur in Australia and South America, a smart move often is to just focus your attention on America’s land. The upside in getting five armies to build each turn is grossly underrated, but you do have to keep in mind that it’s not easy to simply take over a continent that’s nine territories big.

It’s not all that easy to get the consensus number one fantasy selection, either. You’ve got to be in the one spot if you want AP this year, and if you’re there, it should pay off. No first-round running back has a better comp than Peterson does. LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2003 season saw him rush for 1,645 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also caught 100 passes for an additional 725 yards and four scores that year. Peterson may not hit that reception total, but after a 2,000-yard rushing season, he certainly can top LT’s numbers on the ground.

And even if he doesn’t, you’re still looking at a 2005 Warrick Dunn-type season. It’s not a bad one, just like it’s not a huge deal if Venezuela decides to break your treaty and attack Central America. You can usually make up for it with your Alaskan backup plan.

Arian Foster: Australia

Upside Comparable: Curtis Martin in 2001, 250 Fantasy Points

Downside Comparable: Ryan Grant in 2009, 211 Fantasy Points

The classic strategy. Going for Australia at the beginning of a Risk game is the oldest trick in the book, but for good reason: It’s reliable.

Sure, many are going to point at Arian Foster’s usage last season and dub him a massive regression candidate, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Foster is still the guy in Houston, and judging by his comparables, he should be a safe option in fantasy this season.

If there’s one non-usage knock on Foster, it’s Ben Tate. The backup runner is in a contract year, and head coach Gary Kubiak has already been impressed with his offseason. We’ve seen second-string runners take starting jobs the following year due to impressive play, and Tate will surely try to do the same.

Still, if Tate steals a few looks from Foster, it won’t be anything significant. For you Risk lovers, think about this from a Siam attacking Indonesia perspective. Typically, Indonesia’s got a nice fortified border to defend itself nicely.

Foster should be fine in the first round, especially given his comparables.

Marshawn Lynch: Europe

Upside Comparable: Ray Rice in 2009, 252 Fantasy Points

Downside Comparable: Garrison Hearst in 2002, 182 Fantasy Points

Ugh. Europe. Though you’re going to see the same type of potential North America sees, the upside is diminished as you get attacked from every angle imaginable. I suppose that’s what Marshawn Lynch feels like with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael waiting for their turn.

Our numbers tell us that Beast Mode could do what Ray Rice did in 2009. That year, Rice totaled over 2,000 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns. But on the flip side, Lynch could be up for a Garrison Hearst-like campaign. In 2002, Hearst (who has to be related to Wayne Brady, right?) failed to reach 1,000 yards on the ground and scored nine times.

Just like the Ukraine, Marshawn’s prospects could be weaker than we hope for in 2013. He’s still a sound first round draft selection, but keep the potential danger in mind.

Trent Richardson: South America

Upside Comparable: Clinton Portis in 2007, 238 Fantasy Points

Downside Comparable: Chris Johnson in 2011, 171 Fantasy Points

Trusty ol’ South America. Though many go for Australia at the beginning of a Risk game, South America is almost just as good of a building block. You do have more areas to get attacked from, which is why Trent Richardson makes sense here as opposed to Arian Foster.

Richardson isn’t flashy; his 3.6 yards per carry average wasn’t anything to cheer about during his rookie year. But he got the job done, and that’s what we should expect again in 2013.

We’ve got Richardson projected to finish as the seventh-best fantasy running back this season, toting the rock for about 1,200 yards and six scores. He’ll make a name for himself through the air, too, catching around 50 passes.

From a comparables standpoint, T-Rich scores a lot like Clinton Portis did in 2007. That season, Portis eclipsed 1,650 all-purpose yards and scored 11 times: a solid upside choice for South America.

Barring injury, Richardson’s downside is a 2011 Chris Johnson. You may be thinking negatively about that, but Johnson wasn’t that bad statistically that year, rushing for over 1,000 yards and receiving 400 more. The Browns running back should be able to top that.

C.J. Spiller: Asia

Upside Comparable: LeSean McCoy in 2011, 282 Fantasy Points

Downside Comparable: Mike Bell in 2006, 132 Fantasy Points

Oh, boy. The mother of all the lands: Asia. If you go after Asia early, you better have a backup plan. Protecting 12 territories from enemy fronts is no easy task. Typically, if you’re going after Asia, you’re going all-in. That could be the case for C.J. Spiller in 2013.

Let’s first talk about his upside. Other than Adrian Peterson, you could argue that no other running back has more potential than Spiller this upcoming season. And if you’re in the “Adrian Peterson can’t get close to what he did last year” camp, you could even argue that Spiller has more.

Remember what LeSean McCoy did in 2011? Let me remind you: He scored 20 touchdowns. 20. Do you want 20 touchdowns from your fantasy running back? That’s what Spiller could do in terms of fantasy production this season.

But that comes with a risk, of course. Remember what Mike Bell did in 2006? I doubt it, so let me remind you. Bell rushed 157 for 677 yards and eight scores on the ground, and caught 20 passes for 158 receiving yards through the air. In total, the Broncos back compiled 132 fantasy points. That’s what you could be in for with the back from Buffalo this season.

That’s what you get from going Asia early, though.

Doug Martin: Africa

Upside Comparable: LaDainian Tomlinson in 2005, 323 Fantasy Points

Downside Comparable: Ryan Mathews in 2011, 191 Fantasy Points

Ah, yes. Africa - my go-to continent. Bordered by a typically-weak Southern Europe and a Middle East territory that has been destroyed from Asian war, the only real threat to Africa’s soil is across the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil. Money in the bank, my friends. Money in the bank.

The “go for Africa early” strategy reminds me of 2013’s Doug Martin. There’s little to evade (is there even a handcuff for the Bucs runner at this point?), and the plus in owning it (him) is crazy. Our comparables see Doug Martin’s 2013 potential as high as LT’s 2005 campaign. That season, the Chargers freak running back scampered for 1,462 yards on the ground and compiled a total of 20 scores.

Unlike Spiller, the Muscle Hamster’s floor isn’t all that bad. We may not like Ryan Mathews all that much as a fantasy community, but if we consider his 2011 season Martin’s worst-case scenario, I’d say things are looking up for Number 22 in Tampa Bay this year.

Like Martin, Africa has little risk with high potential. Although the continent sits in the middle of the map, you can’t help but notice how incredibly beneficial it is to own. Go for it this season.