Should running backs still go first?

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's one of the fundamentals of fantasy football, the Golden Rule. It's a concept as old as the game itself.

It's the foundation of Barack Obama's foreign policy. I'm sure a version of it is even carved in hieroglyphics on the tombs of the ancient Egyptians.

At the risk of making this sound any more like a Dos Equis commercial, I'll stop right there. The fact is, whether we like it or not, running backs are always drafted ahead of quarterbacks in fantasy football drafts.

That's just the way it's always been. And it looks like this year won't be any different. Houston running back Arian Foster appears to be the consensus No. 1 pick in mock drafts and the highest I've seen a quarterback get drafted is Aaron Rodgers at No. 5.

Over the years we've never questioned this practice, but isn't it getting a little outdated?

Arian Foster is one heck of a player. Without him last season, the Texans would have been as uninteresting as a Bill Belichick press conference and there's no way they would have made the playoffs.

As great as Foster is, you're crazy if you think he's better than Aaron Rodgers. Or Drew Brees. Or Tom Brady.

Yet in fantasy drafts, I'm seeing four and five players selected ahead of Rodgers, seven and eight before Brees and in some circles Brady isn't getting picked until the beginning of the second round.

What is this madness?

Last season Rodgers led the league with 385 fantasy points with Brees close behind at 380. Brady and Carolina's Cam Newton tied for third with 352 points a piece.

Where was Foster in all of this? He finished a distant 14th in last season's rankings, concluding the year with 238 fantasy points.

Even Baltimore's Ray Rice, last season's leading scorer among fantasy running backs, finished more than 100 points behind Rodgers.

In the league I played in last season, 18 of the top-30 point scorers were QBs with America's favorite backup quarterback Tim Tebow coming in at No. 30 (186 fantasy points). Only six tailbacks (Rice, LeSean McCoy, Maurice-Jones Drew, Foster, Michael Turner and Marshawn Lynch) finished among 2011's 30 most productive fantasy players.

Given that information, how can someone possibly justify picking McCoy (270 fantasy points, 2.8 average draft position according to Fantasy Football Calculator) or Ryan Mathews (173 points, 3.2 ADP) ahead of Brady (352, 6.7 ADP)? It just doesn't make sense.

I understand where our infatuation with running backs comes from. Halfbacks ruled the mid-2000s. Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson were scoring machines during their prime. Just take a look at some of the outrageous statlines these guys used to put up:

- Holmes, 2003: 1,420 rushing yards, 74 receptions, 690 receiving yards, 27 rushing TDs

- Alexander, 2005: 1,880 rushing yards, 28 total TDs (27 rushing, one receiving)

- Tomlinson, 2006: 1,815 rushing yards, 56 catches, 508 receiving yards, 33 total TDs (28 rushing, three receiving, two passing)

Four running backs, Alexander, Holmes (twice), Larry Johnson and Tomlinson reached 20 rushing touchdowns in a season between 2002-2006. That's a pretty incredible statistic.

But those days are over now. This is the Age of the Quarterback.

Before 2011, only four QBs had ever thrown for 40 touchdowns in a season: Brady, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino (he did it twice) and Kurt Warner. Three players (Brees, Rodgers and Matthew Stafford) were able to accomplish that feat last season and if Brady had chucked up one more TD pass, it would have been four.

If that's not enough to convince you that passing is more prevalent in the NFL than ever, then this will. Prior to 2011, only Marino and Brees had ever thrown for 5,000 yards in a season. Brady, Brees and Stafford all surpassed 5,000 yards last year with Eli Manning missing the mark by just 67 yards. Certainly Rodgers (4,643 yds) would have had a shot at five grand as well had he played in Week 17.

Meanwhile, running backs have struggled to return to the form that made them so unstoppable during the mid-2000s. Since 2006, no halfbacks have broken the 20- touchdown barrier and last season LaSean McCoy (17 TDs) was the only back to finish the year with more than 12 scores.

The lack of production is easy to explain. With quarterbacks reigning supreme, running backs are getting fewer reps than they used to. In 2011, only Jones- Drew (343) and Atlanta's Michael Turner (301) carried the ball more than 300 times. Back in 2003, 13 backs reached that total with Miami's Ricky Williams leading the way at 392 carries.

Part of the reason Foster, Rice and others continue to be drafted ahead of top quarterbacks is because stud running backs are hard to find in this passing- dominated day and age. If you wait until Round 10 or 11 to pick a quarterback you can still grab Josh Freeman and expect close to 200 points. If you wait that long to snatch up a running back, you'll be stuck with someone like LaGarrette Blount (108) or Toby Gerhart (84), and that's probably not going to end well for you.

The dropoff in production is much more pronounced for running backs than it is with quarterbacks. Freeman tallied 190 points as fantasy's 17th-ranked QB in 2011. The 17th-highest fantasy producer among running backs last season, Matt Forte, registered only 157 points. Plus, most leagues require you to fill two running back slots (teams can only carry one starting quarterback), making it all the more important to draft at least one solid ball-carrier.

Running backs who find the end zone consistently are scarce nowadays and I understand why fantasy owners are continuing to go the traditional route by drafting them before quarterbacks. But can you really afford to not pick Brees or Rodgers first after the record-breaking seasons they had a year ago?

I guess that's for you to decide. To each his own, right?

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.