Once upon a time, there was the Marshall (Faulk) Plan. Today, the L.T. Strategy would be a more appropriate name. Whatever you call it, the philosophy is the same: You can never go wrong drafting running backs with your first two picks.

Well, that's not entirely true. If you ignored my advice and took Kevan Barlow in Round 2 last year, you went wrong. And if you insist on taking Chris Brown too early this year, you'll be making a similar mistake.

But the general rule holds: Using the first two rounds to stock up on top-tier backs is the most foolproof method of building a winning fantasy team. The reasons are as simple as they are undeniable.

Top-notch running backs are in short supply, and the gulf between the elites and the second tier is as wide as J Lo's backside. Wider still is the value differential between the second and third tiers. On the other hand, the gap between the best quarterbacks and rest of the field is not nearly as significant, and even less so for the wide receiver category.

What's more, because the supply of top running backs is typically depleted by the end of Round 2, you're stuck if you didn't draft properly in the early rounds. Excellent quarterbacks and receivers will be plentiful in Rounds 3-5 and beyond. The opportunity cost of passing over an elite runner for a quarterback or receiver, therefore, is substantial, and difficult to overcome. Despite getting a top player at the position, you may be playing catch-up for the rest of the season, and that's no fun at all. Just ask a 49er fan.

Let's take a closer look at the handful of truly elite running backs — the rushers that are as reliable as they are explosive. This year, just seven backs fall in this category (listed below). It is imperative that you secure one of them with your first pick, if possible. They will be the foundation of your team, keeping you in every game throughout the season.

Elite backs, in order of value:

1. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers
2. Priest Holmes, Chiefs
3. Shawn Alexander, Seahawks
4. Edgerrin James, Colts
5. Deuce McAllister, Saints
6. Jamal Lewis, Ravens
7. Corey Dillon, Patriots

Following this initial group of sure-fire stars is a wave of second-tier RBs that are nearly as vital to your success. These are the backs that have the potential, though not the same probability, of notching outstanding fantasy statistics.

Some — such as Willis McGahee, Kevin Jones and Julius Jones — showed enough promise in their first year as starters to warrant high consideration. And at least one will likely join the elites this year.

Also in the second tier are some oldies but goodies, such as Ahman Green, Tiki Barber and Clinton Portis. They've been among the elite in recent years, but question marks surrounding their age, durability and/or offenses make them something of a gamble.

Second-tier backs, in order of value:

8. Ahman Green, Packers