When to Draft a Running Back in Your Fantasy League
Running backs in 2019 once again ruled the land of the skill position player. Of the 10 top-scoring non-QBs in half-PPR leagues, eight of them were taking the majority of their snaps in the backfield. After those first couple tiers of RBs, things begin to get a little trickier.
“Running back by committee” used to be a dirty word in the fantasy football world, but in 2020 it’s simply a fact of life. The goal isn’t to avoid the committee —that’s nearly impossible depending on how many running backs you have to start in a given league— it's to find the committee(s) with the biggest differentiation of volume between the two (or three) backs.
There are true workhorse backs in the NFL, but just like the black rhino and the orangutan, they are critically endangered.
Acquiring just one bellcow back is a feat within itself, having two on the same team is nearly impossible. We’ll need to scrape the murky bottom of the RBBC swamp to find the true volume kings to guide us to a fantasy championship.
This piece takes a look at how to approach the running back this season according to draft position, assuming a 12-team snake draft with both positional and overall ADP courtesy of the 4for4 Multi-Site ADP tool.
Note: Projected rankings and ADP are for half-PPR scoring.
Early-Round Pick RB Strategy
This is the easy one, and won’t require all that much analysis. If you’re in a basic half-PPR league (which will be the basis for this entire article), you have no excuse but to take one of Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, or Ezekiel Elliott. I understand being contrarian in most situations —trying to zig while the rest of the fantasy world zags can be a great way to create an antifragile team, especially in large-field tournaments— but ignoring these workloads would be a negative expected value decision in the long run.
McCaffrey is hands down the 1.01, in a tier all by his lonesome. Yes, the Panthers have just installed a new coaching staff, but considering they spent every single pick of the NFL Draft on the defensive side of the ball it would seem they have no problem with the offensive personnel (that is not hyperbole, they used 100% of their picks on defense).
Barkley and Elliott are interchangeable for me and I could hear arguments on both sides. With Elliott having to deal with Tony Pollard in his backfield, I’d give the nod to the New York Giant.
Outside of those three, the elite level of touch share takes a big hit. Alvin Kamara is next up in ADP but he may not be as valuable as his teammate Michael Thomas. If you find yourself in a toss-up between the two Saints, we have a great fantasy debate between Jennifer Eakins and Eric Moody right here.
We’re only on our second pick and the running back landscape has already changed like night from day. Most of the options in this range either have an injury history (Chris Carson , Leonard Fournette ), or are entering a new team (Melvin Gordon , Todd Gurley ). This was the spot earlier in the year that I was happily taking Miles Sanders (ADP: 2.09) and even took my time to spout my love for him coming into the 2020 season, but his ADP has been climbing into the early second, much too early for the 2.10/2.11/2.12 that we hold.
It is probably in our best interest to leave this turn with another running back before that well runs dry, but I would be cautious in loading up with a third one. By the time the draft comes back to us, we will have fallen another two or three tiers of wide receivers and we need someone to prop up that position for us. So, according to ADP, our best choice to come out of the 2/3 turn is Kenyan Drake (ADP: 2.11); coming off the board as the RB13 yet ranked as the RB7 in our rankings, he provides the best value.
Continue reading for mid- and late-round RB strategies, plus a list of several RB values and sleepers available after the 6th round.
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