Draft Strategy

RB Strategy Guide

By Jared Smola 11:08am EDT 8/25/20


Remember when Zero-RB was all the rage? Pass on those volatile RBs early, instead opting for the “safety” at WR or even TE.

It peaked in 2016, when you were a fantasy outcast if you drafted a RB with 1 of your first few picks.

We’ve seen a massive shift in the 4 years since. Check out the numbers of RBs going in the first 4 rounds this year compared to 2016 (according to My Fantasy League ADP):

So don’t expect RB value to drop in your draft. How do we respond?

I’d love to sound like a rebel and tell you to go against the herd; to zig when they zag. But the truth is that your team will be much stronger if you follow suit and load up on RBs early.

It’s all about positional scarcity. Compared to WR, the pool of useable RBs will dry up much more quickly. That means you need to grab them when you can.

Check out this chart, showing our projected PPR points for the top 25 QBs, 50 RBs, 70 WRs and 25 TEs:

See how that green line starts above the yellow -- but then dips beneath it for good near the middle of the chart? That’s showing us that the RBs are projected to out-score the WRs early in fantasy drafts — but then WRs take the lead in the middle and late rounds.

So to maximize the projected fantasy points on your roster, you should be loading up on RBs early and pounding WRs later.

Here’s exactly how you should be attacking the RB position in fantasy drafts this year …


Hoard Top 15 RBs

Generally speaking, prioritize getting as many top 15 RBs as possible. That group starts with Christian McCaffrey and ends with James Conner — in both PPR and non-PPR.

Now, that doesn’t mean to go RB with your first 3 picks no matter what. WR Michael Thomas is a value if he sneaks to the end of Round 1. TEs Travis Kelce and George Kittle are strong picks anywhere in Round 2.

Check out the Perfect Draft article for your league size and type. And, as always, the MVP Board is your #1 tool.

But getting 2 or 3 of these top 15 backs is ideal. And it’s feasible from any draft spot.

Picking early in the 1st? Get your stud RB, then 1 or 2 of guys like Aaron Jones, Austin Ekeler and James Conner.

Picking in the middle of Round 1? You’re likely starting with Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry or Joe Mixon; there’s a good chance Kenyan Drake, Josh Jacobs or Nick Chubb makes it to you in the 2nd; and Conner might be there in the 3rd.

Near the 1st-/2nd-round turn, you’ll likely have your choice of some combination of Mixon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Miles Sanders, Kenyan Drake and Josh Jacobs. And if you’re really lucky, Conner will be sitting there for you late in Round 3.

Our honorable mention Comeback Pick is the key to this whole early-round RB strategy. Conner’s ADP has been on the rise in sharper drafts. But there’s a good chance that you can still land him in the 3rd. That means you can snatch up a couple of top 15 RBs and a stud WR or TE — or start with a trio of top 15 RBs.


The Other 3rd- and 4th-Round RBs

Getting Conner in the 3rd is sweet. But if you miss out on him, the other RBs you’ll be considering in the 3rd and 4th round are pretty scary. They all have the potential to return value. But they all have considerable warts.

Let’s break down the pros and cons of each:

Todd Gurley

Pros:

  • weak backfield competition
  • strong Falcons offense (TD upside)

Cons

* bum left knee


Melvin Gordon

Pros:

  • likely to at least handle the majority of passing-down and goal-line work
  • 27 years old
  • potentially ascending Broncos offense

Cons:

  • new OC and unproven QB in Denver
  • Phillip Lindsay a threat on early downs


Chris Carson

Pros:

  • 8th among RBs in PPR and non-PPR points through 14 healthy games last year
  • lead back in run-heavy Seahawks offense

Cons:

  • lengthy injury history, including a fractured hip that ended his 2019 campaign
  • mediocre target volume


Le’Veon Bell

Pros:

  • ranked 8th with 313 touches last year and should have volume on his side again
  • Jets offense might take a step forward with a healthy Sam Darnold
  • potentially improved offensive

Cons:

  • O-line might still be bad
  • Bell looked out of gas last year
  • Adam Gase


David Johnson

Pros:

  • should be clear lead back after Houston paid to acquire him
  • strong supporting cast
  • remained effective early last season before injuries

Cons:

  • was horrible after back and ankle injuries
  • Duke Johnson a threat if David stumbles out of the gate


Leonard Fournette

Pros:

  • ranked 7th among RBs in carries and 4th in targets last year
  • Jacksonville didn’t add any competition for carries

Cons:

  • Jags added Chris Thompson, who could steal a bunch of targets
  • Jags figure to be 1 of the worst teams in the NFL (negative game script)
  • Jags declined Fournette’s 5th-year option and reportedly tried to trade him during the NFL Draft


Jonathan Taylor

Pros:

  • elite rushing prospect
  • will be running behind a strong offensive line

Cons:

  • Marlon Mack might remain involved
  • questionable passing-game role


If you land 2 or 3 of those top 15 RBs, we’d recommend passing on this group in favor of WRs (or a TE) in the 3rd and 4th rounds. If you need to dabble in this group, though, Gurley and Gordon are our 2 favorites. Taylor is also intriguing when he makes it to Round 4.


Middle and Late-ish Round Targets

We’ve highlighted most of these guys in Undervalued Players and Sleepers, but here’s another quick rundown of our favorite RB targets in Rounds 5 through 12:

Ronald Jones

He’s had a solid camp, most notably earning a shoutout for his pass protection from HC Bruce Arians. Rookie RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, meanwhile, has struggled. So Jones looks set to open the season as the clear lead back in what should be a high-scoring Bucs offense.

Cam Akers

The rookie was our pick to open the season as Los Angeles’ lead back even before Darrell Henderson hurt his hamstring. Despite a shaky offensive line, the Rams ranked top 5 in rushing TDs last year for the 3rd straight season. This is fertile ground for RB production.

David Montgomery

It feels a little gross drafting him after an inefficient rookie season. But he’s locked into a big ball-carrying role, making him a safe bet for at least RB3 production. And if he gets more target volume and/or improves that efficiency in year 2, he’ll end up providing big value.

J.K. Dobbins

He might not be startable right away, like the guys above him on this list. But Dobbins looks like a perfect fit in Baltimore’s offense and could take over as the lead back if Mark Ingram stumbles at all. Dobbins has been drawing rave reviews for his training camp performance.

Tevin Coleman

The 49ers backfield figures to be a fluid situation. Raheem Mostert is the favorite to lead the team’s RBs in fantasy points — but Coleman is a better value at his 8th- or 9th-round price tag. He was a top 10 fantasy back from Week 5 to Week 12 last year.

Zack Moss

The rookie looks like a ready-made replacement for Frank Gore, who averaged 11.5 carries across his first 8 games alongside Devin Singletary last year. Gore also ranked 12th league-wide with 11 carries inside the 5-yard line. Moss has reportedly out-played Singletary in camp so far, too. Don’t be surprised if he turns this into a pure committee backfield.

Damien Harris

He’s been 1 of the biggest August risers in our rankings. Harris has impressed as both a runner and pass-catcher in camp so far. And with Sony Michel and Lamar Miller still on the PUP list, Harris is looking like the favorite to open the season as New England’s lead back.


You should have at least 4 RBs — and ideally 5 if your league has deep benches — by the time this group dries up.

Here are some fliers to consider for your RB5+ spots:

Boston Scott

Duke Johnson

Chase Edmonds

Tony Pollard

Joshua Kelley

Jerick McKinnon

DeAndre Washington

Rex Burkhead

Bryce Love


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