Due to the nature of the position running backs are extremely injury-prone leading many to adopt a zero RB strategy, taking pass catchers with the first several rounds of drafts and stacking multiple running backs on the bench in the event of advantageous injuries. Over the past six seasons running backs drafted in the first 24 picks have played an average of 12 games per season. In comparison running backs drafted within picks, 25 and 48 played an average of 13 games per season.
Every season since 2013 at least one of the top-five running backs taken hasn’t played in more than six games the entire season. Last season Leveon Bell who was commonly taken either 1st or 2nd in most drafts held out the entire season and another consensus 1st/ 2nd overall pick David Johnson in the season opener of the 2017 season fractured his wrist requiring surgery missing the rest of the year. This season Ezekiel Elliot a consensus top-two pick going into drafts and Melvin Gordon a top 10 running back are both threatening to hold out into the season.
Last season several running backs who were taken toward the end of drafts finished in the top 15 in standard (.5 PPR) yahoo scoring settings. James Conner – PIT (6th), James White – NE (8th), Phillip Lindsay – DEN (12th) and Tarik Cohen – CHI (13th) provided great value at a lower draft cost. While several early-round picks Dalvin Cook (11 GP), Devonta Freeman (2 GP) and Leonard Fournette (8 GP) disappointed owners with injury-plagued seasons.
While hitting on a running back early can yield higher results with Todd Gurley (342.6), Saquon Barkley (340.3), Christian McCaffrey (332), Alvin Kamara (313.70) and Ezekiel Elliott (290.6) finished top 5 in overall scoring last season. Tyreek Hill (290.5), DeAndre Hopkins (276), Davante Adams (274.1), Antonio Brown (271.7) and Julio Jones (269.4) rounded out the rest of the top 10. Excluding tight ends 64 out of the top 110 overall players, last season were wide receivers.
Based on current avg adp a mixture of Saquan Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and Ezekial Elliott are projected to go in the first 4 picks with DeAndre Hopkins rounding out the top 5. While Elliott offers the safest floor he also holds risk with a possible contractual holdout looming. For those drafting outside of the top 4 picks starting your draft with either DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams or Julio Jones makes for a way to avoid injury risk at RB and still receive comparable production.
At pick 5 instead of selecting David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, James Conner or Nick Chubb there are several WRs that are arguably safer selections like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams or Julio Jones. Running backs also have a greater chance to develop as the season progresses as injuries occur, Nick Chubb and Damien Williams were league winners last season who went unowned for most of last season.
Mid-round running backs and late-round handcuffs to target:
Austin Ekeler – LAC (12) RB ADP – 29/ OVERALL 72
Gordon could possibly hold out for more than half the season and Ekeler stands to lead a 60/40 timeshare with Justin Jackson. A talented pass-catcher in a strong offense, Ekeler has added value in PPR leagues but could be a solid RB2/ FLEX for as long as Gordon is out.
Kenyan Drake – MIA (5) RB ADP 32/ OVERALL 77
After losing touches to Frank Gore in a confusingly managed Adam Gase offense last season, Drake is free of both with Gase now head coach of the Jets and Gore on the Bills. While a preseason injury and positive camp reports from Kalen Ballage have lowered his draft stock Drake remains the back to own with possible a three-down role. While the Dolphins offense is one of the worst in the league, Drake is a talented pass-catcher who should benefit from a negative game script and have added value in PPR leagues with a solid floor as a FLEX option with RB2 upside.
Derrius Guice – WAS (10) RB 34/ OVERALL 86
Coming off of an injury-plagued rookie season, behind a weak offensive line on a poor offense there are plenty of obstacles for Guice to overcome sharing the backfield with a 34-year-old Adrian Peterson and injury-prone Chris Thompson. The Redskins have a difficult early-season schedule but Guice is a talented runner who could eventually earn a three-down role.
RBs in timeshares with FLEX/ RB2 upside:
Miles Sanders – PHI (10) RB 31/ OVERALL 68
Possible pass-catching role in strong eagles offense, behind plodding Jordan Howard. Solid flex option that could develop into more as the season progresses and the talented rookie develops.
Latavius Murray – NO (9) RB 33/ OVERALL 82
Goal-line role on one of the best offenses in the league and a Kamara injury away from RB1 value. Should be a solid flex most weeks with a positive game script.
Matt Breida – SF (4) RB ADP 37/ OVERALL 98
Set for a timeshare with Tevin Coleman with Mckinnon on the IR, injury-prone but extremely talented on what could be an explosive offense.
Rashaad Penny – SEA (11) RB 38/ OVERALL 103
Behind starter Chris Carson who has a checkered injury history, Penny should still have a role in the passing game with the retirement of Doug Baldwin and injury to DK Metcalf.
Handcuffs with added PPR value:
Nyheim Hines – IND
Giovanni Bernard – CIN
Dare Ogunbowale – TB
Jaylen Samuels – PIT
Justice Hill – BAL
Jalen Richard – OAK
TJ Yeldon – BUF
Dion Lewis – TEN
Ty Montgomery – NYJ
Darwin Thompson – KC
Handcuffs to target towards the end of drafts:
Andrew Mattison – MIN
Ito Smith – ATL
Royce Freeman – DEN
Chase Edmonds – ARI
Mike Davis – CHI
Kalen Ballage – MIA
Damien Harris – NE