One Running Back to Target in Each Round of Your Fantasy Football Draft
We've all been there in a fantasy football draft -- on the clock, timer is ticking down and you're not sure what to do.
I've been in that uncomfortable position a few times, and I usually panic. There's not a player in the current range I'm super keen on, but I have to make a pick nonetheless. (This is why auction drafts are the GOAT, but that's for another day.)
I start sweating, but here's what I try to think about in that moment -- I have done the work; take the player I want to take.
You've done the work, too, or you wouldn't be reading this.
Whether you're a degenerate looking to put the final touches on a summer of prep or someone cramming in the final minutes (good on you for having a life), we have tools that can help you win your league -- things like our all-encompassing, fully customizable draft kit, player news updates, a staff mock draft, player-specific pieces and bold predictions.
Hopefully this piece can be another spoke in the wheel.
This close to the start of the regular season, ADP data has pretty well sorted itself out. While every draft is its own entity, we can fairly accurately predict which players will be available at various points throughout the draft. That information is invaluable. It can keep you from reaching for a player when chances are he’ll be available on your next turn, and it can also help you stay grounded if your league's draft gets bonkers.
Using ADP from BestBall10s drafts from August 20th on, let’s look at a running back in each of the first 10 rounds who is worth targeting. Obviously, you won’t be drafting a running back with every pick, but it helps to know who is typically available in each round and which of them you should zero in on.
Round 1 -- Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
ADP: 1st overall
I'm gonna keep this simple -- if you have the chance to draft Christian McCaffrey, do it. To get that chance, you'll likely need either the first pick or some unpredictable league-mates picking at the top of your draft.
CMC is the clear No. 1 pick in my eyes, and he is coming off a 2019 campaign in which he scored more standard-league points than every player except for Lamar Jackson. In half-PPR, CMC totaled nearly 123 more points than any other running back. In full-PPR, the gap was 156.4 points.
I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.
In the interest of trying to give you something helpful, I'll tell you that Ezekiel Elliott is my RB2 this year. While Zeke is the RB3 in ADP -- behind Saquon Barkley -- I love the situation in Dallas as the Cowboys should have one of the league's best offenses in 2020. Barkley is an incredible talent, but I worry about the Giants' offense unless Daniel Jones makes a big jump.
Round 2 -- Kenyan Drake, Cardinals
ADP: 14th overall
The first round is running back-heavy this year with nine backs going in the first 12 picks. People want an elite running back, and they're willing to pay to get it.
To me, Kenyan Drake has a great chance to have an elite season, but he doesn't cost you a first-round pick. I am going to have a lot of season-long shares of Drake.
When our Brandon Gdula simulated this season 10,000 times, Drake was a top-six running back 31.4% of the time -- which checked in sixth-best at the position. He's going as the RB12.
It's easy to get behind Drake in this Arizona offense, one that operated at the fourth-fastest pace last season, per Football Outsiders. Drake showed his upside down the stretch in 2019, posting single-game half-PPR outputs of 39.1, 31.9 and 15.8 over the final three weeks. I would consider Drake late in the first, and I love him as a second-round pick.
Round 3 -- Todd Gurley, Falcons
ADP: 34th overall
Once we get to the third round, it's much easier to poke holes in everyone.
Leonard Fournette is on what may be the worst offense in the league. James Conner is coming off a lackluster, injury-plagued season. Jonathan Taylor may split carries for a chuck of the season. Volume might be a concern for Melvin Gordon, too. Chris Carson is coming off an injury and has missed time in camp.
While Todd Gurley is far from bulletproof, he's my favorite third-round runner.
Gurley left one fantasy-friendly offense for another, going from a Rams team that ranked third in pace last season to a Falcons squad that sat fifth. Atlanta ran the second-most plays last season, though they were the most pass-heavy team in the league. That's not a killer for Gurley, however, as he is a more-than-capable pass catcher.
Gurley might have been better than you remember last season -- it was definitely better than I remember -- as he was the half-PPR RB14. Devonta Freeman was the RB21 in this Atlanta offense last year. Gurley at the price of RB20 seems more than fair, and we have him as our half-PPR RB15.
Round 4 -- David Johnson, Texans
ADP: 43rd overall
The fourth round is where we get to the end of the backs who we can (somewhat) safely project to see good volume.
For me, this came down to David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell. I like both to rebound this year, but I side with Johnson between the two -- mostly due to having a lot more faith in Deshaun Watson than Sam Darnold. Our model agrees as we project Houston to have the eighth-best offense while we have Gang Green dead last.
Admittedly, Johnson looked kinda washed last year with the Cardinals, but he's in a situation with the Texans where he should get plenty of work in a good offense. Just a year ago, Carlos Hyde was given 245 carries in Houston. The year before that, Lamar Miller logged 210 carries in 14 games. Bill O'Brien has been willing to feed a top back.
And we know Johnson has pass-catching ability. Even though he'll share pass-game duties with Duke Johnson, it's not hard to envision a scenario in which one or both of Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks miss time, so the Johnsons could be on the field together, something Houston's running backs coach has talked about.
Maybe Johnson will look sluggish once more, but as long as he's serviceable, he should get volume and has a chance for a bounce-back campaign after a miserable 2019. We project him for 265 total touches -- 235 carries and 30 catches. That kind of volume attached to one of the game's best signal callers is pretty appealing at this point in the draft.
Round 5 -- Cam Akers, Rams
ADP: 52nd overall
With Gurley gone, the Rams have a gaping hole in their backfield, and they addressed it with their first pick in the 2020 draft by selecting Cam Akers 52nd overall.
Akers will have to compete with Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, which could limit him to flex status early on. But with Henderson missing time in camp -- though he's expected to be available for Week 1 -- and the team spending such precious draft capital on Akers, the rookie may have a leg up already. And the ceiling is clearly pretty darn nice in this offense.
A good prospect, Akers hauled in 30 passes in his final collegiate season, and his college dominator rating put him in the 89th percentile, according to PlayerProfiler.
Our JJ Zachariason did a study on breakout running backs and found four key takeaways -- breakout backs come from ambiguous backfields, can do work in the passing game, are all ages and are rarely handcuffs.
Akers checks all the boxes, and I love him at this cost.
Round 6 -- J.K. Dobbins, Ravens
ADP: 66th overall
They're very different assets. Jones has a decent floor but lacks upside. Dobbins has a scary floor but could offer a huge ceiling in the event of an injury to Mark Ingram.
Really, this comes down to your strategy and your team need. If you already have two or three backs you like, Dobbins is likely worth the risk since you can stomach the downside. If you don't like your current running back situation, you might lean toward the more certain (but still not all-that-locked-in) volume of Jones. But even then, maybe you'd prefer taking a big swing on the home-run option in Dobbins. Again, it's down to how you like to draft.
For me, I'll take Dobbins. Big seasons win fantasy titles, and while there's a very real scenario in which Dobbins plays second fiddle to Ingram all year, he also has a ceiling I can't imagine Jones getting to. And even if Dobbins sees 16 games of the 1B role, he could wind up having standalone value in the Ravens' superb rushing attack.
In reality, I like a few of the receivers in this range -- Will Fuller and Marquise Brown to name two -- and likely won't take either Dobbins or Jones. But if forced to pick one, I'll side with Dobbins.
Round 7 -- James White, Patriots
ADP: 77th overall
Similar to the last round, it's slim pickings here, and I will probably be looking at other positions over running back in Round 7. Of the backs going in the seventh, which is only James White or Marlon Mack, I prefer White, especially in PPR.
We'll touch more on this later -- spoiler alert -- but the Patriots' backfield is once again up in the air. Sony Michel has been hurt for much of camp, Damien Harris has been working with the first team, and Rex Burkhead is probably doing Rex Burkhead stuff. I have no idea how that's going to play out.
But I do feel like we can fairly confidently project White's role as the pass-game maven. We forecast him for 88 targets, 59 catches and 526 receiving yards to go along with 35 carries and 145 rushing yards. We project White to score 5.1 total tuddies. He's our half-PPR RB35 and RB30 in full-PPR.
Like I said, it's not like I'm crazy-into White. I just like him more than I like Mack. But White is a fine pick in this range in full- and half-PPR formats.
Round 8 -- Tarik Cohen, Bears
ADP: 87th overall
Earlier this week I was all set to write up Zack Moss for Round 8, and then David Montgomery got hurt. It sounds like Montgomery avoided a doomsday scenario and will be out for reportedly just two-to-four weeks. I'm still enticed by Moss, but there's no doubt that Tarik Cohen's value just got a slight shot in the arm.
Cohen isn't going to be an every-down back, but the Bears' running back depth chart is suuuuuuper thin with Montgomery on the shelf. It's Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce after Cohen. Chicago will likely bring in someone if Montgomery is going to miss Week 1. At the same time, they could expand Cohen's role a bit, and there was already plenty to like about Cohen as a PPR pick at this price before Montgomery went down.
Ages ago, back in 2018, the fantasy community was excited about Chicago's offense. That year Cohen finished as the PPR RB11. Last year wasn't pretty for basically the entire offense outside of Allen Robinson, but our model is expecting a Cohen bounce-back.
We project Cohen for 81 targets, 62 catches and 355 receiving yards. We also have him with 67 carries for 283 rushing yards and 4.91 total scores. He's our RB40 in half-PPR and RB32 in full-PPR.
Round 9 -- Tevin Coleman, 49ers
ADP: 97th overall
How will the 49ers' backfield shake out? I have no clue.
Our model projects Mostert and Coleman to be the main dudes, forecasting 175 and 137 carries, respectively, for the two of them. With Mostert going 59th overall, I'd much rather take the cheaper option and draft Coleman. We know San Fran is going to pound the rock, so Coleman is a worthwhile gamble.
Round 10 -- Damien Harris, Patriots
ADP: 128th overall
We're arrived at the Land of the Handcuffs (Latavius Murray, Chase Edmonds, Boston Scott, Alexander Mattison and Tony Pollard) as well as backs who look like they'll be on the short end of committees (Darrell Henderson, Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Matt Breida).
You're telling yourself a tale with any of these guys. They're being drafted where they are for a reason. Just know that handcuffing running backs you've taken earlier in the draft lowers the ceiling of your roster even though it helps you sleep well at night. So instead of devoting two roster slots to one position (like taking Drake and Edmonds to have Arizona's starting running back), draft a handcuff for a back who isn't already on your roster.
If your league has any keeper element to it where you can keep a late-round pick for cheap in 2021, Mattison, Murray and Edmonds are particularly valuable as the backs in front of them are free agents at the end of the season.
The guy I like most late in drafts is Damien Harris.
Yes, Sony Michel is back practicing, but Harris has been taking "almost all" of the first-team reps even with Michel back, per reports. Maybe New England is just easing the previously banged-up Michel back into action, and it's definitely worrisome that Harris did so little as a rookie. But Michel has been very meh since the Pats dropped a first-rounder on him, so it's not out of the realm of possibility Harris could pass him on the depth chart.
All the backs in the range are lottery tickets. Harris is no exception, but he could be a Week 1 starter. That's enough to interest me.