2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Running Back Tiers 4.0 and strategy

As a position group, running backs matter. They've always mattered. They're huge components of Fantasy in that they're highly productive thanks to their workloads, they're the best trade currency out there and there are enough good ones to go around.

That means Fantasy owners have plenty of strategies when it comes to drafting them, and your league's scoring system will play a huge role in what strategy you go with.

Once you know your lineup requirements and scoring system, you can answer these questions:

  • Are you willing to take risks?
  • Does running back injury history matter to you?
  • Do you believe in handcuffing non-elite running backs?
  • Do you enjoy being active on waivers?

The first two questions are meant to help you determine how deep the running back talent pool is for you. The more chances you're willing to take and the more injuries you're willing to overlook, the more running backs you'll happily put in your starting lineup.

The second two questions are designed to get an idea of how you should attack your running back depth. There are plenty of cases where getting the real-life backup to one of your ball carriers is wise. And if you're lazy about waivers, you might prefer to build serious running back depth on Draft Day.

Because of the depth at receiver and the lack of "safe" running backs once you're through Round 4, it's probably in your best interests to lean toward grabbing reception-heavy running backs early and often. That's a breeze in Round 1, especially if you're picking in the top-4. Round 2 doesn't offer quite as much, but there will be a run in Round 3. As you'll see, there are enough running backs to propel you through Round 3 unless you rule out some based on injury concern (Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman) or a lack of experience (Damien Williams, Josh Jacobs). The more running backs you refuse to draft, the more certain it is you'll force yourself to fill up on the position in Rounds 1 and 2.

Non-PPR Running Back Tiers

In non-PPR, expect most people to begin taking one running back and one wide receiver/tight end to kick off their teams. If running backs mean anything to you at all, taking three within the first five rounds -- and two in the first four -- should set you up nicely for a well-built roster:

  • Elite (Round 1): Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, James Conner
  • Near-Elite (Round 2): Nick Chubb, Le'Veon Bell, Joe Mixon, Leonard Fournette, Kerryon Johnson
  • High-risk, High-reward (Round 3): Dalvin Cook, Josh Jacobs, Marlon Mack, Todd Gurley, Chris Carson, Devonta Freeman
  • Very good (Round 4): Sony Michel, Mark Ingram, Aaron Jones, Damien Williams, David Montgomery, Derrick Henry
  • High upside No. 3 RBs (Round 5): Tevin Coleman, Phillip Lindsay, Melvin Gordon, Kenyan Drake
  • Less upside No. 3 RBs (Rounds 6-7): Tarik Cohen, Lamar Miller, James White, Austin Ekeler, Rashaad Penny, Latavius Murray, Miles Sanders
  • High-potential backups (Rounds 8-9): Darrell Henderson, Jordan Howard, Carlos Hyde, Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, Derrius Guice, Royce Freeman, Kalen Ballage, Justin Jackson, Damien Harris, Jaylen Samuels, Devin Singletary
  • Mid-potential backups (Round 10): LeSean McCoy, Alexander Mattison, Duke Johnson
  • Bench depth (Round 11+): Darwin Thompson, Justice Hill, Matt Breida, Alfred Morris, Dion Lewis, C.J. Anderson, Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Williams, Adrian Peterson, Ito Smith, Jerick McKinnon, Malcolm Brown, Mike Davis, Tony Pollard, Ryquell Armstead, Ty Montgomery

PPR Running Back Tiers

It's a different story in PPR, where wide receiver and tight end values rise with catches counting for something. Fantasy drafters will still chase running backs, but there's a little less pressure because there are enough of them who catch the ball and can accrue useful Fantasy points that way. I recommend going for three running backs through six rounds in PPR:

  • Elite (Round 1): Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, James Conner
  • Near-Elite (Round 2): Nick Chubb, Le'Veon Bell, Joe Mixon, Leonard Fournette, Kerryon Johnson
  • High-risk, High-reward (Round 3): Dalvin Cook, Josh Jacobs, Marlon Mack, Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman
  • Very good (Round 4): Chris Carson, David Montgomery, Mark Ingram, Aaron Jones, Damien Williams
  • High upside No. 3 RBs (Round 5): Sony Michel, Tevin Coleman, Phillip Lindsay, Melvin Gordon, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake
  • Less upside No. 3 RBs (Rounds 6-7): James White, Tarik Cohen, Lamar Miller, Austin Ekeler, Rashaad Penny
  • High-potential backups (Rounds 8-9): Latavius Murray, Miles Sanders, Darrell Henderson, Jordan Howard, Carlos Hyde, Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones, Royce Freeman, Derrius Guice, Kalen Ballage, Justin Jackson, Damien Harris
  • Mid-potential backups (Round 10): Duke Johnson, Jaylen Samuels, Devin Singletary, Alexander Mattison, LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson
  • Bench depth (Round 11+): Justice Hill, Dion Lewis, Matt Breida, Jerick McKinnon, Alfred Morris, C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Williams, Adrian Peterson, Kareem Hunt, Nyheim Hines, Ito Smith, Chris Thompson, Mike Davis, Jalen Richard, Malcolm Brown, Theo Riddick

Is Zero RB still a thing? It is, and it's not a bad way to go if you're picking late in Round 1/early in Round 2 in full PPR or are in a smaller league (10 or fewer teams). You could kick off a team with DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Kelce and Julian Edelman and still find Tier 3 running backs later on. This plan is a lot less appealing in non-PPR due to receptions becoming meaningless, and it's straight-up insanity to do it when there's an elite-tier running back staring you in the face, so rule it out if you have an early first-round pick. 

The other key is to select unpopular backs who will at least start the season in a prominent role (Lamar Miller, Jordan Howard, maybe Peyton Barber). You'll squeeze points out of them before replacing them for whatever hotness comes to you off waivers. You must be willing to be active in finding running backs on waivers in order to skip running backs early.

Because running backs are so vital to Fantasy Football success, I still recommend getting a lot of them. If you have six bench spots, aim for at least five. Seven or eight bench spots, aim for six. Remember, each running back you take represents potential, even the ones who begin the season as backups. Never draft a running back you're not excited about, and never draft a running back who you'd probably drop after one or two dud games to begin the year. My favorite backs to be patient with can be found in Tier 6. 

So what 2019 Fantasy football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which RB1 candidate can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get 2019 Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Matt Breida's huge season, and find out.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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