2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Running Back Tiers 6.0 and updated strategies

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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 bottleneck depth at receiver (limited among the elite tiers, plentiful once you get to Round 5) and the lack of "safe" running backs once you're through Round 4 or 5, You may opt to lean toward grabbing at least two reception-heavy running backs before you get to 60th overall. Expect a massive run on rushers in Round 2 and a trickle by the time you get into mid-Round 3.  

But where there isn't safety, there are interesting upside picks that are pushed along by holdout running backs and rookies in good situations. It starts in Round 6 with Austin Ekeler and Miles Sanders and pushes all the way until the late rounds with Devin Singletary, Justice Hill and Alexander Mattison. I implore you to review the running backs ranked between roughly 25th and 50th at the position and find some who you'd invest in as if they were stocks. Three of my favorites: 

Tony Pollard: So long as Ezekiel Elliott sits out, Pollard is assumed to be the Cowboys' back of choice. He's a good pass catcher with contact balance and burst. I like to think of him as this year's top James Conner candidate. You might want to target him if you draft Zeke.

Justin Jackson: Same as above, but in L.A. Jackson is best suited to score from short yardage and still pick up carries away from Austin Ekeler. His value shrivels when Melvin Gordon comes back, but until then he could be huge. If you draft Gordon, draft Jackson too.

Darwin Thompson: An Andy Reid running back to the core, Thompson is a speedy short scatback with surprising power. He's also a good pass blocker, which could earn him some playing time sooner than later. Draft him and be patient.

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 HopkinsTravis 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 (maybe 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. If you're lazy, Zero RB is not for you.  

What's the opposite of Zero RB?

I used to be all about drafting a ton of running backs, but not this year. Not with the thin crop of elite receivers and stud tight ends that will go between fourth and 24th overall. I'd rather attack those positions, though I'm not precluded from taking a running back in Round 1 or 2. I wouldn't take runners in Rounds 1 and 2 unless I found an incredible bargain (James Conner and David Johnson, or Alvin Kamara and Joe Mixon, for example). 

Magic number for running backs? 

I recommend drafting at least six running backs on a Fantasy roster: One or two starting-caliber guys, one or two potential starters, a couple of middle-risk, high-reward rushers who could become starters with a good start to the year and another late-round dart throw or handcuff. Five running backs could leave you too thin; eight or nine might cost you value at other positions. 

Tiers 6.0
Running Backs - PPR

In PPR, where wide receiver and tight end values rise with catches counting for something, you can afford to discount backs just a bit. 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:

Round 3
High-risk, high reward
Tiers 6.0
Running Back - Non-PPR

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:

Round 3
High-risk, high reward
Rounds 7-8
No. 3 RBs/Less Upside

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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