There comes a point in every Fantasy football draft where you'll look at the running backs left on the board and realize you're not cool with starting any of them. Determining where that point depends on how risk-averse you are and what the scoring is in your particular league, but it's vital to building a winning roster.
You don't have to worry about any of these things through the first three tiers at running back. Nearly every player among the 18 listed is considered reliable, though you might take issue with a rookie like Clyde Edwards-Helaire or an injury risk like James Conner being among them. That's OK, just scan them and know before your draft how many of those 18 you'd be OK starting.
Then do the same with the fourth and fifth Tiers. Not feeling as many guys, right? The fewer of those running backs you like, the more running backs from the first three tiers you'll lean toward drafting.
The remaining tiers are a mixture of guys whose names you'll recognize along with "lottery ticket" players who COULD become special if they land regular playing time. There's rarely a shortage of those running backs, just a shortage of patience from Fantasy managers who don't want to roster a guy who doesn't play every snap. You may find some backs you won't mind being patient with. Prioritize them along with the runners you'd be OK starting if you had to,
For years, I've been called "a running back guy." Is that a bad thing? Of course not, silly! Why not load up on the position that scores more Fantasy points than pass catchers, or is the most valuable trade commodity, or is the most prone to injuries? Why not build up a roster with guys who could go from zeroes to heroes thanks to an injury or a benching? And don't you usually have to start at least two running backs in your league?
Put it on my tombstone:
RUNNING BACK GUY
So, for me, the question isn't whether or not to collect running backs on Draft Day, it's HOW to do it.
I'd normally suggest going over the running back tiers (or any set of rankings you like) to get an idea of just how many running backs in the talent pool you'd trust in your lineup, but the reality is that most Fantasy drafters are going to aggressively take rushers this year because of the depth at wide receiver, quarterback and even tight end. Literally every round of 12-team-or-fewer leagues can you find someone at those positions you'd at least tolerate having on your team.
You can't quite say the same about running backs, especially once you get to Round 6 or 7 and you're staring at part-time players who might have low ceilings. So if you DON'T load up early, have some antacid nearby because you're not gonna feel so good taking running backs you'd need to start later than that. That's my preferred strategy this year.
My least preferred strategy is waiting to take a running back until that Round 6 or 7 range. That's called Zero RB, you know, and I feel like it'll mean zero Fantasy points from your running backs if you go that route in 2020. There are just too many unpredictable backfield splits with solid players. Maybe you could make the case for waiting at running back and beginning the year with a duo like Jordan Howard and Marlon Mack, but it's not ideal when the rest of your league is taking better running backs early and not missing out much on other positions.
So allow me to pitch you on a modified version of that. I like to call it Solo RB. Instead of ignoring running backs through your first five or six picks, you take just one. One guy to be the crown jewel of your backfield while you farm others during the draft and season via mid- to late-round picks and waiver-wire adds. In the case of Solo RB, the lone weak spot in your lineup is the second running back you start each week.
A year for insurance
Let's take this moment to talk about COVID-19 and the impact it figures to have on running backs. You should already know that running backs tend to get injured at a higher rate than their skill-position counterparts. Now we're throwing in the threat of testing positive for COVID-19, which is something that can happen to anyone in football, or in life.
If you draft a running back who ends up missing time because of COVID-19, you'd love to have his backup ready to go. Not all backups are created equally -- do you really think Reggie Bonnafon can replicate Christian McCaffrey's stats? -- but the real-life backups who can produce close to what the starters in front of them can are worth taking. This year especially, it's wise to have the guy behind the guy on your bench.
Skip the rookies?
There were no offseason programs or minicamps, training camps are sure to have limited practices, and there are no preseason games. It sure puts all rookies in a tight spot.
The good news for running backs is that the things they'll be asked to do figure to be things they've done for years -- namely follow their blockers and run. That should come naturally, especially after adapting to the speed of the NFL game. It's stuff like pass protection, learning routes and developing chemistry with the quarterback figures to limit the playing time of most rookies right away. Those who proved their efficiency in college on passing downs won't have a learning curve as steep. Sadly, the only ones we can confidently say that about are Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D'Andre Swift, Cam Akers and Antonio Gibson.
If you prefer your running backs with track records, then it's fine to bypass the rookie class. But there's loads of potential with several who could do what Miles Sanders and Devin Singletary did last year and break out in the second half of the season. Again, your own patience should be a factor.
The bottom line
- As usual, running back is the thinnest position on Draft Day.
- As usual, running backs are still the hottest Fantasy commodity.
- Expect the majority of Fantasy drafters to take running backs early to shore up the position.
- Drafting insurance policies is more recommended than ever thanks to COVID-19.
- It's recommended everyone should end their drafts with at least 40% of their roster being running backs.