Watch Now: Fantasy Football Breakouts: Running Back (1:45)

The basic philosophy of drafting running backs hasn't changed in years: get a lot of them. Running backs touch the ball more than pass catchers do, the best ones tend to score more Fantasy points than pass catchers do, they represent the best trade currency in Fantasy, they can become valuable assets in the blink of an eye when a teammate gets hurt, and in most leagues you must start two of them. They're also the most fragile, so getting as many as possible protects your ability to set a decent lineup in case of injuries. You don't want to leave your draft without at least five, though aggressive Fantasy managers will try to squeeze in as many as possible. 

The question is when to draft them. For that, there are four general routes a Fantasy manager can take. 

  • DRAFT THEM EARLY: The most productive running backs average around 20 touches per week, giving them the chance to deliver massive Fantasy points. They're always flying off the board first, and they're followed by running backs who figure to average around 15 touches per week. Assume that the running backs in the first four tiers will be gone by the end of Round 5. If you chase running backs early, you'll have at least three on your roster by then. This is the route to go if you love the depth at every other position this year.
  • DRAFT JUST ONE EARLY: This is an alternative to the above concept -- you basically pass on the position early on except for one pick on a Tier 1 stud. Get your guy, surround him with really good stat producers, then pick up as many high-upside running backs from Round 7 on. The lineup plan would then be to mix and match starting running backs until you get one you're comfortable starting weekly. 
  • DRAFT THEM LATE: This is when you pass on running backs early, land studs everywhere else first to carry your team, then pick up a bunch of ball carriers who may have a limited role to begin the year but could blossom into studs. It's risky because you're passing on the thinnest position in Fantasy, but it absolutely pays off when you unearth a good starter. Ask yourself in Round 6 and beyond if the player you're looking at can get 15 touches per game most weeks. If you think he can, you should draft him. If you think he can't, wait a round to draft him. Also target pass-catching running backs in PPR leagues and goal-line bulls in non-PPR leagues.
  • DRAFT THEM THROUGHOUT: This is a casual, balanced approach where you're mindful of the importance of running backs in Fantasy but not exclusively committed one way or the other to drafting them. You'll take one by the end of Round 2, two by the end of Round 4, three by the end of Round 6 and five or six by the end of Round 11. 

So which one is the best one for this year? Truthfully, it comes down to how badly you want elite players at other positions and whether or not you're comfortable with running backs beyond Tier 4. Draft position will play a role -- you're less likely to draft two running backs with your first two choices if you're slotted seventh overall or later. You might opt to draft them throughout if you're picking late in Round 1. But if you're picking early in Round 1, either going after running backs with your first two or three early picks or taking just one stud early are the ways to go. 

Keep in mind that we're getting a nice influx of rookie running backs in 2020, but most of them will begin the year splitting reps and won't see a ton of carries right away. Over the past three years, 23 running backs were drafted within the first three rounds. Of the 23, seven were glued to the bench by the time late August came around and were clearly back-of-the-roster Fantasy picks. Of the remaining 16, 13 had at least 100 PPR Fantasy points and eight had over 160 Fantasy points on the season. It shouldn't hurt if you draft youth over experience at running back. 

PPR

NON-PPR

TIER 1

TIER 1

ELITE

ELITE

ROUND 1

ROUND 1

Christian McCaffrey

Christian McCaffrey

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott

Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley

Alvin Kamara

Alvin Kamara

Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook

Miles Sanders

Derrick Henry


Miles Sanders


Nick Chubb

TIER 2

TIER 2

NEAR-ELITE

NEAR-ELITE

ROUND 2

ROUND 2

Joe Mixon

Joe Mixon

Kenyan Drake

Kenyan Drake

Austin Ekeler

Austin Ekeler

Derrick Henry

Josh Jacobs

Nick Chubb

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Clyde Edwards-Helaire


TIER 3

TIER 3

HIGH-RISK HIGH-REWARD

HIGH-RISK HIGH-REWARD

ROUND 3

ROUND 3

Aaron Jones

Chris Carson

Chris Carson

Melvin Gordon

Josh Jacobs

Aaron Jones

Melvin Gordon

James Conner

Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley

TIER 4

TIER 4

VERY GOOD

VERY GOOD

ROUNDS 4, 5

ROUNDS 4, 5

James Conner

Mark Ingram

Le'Veon Bell

Le'Veon Bell

David Johnson

D'Andre Swift

D'Andre Swift

Cam Akers

Cam Akers

David Johnson

Leonard Fournette

Jonathan Taylor

TIER 5

TIER 5

NO. 3 RBs/HIGH UPSIDE

NO. 3 RBs/HIGH UPSIDE

ROUND 6

ROUND 6

Mark Ingram

Leonard Fournette

Jonathan Taylor

David Montgomery

David Montgomery

Raheem Mostert

Devin Singletary

Ke'Shawn Vaughn

Raheem Mostert


TIER 6

TIER 6

NO. 3 RBs/LESS UPSIDE

NO. 3 RBs/LESS UPSIDE

ROUNDS 7, 8

ROUND 7

Ke'Shawn Vaughn

Devin Singletary

Kareem Hunt

Matt Breida

Zack Moss

Jordan Howard

James White

Zack Moss

Matt Breida

Ronald Jones

J.K. Dobbins


Ronald Jones


Tarik Cohen


Jordan Howard


TIER 7

TIER 7

HIGH-END BACKUPS

HIGH-END BACKUPS

ROUNDS 9, 10

ROUNDS 8, 9

Marlon Mack

Kareem Hunt

Derrius Guice

J.K. Dobbins

Sony Michel

Marlon Mack

Alexander Mattison

Derrius Guice

Darrell Henderson

Sony Michel

Damien Williams

Phillip Lindsay

Phillip Lindsay

Alexander Mattison

Antonio Gibson

Darrell Henderson

Kerryon Johnson

Damien Williams

Nyheim Hines

Kerryon Johnson

TIER 8

TIER 8

SOLID BACKUPS

SOLID BACKUPS

ROUND 11

ROUNDS 10, 11

Tony Pollard

Tony Pollard

Chase Edmonds

Chase Edmonds

Tevin Coleman

Tevin Coleman

A.J. Dillon

Latavius Murray

Latavius Murray

A.J. Dillon


Tarik Cohen


James White

TIER 9

TIER 9

BENCH DEPTH

BENCH DEPTH

ROUND 12+

ROUND 12+

Ryquell Armstead

Antonio Gibson

Boston Scott

Darrynton Evans

Duke Johnson

Boston Scott

Darrynton Evans

Ryquell Armstead

Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson

Anthony McFarland

Nyheim Hines

Joshua Kelley

Duke Johnson

Damien Harris

Anthony McFarland

DeeJay Dallas

Joshua Kelley

Carlos Hyde

Carlos Hyde

Malcolm Brown

DeeJay Dallas


Damien Harris


Malcolm Brown


Jamaal Williams


Adrian Peterson

So what Fantasy football sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which WR1 candidate can you wait on until late? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that was all over Derrick Henry's huge season, and find out.