Running backs used to be the bedrock on which fantasy teams were built. The starter would get 20-25 touches per game, coaches would be extremely run-heavy at the goal-line and there were relatively few “specialists” at the position.
However, the NFL’s rule changes and the proliferation of passing-based attacks has changed everything. In 2010, just seven teams passed on at least 60 percent of their plays and seven running backs went over 300 carries. In 2015, 14 teams passed on at least 60 percent of their plays and only one running back (Adrian Peterson) reached 300 carries.
The result is a devaluation of the running back position, especially in full-PPR formats like DraftKings. That’s baked into the pricing — the highest-priced WR in Week 1 was $9,800 while the highest-priced RB was $7,800. Still, we should be aware that we don’t have to spend a huge part of our cap weekly at the running back position. Some things I look for when selecting my RBs:
1) Game-flow independent
The outcomes and flows of NFL games are extremely difficult to predict. Therefore, I want my running backs on the field whether their team is winning or losing, passing or running, in hurry-up or in base offense. In other words, I want them game-flow independent. Examples of running backs who aren’t game-flow independent include Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, Thomas Rawls, LeGarrette Blount, Isaiah Crowell, Chris Ivory, Melvin Gordon, and Doug Martin. There are certainly times when I’m willing to roster these guys, but they have to be in extremely favorable positions where they’re likely to score a touchdown and I’m very confident their team will be winning the game.
2) Playing at home
As mentioned in my Choosing a Quarterback article, I lean heavily toward using players at home in most situations. It’s no different at running back. Among RBs projected to score at least 5.0 DK points, those playing at home score an average of 2.5 more DK points than salary-based expectation while those playing on road score 1.6 more (via FantasyLabs). Simply put, teams and players generally perform better at home.
3) Handles red-zone work
NFL coaches typically use bigger backs at the goal-line. Those bigger backs are often two-down pounders like the LeGarrette Blounts and Doug Martins mentioned above. So there are precious few running backs who are both game-flow independent and their team’s goal line back – examples include LeSean McCoy, Le’Veon Bell, and David Johnson. We can create a larger RB pool for ourselves by looking beyond goal-line usage to red-zone usage. Players such as Danny Woodhead (out, ACL) and Chris Ivory aren’t featured backs but they do project for heavy red-zone usage.
4) A part of the passing game
This goes hand-in-hand with the game-flow independent section. But given the state of the NFL (as described in my intro) and the full-PPR format on DraftKings, it’s essential that my running backs are capable receivers. That skill can be priced in, but there are times it isn’t. Examples in Week 1 included Shane Vereen $3,800, Gio Bernard $4,800, Theo Riddick $4,000, Chris Thompson $4,000, Darren Sproles $4,200 and James White $3,600. These guys ended up with a very small number of carries, but had big ceilings relative to price thanks to their projected target count (Riddick totaled 27.8 FPTS with 5 receptions). It’s a place to find hidden value at the running back position.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.