Merits of Drafting RBs Early in FF

Vincent Frank takes conventional wisdom that you should draft running backs early and often to task.

| 4 years ago

Merits of Drafting RBs Early in FF

It’s a common philosophy. Draft a running back in the first round and double down at that position in either the second or the third round. It’s also groupthink at its absolute best.

Why go against conventional wisdom? After all, fantasy football owners have had success doing this since the inception of the fake game. If you are selecting in the top of the first round, there is no real reason to avoid the likes of Adrian Peterson or Doug Martin. That being said, both options aren’t without risks.

Check out where some “top fantasy running backs” have gone in terms of ADP (average draft position) over the past few seasons. Draft positions don’t always mesh too well with production.

Year Player Team ADP Final RB Rank
2010 Chris Johnson Tennessee 1.01 5th
2010 Maurice Jones-Drew Jacksonville 1.04 12th
2010 Frank Gore San Francisco 1.06 19th
2011 Adrian Peterson Minnesota 1.01 7th
2011 Jamaal Charles Kansas City 1.05 N/A (Injured)
2011 Rashard Mendenhall Pittsburgh 1.09 19th
2012 LeSean McCoy Philadelphia 1.05 21st
2012 Darren McFadden Oakland 1.06 28th
2012 DeMarco Murray Dallas 1.12 27th

Interestingly enough, Chris Johnson finds himself on this list twice. The Tennessee Titans running back is being relied on more as a bottom-tier RB1 option in standard 12-team leagues. His preseason performance coupled with a revamped offensive line has led many to believe he’s prime for a top-five season among running backs.That is 10 RB1’s who have fizzled out to an extent over the past three seasons. Injuries and a lack of production have led to what has to be considered questions marks atop the running back position in recent seasons.

That’s where the running back “problem” gets fishy.

If you are able to pick Johnson up in the second round, why not go another position in the initial round and double down on a RB2 in the third or fourth? The value definitely seems to be there as it relates to what has to be considered a deep running back pool this year.

The idea of being able to get Calvin Johnson, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore in the first three rounds of a standard redraft league has to be appealing. It’s even more appealing with where current high-upside quarterbacks are slated to go as draft season really gets going. Add a Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson to the mix later, and you have a darn good start.

Outside of Peterson, there are question marks for each of the top running back options.

Will Doug Martin have one of those patented sophomore slump? Will Arian Foster be ready for Week 1? If so, can we expect regression after he has touched the ball so much over the past few seasons? What about Jamaal Charles’ injury concerns/history? Can C.J. Spiller shoulder the load when he has never rushed the ball more than 280 times in either college or the NFL? Is Bernard Pierce going to handcuff Ray Rice?

Yes, I did tell you there were a lot of questions among the top fantasy running backs in the league. In fact, something could be said for the mid-tier running backs to provide more consistency and be a surer bet. Frank Gore, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch, Stevan Ridley and Alfred Morris might all have questions, but they represent much better value a round later. This is only magnified if you are picking in the bottom half of the initial round.

Over the past three seasons, 40 percent of those running backs ranked in the top five in terms of ADP haven’t lived up to expectations. If you are banking your entire success this season on that, you will be sorely disappointed.

However, it’s a dilemma you are only forced to deal with outside of the initial couple picks for the first round. Peterson and Martin should be locks to go one/two.  It gets a bit more tricky from there on out.

Let’s say you are picking from the fifth spot in the first round. What team looks better to you (based on ADP)?

Option A

1. C.J. Spiller, Running Back, Buffalo Bills

2. Stevan Ridley, Running Back, New England Patriots

3. Roddy White, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons

4. Dwayne Bowe, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs

5. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots

Option B

1. Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions

2. Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans

3. Victor Cruz, Wide Receiver, New York Giants

4. Frank Gore, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers

5. Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots

While it could be left up to philosophy, I’d go with Option B nearly every single time. Even as someone who values running backs more than most, the idea here is to acquire better value at that position later in the draft while being able to pick up stud WR1 options. You can easily replace Cruz with someone like Vincent Jackson or Andre Johnson and still be able to outduel opponents at that position on a weekly basis.

In reality, how much better are your running backs in Option A than  in Option B? That’s the question you will have to answer when drawing an ultimate conclusion.

Again, this is just one strategy to utilize. I have a competing article set to come out on eDraft today that focuses on avoiding wide receivers early.

‘Tis the season to draft, huh?

Vincent is the head sports editor over at and a featured columnist over at Bleacher Report. He also co-hosts a radio show every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 PM ET. For media requests you can contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]

  • Jamie Ayers

    Great points. Thanks for the advice. I’d roll with option B.

  • EB

    I don’t think Frank Gore is going in round 4 though. You’re looking at a much worse option at that point

  • Richard

    I agree w/EB, although Gore may not be worth a 2nd or possibly 3rd round pick, he’s going there in almost every mock draft I’ve been participating in. Better bet would be McFadden, Sproles, or Murray being available in the 4th. Nice article, something to think about.

  • puntinginsidethe40

    what are jamal charles injury concerns/history? He has been remarkably healthy for a running back other than the fluke acl tear when he stepped on a first down marker…pay attention.

  • Andrew

    Unless this is a 10 team league, you’re crazy. Option A is better as well. Gore is going to slow down this year and they will use LaMichael more. WR’s in option A arent that much better than B. Not liking your example

  • M-

    For the sake of your comparison, can I ask why you chose different RB’s in Round 2 (Ridley vs. Johnson) and different WR’s in Round 3 (White vs. Cruz)? You should be comparing apples to apples rather than skewing the information to push your agenda.

    And like they all said: no chance Gore is there in the 4th.

    The comparison should be:

    Option A

    1. C.J. Spiller

    2. Chris Johnson

    3. Victor Cruz

    4. Dwayne Bowe

    5. Tom Brady

    Option B

    1. Calvin Johnson

    2. Chris Johnson

    3. Victor Cruz

    4. Lamar Miller

    5. Tom Brady

    So basically you’re asking people if they’d rather have Spiller/Bowe or Johnson/Miller. That’s a fair question, but I suspect most would pick the former.

  • Peter Smith

    I’m curious if its possible to research which top drafted players were most often on both playoff achieving teams, and championship winning teams, while also noting their ADP that year, as well as their final season ranking in fantasy points. This might shed some light onto what kinds of players give the most value in drafts when it comes to the end of the season. Like what percentage of teams won their league drafting Megatron in the first round?