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Fantasy Football Best Ball Leagues Draft Primer: Running Back (2023)

Fantasy Football Best Ball Leagues Draft Primer: Running Back (2023)

The easiest way to kick off any positional primer is to take a look back at what happened the year before. What worked, what didn’t work – but most importantly, addressing the “WHY” behind the successes and failures.

That’s how I’ll start the breakdown of the running backs and every other position for early fantasy football drafters as we look ahead to the 2023 best ball season. Because with best ball, it’s never too early to start drafting.

And for more RB analysis, check out my article titled: Running Back Season Recap & Advice for 2023 (Fantasy Football).

2023 Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice

2023 NFL Best Ball Running Back Primer

Running Back Advance Rates

We can leverage advanced and alive rates from Underdog’s Best Ball Mania III tournament to get a better understanding of which running backs (Weeks 1-14) helped teams advance at the highest rate into the playoffs (Weeks 15-17). Using advanced/alive rates is helpful because it’s already factoring in the draft day cost of the player compared to their raw points scored.

The highest RB alive rates came from Saquon Barkley (23%, ADP RB9), Cam Akers (22%, RB19), Jerick McKinnon (22%, RB61), Tyler Allgeier (18%, RB48), Rhamondre Stevenson (17%, RB32), Tony Pollard (16%, RB26), Devin Singletary (16%, RB35), Derrick Henry (12%, RB4), Miles Sanders (12%, RB28), Austin Ekeler (11%, RB3), James Conner (11%, RB15), David Montgomery (11%, RB20), AJ Dillon (11%, RB22), Josh Jacobs (11%, RB24), James Cook (11%, RB37), Kenneth Walker (11%, RB38), Jamaal Williams (11%, RB52) and Raheem Mostert (11%, RB55).

Among the top-7 running backs in alive rate, zero were drafted inside the top-8 running backs. Thirteen of the top 18 running backs with the highest alive rates were drafted at RB20 and beyond (outside the top 60 overall picks, which is typically out of or at the tail-end of the dreaded RB dead zone).

You’ll also notice the timing variance of the RBs’ production. The slow starters – Akers, McKinnon, Pollard, Conner, Dillon and Walker – still ended up being useful with strong finishes. Just another reason to fade early-season opportunities in favor of late-season production when the weeks and points become that much more critical.

One of the other major takeaways is that many of the RBs that hit played in an ambiguous backfield. That aligns with my research before the start of the 2022 season titled, “How to Identify Sleeper & Late-Round Running Backs to Target (2022 Fantasy Football).” You’ll also notice that the other major hitters were running backs that boasted pass-catching chops.

When compared to their WR counterparts, running backs also slightly fell flat. Especially at the top. Among the top-5 combined alive rates for RBs and WRs, WRs owned four of the five highest. Among the top 23 hit rates, ten were running backs. Only four RBs finished inside the top 12 highest alive rates.

When analyzing points per game versus alive rates – six of the top-ten scorers in points per game finished with top-ten alive rates. Six of the ten (and eight of the top 12) finished inside the top 10 in total points scored. The ADPs of these running backs were extremely front-loaded. Of the top-nine scoring RBs, six owned ADPs inside the top-10, with the others ranging from RB14-RB26.

Ergo, the top dogs at running back still tend to be drafted very early on (inside the top 10), and there’s credence to taking a stud early to lock in the production. Then you punt the position – the “hero” RB approach – with WR now at the forefront. And it’s not until your roster has been adequately filled with WRs, QBs, and/or an elite tight end that you dip your toes back into the RB pool. The goal should be to end drafts with five-to-six running backs, with most formats only requiring two starting RB slots. That’s why I like the hero RB approach so much. You’ve got one spot dialed in, and the other spot can be filled by the rotating carousel of remaining RBs on your roster.

For some additional context, I also looked back at the win rate percentages from the FFPC best ball drafts in 2021. Like the Underdog Drafts, four of the top-five advance rates belonged to WRs. Although it was more even in the top 12 overall, with six of each position being represented. But WR dominated yet again within the top 23, with a total of 16 WRs being part of that group.

Among the top 14 per ADP, just four RBs finished with win rates inside the top 10. It’s definitely an argument favoring at least one running back somewhere near the top because their ADP/win rates are slightly higher/less volatile than that of WRs. Among the top 24 per ADP, just two WRs finished with win rates inside the top 10. Three inside the top 20.

I’ve laid out my current best-ball RB rankings/tiers so you can better recognize the groups of players you should be targeting for the highest ROI based on their ADPs.

2023 NFL Draft Guide: Prospect Rankings & Player Profiles

Andrew Erickson’s Best Ball Running Back Rankings & Tiers

2023 Fantasy Football Rankings powered by FantasyProsECR (TM) – Expert Consensus Rankings


Tier 1

There’s a reason why the first running back tier is stockpiled with 12 guys. There’s a plethora of established rushers and younger up-and-comers that I could easily see finishing either No. 1 overall or inside the top three/five. As I’ve already noted, hitting on just one of these particular RBs at the end of the first or start of the second round could pay major dividends.

The guy I am easily most confident about returning on a high investment is the uber-consistent Nick Chubb. After all, he just put together the quietest 1,525 rushing-yard seasons in recent memory. The Browns running back averaged 5 yards per carry (again) and posted a career-high 13 touchdowns. He finished the year as the RB6 overall, but the majority of his fantasy production came before Deshaun Watson returned to the lineup. During Weeks 1-12, Chubb was the RB4 overall and in points per game. From Weeks 13-17 with Watson at quarterback, he was the RB23 overall and RB33 in points per game. These poor splits likely won’t carry over into 2023 based on Watson likely boosting the offense’s overall efficiency making Chubb a near-bust-proof draft pick based on his track record of consistency. Chubb also has a chance to capture a larger role as a receiver, with Kareem Hunt likely gone in free agency. In Week 18, Chubb played a season-high 75% snap share, ran a route on 71% of dropbacks, and caught five-of-six targets for 45 yards.

Tier 2

Tier 2 is where I am much less bullish at running back. Again, these guys all have appeal in their ways and have paths to success. But whether it be due to age, declining production, or offensive environment question marks, I am not trying to pay up for any of these guys with glaring issues, hence their descent into Tier 2. I will be focusing more on WRs when these guys are drafted. However, I’d recommend being open to drafting one or two if their ADP falls dramatically. Because the market is “out” on players like Miles Sanders and Josh Jacobs ultimately made them players you needed to have in best ball to advance.

Tier 3

Tier 3 is the breakout tier, with a few aging veterans looking to rebound sprinkled in. After getting at least one stud RB up to this point, this is the next group of running backs that I want to target in the later rounds. This range has traditionally been profitable when it comes to finding breakout RBs, evidenced by the alive rates of the RB20-RB36 tier previously mentioned.

My favorite target here is Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier. He enjoyed an extremely successful rookie season, finishing the year as PFF’s No.1-graded rookie running back (86.7) ahead of stars like Kenneth Walker and Breece Hall. That accomplishment puts Allgeier into an elite company with RBs such as Jonathan Taylor, Josh Jacobs, Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara and Rhamondre Stevenson – all who were top-eight fantasy RBs in their second seasons after taking home the crown as PFF’s highest-graded rookie RB in their first years. Allgeier’s strong finish was the driving force behind his final standing – sixth among all RBs in rushing EPA – as the team unleashed him from Week 13 onward. He was the RB11 in half-point scoring points per game, averaging 17.8 carries and 96 rushing yards per game. Allgeier out-touched 32-year-old Cordarrelle Patterson 95 to 57 over the last 5 games. Entering Year 2, Allgeier should be the favorite to lead the Falcons’ backfield, with Patterson (still under contract) serving as a firewall to ensure Atlanta doesn’t invest in a future replacement for the 2022 5th-rounder.

Tier 4

You’ll find the incoming rookie RB class (not-named Bijan Robinson) in Tier 4, along with more ambiguous backfield RBs and some pass-catching running backs that can provide spike weeks – perfect in the best ball format.

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