Skip to main content

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy, Rankings & Tiers: Running Back (2024)

Let’s dive into running back fantasy football draft strategy. We’ll take a look at my strategy and advice for how to approach the running back position as well as my rankings, tiers and targets as you prepare for your fantasy football drafts.

2024 fantasy football draft kit

Running Back Fantasy Football Draft Strategy

Some say running back is the most important position in fantasy football.

Maybe.

We can debate whether running back or wide receiver is the most important position in fantasy, but there’s little doubt RB is the position that causes the most consternation and agita among fantasy football managers.

It’s a hard position to get right.

But as complicated as evaluating running backs can be, we owe it to ourselves to try, because running back is a critical position in fantasy football. If you’re able to start a pair of top-10 running backs every week, you will consistently trample opponents. But if you’re getting badly outgunned at the RB position every week, good luck winning games.

In a bygone era of fantasy football, getting the RB position right was fairly easy: Just plow early-round draft capital into the position and pray to the injury gods for mercy. Most NFL teams had a clear lead running back, and we could count on that player to get ample touches.

A quarter-century ago, in 1999, there were 19 running backs who had at least 240 rushing attempts and nine who had 280 or more rushing attempts. In 2023, eight running backs at least 240 rushing attempts, and Derrick Henry was the only running back to get 280 rushing attempts.

We’re squarely in the RB-by-committee era, with most teams dividing the workload between two or even three running backs. Fantasy managers have always chased opportunity at the RB position. The heavier a running back’s touch volume, the better his chances to accrue fantasy points. But making educated guesses about RB volume is much more difficult in the committee era than it was in the workhorse era.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

How to View the Running Back Position

Years ago, when there were a lot of high-volume running backs and they were easy to identify, spending substantial early-round draft capital on running backs made sense. Now, making heavy early-round investments in running backs is risky because the position has become so unpredictable.

Running backs are unstable assets. And as with financial investments, it’s prudent to make your heaviest investments in stable assets rather than unstable assets.

Aside from kicker and team defense, running back is perhaps the least predictable position in fantasy. It’s not unusual for running backs taken in the mid to late rounds of fantasy drafts emerge as impactful performers. It’s far less common to see wide receivers emerge from the middle and late rounds of fantasy drafts and make an impact. We saw it last year with WRs Puka Nacua and Tank Dell, but such cases are rare. We see it far more often with RBs such as Kyren Williams and De’Von Achane, who both finished inside the top five in fantasy points per game last year but had average draft positions outside the top 40 at the position.

Here are the wide receivers who were top 10 in consensus average draft position a year ago, followed by their 2023 finish in fantasy points per game (half-point PPR):

  1. Justin Jefferson (WR5)
  2. Ja’Marr Chase (WR13)
  3. Tyreek Hill (WR1)
  4. Stefon Diggs (WR15)
  5. A.J. Brown (WR11)
  6. CeeDee Lamb (WR2)
  7. Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR4)
  8. Davante Adams (WR18)
  9. Garrett Wilson (WR39)
  10. Cooper Kupp (WR27)

There were some disappointments from this group, sure. Wilson lost his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers just a few snaps into the regular season. Chase’s early-season productivity suffered while QB Joe Burrow played through a calf injury. Cooper Kupp dealt with injuries. Diggs collapsed late in the season

Now, here are the running backs who were top 10 in consensus average draft position a year ago, followed by their 2023 finish in fantasy points per game (half-point PPR):

  1. Christian McCaffrey (RB1)
  2. Austin Ekeler (RB23)
  3. Bijan Robinson (RB17)
  4. Nick Chubb (RB29, tie)
  5. Saquon Barkley (RB9)
  6. Tony Pollard (RB22)
  7. Derrick Henry (RB15)
  8. Josh Jacobs (RB18)
  9. Travis Etienne (RB6)
  10. Najee Harris (RB29, tie)

McCaffrey and Etienne were basically the only players from this group who met expectations. Yes, Chubb gets a mulligan after having his season wiped out by a leg injury. But this group was full of land mines.

This isn’t to say that you should never draft running backs in the early rounds. But you should make sure you don’t get short-changed at wide receiver, where what you pay for is usually what you get. Draft wide receivers aggressively; draft running backs opportunistically.

Four Approaches to Drafting Running Backs

Let’s look at four strategies for drafting running backs.

Zero RB: Pioneered by Shawn Siegele of RotoViz, this strategy involves bypassing RBs in the early rounds of your draft and focusing heavily on pass catchers with early picks.

Hero RB: A variation on Zero RB, this strategy allows for the drafting of a top running back in one of the first two rounds of your draft, with other early-round picks dedicated to non-RBs.

Robust RB: This strategy involves an RB-heavy approach in the early rounds — typically three RBs in the first four rounds.

Opportunistic RB: This is basically just a value-hunting approach to the position. Is there value at RB in the early rounds? Jump on it. If not, be patient and get your RBs later.

For reasons outlined earlier, I rarely embrace the robust RB strategy because it leaves me feeling inadequate at the WR position. This seems like a good year to go with a Hero RB build, targeting a top-five running back in one of the first two rounds and then pounding other positions in the early part of the draft

Targets & Avoids

Here are some of the running backs I’m targeting and avoiding at various price points.

High-end

Target: Jonathan Taylor
Taylor is going right around the 1-2 turn in early drafts, and I love the idea of pairing Taylor with a top wide receiver in that part of the draft. Injuries have cost Taylor 13 games over the last two years, but the injuries were relatively minor — not torn knee ligaments or chronic soft tissue injuries. When we last got a full season out of Taylor in 2021, he gave us 1,811 rushing yards, 2,171 scrimmage yards 20 touchdowns. Now, Taylor will get to play with QB Anthony Richardson, whose rushing ability might rob Taylor of a few short-yardage TDs but should also spike Taylor’s rushing efficiency, since defenders must pay heed to the possibility that Richardson will run the ball himself on run-pass options plays (RPOs).

Avoid: Travis Etienne
Through the first eight weeks of the 2023 season, Etienne was averaging 20.5 PPR points per game and was RB2 in fantasy scoring. After the Jaguars’ Week 10 bye, Etienne averaged 13.2 PPR points per game through the end of the season. Etienne had more than 57 rushing yards in only one of his last nine games, and he didn’t have more than 37 receiving yards in any game over that span. He went from averaging 5.1 yards per carry as a rookie to averaging 3.8 yards per carry last year. The Jags haven’t done much to improve a subpar offensive line, and head coach Doug Pederson has been talking about wanting to get second-year RB Tank Bigsby more involved. Etienne is risky at his late-second-round ADP.

‘Dead Zone’

Target: Kenneth Walker
The so-called “RB dead zone” (Rounds 3-6) has traditionally been a minefield, but occasionally we find value there. Walker was taken six picks behind Breece Hall in the second round of the 2022 draft, and some fantasy managers liked Walker as much as Hall at the time. Walker was a fast, athletic prospect who had 1,636 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns for Michigan State in his final college season. In his first two NFL seasons, Walker has averaged just under 80 scrimmage yards per game, and he’s scored nine touchdowns in each of his first two seasons despite missing two games both years. No NFL running back has forced more missed tackles than Walker over the last two seasons. Zach Charbonnet‘s presence in Seattle might be discouraging interest in Walker, but Walker averaged about twice as many touches per game as Charbonnet last year.

Avoid: Rhamondre Stevenson
I’m a Stevenson fan, but let’s not ignore the storm clouds rolling in. New England is likely to have a bottom-five offense, so there’s probably not a lot of TD potential for Stevenson. The Patriots added Antonio Gibson in the offseason, and there’s a good chance Gibson becomes the primary passing down back. That could take a big bite out of Stevenson’s workload, since the Patriots are likely to see a lot of negative, pass-heavy game scripts this season.

Later-Round

Target: Kendre Miller
Injuries limited Miller to eight games in his rookie season, and when he suited up, he was used sparingly. But Miller flashed in Week 18, when he had 13 carries for 73 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons. Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams are both entering their age-29 seasons. Miller was a third-round draft pick for the Saints in 2023 — significant draft capital for a running back these days. With Klint Kubiak taking over as the Saints’ offensive coordinator and Rick Dennison coming aboard as an offensive assistant, New Orleans is chopping wood from the Mike Shanahan/Gary Kubiak coaching tree. The Shanahan/Kubiak system produced a bunch of high-impact fantasy RBs in Denver years ago.

Avoid: J.K. Dobbins
Some managers are holding out hope that Dobbins, who had an electric college career at Ohio State, could still be an impactful fantasy contributor despite tearing his ACL, LCL and meniscus in 2021, and tearing his Achilles last season. I’m far less optimistic about a running back who has endured two major injuries. If Dobbins carves out a role with the Chargers, it’s likely to be a limited one. Dobbins has shown little aptitude ion the passing game since entering the league.

A Word About RB Handcuffing

Dedicating two roster spots to the RB position on a single NFL team — a practice known as handcuffing — is a suboptimal strategy in your draft and early in the season. You’re better off spreading your bets around and trying to strike gold in a different backfield.

Let’s say you spend an early draft pick on Bijan Robinson. Some fantasy managers believe that if you draft Bijan, you should also draft his primary backup, Tyler Allgeier. But Allgeier has no stand-alone value and would be no more than an insurance policy.

Drafting Allgeier robs you of a chance to find the next Kyren Williams or De’Von Achane — a late-round running back who becomes the sort of player who can tilt the balance of power in a fantasy league. Imagine pairing Bijan with a player as impactful as Kyren Williams was last year. The odds of striking gold with late-round RBs aren’t great, but it’s important that you give yourself that chance.

When it’s late in the season, your team is a contender, and you’re making playoff preparation, securing the handcuff to your primary RB makes more sense.

FantasyPros Mobile Apps: Dominate your NFL, MLB and NBA fantasy leagues from anywhere

Running Back Rankings & Tiers

Here are the top 50 running backs in my redraft rankings, sorted into tiers, with thoughts on some of the players from each tier.

Tier 1

Christian McCaffrey has now dodged the injury bug for two years running. He’s extraordinarily talented, and the 49ers give him a huge workload in a high-scoring offense. CMC averaged 17.0 carries and 4.2 catches per game last season.

Former Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was a thorn in the paw of Bijan Robinson investors last year. With Smith’s confounding usage of Bijan a thing of the past, expect Bijan to take his rightful place on the modern Mount Rushmore of fantasy running backs.

Now more than a full year removed from a torn ACL, Breece Hall seems poised for a big year. He gave us a mouth-watering sneak preview down the stretch last season, averaging 33.2 PPR points over the Jets’ last three games.

Tier 2

Jahmyr Gibbs‘ ceiling could be limited by David Montgomery‘s early-down presence in Detroit, but Gibbs has dazzling talent to offset limited touches. That said, I think it’s a tactical blunder to draft Gibbs if true workhorse Jonathan Taylor is still on the board.

It’s reasonable to worry about Saquon Barkley‘s TD potential when Jalen Hurts runs for so many goal-line touchdowns. Hurts doesn’t throw to his running backs much either, and Barkley hasn’t been truly effective as a pass catcher since 2019. But the move from the Giants to the Eagles is undeniably a vast upgrade in Barkley’s ecosystem and a compelling reason to invest.

Tier 3

The big question with Kyren Williams is how much of his workload he’ll lose to rookie Blake Corum. Williams’ massive weekly workloads made him an immensely valuable fantasy asset last year. It’s possible Corum, a third-round draft pick, puts a dent in Williams’ touch counts. It’s also possible Corum will be a straight backup and Williams’ usage won’t change that much. A second-round ADP for Williams seems reasonable, with Corum-related concerns baked into that price.

We know that 5-9, 188-pound De’Von Achane isn’t going to have a huge workload, but Achane is an explosive playmaker who averaged 7.8 yards on 103 carries as a rookie. With his Olympic speed and extraordinary contact balance, Achane is no fluke. He’s certainly capable of being a difference-maker in fantasy even as a committee back.

I’m below consensus on Derrick Henry. This human battering ram could thrive with the move from a sickly Titans offense to a robust Ravens offense. I just don’t like making an early-round bet on a high-mileage 30-year-old running back who doesn’t catch many passes.

Tier 4

My enthusiasm for Kendre Miller doesn’t necessarily have me completely out on Alvin Kamara, but I think it’s smart to insist on a discount for a running back who’s entering his age-29 season and has seen a dip in both his rushing and receiving efficiency over the last few years.

James Conner could be a nice draft value at a seventh-round ADP. The Cardinals drafted Florida State RB Trey Benson in the third round — no doubt a major reason for the tepid interest in Conner. But Conner is likely to get a majority of backfield touches in an offense that should be more potent with a full season of Kyler Murray at quarterback and the addition of WR Marvin Harrison Jr.

Tony Pollard has said he wasn’t 100% until mid-November of last year after breaking his foot in the playoffs the previous season. Pollard’s before/after splits would seem to back him up on that. But now Pollard is going from Dallas to a worse offense in Tennessee, and he’ll get touch competition from talented young RB Tyjae Spears.

Tier 5

Javonte Williams had a disappointing 2023 season, but it’s possible we’ll see a better version of Williams now that he’ll be almost two years removed from a torn ACL. Broncos head coach Sean Payton has traditionally favored a committee approach at running back, but the Payton-era Saints typically had multiple fantasy-relevant running backs every season.

On one hand, the Raiders have added little competition for presumed starter Zanir White, who averaged 21 carries over the final four games of the 2023 season. On the other hand, White probably won’t add much value as a pass catcher, and the Raiders’ shaky QB situation limits White’s TD upside.

It will be nearly impossible to assess the potential value of Nick Chubb until we get more information on his recovery from the gruesome leg injury he sustained last year in Week 2. Until we get word on the timetable for a return, best to let someone else in your league take the plunge on Chubb.

Speaking of recoveries from injury, rookie Jonathon Brooks tore his ACL last November and was still the first running back selected in this year’s NFL Draft. His current price suggests that the market is viewing Brooks’ recovery cautiously. But Brooks could be the Panthers’ lead back by October, which would make him a very useful fantasy asset even if the Carolina offense doesn’t take a significant step forward.

Tier 6

I’m bullish on Chase Brown, who flashed sexy big-play potential last year in a very limited role. At minimum, Brown should be the Bengals’ primary passing-down back now that Joe Mixon is in Houston. But it’s possible that Chase Brown proves superior to Zack Moss and earns significant early-down work, too. Brown proved himself capable of workhorse duty when he averaged 27.3 carries a game during his final college season at Illinois.

Gus Edwards could be the starting running back for Chargers, who figure to be run-heavy this year with Jim Harbaugh as their new head coach and Greg Roman as their new OC. Edwards certainly isn’t a lock for heavy usage, and he rarely catches passes, but he offers double-digit touchdown potential.

Tier 7

The hit rate on running backs taken in the sixth round of the NFL Draft is dismal, but Kimani Vidal is a compelling sleeper. Troy University’s all-time leading rusher, Vidal is a compactly built bowling ball with surprising speed and good contact balance. The Chargers have limited RB talent, so Vidal could quickly ascend the depth chart.

As my colleague Derek Brown has noted, Jaleel McLaughlin ranked fourth in yards after contact per carry among 68 qualifying RBs last season, fifth in missed tackles forced per attempt, and 14th in explosive run rate. McLaughlin is an intriguing sleeper.

Fantasy Football Draft Rankings: Running Back

Here are my updated running back fantasy football draft rankings. And here are our Expert Consensus running back fantasy football draft rankings.

FantasyPros Discord Community (Live Chat)


Subscribe:
Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | iHeartRadio

More Articles

Dynasty Startup Mock Draft: Superflex, Tight End Premium (2024 Fantasy Football)

Dynasty Startup Mock Draft: Superflex, Tight End Premium (2024 Fantasy Football)

fp-headshot by FantasyPros Staff | 2 min read
Overvalued Fantasy Football Players to Avoid: ESPN Leagues (2024)

Overvalued Fantasy Football Players to Avoid: ESPN Leagues (2024)

fp-headshot by Evan Tarracciano | 4 min read
Must-Have Dynasty Draft Targets (2024 Fantasy Football)

Must-Have Dynasty Draft Targets (2024 Fantasy Football)

fp-headshot by Derek Brown | 1 min read
RB3s with RB1 Potential (2024 Fantasy Football)

RB3s with RB1 Potential (2024 Fantasy Football)

fp-headshot by Josh Shepardson | 2 min read

About Author

Hide

Current Article

8 min read

Dynasty Startup Mock Draft: Superflex, Tight End Premium (2024 Fantasy Football)

Next Up - Dynasty Startup Mock Draft: Superflex, Tight End Premium (2024 Fantasy Football)

Next Article