The way the average draft position (ADP) shakes out in the
first round of fantasy football drafts is a fascinating annual
study. Due to a variety of forces, certain positions get pushed
up the board while others get pushed down.
In 2016, only three fantasy seasons ago, the first three selections
in virtually every draft were all wide receivers: Antonio Brown,
Odell Beckham Jr., and Julio Jones. This season, the top five
picks are mostly running backs, with the first wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) not coming off the board until the sixth pick.
Although individual drafts can fall differently, of course, most
fantasy players tend to stick closely to the ADP when drafting.
It could be that they fear the mockery of their fellow drafters
if they select a player too early, or perhaps they simply want
to take the most valuable option with each pick. Either way, the
readily available data about ADP and the proliferation of fantasy
analysis has led to much less variation from draft to draft.
Since this is the case, drafters should make a detailed plan
based on their draft position, listing players they want to target
with each pick (and contingency plans if their targeted players
are already gone).
Many fantasy owners have been expressing disappointment or even
anger when they are slotted into the back half of the first round,
seeing the ability to land one of the top five running backs as
a huge advantage for the 2019 fantasy season. While it may well
be an advantage, there are many paths you can take to end up with
the best team. One of those paths is going wide receiver-heavy
early in the draft, locking up three elite receivers right off
For the sake of the remainder of this article, letís imagine
that you landed the 10th pick in your draft, in a 12-team league.
And letís imagine that with those first three picks you
chose to go for the best wide receivers available. You could end
up with something like this:
That would certainly be a fantastic start, particularly if you
can start three wide receivers. But obviously this strategy leaves
you lagging a bit at running back. So how can you make it work
on the running back side? What backs should you be targeting in
the rounds that follow, to give yourself a shot to end up with
the best team?
Below are 10 backs who are excellent targets in rounds 4 and
The Ravens attempted the most rushes in 2018, with 547 attempts.
Granted, 147 of those were Lamar Jackson, but that still means
the offense dialed up a lot of running plays for their backs.
Ingram steps in as the Ravens starter after being signed to a
fairly lucrative contract this offseason.
During his time in New Orleans, Ingram showed he is a very efficient
back. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry or more over the past
four seasons. He tied with Gurley for a very impressive 57% success
rate on his runs, per Football
Outsiders. In the Ravens dynamic rushing offense now led by
Greg Roman, Ingramís efficiency should continue.
Further, Ingram will no longer be playing second fiddle to an
elite back as he was in New Orleans, so his stats should improve
based on snap count alone. Ingram has perhaps the best chance
among backs being drafted outside the first three rounds to finish
as a top-12 running back.
Although he does not offer much upside when it comes to catching
the ball like his teammate James White, Michel is a dynamic back
who improved as the season went on. Belichick leaned on him in
their championship run, and Michel rewarded him with 6 touchdowns
and 4.73 yards per carry during the playoffs. As the season wears
on and the weather gets colder, Belichick typically relies on
the run more, meaning Michel should be quite valuable in the most
important weeks of the fantasy season.
In addition, there is reason to believe he may catch more passes,
since the most efficient backs in the league keep defenses guessing
by being involved in both the rushing and passing game (and Belichick
loves to keep people guessing). Michel did catch 64 passes while
in college, so he has the ability.
Perhaps most importantly, the Patriots are always an overall
efficient offense that successfully moves the ball down the field,
into scoring position. This means that all of their backs will
be valuable and will get plenty of opportunity. In particular,
Michel will get plenty of scoring opportunities in the red zone.
Chris Carson continues to surprise. As a seventh-round pick of
the Seahawks in 2017, not much was expected. He made a name for
himself in training camp and was off to a hot start as a rookie,
but then got injured in Week 4 and was out for the rest of the
season. Many forgot about him by the start of 2018, and then the
Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round. Carsonís
time in the spotlight was thought to be over.
But he didnít go away. He grabbed the starting role over
Penny and turned in an impressive season as the 17th most efficient
running back among those with 100+ carries. While that is not
jaw-dropping efficiency by any means, it means he is better than
the average NFL running back.
But there are two even more crucial reasons to like Carson this
season: his draft cost and his offense. On average Carson is being
drafted in the sixth round, making him a good value. Last season
he finished with 247 rushes for 1,151 yards and 9 touchdowns Ė
in only 14 games. Thatís an average of over 17 rushes per
game, at 4.7 yards per carry. On top of that he finished with
20 receptions, and this season Mike Davis and his 40 targets have
moved on, meaning Carson is likely to see more receptions as well.
Beyond his value, the Seahawks offense is excellent at running
the ball. They finished 2018 with 2,560 yards on the ground, the
most in the NFL. They want to continue to ground and pound, so
Carson should see plenty of touches. That makes him an excellent
target in the middle rounds.
Since itís impossible to know how Belichick will employ
his backs, why not take both White and Michel if you start WR-heavy?
Particularly in PPR leagues, White was an excellent value last
year. He was drafted in the double-digit rounds and had by far
the best year of his career, turning in a top-10 running back
His previous high for targets in a season had been 86, and last
season he was targeted 123 times. He turned those targets into
87 receptions for 751 yards. He was essentially a prolific slot
receiver with running back eligibility. On top of that he added
94 rushes for 425 yards, and scored a total of 12 touchdowns.
Those are remarkable numbers.
If fantasy players believed he would do it again, he would be
drafted in the second or third round of drafts, but he is currently
being drafted between the fourth and sixth rounds, making him
a potential value.
Since the Patriots do not have high-end options at the wide receiver
position, and have lost Rob Gronkowski, Whiteís importance
in keeping the offense humming becomes even more crucial. I do
not see his target share decreasing this season by much, if at
all. Although he might lose some carries with the addition of
Damien Harris, the bulk of Whiteís value is in his receptions
anyway. The only area where regression seems especially likely
is in his touchdowns, since scoring 12 times on only 181 touches
is not sustainable.
Guice was one of my favorite rookies coming out last year. Although
it was clear Barkley was the superior back, Guice has rare qualities
that could see him become truly special as well. He has unbelievable
speed for a man of his size and strength, and also displays above-average
contact balance and vision.
What is limiting his upside are questions about his role, with
Adrian Peterson having been re-signed by the Redskins, as well
as the poor outlook for the teamís offense as a whole. In
addition, it is unclear at this point, since he has not had much
NFL experience, whether he will be able to pick up on pass protections
to enable him to be on the field for third down.
Those are all legitimate questions, and worthy of pushing him
down the board. However, since he has been going in the seventh
or eighth rounds of drafts, he is absolutely a risk worth taking.
If things go right Ė if Jay Gruden cannot keep Guiceís
talent off the field and if he can figure out protections Ė
Guice could become a breakout star this season. If things go poorly,
he still might be a serviceable option as a plug-in play with
the right matchup.
Murray is not the most efficient back, finishing in the middle
of the pack among running backs with more than 100 carries in
DVOA. And his red-zone success rate was only at 36% according
Football. But while he is not excellent at anything, he is
serviceable on all three downs.
The reason he is a good target here in the middle rounds if you
go WR-heavy is because of the offense he signed with this offseason.
To this point in his career he has been with the Raiders and the
Vikings, neither of whom has been known to be very good at running
the ball. But this offseason he signed with the Saints, who have
been one of the most successful running teams in the league under
Last season the Saints finished with 471 rushes, fifth-most in
the league. That is especially impressive since their quarterback,
in contrast to the Seahawks and Ravens at the top of the list,
never runs with the ball. In addition, Payton has long used two
backs in a rotation to keep both fresh, and it looks like Murray
will be in line to take over the Mark Ingram role. Although it
is unlikely he does as much with that role as Ingram, since he
is not as good of a runner overall, the volume should be enough
to make him a valuable mid-round choice.
Miles Sanders might have the most upside among any offensive
rookie in the 2019 class. If he puts it all together, and figures
out pass protection and how to protect the football, he could
become a top-10 NFL running back. He has elite speed and elusiveness,
and although he was not asked to catch the ball much in college,
most believe he could grow into a good pass-catcher.
He is not there yet. He needs to work on ball security. He fumbled
the ball way too much in college, with ten fumbles and seven lost
fumbles during his college career. He is also reportedly a work
in progress when it comes to pass protection, but most rookies
What he has that you canít teach are his speed, vision,
contact balance, and elusiveness. If he can slow down his brain
and allow those qualities to translate to the field, he could
start to pop off the screen as soon as this season. I would guess
he will slowly gain carries as the season moves along and the
coaches start to trust him more, making him a potentially highly
valuable player for the fantasy home stretch.
It is difficult to assess how good Peyton Barber is, or how good
he can be. He was not an efficient runner last year, putting up
only 3.7 yards per carry and 4.6 yards per reception. Those are
extremely poor numbers, and yet he was clearly the best back on
the team. Perhaps he put up such poor numbers because the offensive
line was simply awful, or perhaps the offensive coaching simply
lacked the creativity to get the run game going.
Now Bruce Arians has taken over as head coach, and most are anticipating
an improvement on offense as a result. Although Arians is known
for hyperbole related to his own players, it is noteworthy that
he has not only consistently praised Barber but also has said
he will start. Many thought Arians would immediately name 2018
second-rounder Ronald Jones the starter, but he seems to like
elements of each playerís games.
If Barber continues to start and see even 40% of the workload,
he is a value where he is going in drafts, in the double-digit
rounds. And while he will likely not win any fantasy teams a title,
he could play an important role as a plug-in for bye weeks or
Justice Hill is another intriguing rookie back. He was the fastest
back at the combine, running a 4.4-flat. He showed incredible
agility to go with that speed during his college career, leading
to many long touchdowns. He ran for over 5.5 yards per carry in
every collegiate season, and finished with 30 touchdowns.
Within the Ravens offense and alongside Lamar Jackson, Hill could
find himself often one-on-one with a slower linebacker or defensive
back. At first he will likely be used as a change-of-pace back
or as a gadget player, but I believe he will grow into an important
role in this offense. It is difficult to tell how things will
shake out in any teamís depth chart in the preseason, but
his athletic profile within the Ravens scheme makes him a late-round
flier worth taking.
In his 2019 Rookie Scouting
Portfolio, Matt Waldman was gushing over little-known prospect
Darwin Thompson. He called him a ďfreakishly strong and balanced
runner with breakaway speed, strong acceleration, and third-down
skills.Ē He also called him a more powerful version of Tarik
Cohen. Though he doesnít quite have Cohenís receiving skills,
he is a good receiver. But itís his strength and contact balance
where he exceeds Cohen, and which could lead to him eventually
becoming the lead runner in Kansas City.
That might not happen this season, so redraft players must understand
that this is not a pick to count on but rather a late-round flier
with upside. But itís a worthy gamble in any draft to take
Thompson in the late rounds, because he only has late bloomer
Damien Williams and uninspiring Carlos Hyde in front of him for
now. If he shows the explosiveness Waldman mentions in practice,
Andy Reid will find a way to get him involved.