2016 Fantasy Football – Running Back Drafting and ADP

By Chet Gresham – @ChetGresham
Follow @walterfootball for updates.

When drafting running backs this season, we can feel somewhat certain that many people will be scared away from drafting them early due to last year’s running back-ocalypse. Let’s take a quick look at the Top-20 ADP running backs from last season and see how they finished.

2015 ADPADP Finish 2015 Top-20ADP Finish
Bell. Le’Veon PIT1INJ Devonta Freeman, Atl 291
Peterson, Adrian MIN 22 Adrian Peterson, Min 12
Lacy, Eddie GBP 327 Doug Martin, TB 193
Charles, Jamaal KC4INJ DeAngelo Williams, Pit 444
Lynch, Marshawn SEA 554 Todd Gurley, LA 135
Anderson, C.J. DEN 631 Lamar Miller, Hou 96
Murray, DeMarco PHI 718 David Johnson, Ari 467
Forte, Matt CHI 88 Matt Forte, NYJ 88
Hill, Jeremy CIN 914 Chris Ivory, Jax 299
McCoy, LeSean BUF 1017 Danny Woodhead, SD 4310
Forsett, Justin BAL1142 Latavius Murray, Oak 1811
Miller, Lamar MIA 126 Frank Gore, Ind1412
Ingram, Mark NO1315 Darren McFadden, Dal 3913
Gore, Frank IND 1412 Jeremy Hill, Cin 914
Gordon, Melvin SD1556 Mark Ingram, NO1315
Hyde, Carlos SF16 55 Jonathan Stewart, Car 23 16
Morris, Alfred WAS 1745 LeSean McCoy, Buf 1017
Murray, Latavius OAK 1811 DeMarco Murray, Ten 718
Gurley, Todd STL 195 Ronnie Hillman, Den 5219
Randle, Joseph FA* 2057 Rashad Jennings, NYG 3320

As you can see, from the first seven running back picks, only one, Adrian Peterson, was very useful in fantasy last year. Of course, Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles were injured quickly, Marshawn Lynch dealt with injuries most of the year, Eddie Lacy dealt with an offense crippled by the loss of Jordy Nelson, and C.J. Anderson dealt with injuries to start the season and lost time to Ronnie Hillman. And as you go down the list, there’s a good chance a player underperformed in part due to injuries. This is the trouble with running backs: they run into things, a lot. And those things are usually 300-pound men who do their best to snap something while tackling them.

It has always been known that wide receivers hold up better than running backs, but in fantasy, running backs have usually had the highest upside due to touchdowns and all-purpose yardage. So as fantasy players, we had to decide between volatility of running backs versus the higher floor, but lower ceiling of wide receivers early in drafts. Running backs usually won out because there were a handful who we felt could win you your league, whereas receivers usually couldn’t. That has slowly changed though, as teams throw the ball more and more, meaning wide receivers can have higher upsides than running backs to go along with better health.

The question this year is: are fantasy players now correcting too much and drafting wide receivers ahead of running backs because of an unlucky 2015 or is the correction just overdue? I think it’s a mix of the two. Running backs are still more injury prone, and the thought of one scoring 25-plus touchdowns like LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander and Priest Holmes, is probably not going to happen again anytime soon. Our running backs now just don’t have the chances they used to around the goal line. But a good one can now separate you from the pack much easier than they used to. Those with Devonta Freeman last season know that to be true. But many people picked Freeman up off the waiver wire last season, and if they had drafted Antonio Brown in the first round while being keen on the wire to get Freeman, they were likely your league winner.

So what should you do? I have a hard time going completely away from running backs early because there are a handful I think have a great chance of succeeding and I like a lot more wide receivers than I do running backs, which means I can get some top starters in the second and third rounds. But as it usually goes, your hand will be forced by the list of players you have to draft from when that little draft buzzer goes off. I think you can go with “best available” in the first round, but I would not weigh yourself down with a slew of running backs early.

First-round ADP for running backs has four backs: Le’Veon Bell (4), Todd Gurley (6), Ezekiel Elliott (7) and David Johnson (8). That leaves seven wide receivers and Rob Gronkowski filling out the rest of the spots. I like those Top-4 backs in the first round. So unlike years past, running backs aren’t going to fly off the board, which means wide receivers will, and I have had trouble this year getting third and fourth wide receivers I liked after getting a couple running backs in the earlier rounds.

So far, I’ve felt best when I’ve come out of the first three rounds with two wide receivers and one running back. That running back often has been Todd Gurley, as I’ve found myself in the bottom half of the first round and had him drop to me more often than not, but like I said, I feel fine grabbing one of those top four in Round 1.

After the first round, it all depends on value and what position I’m lacking in. But since this is a running back-centric article, I’ll take you through some players I like at their ADPs. There is a big group of second- and third-tier running backs I like, but of course they are a bit riskier than the second- and third-tier receivers. Of course, each draft is different and hopefully you can always be right where you want and grabbing players at value, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and draft a running back you aren’t in love with because I like to have at least one no-doubt starter.

My favorite backs for value have ADPs about where I have them ranked, but they have a wider range than other running backs in where they get drafted, so if I line up a group of the backs I like in my queue, there’s a decent chance one will fall enough to give me the value I’m looking for. That list loosely consists of Carlos Hyde (RB13), C.J. Anderson (RB15), Dion Lewis (RB17), Latavius Murray (RB18), Ryan Mathews (RB22), Duke Johnson (RB23), Jay Ajayi (RB24), Jonathan Stewart (RB28) and Frank Gore (RB30). If I go with two wide receivers to start my draft, I very much want to grab two of these guys in the next three rounds.

So after you get your starting running backs, there’s a good chance your wide receivers will be the stronger and more reliable group on paper. That means you can feel better about grabbing running backs who you think could win a starting job. In the end, this is usually where you get one of your best starters, like Devonta Freeman last year, because unlike a wide receiver winning a starting spot, if a running back wins a spot he didn’t already have wrapped up, he goes from a late-round pick, to a top pick because he’s been given 15-20 touches a game that he wasn’t assured of before.

Players like Kenneth Dixon (RB39), Jerick McKinnon (RB51), C.J. Prosise (RB41), Wendell Smallwood (RB59), Keith Marshall (RB64), Spencer Ware (RB68), DeAndre Washington (RB60) and Devonta Booker (RB48) are all going to litter my teams due to their upside if the cards fall in the right position for them. I’ll write more on some of these guys I’ll be grabbing late in subsequent articles, but suffice it to say, you need these lottery tickets when you build your team with a strong wide receiver base.

In the end, I believe the move to a stronger wide receiver-based team is a good one. The fact that others are doing similar things with their teams is discouraging because I’d rather zig when others are zagging, but running backs are just too risky, which means you want a lot of them. They are all lottery tickets and the more you have, the better your chances.

For more recommendations, check out WalterFootball.com’s Fantasy Football Rankings.

More 2015 Fantasy Football Articles:
Fantasy Football Rankings

2015 Fantasy Football Rankings:
2015 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks - 9/10 (Walt)
Chet Gresham's Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings - 9/4 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs - 9/10 (Walt)
Chet Gresham's Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings - 9/4 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers - 9/10 (Walt)
Chet Gresham's Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Rankings - 9/4 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends - 9/10 (Walt)
Chet Gresham's Fantasy Football Tight End Rankings - 9/4 (Chet)
Chet Gresham's Fantasy Football Flex Rankings - 9/4 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football PPR Rankings - 9/4 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defenses - 8/27 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers - 8/27 (Walt)
Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings - 5/14 (Walt)
Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings: Dynasty - 5/14 (Walt)

2015 Fantasy Football Mock Drafts:
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft Simulator - 9/10 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - 9/3 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - 8/27 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - 8/20 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - 8/13 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Experts Draft - 8/11 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - 8/7 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - 8/6 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - 7/31 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - 7/23 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft (2-QB) - 7/15 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Mock Draft (PPR) - 7/6 (Chet)

2015 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets:
2015 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Top 250 - 9/10 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Top 250 PPR - 9/10 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Top 250 2-QB - 9/10 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Top 250 Touchdown League - 9/10 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Custom - 9/10 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football: Dynasty Rankings - 9/10 (Walt)
Chet Gresham's Fantasy Football Top 200 Rankings - 9/4 (Chet)
Chet Gresham's 2015 Fantasy Football Positional Cheat Sheet - 9/4 (Chet)
Chet Gresham's 2015 Fantasy Football Overall Cheat Sheet - 9/4 (Chet)

2015 Fantasy Football Articles:
2015 Fantasy Football Stock Report: Training Camp - 9/10 (Walt)
Fantasy Football Tight End Matchup Chart: Week 1 - 9/9 (Chet)
Fantasy Football Wide Receiver Matchup Chart: Week 1 - 9/8 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Sleepers - 9/8 (Walt)
Fantasy Football Running Back Matchup Chart: Week 1 - 9/7 (Chet)
Fantasy Football Quarterback Matchup Chart: Week 1 - 9/6 (Chet)
2015 NFL Preseason Recap, Fantasy Football Notes - 9/4 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Preseason Stock - 9/4 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Quarterback Targets - 9/4 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Busts - 9/4 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Goal-Line Running Backs - 9/3 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football News - 9/1 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football: Better Than ADP - 8/31 (Chet)
Daily Fantasy Football: Running Backs - 8/27 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football: Late-Round Running Back Fliers - 8/24 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Fallout: Jordy Nelson Injury - 8/24 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Players to Target - 8/22 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Spreadsheets - 8/22 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Round-by-Round Strategy Guide - 8/20 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football: The Perfect Draft - 8/20 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Players to Avoid: LeSean McCoy - 8/18 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Values: Wide Receivers - 8/14 (Chet)
Daily Fantasy Football: Wide Receivers - 7/29 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Value Profile: Brian Quick - 7/22 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football Value Profile: Eli Manning - 7/17 (Walt)
Daily Fantasy Football: A Primer - 7/10 (Chet)
2015 Fantasy Football Value Profile: Jarvis Landry - 7/7 (Walt)
Fantasy Football Offseason Stock Report: Up - 5/15 (Walt)
Fantasy Football Offseason Stock Report: Down - 5/15 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football: First-Round Bust History - 2/17 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football: Overdrafted Players - 2/15 (Walt)
2015 Fantasy Football: Running Backs with Most Carries - 2/15 (Walt)

Fantasy Football Rankings - May 23

2025 NFL Mock Draft - May 21

NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

NFL Picks - Feb. 12