Finding starting running backs after the third round is a difficult task for most fantasy owners. Eighteen years of data illustrate the point.
Here is analyst Russell Clay's (formerly of Pro Football Focus and Dynasty League Football) tally of the average draft round composition for running backs earning top-12 PPR production:
The ADP of Top-12 PPR Running Backs (2000-2017)
|7th and later||0.17||1.4%|
With 81 percent of top-12 PPR running backs selected from the first three rounds of drafts, you better take two or three within the first 36 picks if you want the best odds of acquiring at least a pair of first-tier fantasy runners.
Clay's average draft round composition for top-24 PPR runners from the same period reveals that 28.5 percent of these runners are available after the third round. Although the odds of finding an RB2 in a 12-team format is 10 percent higher than an RB1, it's still a riskier proposition for those who draft by numbers.
If you're a low-risk drafter in a format that starts only one or two running backs and two or three receivers, this data is important information. Even if the past three years has been an outlier to the longer trend, there isn't enough data to lean too hard on recent seasons as a true shift in round composition. It means you're likely drafting a pair of backs during the first three rounds.
If you're in a PPR league that allows you to start 1-3 runners and 4-5 receivers, acquiring a top-12 running back is not as important to build a successful team. Hitting on a single top-24 back — an RB2 in a 12-team format — and acquiring multiple top 12 and top 24 starters at positions other than running back is a proven team-building tactic. This has been the mission of Upside Down Drafting (UDD) since the early 2000s.
Even if you abide closely to the odds and never adopt the UDD strategy, every fantasy owner needs serviceable running back depth that produces at no worse than an RB3 value in 12-team PPR formats. Despite the lower odds, they're available every year:
Below the Radar PPR Backs — 7th Round and Later with at Least 48 Receptions (Source: Fantasy Football Calculator)
|Theo Riddick (2017)||7.11||26th|
|Duke Johnson Jr (2017)||8.10||11th|
|Jerick McKinnon (2017)||UDFA||17th|
|Alvin Kamara (2017)||12.08||3rd|
|Chris Thompson (2017)||UDFA||27th|
|Tarik Cohen (2017)||UDFA||29th|
|James White (2016)||8.07||26th|
|T.J. Yeldon (2016)||8.10||34th|
|Theo Riddick (2016)||9.04||25th|
|Bilal Powell (2016)||9.10||17th|
|Darren Sproles (2016)||10.09||24th|
|Chris Thompson (2016)||13.11||28th|
|Giovani Bernard (2015)||7.01||17th|
|Shane Vereen (2015)||7.06||26th|
|Devonta Freeman (2015)||8.12||1st|
|Duke Johnson Jr (2015)||9.06||24th|
|Darren Sproles (2015)||9.10||29th|
|Charles Sims (2015)||13.06||16th|
|Fred Jackson (2014)||7.09||18th|
|Fred Jackson (2013)||8.04||11th|
|Danny Woodhead (2013)||8.08||12th|
|Pierre Thomas (2013)||9.06||16th|
|Jacquizz Rodgers (2013)||10.04||33rd|
|Knowshon Moreno (2013)||12.01||4th|
|Joique Bell (2013)||12.05||14th|
There are at least two dozen backs with ADPs lower than the sixth round who earned top-36 PPR production at the position without the reception requirements who weren't included in the list above. This includes backs who were close to reception cutoff:
- Le'Veon Bell (2013)
- Ahmad Bradhsaw (2014)
- Andre Ellington (2014)
- Benny Cunningham (2014)
- Justin Forsett (2014)
- Darren Sproles (2014)
- David Johnson (2015)
- DeAngelo Williams (2015)
- James Starks (2015)
- James White (2017)
The list above illustrates how much of an outlier 2015-2017 has been compared to the complete 18-year data range. Even so, 2013-14 — regarded at the time as the period where fantasy analysts had already tossed dirt on the shallow graves of the running back position — had several backs that qualified (or were incredibly close) for this list.
Although the data reveals that early-round picks at running back are most fruitful, fantasy owners also have an incredible tool at their disposal to help them spot the best of the rest below the radar: Their eyes.
When trained in the craft of the game and the position, it's incredible what they can uncover. This week's Gut Check profiles 10 running backs with significant PPR upside who are available after the seventh round.
Duke Johnson Jr has a seven-round ADP and everyone mentions Patriots running backs like James White and Rex Burkhead. They'll be excluded from this list for the sake of other options who are more likely overlooked or written off.
10. Green Bay's Backfield
Any individual from the trio of Jamaal Williams (ADP 91), Aaron Jones (ADP 99), and Ty Montgomery (126) is the least appealing choice of this top-10 list. Aaron Rodgers has a strong vertical game, and the workloads of these three backs are among the most difficult projections of the 2018 preseason.
All three runners are good receivers. Montgomery was drafted as a wideout and earned 44 catches in 2016 — mostly as a check-down option from the backfield and the slot. Williams proved reliable with 25 receptions as a rookie — 20 of them earned during a 5-game span.
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