While every player has their price in fantasy football where they offer potential value, most drafts will center around 40-50 target players and key avoid players on an owner's draft board. These strong takes for the upcoming season based on average draft position (ADP) sculpt a draft plan. Here is the early draft plan for the running back position by May ADP at myfantasyleague.com.
RUNNING BACKS TO TARGET
carlos hyde, rb17
Hyde has been one of the most dogged fantasy options this whole offseason. The new regime in San Francisco brings a strong track record of running back success, but also a fresh look at the roster. Kyle Shanahan hand-picked Joe Williams in the draft as well. However, Hyde is in a critical contract year to show his best and Joe Williams first needs to jump savvy veteran Tim Hightower for the No.2 role before approaching the lead gig. Hyde's biggest demerit has been durability, missing 14 games in this first three NFL season, but as the phrase goes 'injuries are a problem...until they aren't.' Hyde is a strong variance bet as an RB2 for fantasy considering his 67 and 76 running yards-per-game over the past two seasons and the likely uptick from a pass game of the 49ers which was No.29 in net yards-per-attempt in 2016.
alvin kamara, rb29
The Saints are a factory for passing game production from their running backs in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era. The addition of Adrian Peterson will not impact Kamara's projection for receiving prowess and Mark Ingram II caught just 46 of New Orleans' 127 running back receptions a year ago. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are recent dynamos for Drew Brees out of the backfield. Travaris Cadet caught 40 passes in 2016; C.J. Spiller even caught 34 in 2015. With even modest progression from Kamara early in the season, 40-50 catches is well within reach for the Day 2 rookie. An added boost is Adrian Peterson looking done before missing most of 2016 with injury and averaging less than 3.7 yards-per-carry in 7-of-8 games to close his most recent action dating back to 2015.
theo riddick, rb36
Ameer Abdullah is projected as the lead back, but Riddick is the option in Detroit's backfield with the most predictable and stable usage. Riddick is the premier pass-catcher on a Detroit offense which has produced the 9th, 3rd, and 2nd-most receptions by running backs over the past three seasons, fueled by Riddick averaging more than five receptions a game over the last two years.
danny woodhead, rb44
Woodhead is one of the glaring values at running back. Kenneth Dixon is out for the opening month and Terrance West was used as a near-exclusive early-down back last year for Baltimore. Woodhead, while leaving the friendly confines of Philip Rivers' San Diego offense for PPR value at running back, Baltimore was one of the best fits among other NFL locales. The Ravens were second only to the Saints in running back receptions in 2016. Woodhead should thrive with uncertainty among the wide receivers and with Dixon out early in the season.
frank gore, rb47
Marlon Mack was the notable addition to the Colts depth chart through the NFL Draft, but hardly represents a serious short-term threat outside of complete erosion from the timeless Frank Gore. Like Joe Williams in San Francisco, Mack will need to progress beyond veteran incumbent Robert Turbin before thinking about the lead role. Gore, like Woodhead and Matt Forte, offers a veteran punch early in the season with minimal investment.
James Conner, RB53
Conner represents one of the highest upside fantasy reserve running backs in the NFL to start the season. Le'Veon Bell is in the NFL suspension program as an added wrinkle to the common injury route to a backup seeing a significant uptick in playing time. Conner has limited competition for the primary backup role for the Steelers.
Matt Forte, RB54
Many are burying Forte already, anointing Bilal Powell as the lead back for the Jets. Forte is the classic 'bet on the over-the-hill veteran running back until out of the league' option for 2017. Forte has been in clear decline the past three years but hanging on a la Frank Gore. With RB5 prices, Forte offers bridge production early in the season to offset younger backs on a fantasy roster simmering until emergence.
RUNNING BACKS TO AVOID
devonta freeman, RB5
Kyle Shanahan is gone and Freeman is coming off a career year with 4.8 yards-per-carry and lofty 4.8% touchdown rate on the ground. Freeman is the classic 'try hard' back without prototypical physical traits and already the second-best fantasy producer (to Michael Turner) for his historical ADT (Adjusted Draft Tier) marks exiting the NFL Draft. Freeman is the most glaring avoid player from the Falcons offense in 2017 at the lofty price of RB5.
christian mccaffrey, rb11
Jonathan Stewart is the favorite to see the most interior touches for the Carolina backfield and McCaffrey projects as a moveable chess piece, seeing time in the slot and in special packages initially. The difference in ADP between McCaffrey all the way at RB11 and someone like Alvin Kamara near RB30 slots the Stanford product as an avoid acquisition entering his rookie season, pinning RB1 production around the pass game.
lamar miller, rb13
Miller has been one of the most pedestrian NFL lead backs since joining Houston. Alfred Blue offered minimal competition to Miller's workload, but incoming Day 2 rookie D'Onta Foreman is far more imposing. With a size-speed physical profile and underrated hands, Foreman offers a more dynamic game than Miller, who has generally looked sluggish since building up his frame to absorb more lead back touches since early in his Miami years in the NFL. At RB13 Miller is priced at his fair-weather ceiling more than his floor.
dalvin cook, rb14
Like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook is aggressively priced considering Latavius Murray being heavily in the mix within the same backfield. At a minimum, Murray projects as a strong committee member and the goal line option of the two. Cook as a high-RB2 squeezes all the upside out of investment on a low-level Minnesota run game.