3 Running Back Breakout Candidates to Target in the Middle Rounds

How to identify the best mid-round running back breakout candidates and three players who currently fit the criteria.

It doesn’t take a deep dive into this year’s ADP data to notice the well runs dry on reliable starting running backs towards the end of Round 4. Drafting your RB1 and RB2 inside the first four rounds almost feels like a requirement this year, but history shows us it usually takes more than drafting running backs early to gain an edge at the position over your league mates.

In a normal season, at least half of the running backs selected in the RB13-24 range fail to finish with RB2 numbers in 12-team PPR leagues. If merely prioritizing running back on draft-day gives you roughly coin-flip odds of coming away with a reliable second starter, you’ll need to build a contingency plan to supplement your early-round picks.

Unfortunately, history also shows us the probability of drafting an eventual top-24 running back after Round 5 is dismal. To become one of the lucky few in your league to pluck a starting running back from Rounds 6-10, ignore timeshare backs hitched to questionable offenses and one-dimensional satellite backs. Instead, focus on identifying running backs who check most or all of these boxes:

  • Member of a potential top-10 scoring offense
  • Some ambiguity surrounding distribution of his team’s backfield touches
  • Versatility as a runner and pass-catcher (which helps establish a floor)
  • Big-play athleticism (which mitigates lack of overall volume and provides upside)

As of this writing, three mid-round running backs fit the criteria perfectly:

Austin Ekeler, LA Chargers

Ekeler is shaping up as the best pick you can make in Round 7. Melvin Gordon III returning from his holdout before Week 1 can’t be taken for granted. Adam Schefter says to brace for a lengthy absence, the Chargers are a notoriously stingy franchise, and unlike Le’Veon Bell last year, Gordon has a chance to recoup the earnings he’d pass up for sitting out a chunk of the season.

With Gordon missing at least eight games now a possibility, there are six reasons Ekeler can be the key to a championship team:

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