The Gut Check No.477: Running Backs For Upside Down Drafts

Waldman profiles the running backs worth targeting for the Upside Down Draft Strategy and shares three mock drafts.

What is Upside Down Drafting?

If you're new to the Upside Down Draft Strategy (UDD) and it's the first time you've read about this topic, you've stumbled into the middle of the story. Begin here for the basics or go here for a more exhaustive look.

For simplicity's sake, I often endorsed waiting until the fifth round to take a running back. However, the truest intent of UDD is to adjust your mindset and strategy just enough that you're not in the same predictable cattle call as everyone else. When you're approaching the draft in a different order than your peers, your mind is opened up to pools of talent at different times than the herd and you're now beginning runs rather than caught in the middle of them.

The most accurate way to grasp the strategy is to select non-running back positions with four of your first six picks and preferably only one back during your first three while increasing the position as your priority choices between rounds 5-16. In other words, only pick two running backs within your first six picks and then at least 4-6 with backs during your next 10 picks.

Now that we're caught up, let's look at the mid-round PPR backs that I endorse for this year's UDD Strategy.

This list will not be a comprehensive look at every running back. If you want to know my thoughts on each player, read the comments in my rankings. If you're thinking, "I'm going to email or Tweet Matt and ask him, 'what about [insert name of back not listed below that you maybe-possibly-kinda like]?'" it will be nice to hear from you but I'll still tell you to read the comments in my rankings.

If I have any major updates to my preferred list of mid-round backs, I'll keep you posted weekly in subsequent Gut Checks.

This article will be drafting for PPR leagues with 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 2 non-QB flex spots, 1 PK, and 1 TD.

Early-round OPtions (For those with a top-five pick)

If you have a top-five pick or, you find this strategy appealing but emotionally you need a pair of arm floats to wade into this strategy pool, here are backs I find the most appealing because of their skill and surrounding talent that lessens the potential for "down weeks."

  • Christian McCaffrey - Go ahead and fear the lack of red-zone love while others pick a back who has 20 Tds during his first two seasons.
  • Ezekiel Elliott - As long as the renegotiation gets settled within 2-3 weeks of the season, I'm good with the best back in football.
  • Alvin Kamara - Strictly thinking about fantasy value, Kamara is a blend of McCaffrey's safety and Elliott's upside.
  • James Conner - He's going to catch a lot of balls because the dearth of receiver talent will lead to check-downs. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will miss each other.
  • Nick Chubb - If I were starting a real football team, Chubb and Elliott would be neck-and-neck in skill assessment and I'd give Chubb's professionalism the edge. There's a huge upside to this season that isn't baked into his projections.
  • Devonta Freeman - Ito Smith may not make it out of his depth chart alive this summer. Freeman has top-5 upside at his position.
  • Kerryon Johnson - No Theo Riddick? The receiving touches will be split among Johnson and C.J. Anderson. Think of Johnson as a more powerful McCaffrey with a lower ceiling.

If you want to read more about what I think, see the comments in my rankings.


I'm listing two or three runners per round as well as an extra runner that is worth reaching for if both of the prescribed backs in those rounds are gone. In italics are one or two non-runners in each round I value. I called it my Non-RB Exception. I've found that using 1-2 rounds between the 5-10 block for a non-runner strengthens the balance of the team. This is based on PPR formats with 12 teams.

If you land at least five of these backs by the 10th round you should have a solid start to your Upside Down Draft. ADP is based on PPR leagues because PPR formats are well tailored for Upside Down Drafts.

I recommend all the names listed, but the underlined players are my favorites. In some cases, I've underlined multiple players in the same round so if you aren't enamored with the list from the previous or following rounds, you have my permission (if you need it for some weird reason) to reach for one to land multiple underlined guys. However, don't take that underline as a reason to fixate on the player, the strategy is about casting a wide net on a block of backs.

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