Win. Your. League.

Receive 3 Free Downloads More Details

The Gut Check No. 408: RBs For Upside Down Drafts

Waldman reveals the running backs he's targeting with the Upside Down Draft Strategy and provides four mock drafts.

What is upside Down Drafting?

If you're new to the Upside Down Draft Strategy 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

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

THE GUT CHECK'S PREFERRED MID-ROUND (5TH-10TH) RUNNERS

I'm listing 2-3 runners per round as well as an extra runner (in parenthesis) that is worth reaching for if both of the prescribed backs in those rounds are gone. In italics are 1-2 non-runners in each round I value. I called it my Non-RB Exception. I've found that using one round 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 5 of these backs by the 10th round you should have a solid start to your Upside Down Draft (ADPs are 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 two 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. 

This year, labeling the list so you can think of your draft in dimensions of risk friendliness: 

  • High floor, high upside (potential top-5 player at the position and no worse than a low-end starter.
  • High floor, medium upside (no worse than a low-end starter with upside as low-end QB1/RB1/WR1/TE1).
  • Medium floor, high upside (no worse than high-end flex with top-5 position potential).
  • Medium floor, medium upside (no worse than high-end flex with low-end every-week starter upside).
  • Low floor, high upside (strong boom-bust element with non-starter floor and top-5 upside).

In at least four of these six rounds (and I recommend five) you want to take running backs. If you've been using this strategy in the past or you feel comfortable doing so, you may also consider taking fewer runners from this block if you feel strong enough about 1-2 of the backs listed after round 10.  

There are notable ways to think about this list, including the recommendation of five rookies and eight pairs of players on the same depth chart. I'm not intentionally recommending handcuffs; it's a by-product of players I like for their talent. However, it also underpins my thoughts that the Upside Down Strategy appears to some (10-15 years ago) as a radical departure from convention, which makes it seem risky. However, it's actually a conservative strategy because you're drafting positions with a lower rate of turnover in the early rounds and acquiring backs and, often, their handcuffs.

There are also very few players on this list who are not skilled receivers from the backfield. In fact,  Montgomery, Woodhead, Riddick, and Johnson could all earn significant time in the slot.  

To the first-time reader, it may appear that I've recommended every back available in these rounds. Look closer, and I've recommended approximately three per round and spread them out reasonably well to account for ADP so you're likely to land at least one of these players at each turn.

There are also several backs I like with ADPs well after the 10th round that you should consider taking after you pick your block of backs. Depending on the ADP of the other position options you're considering, you may find it worthwhile to reach for some of these options so you can get who you want elsewhere:

 After I explain my choices for this list, I'll provide some of my journeys through the Upside Down Drafts with these prescribed backs. 

PROFILING THE 5-10 block 

If They Fall to Round 5...

If you're a draft-by-the-numbers, color-inside-the-lines kind of fantasy player who just wants his answers spit out on a Rate My Team application, here's the link and have a nice day. Upside Down Drafting subverts the natural desire to follow ADP, otherwise known as the Average Draft Police. You're planning your draft around blocks of players at positions and placing less weight on average market value.

This should expand your perspective on player talent and give you more freedom to draft with the mindset that your best players aren't taken in order of first to last. You may even begin to see drafts as a construction of where each selection brings a different shape to your roster. The players who I hope fall to the 5th round in your drafts offers a good example. 

If you want your roster to maintain a conservative shape at this stage of your draft, Julian Edelman and Larry Fitzgerald are staid selections who should deliver consistent starter production at worst, and perhaps enough big games to outperform their ADP.  I'd make these choices if I want to reduce as much boom-bust potential from my rosters as possible.

Most people don't see Terrelle Pryor as a safe pick, but I do. Josh Doctson is an excellent prospect, but I'm not buying Jamison Crowder as the No. 1 producer in this offense. He's what I call "not quite Steve Smith." He's never graduated from timely plays to game-changing plays. Pryor and Doctson have that physical ability; Crowder, not quite there. 

But unless you can start 4-5 receivers in a PPR league, you probably have enough receivers to take a chance on the upside options at running back and that's my recommendation. Here's the order I like these backs in this tier:

Christian McCaffrey (High Upside, Medium Floor): Go ahead, continue downgrading McCaffrey as a running back heading the path of Julian Edelman. It's not that bad, but there are weeks where the reactions of fantasy writers lead me to think this way about their commentary on the fact that Jonathan Stewart will retain his share of last year's workload. 

Those who say that McCaffrey is a better receiver than runner may still be thinking of his dad, Ed. McCaffrey is a patient runner with excellent change of direction that is linked tightly to what his eyes process. He won't push piles without a lot of help, but he will find creases that many bigger runners cannot access and that's enough for him to become a reliable every-down player who earns 8-12 touches on the ground and 4-6 through the air. These are upside projections on touches.

The downside minus injury is that he earns half of those rushing attempts. You're still staring at a player earning 8-12 touches per game. If that's closer to the top end of the projection where Jonathan Stewart stays healthy we're looking at 150-196 touches for the year. Bilal Powell had fewer in an even worse offense than anything we should fear for Carolina and Powell as RB17 in PPR formats. Tevin Coleman was RB20 with 149 touches and Darren Sproles and Theo Riddick were RBs 24 and 25 with 146 and 145 touches, respectively. 

We didn't even talk about what happens if Stewart gets hurt. Are you buying the idea that Fozzy Whittaker earns all of those touches? I am not.  

If McCaffrey's downside is low-end starter material even with Jonathan Stewart (who only earned eight receptions last year) earning his same workload of 226 touches last year, I'm buying.

Joe Mixon (High Upside, Low Floor): I am concerned about the Bengals line, but Mixon has the power of Jeremy Hill with the burst and creativity of Giovani Bernard. I expect him to mitigate of the line's shortcomings with creative bounces to the edge for big plays as well downfield plays against linebackers and safeties that put the league on notice to his receiving talent. Le'Veon Bell is a better runner at this stage behind a better line, but if Bell thinks he should be paid like a receiver and running back, Mixon has the skills to show up Bell as a receiver from the backfield. 

Marshawn Lynch (Medium Floor, Medium Upside): I advocated for Lynch in our site's Faceoff series. Even so, the projected workload of 195 carries (or, according to San Jose Mercury News reports, "less"), which was Latavius Murray's total, seems worrisome on the surface. Touchdowns are difficult to project in fantasy football. but when I see a player of at least equal ability as a short yardage plugged into an offense where the surrounding talent hasn't changed for the worse, I'm willing to project similar totals. 

Round 5

Martavis Bryant (High Upside, Low Floor): "If you like gamble, we gamble!" then Bryant is the most enticing option despite the fact he's not fully cleared to play this year due to his latest suspension terms with the NFL. There are no indications that Bryant's punishment won't be lifted in time for him to start the opener and he will earn plum matchups as a player with WR1 ability matched up against the second or third-best cornerback who won't be on Antonio Brown. My readers and I who often employ Upside Down Drafts find that taking that one receiver or tight end somewhere in rounds 5-7 often yields the best results for building a balanced, high-scoring roster. Bryant is one of my favorite options here. 

(This is a tightly contested group of RBs below and the separation isn't as clear for me as it appears)

Ty Montgomery (Medium Upside, Medium Floor): He's the safest pick for this round although I'm dying to put Dalvin Cook ahead of him. I'm resisting that urge because my belief in Jamaal Williams' talent could be making me a little more biased against Montgomery despite the fact that I always thought Montgomery was a better RB prospect than WR. If Montgomery figures out pass protection, Williams and Aaron Jones will be little more than role players this year. It doesn't appear that the Packers offensive line has cured its issues, but they weren't strong last year and Montgomery was fantasy football's RB18 after Week 6. 

Dalvin Cook (High Upside, Low Floor): If the line looks good this preseason when its starters are playing together against the Seahawks unit, I might find reasons for greater optimism about Cook. This much anticipated quarter from Week 2 of the preseason will also depend on how will Cook is protecting the ball and his quarterback. If he does both and the line is healthy and strong, look for Cook to leapfrog Montgomery. If not, and Kareem Hunt isn't a looming factor in Kansas City, Spencer Ware could leapfrog Cook and Montgomery.

Spencer Ware (Medium Upside, Medium Floor): One of my sentimental favorites was off to a hot start before a concussion against the Colts curtailed his pace for RB1 production. The key, as I noted above is Hunt. Here's what Alex Smith had to say about Hunt's passing down acumen thus far, according to Kirk Larrabee of Kansas City 247 Sports

Quarterback Alex Smith said that he's been impressed with what Hunt has shown as a receiver as well as a pass blocker so far, a good sign for a rookie running back.

"I'm excited about him," Smith told reporters Tuesday. "Running back's the hardest spot (to evaluate at this point) because so much of that game is when the bullets are flying. Those guys go about their reads, they go and do their stuff. The thing I'm really pumped for him about is I really feel like he's picked up the pass game and the protection fast. I think that's usually what's the hardest for young backs is protection and pass game. As far as all that stuff, once the ball's in his hands, he looks good in shorts, but all of that, we're all excited to see how he'll do once it's live."

Smith is dead-on accurate about RB evaluation during practice. It's not that Kareem Hunt can't do it, but many backs perform well in shorts and then make careless errors on stage. We know what Ware has done. Still, the push for Hunt to earn carries at Ware's expense is real, which means Ware is third on this list until we see Hunt screw up enough that he's not a threat.  

Round 6

Doug Martin (High Upside, High Floor): Another player who I think is much safer than the consensus believes, Martin is the best running back on this team and we saw this team propel Jacquizz Rodgers to every-down relevance as a spot starter last year. Charles Sims is a nice talent, but if the Buccaneers were confident in Sims as the future, the organization wouldn't sign Martin to a five-year deal in 2016. Even after the Adderall-related suspension, the team appears to be staunchly in Martin's corner heading into training camp. If you ask me, the addition of Jeremy McNichols was a sign of its desire to let Sims walk after this year and groom McNichols for the role behind Martin. I know my buddy Jason Wood said that writing the downside view of Martin in our Faceoff was as easy as it was for Michael Phelps to swim a lap, but I fear Wood didn't see who Phelps was competing with on Discovery Channel this month. There should be a lot of easy red zone opportunities for Martin this fall, thanks to the big-play ability of this receiving corps. I know GM Jason Licht has told Martin that his job may not be available when he returns from suspension, but that's the talk of a frustrated team that is giving their star player one last chance to get straightened out. The actions Martin has shown indicate he gets it. So if the idea of you going against the consensus on Martin scares you, make him a boom-bust guy and avoid him, but I think you're missing out.

Ameer Abdullah (High Upside, Low Floor): Abdullah's past injury history, ball security, and the presence of Theo Riddick are all potential floors. However, Abdullah's hold on the starting job entering training camp, his incredible quickness, and a fully healthy offseason are reasons for hope that he delivers on his game's awesome potential in an offense that should have greater rapport than last year. The fact that Riddick, Golden Tate, and Marvin Jones Jr are all superb runners after the catch should force linebackers to play softer in the box when the Lions spread the field and it could yield big plays for Abdullah. I have Abdullah essentially tied Jimmy Graham on this list. It all depends on how close you have Graham, Delanie Walker, and Kyle Rudolph in your projections and which presents the better value based on the average draft police. 

Jimmy Graham (High Upside, High Floor): I'm repeating myself almost weekly on this one. He was the No. 2 tight end last year despite returning from a horrific injury, playing with a gimpy quarterback with no offensive line, and working off play action that no opposing defense should have believed because the offensive line hampered the ground game, too. Graham is back and it means he has a mid-TE1 floor and elite TE1 upside. That's hard to pass up.

Jamison Crowder (High Floor, Medium Upside): He may up his reception totals (which I doubt), but I'd be shocked if he repeats his red zone production from last year—and 3 touchdowns from inside opponents' 20 yard-line aren't much anyhow. The news reports that he'll be the No. 1 option read like fool's gold if you've seen this Washington scheme in action. Even so, Crowder is a safe, conservative pick if I can't sell you on the merits of the three options above. 

Brandon Marshall (Medium Floor, High Upside): If you like higher upside, place Marshall above Crowder. If not, Marshall's floor is enough to only take him if you just hate the options above. And even so, you could also reach for Danny Woodhead, Mike Gillislee or a tight end. I might do that if I were feeling the way some of you are right now. My argument for Marshall is that he always keeps himself in good shape and he has one of the best two receivers in the game working opposite him. Can Eli really screw this up? 

Yes, but I'm trying hard not to let that overwhelm my thoughts because Eli has held it down well enough to support multiple fantasy options before. 

C.J. Anderson (High Upside, Low Floor): Jamaal Charles delivering top production would be a surprise only because I doubt that Andy Reid and the Chiefs let the best player on the team go if they believed he could return to form. However, the Broncos have made several good moves under John Elway's leadership and if they can squeeze one solid year from Charles, it could be worthwhile. With Devonte Booker rehabbing a wrist injury, the job is C.J. Anderson's to lose. He's a better zone runner than gap player, which means the blocking scheme is better suited for Charles and Booker's athletic style. Even so, Anderson possesses good burst and he's a rugged option with good vision who can move the chains in this scheme even if he doesn't offer the breakaway upside of his peers. The fact that his coaches are praising his conditioning is a good sign. My biggest fear with Anderson is Booker returning and performing better in this scheme and Charles delivering just enough to render Anderson an afterthought with 5-7 touches per game in a full-blown committee. 

Round 7

I will probably be taking wide receivers early and waiting for my tight end in this round because the risk-reward ratio for the backs in this tier is not as enticing to me as the value of the tight ends available here. 

Delanie Walker (High Floor, High Upside): There's concern that Eric Decker's use in three receiver sets will limit Walker. I don't think so. Walker is by far, Marcus Mariota's most trusted option and a player that the Titans do a lot of scheming to get open for big plays in conjunction with the ground game. Walker is still the team's best matchup advantage against pass defenses based on his position and his flexibility. If it means you can get him this late, then I'd feel good about taking risks in Martin and Abdullah over Graham and going with Walker here. 

Kyle Rudolph (High Floor, Medium Upside): It doesn't seem like a choice that sizzles but if you examine my thoughts on tight end consistency, Rudolph's 2016 performance stands out because he matched Jordan Reed as one of two the most consistently productive options in the league. If the offensive line is better than last year, it's only a plus for Rudolph. If not, see last year's stats. There could be a minor dip with a healthy Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell, but it also could mean more red zone production if those two options perform to expectation.   

Mike Gillislee (Medium Floor, Medium Upside): The big question about Gillislee is if he can reprise LeGarrette Blount's 18-touchdown 2016. The point I made on the Audible on Thursday Night is that Blount benefited from injuries to Rob Gronowski and Martellus Bennett. The red zone game is all about quickness because it's a compressed area of the field. Even if these two are rebounders, that trait requires quickness to earn position and stability of body to adjust to the ball. Neither was healthy and Blount had 11, 1-yard plunges last year, 2 scores from inside the 5, and 2 more from inside the 10. If the tight ends are healthy this year, I could see 2 Patriots backs combining for 15 touchdowns from inside the 10 but if that happens, Tom Brady is having a record scoring year. I like Gillislee, but I don't love his upside like many. 

Danny Woodhead (Medium Floor, Medium Upside): This team could be messy up front if center John Urschel's retirement hampers the unit. Woodhead is a great option in offenses that lack top line play because Woodhead's size and quickness help him access difficult creases and move the chains. He's also a great threat on screens and routes in space. Woodhead is also an underrated red zone threat. This team may have to throw enough that Woodhead returns to that borderline PPR RB1 production seen from him in 2015. At worst, I think he's a top-25 RB that we saw in 2012-2013. He's had four seasons as no worse than RB3 fantasy production and those were the three years when he started every game. I want to put Woodhead just below Walker on this list, but the fact he has missed 25 games during the past 3 seasons concerns me that he's breaking down. 

Adrian Peterson (Low Floor, High Upside): I believe in Santa Claus until there's evidence that he's toast. The easy bet is to say he can't stay healthy and that he will get hurt again just as he flashes enough to change minds. But if you're a high-risk drafter, or simply want to take one big swing at a player, Peterson is one of my favorite ones to air it out and see what happens. If you do, it means you probably are passing on Martin, Abdullah, or one of these tight ends to nab him. I also can envision a healthy Peterson doing enough in a preseason game that his ADP leaps 2-3 rounds and now you're really faced with draft-defining risk. If his ADP rises to the fourth-round he's off my list. If he's available in the fifth round and he looked good doing it? I'd put him among the first three options on the list unless those "If they fall to round 5" players are there first. 

If he does something very Adrian Peterson-like? I might have to buy into the magic, put him at the top of the "if they fall to round 5" tier, and risk being the fool. But I'm sentimental that way (in some leagues). 

DeVante Parker (Medium Floor, High Upside): The early returns in training camp? Parker is in 'phenomenal shape' which is a huge difference from last year. He's also been asking questions and taking notes. He's another deep-shot pick with league-winning potential for the risk-friendly, but I'm beginning to believe that his floor is a higher because of last year's flashes paired with this offseason's preparation. If you took a tight end early and need that third wide receiver. Waiting until the seventh round to land Parker as that risk-reward WR3 could be a fine move. You might still get him in the eighth round if the Dolphins keep him under wraps during the preseason.  

Round 8

DeVante Parker: See above.

KIrk Cousins (Medium Floor, High Upside): I still have reservations about Cousins' decision-making when the pocket compresses around him, but he has grown into a competent quarterback and I admire his toughness. I also like his weaponry and I believe that he has top-5 upside if that surrounding talent stays healthy. 

DeSean Jackson (High Floor, Medium Upside): Fantasy owners look at the past two seasons of stats and think Jackson is in decline. That may be true, but I think it's a greater product of Kirk Cousins lacking the power arm to deliver plays to Jackson that allow him to continue running after the catch into the end zone. Cousins can make all the basic throws in every range of the field, but he's often delivering throws to Jackson where the boundary is a guide and helper. Jameis Winston won't need that boundary crutch to hit Jackson in stride in the deeper zones. Look for more posts and deep seams targeting Jackson and a higher touchdown tally.

Theo Riddick (High Floor, Medium Upside): Abdullah's health and ball security remain concerns and Eric Ebron hasn't delivered to expectation, which keeps opportunities open for Riddick to earn touches with two separate gates of entry. As a mid-round utility tool for your roster, he's a good buy. 

LeGarrette Blount (High Floor, Medium Upside): While unlikely that Blount ever sniffs 18 touchdowns again, the Eagles offensive line is good enough that enhanced weaponry in the passing game can create enough run-pass balance for Blount to thrive in the end zone as a double-digit scorer and game closer. Blount hasn't lost anything as an athlete since entering the league and Ryan Mathews is only still on the roster because his neck needs to get healthy before the Eagles can set him loose. I realize that the Eagles like (to talk about) Wendell Smallwood, but he's likely competing with Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey for touches that don't go to Blount. Smallwood has enough skills to grow into a contributor of note but until he earns raves for his play in camp, Blount remains the bargain that he has been every year. 

Frank Gore (Medium Floor, Medium Upside): I know I'm underrating him. He actually earns the term "football warrior," but there is a line where my idealism ends and I'm having difficulty believing he'll post another season at his advanced career age like last. I'll still take him here, but my ranking of him within this tier is more about upside than his floor. 

Derrick Henry (Low Floor, High Upside): Honestly, I hate this pick here, because I don't buy the "we want to get him the ball more" narrative. It's not that the Titans don't, but most teams lack the capacity to act on what it says about its backup when it has a top-five starter and load carrier at the position. He's an expensive and talented handcuff behind a good offensive line. If that's enough to buy him here, go for it. I get it, but I'm unlikely to pull the trigger and more likely to take one of the players available in the tier below. 

Round 9

Dak Prescott (High Floor, High Upside): He's the most tenuous of my blue chip floor/upside guys if injuries hit the Cowboys line and receiver corps along with an impending Ezekiel Elliott suspension. For now, I'm taking him with reservation. Just keep what I said in mind.

Philip Rivers (High Floor, High Upside): Despite Mike Williams' going to PUP, Rivers receivers who were supposed to bolster this corps last year are healthy and looking good. The Chargers also bolstered its offensive line. Considering the line has been a weakness and Rivers has done strong work with lesser targets, I'm good to go with pulling the trigger on Rivers anywhere between rounds 8-10. 

Matthew Stafford (Medium Floor, High Upside): Marvin Jones Jr was on a world-beater pace during the four games he was healthy and Stafford is maturing into a fine quarterback who still has the playmaking ability to create good things from bad situations. I'm always happy to invest in Stafford with the hope that his weapons stay healthy because, on the few occasions that they do, he has top-5 upside.

Samaje Perine (Medium Floor, High Upside): I'm buying. In fact, I'll often take one of these three quarterbacks above him in this tier a round earlier (or in Stafford's case, sometimes hope that he lasts a round longer) so I can grab Perine. If the rookie starts earning raves for his play in camp, I may flip-flop that strategy and go with Perine a round or two earlier. If he locks down the starting gig, you'll have to consider him for the fifth or sixth round, depending on how much is said about Rob Kelley's contributions. 

John Brown (Medium Floor, Medium Upside): The fact that he's now resting his quad (once again) for up to a week after a few days of training camp concerns me. However, I'm hoping this is a precautionary move because the team recognizes how valuable Brown is to the success of this passing game. Prior to the news, Brown looked like his old dynamic self, according to coaches.

Duke Johnson Jr (Medium Floor, Medium Upside): Think of Johnson as a poor man's Riddick in his role because there are two gates of entry for him to earn consistent touches.

Kareem Hunt (Low Floor, High Upside): See Alex Smith's quote about Kareem Hunt and my commentary.  

Round 10

Tyrell Williams (Medium Floor, High Upside): I doubt that Tyrell Williams will still be available at this ADP if Mike Williams' adventure with PUP is an extended stay. Even if it isn't, I've been on Williams all spring and summer as one of the great bargains of the year. If you're confident that Williams will be here in your league, use this round to take your one WR and load up on backs between picks 5-9. It's risky, but receivers are the easiest to acquire off the waiver wire so it's a calculated gamble with contingencies if it fails.

Adam Thielen (Medium Floor, High Upside): Thielen is the other reason I like the 10th round as a risk-friendly place to wait for that 4th or 5th receiver for your lineup. I'd prefer Thielen as that Thielen is a bona fide NFL contributor who could start for many teams. While Stefon Diggs' return to health and any progress from Laquon Treadwell's development could hurt Thielen, there are enough receivers you can acquire in the second half of this draft and the waiver wire to remedy the error.

I'm not really enthusiastic about any of these running backs in the tier. If you're set at receiver, consider one of these backs as a bet that they effectively handcuff one of your earlier picks from the same team. If ADPs stay similar enough for the next two weeks, I might just opt for Williams and consider some of these backs in the second half of most 20-round drafts. 

PROFILING THE CHOICES After the 10th round 

At this stage of the draft, I'm looking at talent more than opportunity.  Here's a bit about each. I prefer the players in bold type:

  • Thomas Rawls (ADP 12th-13th round): When healthy enough to go, I thought Rawls looked good for moments last year. I think the interior of the Seahawks line will be better and he's a potential roster-changer if he hits.
  • Jeremy Hill (ADP 12th-13th round): Hill is the least versatile of the Bengals runners vying for playing time. Unless a Giovani Bernard gets hurt, I won't be taking Hill. If Mixon gets hurt, Hill will move up my board at least 2-3 picks and earn my consideration.
  • Jamaal Williams (ADP 13th-14th round): A smart runner with enough versatility to develop into the Packers feature back if Montgomery doesn't cut it for the remainder of his contract. 
  • Giovani Bernard (ADP 13th-14th round): Early reports on Bernard's return to the practice field are excellent. The Bengals want to reduce its personnel predictability so Bernard's upside only comes into play if Mixon gets hurt. 
  • Charles Sims (ADP 15th-16th round): Jacquizz Rodgers will start. Sims has the talent to be more but the Buccaneers are still also talking positively about Peyton Barber. 
  • Dion Lewis (ADP 15th-16th round): I believe the Patriots backfield will be a Gillislee-Lewis split with small doses of James White and possibly Rex Burkhead.
  • Jonathan Williams (ADP 15th-16th round): I didn't like Williams as much as some analysts, but there is no doubt that he had the physical tools at Arkansas to develop into an every-down back. Now's his chance to flash that behind LeSean McCoy.
  • Devontae Booker (ADP 16th-17th round): The wrist injury is a setback, but he could be available by September and we've seen how the Broncos have had a reluctant relationship with C.J. Anderson as the starter. 
  • D'Onta Foreman (ADP 17th-18th round): So far, Foreman is making strong decisions between the tackles. But this has always been a positive part of his game. If his technique with pass pro improves and he holds onto the football, he could usurp meaningful carries from Lamar Miller
  • Jalen Richard (ADP 17th-18th round): I think Richard could be that surprise handcuff of value this year. DeAndre Washington is a nice prospect, but Richard was better, showing more between the tackles. I think his growth potential is greater than it appeared last year. 
  • James Conner (ADP 17th-18th round): Conner may have the best surrounding talent of the backups on this list and that makes him worthwhile even if there are some rookie mistakes. 
  • T.J. Yeldon (ADP 17th-18th round): He'll still be a factor in two-minute situations. He'll only be an every-down factor if he's the "last man standing" of the big three on the depth chart.
  • C.J. Prosise (I cannot believe that he has an un-draftable ADP in most formats but Draft Dominator has him at the end of the 12th round, which I think is realistic and probably where you should consider him in competitive leagues where casual players won't leave him undrafted): I like him. LaDainian Tomlinson likes him as a surprise this year. I love the talent-to-value ratio for him.

If I had to choose five of these backs based on draft range, I'd go with Rawls, Lewis, Richard, Conner, and Prosise. If I was going strictly on talent, I'd go with Bernard and Williams over Lewis and Richard. 

Mock examples of the upside Down Journey

Below are four drafts with one from each region of a 12-team serpentine format and an extra draft using the early-round RB exception. 

1st Spot Using The Early-Round Exception

I didn't discuss the early-round exception in this article, but you can read about it at the link on Upside-Down Drafting near the beginning of the article. Overall, I like this team, but there are holes at tight end and I don't have a bye-week quarterback because I selected two options with Week 9 byes.

I believe I can rent-to-own a quarterback and a tight end off the waiver wire until I have no other choice but to trade. If I must, I believe my wide receivers and running backs have the potential to help me acquire a quality player at either position. 

Roster

QBs: Philip Rivers, Sam Bradford

RBs: David Johnson, Doug Martin, Mike Gillislee, Samaje Perine, Dion Lewis, Jacquizz Rodgers

WRs: Doug Baldwin, DeAndre Hopkins, Terrelle Pryor, Davante Adams, Tyrell Williams, Marvin Jones Jr, Josh Doctson

TEs: Evan Engram

PK: Dan Bailey

DEF: Patriots

Draft (1-Spot)

Commentary

Some of the players I considered, but didn't take included Julian Edelman, Delanie Walker, and Larry Fitzgerald. However, I have Adams valued higher than Edelman and the Packers wide receiver fell below my value expectation. Quarterbacks also went off the board earlier than I expected so I took Rivers and even considered going back-to-back with Stafford, but Perine sitting there was too enticing and I figured Sam Bradford would be hanging around later even if it meant having two quarterbacks with the same bye week. 

I did not expect Marvin Jones Jr to be there in the 11th round, but that's because I have him ranked much higher than the norm. It allowed me to feel good about taking a shot on Josh Doctson as a hedge against my valuation on Pryor, who I expect to deliver high-end WR2/low-end WR1 production. In fact, I somewhat expect Pryor and Baldwin to be low-end WR1s, and Jones and Hopkins to be high-end WR2s. Then there's Tyrell Williams, who I think can be a strong WR3 with mid-range WR2 upside with a healthy Keenan Allen. If I could get these backs and receivers, I feel like I could find a functional fantasy tight end who doesn't hurt me if Engram struggles early. If Engram plays how he has in camp, I believe this team could be a top scorer even if the RB2 spot struggles early. 

I love this team even with its notable holes. 

1st Spot With Traditional Upside Down Track

This is another team that I like a lot..I could have created a dominant receiver corps if I took a third-round option, but the prospect of taking Tom Brady and not worrying too much about quarterback this year sold me on doing so. Running back is weak because it's a highly combustible group. But if one works out and the rest of my roster plays to expectation, this team will succeed. 

QBs: Tom Brady, Blake Bortles

RBs: Dalvin Cook, Mike Gillislee, Doug Martin, C.J. Prosise, Thomas Rawls, Dion Lewis, James Conner

WRs: Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson, DeVante Parker, Robert Woods

TEs: Jimmy Graham, Evan Engram

PK: Adam Vinatieri

DEF: Chiefs

Draft 1-Spot

 Commentary

This is how that running back block from rounds 5-10 can dry up fast if you draft 2 non-RBs in that space rather than 1. I can't say I'm comfortable rolling with C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls as my third and fourth backs, but it's a calculated bet I prefer to Jamaal Charles or James White. I also liked grabbing Jackson and Parker at receiver, especially Parker. However, I only did this because Perine was gone. Giovani Bernard was tempting, too. The one pick I would have truly reconsidered was Robert Woods at 12.12. I wanted Marvin Jones Jr (12.07) or John Brown (12.04). In hindsight, I should have given greater consideration to Marqise Lee, who is starting outside opposite Allen Robinson. Plus, Cooper Kupp and Paul Richardson Jr are on the waiver wire. I'm also digging the James Conner pick, but that's my geeked-out rookie love talking. Because this is a PPR league, I feel good about the combo of Jimmy Graham and Evan Engram. If one of them performs like a WR, I could have a really rich flex attack and a surplus for in-season negotiations.

6th Spot

While likely unrealistic in many of my leagues, it's nice to know that Antonio Brown is available this late in many formats. This is a strong receiver corps if you can stomach the injury history of Keenan Allen and you're on board with Doug Martin. If not, you'll see other options that would have easily appealed to you. 

 

QBs: Dak Prescott, Blake Bortles

RBs: Dalvin Cook, Doug Martin, Danny Woodhead, Samaje Perine, C.J. Prosise

WRs: Antonio Brown, Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen, Brandon Marshall, Marvin Jones Jr

TEs: Travis Kelce, Evan Engram

PK: Adam Vinatieri

DEF: Chiefs

Commentary

It was tempting for me to take Dez Bryant ahead of Michael Thomas, which is something I have to take note of. Ultimately, I still like Thomas' offense a little more. I was also tempted to take Ameer Abdullah or Mike Gillislee in the 6th round, but I hoped if I took Martin, Gillislee would fall to the 7th. He did, but 7.01 wasn't far enough. I like Danny Woodhead as a consolation prize. I considered Kirk Cousins in the 8th, but opted for Perine, expecting Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers to be around in the 9th. I was surprised to see Cousins leave the board only two picks before my 9.06 and even pleasantly stunned that Dak Prescott was still on the board. While a more conservative version of me would have taken Stafford or Rivers, I think Prescott's floor is high enough that I'm pleased with the value. I was also stuck with the conundrum of Brandon Marshall, John Brown, or Tyrell Williams. In hindsight I think would have taken Williams. I do have him ranked a head of Marshall by one spot. However, it was close and for variety's sake, I opted for Marshall.

Because Jamaal Williams dropped further than I expected, I decided to take him as upside depth, thinking I might lose out on Jacquizz Rodgers who will be counted on to start for Martin during the first three weeks. Not only did Rodgers fall, so did Charle Sims. I chose Rodgers, but I also could have had Dion Lewis, Alvin Kamara, D'Onta Foreman, Jonathan Williams and James Conner. Ultimately, I thought Rodgers could keep me on the winning side of September so I didn't have any holes to dig out of when Martin returned. It's a sacrifice of upside, but one I feel is necessary with Martin in tow.  

12th SPOT (Draft Gone Wrong)

I love to draft from the 12-spot and it's a place where I have won several leagues. So I thought it worthwhile to push my limits here. Let's wait on a quarterback and see what happens. If I am right in my estimation that I can have a Rivers or Stafford last long enough, I write about it. If not, I can profile what I will do if my draft goes wrong. I missed on my quarterbacks. 

Once I realized this, I thought about my choices: A) I could take two safe quarterbacks and hope for a break-out. B) I could take one quarterback and continue taking shots at high upside players. I chose B because I'd rather take shots on greatness that I might parlay into a deal for a better quarterback and I think it's more likely that a surprise top-12 quarterback will likely emerge as a waiver wire pick from 2017's rookie class or an injury sub like Jimmy Garappolo or Brett Hundley. I'd rather build on a strength and have a surplus for trade negotiations than two quarterbacks I don't want to start and no resources to trade. 

 

QBs: Sam Bradford

RBs: Ameer Abdullah, Doug Martin, Frank Gore, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, James Conner

WRs: Jordy Nelson, T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen, John Brown, Tyrell Williams, Marvin Jones Jr

TEs: Jimmy Graham, Evan Engram

PK: Justin Tucker

DEF: Broncos

Commentary

I considered Michael Thomas in the second round, but T.Y. Hilton was just a notch higher on my board. I also had the choice of Greg Olsen and Jordan Reed in the fourth round but opted for Graham, who I think is underrated based on last year's performance and I knew he wouldn't fall to me at the end of the fifth. That said, I could have waited for Delanie Walker and might have done that in half of my drafts from this spot. I was super tempted to take Theo Riddick ahead of either Frank Gore or LeGarrette Blount, but I realized it was due to my fear of Abdullah's injury history and not Riddick's value above Gore or Blount. Once I missed out on a reasonable quarterback, it was time to take some big swings. John Brown, Tyrell Williams, and Marvin Jones Jr all have high-end WR2 upside. If one or two of them hit, I could either deal one of my known studs like Nelson or Hilton or if I get outbid for a hot waiver wire quarterback to a team that has depth, I could package some combination of Jones, Williams, Brown and/or other options for that passer. I also took my kicker and defense a little early so I could ensure I got strong units in case I had to deal away a superstar. I want to make sure this team can withstand some losses through deals so I can shore up a hole if Sam Bradford or a waiver wire pick can't help me win. 

Four Upside Down Drafts; three I liked, one I messed up. Overall, I like what I'm getting from the mocks. Last year, mentioned that I wasn't sure this was the strategy of choice for me because the trend was so wide receiver heavy. This year, I think there's enough value with the influx of rookie running back talent that you can find value once again between rounds 5-10. Good luck.