Koerner’s Best Ball Fantasy Football Tiers: Running Backs

Jun 11, 2019 2:00 PM EDT
Credit:

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott

  • Sean Koerner ranks the top fantasy football running backs into tiers for best ball.
  • He explains various strategies at RB and when to target certain backs.

My strategy differs the most between re-draft and best ball at running back.

I like to draft a wide receiver early in re-draft if I can’t get one of the top four running backs. I then load up on RBs in later rounds, and leave my bench spots almost exclusively for them (especially handcuff/backup types) throughout the season. The reason? Running back is the most volatile position due to weak job security and higher injury rates.

But in best ball, you have to rely on the RBs you draft — there are no in-season roster moves — so I put a much higher premium on drafting RBs early on.

Because of the chaos the position creates, I want to emphasize that looking at or using set projections/rankings when drafting can be a bit misleading. It assumes that what we think today will hold true all season. That’s where people get into trouble.

Before we dig into my tiers, I’ll show you how to view RB outlooks through a three-dimensional lens so that we can better identify which could be league winners (or busts). To do this, I came up with following designations, which we’ll use to identify four types of backs throughout my tiers.

Let’s define all four types, identify 2018 comps, then explain the draft strategy associated with each. Note that RBs who fit any of the four designations will be labeled with the corresponding number.

Type No. 1: Cheapest RB in a Committee

This describes one of two to three running backs who are expected to share the workload in a team’s backfield. We’re ultimately guessing what the pecking order will be in these instances, but there’s enough uncertainty heading into the season that each of the backs has a chance to run away with a workhorse role.

2018 comps: Phillip Lindsay, Chris Carson

Draft strategy: Taking the cheapest back in a committee can pay serious dividends if you hit, just look at last season’s examples. The problem is luck.

If you take a flier on the cheapest back in a running back by committee (RBBC) and the preseason expectations are accurate, you can be left with a back who doesn’t see enough playing time for best ball purposes. These types of backs are much easier to manage during the season in a re-draft league.

Type No. 2: A Stud RB’s Backup

This type of back would be able to handle close to the same every-down workload of the starter. They’re clearly less talented than the starter, but can excel if given the opportunity. People tend to focus too much on the talent of the RB, but opportunity is just as (if not more) important than talent when it comes to fantasy football.

This is the ultimate type of risk/reward back, especially in best ball, since they’re unlikely to see many touches as long as the starter is healthy.

2018 comp: James Conner

Draft strategy: If the RB ahead of them on the depth chart stays healthy, these backs will see little to no playing time. However, there’s upside if the starter misses time and their backup instantly becomes a RB1/2. This type of RB can also act as an insurance policy if you draft the starter, but handcuffing is easier to manage in-season in re-draft leagues.

I wouldn’t want to roll the dice on too many of these backs in best ball unless I’m pairing them with early-round RBs to raise my team’s floor, but that doesn’t fall under the “go big or go home” mindset you should employ in best ball.

Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: James Conner

Type No. 3: RBs with Secure Committee Roles

This type of back is already a known fantasy commodity, but splits time. They provide useful week-to-week value in their current role, but have the potential for league-winning upside if their counterpart happens to miss time, or if they end up taking over the backfield completely.

2018 comps: Derrick Henry, Tevin Coleman

Draft strategy: These are the types of RBs I most covet in best ball drafts.

They typically don’t come cheap since you can bank on them to produce solid weekly value in a timeshare. But the market tends to price them out in a way that assumes their counterpart will be healthy all season, and that the timeshare will make their week-to-week scores fairly inconsistent. The latter isn’t really a concern in best ball, so I see these backs as low risk, high reward.

At worse, they end up doing exactly what we expected and simply return their draft value. At best, they take over the workhorse role in-season.

Type No. 4: RBs to Approach Carefully

These are backs who are ranked and/or being drafted right in line with my preseason projections, but are not in stable situations and could see their value fall to the basement at a moment’s notice.

That’s the pitfall of solely relying on two-dimensional projections at face value.

2018 comps: Rashaad Penny, Alex Collins, Kenyan Drake, Ronald Jones, Jamaal Williams

Draft strategy: It’s almost impossible to avoid drafting at least one of these backs, but you should try. They’re the more expensive option in a potential two- to three-back committee. They’re also the most likely to lead it, but I’ve found the market tends to overprice them. They typically lurk in the RB2/3 range.

Now let’s dig into my tiers. Remember that any backs who fit any of the aforementioned types will be labeled with the corresponding number.

Note: For scoring and ADP purposes, I will be referencing DRAFT.


More Best Ball Tiers: QB | WR | TE


Tier 1

Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

You can make a case that Barkley should get Tier 1 all to himself, but I decided to slot all top four RBs here as they should be the first four overall picks in most formats.

I’ll typically take Barkley No. 1 overall since getting the first pick is luck of the draw. He’ll be the first player off the board in most drafts, so it’s easier to diversify how you handle draft Picks 2-4 to even out your exposure.

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Saquon Barkley

The truth is that if any one of these backs misses extended time, it would cripple that team’s chances of winning the league. I’d rather spread out my exposure on such a fragile pick and try to win the league with value picks later in the draft that won’t kill me if they get hurt.

Zeke’s off-the-field issues have returned. I fully expect him to avoid a suspension for now, but with his history, I’ve decided to break the tie for Picks 2-4 and rank him last among the four due to the risk. McCaffrey is a safer bet for volume while Kamara is a safer bet for touchdowns, but since volume is a bit more predictive in value, I’m leaning CMC No. 2 overall.

Tier 2

Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers
Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

I’m a bit more cynical about this tier for re-draft, but I love it for best ball.

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