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The Importance of Running Backs in Fantasy Football

It’s no secret that running backs and wide receivers are the two most important positions in fantasy football.  Some may try to tell you quarterbacks and tight ends are undervalued, but those are the same people who drafted Lamar Jackson in the 1st round last year and had a dud of a season.  I am a firm believer that you should wait to draft QB and TE until the middle rounds, and load up on the skill positions in the early rounds.  Today, I want to emphasize why RB should be the position you look to lock down first, as long as you don’t sacrifice value.

Value is King, Always

I want to start off this analysis with a bit of a disclaimer.  While I do believe certain positions are more valuable than others in fantasy, you should always draft for value first.  What is value?  It’s a player being available past the point you/the consensus thinks they should be available.  If Tyreek Hill is #8 in your rankings and you have the 11th pick, you should take him at that spot as long as no one higher on your rankings is also there.  You should not take some running back you have ranked significantly lower than Hill just because he is an RB.  That’s not what I’m saying.

With that being said, you should go into the draft with an understanding that the running back position is inherently more valuable than the receiver position.  Most well-minded fantasy analysts will have five RBs to start their overall rankings this year before a WR is even considered.  There’s your proof people value the RB position more than any other.  The goal of this article is to emphasize that RB is a position you cannot be weak at once the draft is over.  That doesn’t mean you have to focus solely on RB and make yourself weak everywhere else.  You just have to have at least a couple guys you feel good about.  Let me get more specific.

Running Back Tiers Are Real and Extreme

We often talk about tiers of players in fantasy.  Tiers are essentially groups of players we expect to perform similarly, and are usually identified in rankings.  What makes running backs so valuable is that the drop off between tiers is larger than any other position.  Here is the difference in points scored from the #1 to #10 scoring players at each position last season (PPR):

QB: 64 points

RB: 159 points

WR: 104 points

TE: 163 points

Yes, tight ends have the biggest difference, but that is due to the extremely front loaded nature of the position.  Kelce put up WR1 level points, and every other TE in the league was well behind him.  The difference in points between TE3 and TE13 was only 33 points.  So, you get one of the top 3, or you wait as long as you can.  Anyways, here are the points differences between the #1 and #20 players at each position (minus TE):

QB: 155 points

RB: 191 points

WR: 135 points

So what does this mean?  It means passing on running backs early is going to cost you more points per game production than passing on any other position, in general.  It’s better to end up with RB1 and WR10 than RB10 and WR1 essentially.  If you do not get running backs early, other managers will, and you will be left weak at a position that is unforgiving to those who are weak at it.  Of course, where you draft matters, and I’ll end this article with a breakdown of what to do at each spot in the draft.

Running Back Workloads Are Consistent

Workload consistency is huge in fantasy football.  I would much rather have an RB that gets 15 carries every single game than one that gets 5 in one game and 25 in the next.  It’s so reliable to have someone in your lineup who you know is going to get a decent amount of touches no matter what happens.  That is the case with top running backs.  Last year, Stefon Diggs was targeted 166 times, the most in the NFL.  Mike Davis carried the ball 165 times, 20th most in the league.

So, yeah, running backs get the ball way more than receivers.  And while running plays average less yards than passing plays, a target is not a guarantee of a catch.  That is, when the RB carries the ball, he touches the ball 100% of the time.  When receivers are targeted, they touch the ball much less than 100% of the time.  The most catches last season was 127 (Diggs).  Jeff Wilson had 126 carries, 34th most in the league.  I rest my case.

What To Do In The Draft

So yeah, running backs are pretty damn valuable in fantasy.  You give up the most when missing out on the top tiers at the position, and nowhere else can you find the level of workload consistency that the position provides.  As I said, you should always draft for value, but when making your rankings and planning your draft you should account for running backs being more valuable.  But the question remains, how do we put this knowledge to use in the draft?  Here are some tips I find useful for this year:

  • If you are picking 1-6, take whoever is the best RB on the board (my rankings have all those spots filled by an RB)
  • If you are picking 7-10, go either RB or WR depending on your ranks/personal opinions.  But if you take a WR here, you need to target an RB in round 2 unless the best one available is a big reach.
  • If you are picking 11-12, take whoever you want (a.k.a. Kelce is acceptable here), but once again, make sure to get an RB at the beginning of round 2.
  • Make sure you exit the first two rounds with at least one RB, and taking two is not a bad idea.
  • Make sure you exit the first four rounds with at least two RBs you feel really comfortable with.  I would advise looking to go RB in round 3 instead of 4 as a lot of other drafters will likely go RB heavy.

Final Thoughts

Well there it is, my analysis of why RB is the most important position in fantasy and what you should do with that information.  Just remember, value is king, ALWAYS.  Any drafting guidelines or positional biases I present should never be used if they are sacrificing value.  In a nutshell, if there is an RB and a WR available, and you like them both about equally, take the RB.  If you like the receiver a lot more, take him.  I hope this was helpful, and when it comes to fantasy my door is always open so feel free to comment or tweet me questions!