My general strategy with running backs is to hammer the position early and often. Running backs are volatile and unpredictable; since even experts are wrong so often on running backs, I want to take as many shots as possible. Some will be flops, and you’ll wonder what you were thinking in hindsight. But the running back picks that hit can be league winners. I often remind myself in drafts; just when you think you have enough running backs on your roster, draft one more to be sure.
Running back rankings are based on PPR scoring. I will note adjustments to make in standard leagues when necessary.
Tier 9: Lottery Tickets
41. Carlos Hyde (Kansas City Chiefs) – Do I think Hyde is a good player anymore? I’m not really sure. He’s bounced around to four different teams in the past year, which usually isn’t a great sign. Hyde did just score 234 fantasy points in 2017 for the 49ers, good for an RB8 season that feels like a decade ago. But that was completely volume-based, as Hyde averaged 3.9 yards per attempt on the ground, and saw 88 targets which he turned into a shockingly low 350 yards on 59 catches. Whether or not Hyde still has anything left in the tank, he is in a good spot to be the goalline back on 2018’s highest-scoring team. So I’ll take my shots on Hyde in drafts. In a backfield led by Damien Williams, who has never topped 50 carries in a season, and backed up by 6th round rookie Darwin Thompson, it’s within the realm of possibilities that Hyde finds himself as the last man standing at some point this year. That alone is worth a late-round flyer.
42. Damien Harris (New England Patriots) – Sony Michel‘s balky knee makes Harris a little more than a typical handcuff, as the Patriots run enough to support multiple backs at times. James White will primarily be a pass catcher, and Rex Burkhead could be in danger of losing his roster spot. The conventional wisdom is to draft the Patriots running back going latest in drafts as a cheap way to take a shot on one of the league’s most productive running games. Harris has good burst and is a little more versatile than White or Michel, so he should find a role. He doesn’t look like a superstar, but if White goes down he could perform like one in an offense led by Tom Brady.
43. D’Onta Foreman (Houston Texans) – Now over a year removed from an Achilles injury that has been a career-ender for every running back that has suffered the injury, Foreman is garnering hype out of camp. I’m still skeptical that he can overcome this injury to regain his explosion, but if he does, Lamar Miller has been unimpressive in his tenure with Houston and could easily see his workload reduced. I still think Foreman would only get a part-time role in his first year back, ultimately lowering his ceiling barring an injury to Miller.
44. Jamaal Williams (Green Bay Packers) – Williams is not an explosive runner, but he does enough of the things that coaches love, like pass blocking, to keep him on the field. With Aaron Jones suffering some minor injuries over the past two years, Williams will likely mix in a decent amount, giving him a little bit of value. And he’s a Jones injury away from potentially regaining his starting job if he isn’t passed up on the depth chart from behind. If the Packers offense breaks out like I think it should, he’s worth a dart throw at the end of drafts and a stash on your bench until a better waiver option emerges.
Tier 10: Depth and Handcuffs
45. Nyheim Hines (Indianapolis Colts) – Hines carved out a nice pass game role in his rookie year, racking up 81 targets and 161 PPR points in 2018. This was good for a solid RB27 finish. If you wanted a poor man’s Tarik Cohen or James White, Hines is available late in drafts and should produce some flex worthy games. The Colts keep adding passing game weapons, however, so I worry that Hines could get squeezed out of some targets, making it hard to bet on too much progression. And a Marlon Mack injury likely wouldn’t change his role much, as he is limited primarily to the passing game.
46. Dion Lewis (Tennessee Titans) – Lewis tied with Hines in points scored last year, but at 28 he likely possesses even less upside than Hines. He’s been clearly surpassed by Derrick Henry in the backfield and plays on a mediocre at best offense. He did catch 59 passes last year, though, and could be used in a pinch at flex in PPR leagues.
47. Adrian Peterson (Washington Redskins) – I may be too low on Peterson, but I’m just likely to have no interest in drafting the former all-time great. His lack of passing game work is scary on a team that expects to play a raw rookie quarterback at some point, likely leading to the Redskins playing from behind. At age 34, Peterson could still fill the red zone role, but when he doesn’t score he could have a very low floor making him hard to trust.
48. Justin Jackson (Los Angeles Chargers) – I don’t expect Melvin Gordon to ultimately hold out, but if he does, Jackson will shoot up draft boards. As a former 7th round draft pick, Jackson likely won’t set the world on fire, but he would step into massive volume potential along with Austin Ekeler. Ekeler holds more value as he already fills a complementary role to Gordon, explaining the gap between the two. But Jackson is worth a stash at the end of your bench if you draft early, to wait and see how the Gordon situation plays out.
49. Jaylen Samuels (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Many are higher on Samuels and think he could challenge James Conner for regular work. In that case, move Samuels up to around RB40. I tend to think Conner continues where he left off last year, but Samuels is still a good stash and temporary handcuff. I usually don’t recommend handcuffs, as they tie up a valuable roster spot. But if you are going to handcuff anywhere, the Steelers backfield is the place to do it. Seemingly every back that starts for Pittsburgh scores 20 points, and Samuels pass game talents play well in PPR leagues.
50. Matt Breida (San Francisco 49ers) – Breida is a warrior that plays through injuries constantly, but that also means that he is getting injured constantly. I think Tevin Coleman will take most of the volume, and Jerick McKinnon will eventually mix in as a pass-catcher. Breida may be left in a limited role but has some value if McKinnon can’t recover from ACL surgery, as Coleman isn’t likely to be a workhorse.
51. Peyton Barber (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – He’s just a guy, but if Ronald Jones II falls on his face, Barber will have his role back that produced 150 fantasy points last year, good for RB31. That may have value for zero running back drafters, but I think that is likely his ceiling, giving him a boring profile.
52. Justice Hill (Baltimore Ravens) – You may not have to draft Hill, but I would certainly keep an eye on him, and he could even be worth an end of the bench stash. Hill has an elite 40 yard dash time and excellent burst and he can be viewed as a poor man’s Reggie Bush. Hill looked good at Oklahoma St. and showed explosiveness when he had space, so he would be an intriguing option if the Ravens get creative on offense this year. The fourth-round rookie’s upside is likely capped by the presence of Mark Ingram, and Hill isn’t going to be a traditional three-down back, but I would be interested in rostering him in deep leagues until we see what the Ravens have in store for him.
53. Alexander Mattison (Minnesota Vikings) – Mattison is one Dalvin Cook injury away from a substantial workload. As much as the Vikings want to run the ball, he may even sneak in some stand-alone value. He’s a workhorse type back, so it’s possible he develops a goalline role. The third-round rookie from Boise State is an underrated dynasty pick as well.
54. Chase Edmonds (Arizona Cardinals) – Edmonds is a pure handcuff to David Johnson, though if the Cardinals run a high play volume offense he could get some work spelling DJ. And if this offense breaks out, and Johnson gets hurt at any point, Edmonds will be an instant waiver wire priority add.
55. Malcolm Brown (Los Angeles Rams) – For all the worry about Todd Gurley, all of the hype has gone to Darrell Henderson, and understandably so. But the Rams matched an offer sheet to keep Brown around and let C.J. Anderson leave in free agency, so that has to count for something. He’s a decent last round pick to hold onto until we finally see Gurley in action in week one.
56. Dexter Williams (Green Bay Packers) – Jamal Williams isn’t an impressive runner, and Dexter has had some preseason buzz around him. With good burst and agility, Dexter was drafted in the 6th round by the new coaching staff in Green Bay. It’s not inconceivable that Dexter could pass up Jamaal, leaving him an Aaron Jones injury away from being the starter in Green Bay.
57. Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys) – The likely backup to Ezekial Elliott, Pollard is worth monitoring as Zeke’s holdout progresses. He’s probably not a three-down back, but any prolonged holdout would make Pollard an instant add in fantasy leagues.
58. Ryquell Armstead (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Leonard Fournette‘s backup always has value, as Fournette has battled soft tissue injuries his entire career. A 5th round pick out of Temple, Armstead will likely have fantasy relevance at some point this year.
59. C.J. Anderson (Detroit Lions) – Anderson should have a goalline role in a run-heavy offense, frustrating Kerryon Johnson owners to no end, because that’s what the Lions do. Think of Anderson as the modern LeGarrette Blount.
60. Duke Johnson (Cleveland Browns) – Johnson’s value would stem from a potential trade, which has been rumored. A trade to Tampa Bay has been floated on the internet, which would be an ideal landing spot. But he’s likely to have limited value on a Browns team that he seems to be at odds with.
(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)