Drafting running backs early in 2017 seems to be the increasingly common strategy. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, 17 running backs are being drafted in the first three rounds in PPR leagues.
The prevailing thought seems to be if you miss out on a running back in the early rounds you have no good options left. This is just not true as there is value at the position all throughout the draft.
Even in the double digit rounds, the late rounds, there are great options who can be weekly starters for winning teams. Here are several players that could be draft-day bargains and saviors for Zero RB enthusiasts.
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Without a doubt the most important factor when looking for running backs is touches. You can’t accumulate yards and touchdowns without handling the ball, so nothing correlates better to fantasy success than touches. When looking for late round running backs we want players who already are getting plenty of touches or have a clear path to getting more touches. To make it easier here is a guideline:
- They should have a clearly defined role in the offense that makes it fairly easy to predict their touches from week to week.
- If they aren’t the starting running back or are in a timeshare, there should be a clear path to an increased role either through injuries or performance.
Our late round running backs should check off at least one of these points. You should put a premium on running backs who check off the first box. These are the players that can start for you from week one and can fill in when you have injuries or bye weeks. Players in situation two may not offer as much at the moment but they are one injury or benching away from having a very big role. Be clear though, we don’t want handcuffs who sit on the bench giving us zero’s every week. We want players who have a role and just need things to break their way to see an increased in that role.
So now that we know what we are looking for, let’s take a look at some late round running backs who can help your team win.
Note: We will be using Fantasy Calculator’s ADP for PPR formats. Fantasy Calculator tends to fall in line more with casual leagues:
Jonathan Stewart (RB, CAR), RB45
While rookie Christian McCaffrey continues to garner all the hype, old-reliable Stewart has been virtually forgotten by fantasy drafters. McCaffrey appears to be little threat to Stewart’s early down and goal-line role, likely to be used more in the passing game. While Stewart isn’t flashy he had at least 10 touches in 11 of his 13 games played. He also received a carry or target on 42.1% of the Panthers goal-line snaps in 2016 which ranked 10th best among running backs. Over the last three years he has finished as RB24, RB24 and RB29. Currently the 45th running back off the board Stewart should easily outperform his ADP.
Darren Sproles (RB, PHI), RB51
In 2016 Sproles finished as RB24 and averaged 11 PPG, and his situation entering 2017 is largely unchanged. Sure, the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount to replace Ryan Mathews as the power back, but that has little effect on Sproles. Sproles is a weapon in the passing game and has seen at least 80 targets in four of the last six years. Over that same stretch he has never had fewer than 40 catches, 700 total yards and four touchdowns. Those are high RB3 numbers and that is his floor. We saw last year the Eagles would not hesitate to use him in the running game if Blount struggles, which is likely as the Eagles try to use him in an East/West fashion rather than the straight ahead runner he is. Some are worried about Donnel Pumphrey assuming his role, but Pumphrey has looked bad in the preseason and is little threat to Sproles. Being drafted as running back 51 makes him an easy pick to outperform his ADP.
Jeremy Hill (RB, CIN) & Gio Bernard (RB, CIN), RB52, RB53
With everyone expecting Joe Mixon to just dominate this backfield his draft price has risen to a ridiculous early fourth. Meanwhile Hill and Bernard can be had in the late 12th and early 13th. Bernard is recovering from a torn ACL, and while he hasn’t played in preseason yet he has been a full participant in camp. Bernard is a dangerous threat out of the backfield and should have a role in this passing game. Hill, meanwhile, has been sharing first team snaps with Mixon in the preseason and is also likely to have a role, even if it’s just a goal line role to start. If Mixon struggles, Hill and Bernard could see a much bigger workload. Regardless both should have no trouble outperforming their late round ADP’s by seasons end.
Rex Burkhead (RB, NEP), RB58
Many experts widely believed that Mike Gillislee was going to assume the Blount role for the Patriots, and his fifth round ADP shows this. However there is a better running back, and a more likely candidate to assume that role, available later in the draft in the form of Burkhead. Unfortunately Gillislee’s hamstring and Burkhead’s performance in the preseason is starting to drive his ADP up, but he’s still a steal this late in the draft. Burkhead excels not only running between the tackles but in the passing game as well. He could easily be a two-down back in this offense and he’s someone you should be targeting in all of your drafts. Let someone else take Gillislee in the fifth while you scoop up the player most likely to lead this backfield in touches in the 13th.
Shane Vereen (RB, NYG), RB64
The Giants backfield is typically a wasteland as they don’t run often or successfully enough. In 2016 the Giants ran the ball only 398 times (23rd fewest) while throwing it 598 times (8th most). While that hurts Paul Perkins value, it helps Vereen’s. In 2014 with the Patriots and 2015 with the Giants, Vereen had 52 and 59 catches respectively. He will have an immediate role in the passing game and could assume a much larger role if Perkins struggles or gets banged up. In PPR formats Vereen should have high RB3 value with the potential for more and will easily outperform his ADP.
Hopefully you now realize running back value exists all throughout the draft, even late. Don’t reach on a running back early because you feel like you have to get one. Once you get past the first five or six players the drop off is severe and you are better served waiting a bit. Don’t be surprised if a few of the players listed above end up on championship winning teams in 2017 either.
Check out RotoBaller’s famous 2017 fantasy football draft sleepers and waiver wire pickups list, updated regularly!