Fantasy football average draft position: A key weapon for hunting RB value

Jay Dieffenbach

Fantasy football season isn’t “just around the corner” — it’s here, and if you haven’t begun plotting your draft course, you’re already behind the curve.

Haven’t heard about the latest news regarding Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers? The injury to Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers? No worries. We’ll present a few general strategies and key points of focus over the next couple of weeks to complement your deep-dive research.

Today: The average draft position (ADP) provides a guideline resource at running back for those with fantasy football drafts coming up.

It’s important to take the ADPs from two or three respected sources. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll use CBS Sports fantasy football draft results as well as the NFFC drafts.

CBS is widely used and represents a more general indication; NFFC is for the higher-stakes players who constantly seek analytical edges – and can sometimes outsmart themselves.

First, do the research as you ordinarily would – before looking at the ADP rankings. This will bring an unbiased view of potential value for your “final” draft rankings.

Let’s hit the most important position first, dividing running backs into tiers and then going to the ADPs to find the value.

We’ll use a standard PPR (points per reception), 12-team league as a reference point, and you’ll notice that this list is dominated by running backs because without a standout RB, chances to win your league are diminished.

My Tier 1 (Round 1 picks) for fantasy football running backs

  • Christian McCaffery
  • Dalvin Cook
  • Alvin Kamara
  • Derrick Henry
  • Jonathan Taylor
  • Saquon Barkley
  • Ezekiel Elliott
  • Austin Ekeler
  • Nick Chubb

That’s nine out of the 12 players in a typical fantasy football league’s first round. Running backs are important. The only gamble here would be to consider taking Chubb, Elliott and Ekeler in front of Barkley and Green Bay Packers star Aaron Jones – and that’s because of questions that may have answers known before your draft.

Barkley: His recovery from major knee surgery has not been without its problems, and if he is limited during the first week or two of training camp, well, that’s a red flag. This week, his ADP is No. 8 at CBS; No. 6 at NFFC, whose Barkley position seems based on confidence in his recovery.

Jones: News surfaced on Tuesday that Rodgers turned down the Packers’ offer to make the standout QB the highest paid NFL player – ever. That’s something to follow closely because it affects Jones’ value and, by association, his fantasy football draft position. This week, his ADP is No. 6 at CBS; No. 14 at NFFC – do the wiseguys know more than the general population?

If you are drafting before there is clarity with Rodgers, and before Barkley returns to the field, Elliott, Ekeler and Chubb offer better certainty for your stone-cold RB1.

And that’s just Tier 1 running backs.

Go through your top tiers and then consult the ADPs. Here are a few potential hidden opportunities if your draft is coming soon.

Fantasy football value among the Tier 2 running backs includes Steelers rookie Harris

Three names stand out here, and if you weren’t able to pull the RB trigger in Round 1, your attention should focus on Jones, the Washington Football Team’s Antonio Gibson, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Najee Harris and Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Mixon.

The latter three, respectively, are ADP 16, 17 and 18 at NFFC.

Mixon is 16th at CBS, Harris is 20th and Gibson is all the way out at No. 30 and could serve as your Round 3 steal if you feel like gambling.

As a second-round selection, Jones could make a strong second running back – if you took an RB in Round 1 — or, if you went QB or Travis Kelce in Round 1, Jones could serve as your No. 1 RB if you aren’t too risk-averse regarding the Green Bay offense.

The volume is perhaps the most important factor when considering Gibson, Mixon and Harris. Those three, plus Detroit Lions workhorse D’Andre Swift, are being targeted to receive a legitimate RB1 workload this season.

Fringe Tier 2 guys, Baltimore Ravens second-year star JK Dobbins and Clyde Edwards-Helaire of the Kansas City Chiefs, have some usage questions: Ravens QB Lamar Jackson maintains a big share of the running game; the Chiefs offense simply has too many options to allow Edwards-Helaire to shoulder a full RB1 load.

Bottom line: Be sure you secure a star RB at least by the top of Round 2.

Lower tier fantasy value is abundant in early drafts

In a traditional roster build, you could prepare to have your QB, RB and WR all set entering Round 4. What kind of RB could be available at pick 37+?

The volume is the value, once again.

In Seattle, coach Pete Carroll has taken QB Russell Wilson out of the kitchen (no more Russell cooking) and likely will underscore the importance of the ground game. That means Chris Carson (ADP 37 at CBS; 39 at NFFC) could be there for you.

The Philadelphia Eagles figure to be a more dynamic offense team, and QB Jalen Hurts’ ability to move the sticks could enhance the fantasy football value at running back. So Miles Sanders (ADP 38 at CBS; 32 at NFFC) will take a bigger responsibility, with pass receptions likely to increase as well.

At Jacksonville, the coach Urban Meyer-QB Trevor Lawrence era begins. The uncertainty as training camp nears could open up opportunity at RB.

Although rookie Travis Etienne has been a popular target (47 CBS; 44 NFFC), James Robinson already proved he can handle a big workload. Robinson was the No. 7-8 consensus points leader among running backs in 2020. If the belief is that the share will favor Robinson by a 65-35 margin, he’ll be a big-time value as a Round 5 or Round 6 selection. His ADP is at 49 in NFFC but all the way out at 83 for CBS.

Another volume hog figures to be Atlanta Falcons RB Mike Davis. He’s listed in front of both Etienne and Robinson on ESPN’s 2021 RB projections and stands as the Falcons’ main running back. His ADP also varies widely, from 72 at NFFC to 48 for CBS. If he’s still on the board at the start of Round 6, he’s another value play.

With Akers out, Henderson could move into prominent role for Rams

Finally, let's circle back on Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers (ADP 15 at CBS; 11 at NFFC before his Achilles injury that likely ends his season before it begins). The Rams’ No. 2 back, Darrell Henderson, could move into the ADP 20-25 range, but that’s a little too high until we see what the Rams really plan to do at running back.

Henderson, if still available, would be a nice value at the top of the fourth round for fantasy football drafts this week.

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