After taking a look at some of the best ADP value picks at the quarterback position, it’s time to move onto the running backs. This is one of the most important positions in fantasy football, as true “feature” backs just aren’t growing on trees.
I’m well aware that you can nab talented backs in the middle and late rounds, but things still need to break just right for them to work out. It’s still pretty important to try to land 1-2 stud running backs early in drafts while they’re still available.
That being said, there is value to be had as the draft moves on and I think it’s obvious already when you look at the ADP data going into June. With that said, here’s a look at some of my favorite running back value picks after round one:
LeSean McCoy – Buffalo Bills (Round 2)
Obviously not every running back being taken in round two is a value pick, but Shady does feel like a steal here. His team doesn’t look great on paper, but they misused him in 2017 and he’ll have a new offensive coordinator to work with this year.
That, and he’s still arguably in his prime and shapes up as the clear bell cow for a team that will need to establish the run to be competitive. McCoy offers value in PPR leagues and has been a yardage fiend throughout his career, safely topping 1,400+ total yards six different times.
Barring injury, McCoy again looks like the main man in Buffalo this year and considering he’s fresh off of a 7th place finish among fantasy rushers in 2017, it’s pretty debatable he’s being under-valued.
There is always concern of aging running backs, but McCoy didn’t seem to lose a step in 2017 and all signs point to him remaining a key fixture of this offense. Provided he doesn’t get shipped out of town, he could return serious value in round two of fantasy football drafts.
Jay Ajayi – Philadelphia Eagles (Round 3)
Getting traded can certainly hurt your fantasy value. Jay Ajayi was a monster with the Miami Dolphins in 2016, finishing as fantasy football’s 10th best performer. Miami fell out of love with him in the first half of the 2017 season, however, and dealt him to Philly.
That led to a 33rd place finish, but Ajayi still flexed his muscle early in the year with big 122-yard and 130-yard outings, while he also was effective as one of Philadelphia’s many viable running backs.
I understand the hesitance to confide in Ajayi early, mainly because he’s currently just one piece to a very dynamic offensive puzzle in Philly. However, if he’s about to be the team’s workhorse running back, fantasy owners need to take notice.
LeGarrette Blount left town, so the early down and goal-line work figures to fall to Ajayi. Darren Sproles and Corey Clement will chip away as change-of-pace options, but there is real value and upside to be had with Ajayi if things break just right.
Jerick McKinnon – San Francisco 49ers (Round 3)
I’ve yet to fully convince myself that McKinnon is a must-draft guy in fantasy football leagues this year. However, Kyle Shanahan’s track record with running backs has been pretty good and there has never been any denying McKinnon’s athletic ability.
Previously held back in Minnesota, McKinnon does appear to have the speed and versatility to turn into a dynamite fantasy baller in 2018. After all, Shanny helped make Carlos Hyde a top-14 guy in 2017 and helped Devonta Freeman churn out the 5th best fantasy running back outing in 2016.
With the 49ers suggesting McKinnon will take on the “Freeman” role in this offense, the upside is very easy to see.
Role, athleticism and receiving ability all combine to make McKinnon one of the top fantasy football sleepers going into 2018.
Kenyan Drake – Miami Dolphins (Round 4)
Miami shipped the aforementioned Jay Ajayi out of town for three reasons; Adam Gase felt he wasn’t buying into his core concepts, the Dolphins got value in return and they felt strongly about the running backs behind him.
It took a while for Miami to fully buy into Kenyan Drake and they did invest further into the position this offseason, but he still has way too much upside to ignore in round four.
There is understandable reason for his ADP, but as Brandon Marianne Lee points out, it may not lead to his demise:
Kenyan Drake keeps dropping in drafts. This article is why. But if you read it, it just says they’ll make him work for it. I guess if I go by what I saw last year, he still ends up on top and I just got a discount… would love to hear your thoughts. https://t.co/u5bw9wQv6e
— Brandon Marianne Lee (@BrandonHerFFB) June 3, 2018
I think the added competition is cause for pause, but Drake has elite game-breaking ability. Just look at this run:
This Kenyan Drake run is jaw dropping. Simply amazing! pic.twitter.com/sb2nVigPg4
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) December 12, 2017
This is honestly just one of several insanely impressive runs by Drake, detailing his vision, awareness and his change-of-direction ability.
If I am not loaded at running back come round four or five and Drake is staring at me, I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. The talent is there and it’s still quite possible the role will be as well.
Carlos Hyde – Cleveland Browns (Round 5)
I mentioned how Hyde put up a 14th place finish last year and while that was partially due to a great system in San Francisco, it’s also because he’s an underrated talent. Hyde is in Ohio where good players usually go to die in the NFL, but it actually seems like Cleveland is trying (and succeeding) this year.
He’s got the inside track at the starting gig, with just scat-back Duke Johnson and rookie Nick Chubb in his way.
Carlos Hyde the favorite to start in Week 1 for Cleveland https://t.co/1mXxaYH4Pz
— numberFire NFL (@numberFire_NFL) June 9, 2018
Logic suggests the starting gig is his to lose and history suggests he’s got the physicality, second level burst and versatility to make a big impact. In round five, worse risks can be taken.
Derrius Guice – Washington Redskins (Round 5)
This is right around the time in fantasy drafts where I’m slowly starting to look for high upside guys that may not be handed a role right away, but may pay off later. Depending on where you’re at, you may have to decide between someone like Guice or Hyde.
My pick is leaning toward Guice, as he’s a special talent and immediately is Washington’s top rusher. I still think he could face competition early on, but I’d be a bit surprised if he’s not ultimately the Redskin’s top back in 2018.
The crazy thing with Guice is he had dominant game-breaking ability at LSU, yet some whispers about character concerns had him slide out of the first round. Adding to his rushing talent, too, is solid receiving ability everyone seems to be raving about:
I dunno, I think Derrius Guice can be a pretty good receiver. pic.twitter.com/OdeH0uPeAD
— Fusue Vue (@lifesyourcup) June 6, 2018
If Guice is the complete back the Redskins think he is, he could be a flat out steal in round five or later.
Sony Michel – New England Patriots (Round 6)
I know Michel is a special talent, but my main concern here is the Pats are so stacked at running back. It will be very interesting to see how everyone fits into their role, as New England presently needs to figure out how they want to use Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee and obviously the rookie, Michel.
Michel is probably now the most talented back New England has, but Bill Belichick is about exploiting matchups, versatility and avoiding turnovers. Here in round six you can gamble a bit and I’d be willing to roll the dice on Michel’s talent and upside. I just might tack on another Pats running back in case it doesn’t work out.
Rashaad Penny – Seattle Seahawks (Round 6)
Can we trust that the Seattle Seahawks actually know what they’re doing on the ground? They haven’t managed to consistently produce in their backfield since Marshawn Lynch left the team and every guy we wanted to believe in ultimately ended up being a bust.
Penny may change that, as he has three-down talent and is already in the lead for the team’s every down role.
The only problem, of course, is the presence of a seemingly transformed Chris Carson:
— Seahawks Report (@seahawks_fanly) June 11, 2018
Carson is certainly talented and this could be his year, but I’m a bit more inclined to believe the Seahawks give Penny every chance to win the job. He seems more built to handle a full workload and Seattle has raved about him to this point.
Ronald Jones – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Round 8)
Unless the Bucs end up bringing in more running back talent, I’m going to snatch up a lot of Ronald Jones in fantasy football drafts this summer. There just isn’t much standing in his way, as Doug Martin went to Oakland and guys like Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and even Charles Sims are relatively middling talents.
It’s quite possible Tampa Bay tries to work in all of these guys (they seem to like Barber a good deal), but Jones is their most talented rusher come 2018. It might not happen right away (which is why you can get him in round 8), but you’re taking him hoping the speed translates and he can develop on the fly.
Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos (Round 9)
I don’t mind taking a shot on Freeman, either. C.J. Anderson is gone, which means the only logical thing standing in the rookie’s way is (gulp) Devontae Booker. Booker isn’t without talent and it does sound like Denver wants him to succeed, but he’s proven to be a bust thus far.
If that theme is to continue, the talented Freeman could quickly find himself with a big role and also returning elite value late in fantasy football drafts.