Written By: Austin Lee
It’s no secret that running backs are valued by fantasy managers like the gold at Fort Knox. If you’re in a long-running league that is really competitive, that running back value becomes even more skewed and it becomes even harder to get trades done in season. What that means is the pressure to get your running backs early and getting them right in your drafts becomes that much more intensified. Knowing and understanding your league and league mates is one of the most important tips for all fantasy managers out there, and that includes knowing how and when to pivot to create leverage against everyone else in your league.
Almost everyone goes into their drafts with some sort of “strategy”, but it’s incredibly important to be able to pivot when things don’t go as planned. Now, this is a running back article but I want to talk about wide receivers for just a moment. Your top tier running backs are highly valued because the wide receiver position is so deep. There is a ton of parity at the receiver position that you can easily find value across nearly every round in fantasy drafts. After the top 25 running backs are gone, there’s a huge drop-off in production at that position.
As you can see in the chart above (Credit: Jeff Greenwood) the hit rate for running backs takes a huge dip after round 3. In order for your running back to really help your fantasy team, they need to be in that top-24 range. If you choose to or are forced to pivot early in your draft and have to snag running backs in the middle-late rounds, it’s important you hit the right one(s). Let’s take a look at some of the best middle round options that have the highest probabilities of hitting.
Damien Harris (Round 7 – RB28)
Harris faced an average of 7.4 defenders in the box in 2020 (2nd highest in the league) and still managed 5.0 yards per carry and 2.0 yards after contact. The issue with Harris last season was Cam Newton stealing his rushing touchdowns (12 to be exact). Mac Jones is already being rumored to have beaten out Newton for the starting job and is not a rushing quarterback. Newton has also been added to the COVID/IR list. Simply put, if Mac Jones is the quarterback, Damien Harris’ value goes through the roof and he will be a steal in fantasy drafts. I currently have him as my RB19.
Phillip Lindsay (Round 13 – RB46)
I want to start this debate by bringing up that there are 32 NFL teams and 32 starting running backs. Phillip Lindsay is the starting running back for the laughable Houston Texans, but the starter nonetheless. His current ADP has him as being less productive than 13 backup running backs. The Texans are going to be awful – the worst team in the league by all accounts and by far the worst organization in the league. While I do not deny those things, Lindsay is an electric running back and behind him on the depth chart are the ghost of Mark Ingram and the shell of David Johnson. In Lindsay’s rookie season, he finished as the RB13 and in 2019 he finished as the RB19. With career marks of 4.72 YPC and 8.5 TDs, it makes no sense why he’s being faded so heavily.
Trey Sermon (Round 8 – RB31)
This one is a bit of a different scenario as he’s not the clear starter. Raheem Mostert currently sits atop the depth chart, but Mostert can’t stay healthy. In his 6 seasons, he only plays in an average of 9.5 games per year. Trey Sermon has impressed thus far through camp and preseason and will immediately have a role in the offense. Take into account an incredibly favorable early schedule against Detroit, Philadelphia and Green Bay and Sermon will have an outright chance to surpass Mostert as the starter. He doesn’t have the home run speed that Mostert possesses, but he checks all the boxes that you want out of your running back and we already have a long track record of running backs in a Shanahan-led offense being incredibly productive for fantasy. When Sermon takes over…with Trey Lance as the QB…his value will skyrocket!