What’s your fantasy football draft strategy when it comes to running backs? Always take one in the first-round? Employ the “Zero-RB” strategy where you just load up on undervalued rookies, sleepers, and breakout candidates late? Avoid injury/suspension/holdout risks? Handcuff all your starters? There are plenty of ways you can attack fantasy’s most important position, but regardless of your plan, one thing is certain: You need a good set of RB rankings tiers on your cheat sheet.
By tiering backs, you get a good idea of who you should be targeting and when you should be looking to draft them. No draft goes according to consensus rankings, so having a group of similar players to choose from helps you avoid panic picks or simply ignoring a position altogether — unless that’s the plan, of course.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2019 Fantasy Cheat Sheet
You can make almost anything work if you’re committed to it. Conversely, anything can fail. Obviously, you’ll need some luck on your side, but if you give yourself options and build depth, you should be able to get by.
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2019 RB Rankings Tiers: Who are the best fantasy running backs?
There are a lot of familiar faces in Tier 1 of the RB rankings, and while all seem likely to produce big numbers this year, there are some obvious red flags. That’s just how things work at RB — even the “safe options” aren’t so safe.
Ezekiel Elliott is taking his time reporting to training camp and might hold out into the season; Le’Veon Bell — who pulled that move last season — hasn’t played football in over a year; and Todd Gurley has an arthritic component to his knee. We don’t know exactly what that means, but it doesn’t sound good.
Yet, those players — along with the rest of our top-tier RBs — should be first-round picks barring things taking a turn for the worse. One or two might slip to the early second round, but that’s fine. They’re all the type of workhorse, versatile backs you want to start your team with, regardless of the format. The key here, at least with the four mentioned above, is getting their handcuffs. Losing your first-round pick can be devastating, so give yourself a little insurance just in case.
1. Saquon Barkley, Giants
2. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
3. Alvin Kamara, Saints
4. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
5. Le’Veon Bell, Jets
6. Todd Gurley, Rams
7. James Conner, Steelers
Fantasy RB Tiers: Borderline-RB1s
Yes, this is a pretty big grouping for Tier 2, but, honestly: Is there a big difference between any of these guys in standard leagues? Obviously, we think Joe Mixon and David Johnson are “better” than Marlon Mack and Derrick Henry, but it’s a very fine line.
Some owners love Damien Williams this year. He was solid last year and returns to a good situation. But can he do it for a full season? It remains to be seen. Similarly, it’s fair to ask if Nick Chubb will lose significant touches to Kareem Hunt in the second half of the season. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a Tier-1 guy; if he does, our ranking might be too high. He’ll go earlier than our ranking in your drafts, but chances are whoever takes him will have to reach for Hunt, too.
Mark Ingram and Tevin Coleman have timeshare concerns, and we all know how inconstant Henry is. Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Kerryon Johnson, and Aaron Jones have never posted big stats for a full season, but the talent and opportunities are clearly there for all to break out and be first-round picks next year.
Ultimately, these backs will start going off the board in the second round, and some will probably still be there in the fifth (we’re much higher on Coleman than other sites, for example). The order will be different in every draft — and guys like Fournette, Mack, and Henry will plummet in PPR formats — but the truth is, this is the tier that could make or break your season.
If you have to get your RB1 from this group, you might as well wait until Round 3 and grab two or three, giving yourself the most opportunities of hitting on a breakout. If you drafted a Tier-1 back, you might want to skip this group completely. Chances are, you will still take at least one, but there’s no need to reach.
8. Joe Mixon, Bengals
9. David Johnson, Cardinals
10. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
11. Dalvin Cook, Vikings
12. Kerryon Johnson, Lions
13. Mark Ingram, Ravens
14. Melvin Gordon, Chargers
15. Tevin Coleman, 49ers
16. Aaron Jones, Packers
17. Nick Chubb, Browns
18. Marlon Mack, Colts
19. Derrick Henry, Titans
20. Damien Williams, Chiefs
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2019 Fantasy Cheat Sheet
2019 Fantasy RB Rankings: Tier 3
The backs in Tier 3 aren’t that much different than those in the latter half of Tier 2 — especially when you factor in that Tarik Cohen, James White, and even Kenyan Drake would be safely in Tier 2 in PPR formats. The difference is upside and reliability.
No one would be shocked if Sony Michel had a good year, but given the crowded backfield in New England, it’s tough to project monster numbers. The same is true for Phillip Lindsay (new coach) and Chris Carson, who plays for a coach who changes running backs like pairs of socks. Cohen and White, as talented as they are, can only do so much without getting more carries, and Drake is a complete wild card after last season’s disappointment. A new coaching regime should help, but the lack of talent around him is limiting.
We’ve seen Freeman excel before, but his health is becoming a real worry. On the flip side, Jacobs is a complete unknown who could just as easily do nothing as he could break out.
Again, all have potential and should make solid RB2s/FLEXes. You won’t feel great about dipping too far below this tier for your starters, but we all know there will be surprises. As long as you give yourself options, you shouldn’t reach for these types of backs. If you get them in the fifth or sixth round, you’ll be in good shape. A few will go before that, but that’s fine. There are always more backs to take.
21. Chris Carson, Seahawks
22. Phillip Lindsay, Broncos
23. Devonta Freeman, Falcons
24. Sony Michel, Patriots
25. Josh Jacobs, Raiders
26. Tarik Cohen, Bears
27. James White, Patriots
28. Kenyan Drake, Dolphins
2019 Fantasy Draft Strategy: “Zero-RB”
If you subscribe to the “Zero-RB” draft strategy, Tier-4 is probably where you’re going to start mining for your RB1. Our rankings give this tier a varied feel, as low-ceiling veterans like Jordan Howard, LeSean McCoy, and Latavius Murray are mixed in with the boom-or-bust potentials of Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, and David Montgomery.
It’s worth noting that we’re currently lower on Montgomery than most other sites, so he’ll likely be taken as a Tier-3 — and maybe even Tier-2 — RB, but for now, we see him as having the same questions as the rest of these backs. Namely, how many touches will he get and how effective can he be? There’s a built-in ceiling for these committee backs, and some will likely start the season as No. 2s. However, all make for good stashes who could take over early.
Are you going to feel confident if any of these guys are in your RB1 or RB2 slots in Week 1? Probably not, but if you’re loaded at other positions, you don’t need huge production. Ideally, these would be early-middle-round picks for your FLEX spot/bench, but, again, waiting on RB and loading up on overlooked backs, particularly young guys with upside, is a solid strategy that can work if you’re dedicated to it (and working the waiver wire once the season starts).
29. Jordan Howard, Eagles
30. Derrius Guice, Redskins
31. Ronald Jones, Buccaneers
32. LeSean McCoy, Bills
33. Latavius Murray, Saints
34. David Montgomery, Bears
Fantasy Football RB Tiers: Sleepers, priority handcuffs, and values
Welcome to Tier 5, aka the RB Grab Bag. We’re dealing with a lot of secondary backs here, though a few might begin the season as starters (Adrian Peterson, Peyton Barber, Duke Johnson Jr., maybe even Mike Davis). These backs could all be every-week starters with regular touches, but good luck counting on these.
Again, if you’re going Zero-RB, you might have to get a starter from this group. If you’re just looking to get by in Weeks 1 and 2, you can talk yourself into the aforementioned veterans. If you’re playing a longer game (like most fantasy owners will be doing), you’ll be looking at the potential breakouts (Royce Freeman, Miles Sanders, Ito Smith, Rashaad Penny, Kalen Ballage). While virtually everyone in this tier is an injury away from major fantasy relevance, those four players could find themselves as every-week producers even if no injuries occur.
As with all RB tiers, it’s important to distinguish between the guys who gain value in PPR formats. Dion Lewis and Nyheim Hines both have noticeably more PPR value than standard value, and Austin Ekeler will continue creeping up draft boards until Melvin Gordon has reported to training camp.
This is a good tier from which to build depth. It’s likely these players will be RB3/4s for your team, so you’ll probably opt for the younger players. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course (especially in Dynasty leagues), but veterans have value, too. Some, like Freeman and Gus Edwards, will be considered priority handcuffs by Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram owners, so don’t worry if they go off the board earlier than expected.
35. Royce Freeman, Broncos
36. Dion Lewis, Titans
37. Miles Sanders, Eagles
38. Adrian Peterson, Redskins
39. Kalen Ballage, Dolphins
40. Duke Johnson Jr., Texans
41. Darwin Thompson, Chiefs
42. Ito Smith, Falcons
43. Gus Edwards, Ravens
44. Peyton Barber, Buccaneers
45. Rashaad Penny, Seahawks
46. Nyheim Hines, Colts
47. Austin Ekeler, Chargers
48. Damien Harris, Patriots
49. Devin Singletary, Bills
50. Darrell Henderson, Rams
51. Justin Jackson, Chargers
52. Mike Davis, Bears
2019 Fantasy PPR RB Sleepers
We pause for a moment from our standard-league programming to bring this special PPR update. OK, not all of these guys are receiving backs. C.J. Anderson and Damien Harris might not catch 15 passes between them this season. But the rest of Tier 6 clearly has more value in PPR formats.
Do they have value in standard leagues, though? Some, like Giovani Bernard and maybe even Matt Breida would serve as primary RBs if an injury occurred, so they certainly have some additional upside. Others, like Chris Thompson and Theo Riddick, have shown the ability to be decently reliable standard league performers. However, their backfields (and ages) have changed, so it’s tough to count on them for much in standard leagues.
The name that stands out the most here is Kareem Hunt, who will be suspended for the first eight games. Nick Chubb should be an entrenched starter, so Hunt’s value is anyone’s guess. He’ll likely be overdrafted by the Chubb owner, as stashing him for nine weeks seems like a waste of a roster spot for anyone else.
53. Giovani Bernard, Bengals
54. C.J. Anderson, Lions
55. Jerick McKinnon, 49ers
56. Matt Breida, 49ers
58. Jalen Richard, Raiders
59. Chris Thompson, Redskins
60. Jaylen Samuel, Steelers
61. Theo Riddick, Broncos
62. Carlos Hyde, Chiefs
63. Kareem Hunt, Browns
Fantasy Football Rankings 2019: Deep RB sleepers and handcuffs
Make no mistake, some of these Tier 7 RBs will have legit value this season. Trying to guess which one(s) on draft day isn’t so easy, though. These backs will all need at least one injury to see significant playing time, and while some (Alexander Mattison) are in better positions than others, all bear watching.
These guys will be one of your final picks, and you’ll likely just go with whoever is the handcuff to one of your starting backs. It’s worth it to grab one of these lotto tickets, though. It’s a long season, and anything can happen If you’re just filling out your bench, it’s always better to have an extra RB than WR, TE, or QB.
63. Alexander Mattison, Vikings
64. Damarea Crockett, Texans
65. Jamaal Williams, Packers
66. Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
67. Myles Gaskin, Dolphins
68. Frank Gore, Bills
69. Bilal Powell, Jets
70. Ty Montgomery, Jets
71. Tony Pollard, Cowboys
72. Jordan Scarlett, Panthers
73. T.J. Yeldon, Bills
74. Kenneth Dixon, Ravens
75. Darren Sproles, Eagles
76. Wayne Gallman, Giants
77. Benny Snell, Jr., Steelers