2020 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Running Back Heavy


Year after year running backs fly off the fantasy draft board ahead of extremely talented wide receivers, and for good reason. In 2019, eight of the top ten non-quarterback fantasy scorers in half-point PPR leagues were running backs. As anyone who owned Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, or Derrick Henry last year will tell you, running backs are the backbone of any great fantasy football team.

There are a variety of different fantasy football draft strategies, and all can be used with varying degrees of success. A running back heavy draft strategy, as the name suggests, places increased importance on selecting running backs early and often. Generally, this strategy is thought of as taking RB with three of your first four picks.

While it might seem unbalanced, there are many legitimate arguments to be made for utilizing this strategy.

2020 Fantasy Football Running Back Heavy Draft Strategy

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Scarcity of RB and Abundance of WR

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One of the most important reasons to go RB heavy is because it is much harder to get running backs later due to their high demand. According to FantasyPros’ ADP, on average 15 RBs are being selected in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts, compared to just six WRs, two TEs, and one QB.

The reason for this is that the NFL has shifted into a more passing focused era. There is a much greater supply of receivers getting sufficient volume contrasted with a dwindling amount of touches left to create true workhorse running backs. This makes it very difficult to replace the fantasy production of a top running back compared to a wide receiver.

For example, last year, the top 12 RBs averaged 261 fantasy points, while RBs 13 through 24 averaged only 180 points. In comparison, the average WR points were 221 and 185 respectively. That is an 81 point difference at running back compared to a 36 point difference at wide receiver. 

Running BacksFantasy PointsWide ReceiversFantasy Points
RBs 1-12261WRs 1-12221
RBs 13-24180WRs 13-24185
RBs 25-36138WRs 25-36158

This is why going RB heavy is viable; more chances at a top 12 running back are key to fantasy success. It is simply too steep of a drop-off at RB. It is much easier to find startable WRs late in drafts and on the waiver wire during the season.

Difference Makers

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Another big reason for going running back heavy is because running backs are fantasy difference makers, more so than any other position in standard leagues. Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook were the most common players on ESPN Playoff Rosters last year. They were on 78.1% and 69.8% of playoff teams.

You had to take both those players in the first two rounds of your fantasy draft if you wanted them on your team. It’s not impossible to find late-round superstars at running back, Austin Ekeler was available in the eighth round and was on 63.9% of playoff teams. 

However, he was the outlier, not the common case. Nine of the eleven running backs who were on over 50% of playoff teams were taken in the first 50 picks of fantasy drafts.

In addition, by going heavy on RB and ignoring WR early, you can grab difference makers at other positions. It gives you the freedom to take one of the elite tight ends or quarterbacks. I’ve started quite a few drafts this year by going RB-Travis Kelce or George Kittle-RB-RB.  


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The final reason to go running back heavy is to gain a consistency advantage. 

Top running backs have more guaranteed touches than top wide receivers on a week to week basis. Running backs are also not vulnerable to being blanketed by an elite corner or double-covered for an entire game like a wide receiver is.

Truly elite running backs are also game-script proof as they get involved in the rushing and passing game. Whereas if a team chooses to run out the clock an elite wide receiver will seldom be involved in the rushing game. 

All of these factors lead to RBs offering much better consistency than top wide receivers, as seen in these charts from FantasyPros

RankPlayerPoor Performance (less than 10.4 pts)Good or Great Performance (more than 10.4 pts)
1Dalvin Cook7%93%
2Christian McCaffrey13%88%
3Ezekiel Elliott13%88%
4Derrick Henry20%80%
5Aaron Jones31%69%
6Josh Jacobs31%69%
RankPlayerPoor Performance (less than 8 pts)Good or Great Performance (more than 8 pts)
1Michael Thomas13%88%
2D.J. Moore27%73%
3Golden Tate27%73%
4Calvin Ridley31%69%
5DeAndre Hopkins33%67%
6Davante Adams33%67%

These charts show that on average even an elite WR will have a poor performance 27% of the time, compared to elite RB’s who only have a poor performance 19% of the time. This leads to more consistent fantasy team performances and less flukey losses. 

Most Importantly – Be Flexible

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The most important advice I can give to anyone reading this article is to be flexible in your draft approach. I’ve tried every fantasy draft strategy out there. And I’ve succeeded and failed countless times with every one of them.

The true key to success is to let the draft come to you. If your entire league is going running back heavy, then scoop up the value at other positions. If they are ignoring running backs, then take running backs every chance you get and thank your league-mates on your way to the championship.

The point is, preparing for your draft is vital, but planning your draft is a fool’s errand.

The Other Guys

Picking elite RBs is a great start but the players who fill out the rest of your roster spots are no less important.

Finding the right QB, WR, and TE sleepers is essential when utilizing the 2020 fantasy football running back heavy draft strategy. Your RB’s will provide your team with a solid floor allowing you to target risky but high-upside players.

Combining the RB heavy approach with these quality sleepers will give your team a chance at glory in 2020. 

Visit the F6P Fantasy Football page for more advice to get you prepared for the 2020 season.

About Nick Spencer

Nick Spencer is a Canadian business school student with a passion for all things football. He specializes in NFL fantasy re-draft and dynasty league formats. He loves offering draft and trade advice to anyone who will listen, so tweet @NickBSpencer with any fantasy questions.

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