Fantasy Football RB-Heavy Strategy

by Nick Spencer
Fantasy Football RB-Heavy Strategyeavy Draft Strategy

Year after year running backs fly off the fantasy draft board ahead of extremely talented wide receivers, and for good reason. Over the past three years, running backs made up six of the top seven single-season performances (QB excluded). As any seasoned fantasy expert will tell you, workhorse 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 your first two picks or three of your first five.

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

Fantasy Football RB-Heavy 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 half-PPR data from the past three years, on average 14 RBs are being selected in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts, compared to just eight WRs, one TE, 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 wide receivers getting sufficient volume for fantasy relevance. 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 other positions.

Positional FinishRB Avg.WR. Avg.RB DifferentialWR Differential
1 to 12249237
13 to 241761877350
25 to 361351574030
37 to 481041303127
49 to 60811102320

For example, over the past three years, the top 12 RBs averaged 249 fantasy points, while RBs 13 through 24 averaged only 176 points. In comparison, the average WR points were 237 and 187 respectively.

That is a 73 point difference at running back compared to a 50 point difference at wide receiver. Dropping from an RB2 to RB3 is a 40 point difference, compared to a 30 point difference at WR. The dropoff in running back production is more severe at every level when compared to wide receiver.  

This is why going running back heavy is viable; more chances at a top 12 running back is key to fantasy success. We need to use those early picks to take those chances as 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 key reason for going running back heavy is because running backs are fantasy difference makers, more so than any other position in standard leagues. Jonathan Taylor and Austin Ekeler were the most common players on ESPN Playoff Rosters last year. They were on 61% and 56% of playoff teams.

You had to take both those players in the first round of your fantasy draft if you wanted them on your team. It’s not impossible to find late-round superstars at running back, undrafted Cordarrelle Patterson is a testament to that. 

However, he is an outlier, not the common case. Banking on finding that kind of production late in your draft is a risky gamble that is going to burn you more often than not.

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 grabbing two running backs and an elite tight end in the first couple of rounds.

Consistency

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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 consistency charts based on the top six performers at both positions in 2020.

RankPlayerGreat Performance (RB2 or better)Great Performance (RB3 or better)
1Jonathan Taylor76%88%
2Austin Ekeler88%88%
3Joe Mixon56%81%
4Najee Harris71%76%
5James Conner67%73%
6Ezekiel Elliott53%65%
Average-68%79%

RB2 defined as 10.9+ points in a game, RB3 defined as 8.4+ points in a game.

RankPlayerGreat Performance (WR2 or better)Great Performance (WR3 or better)
1Cooper Kupp76%82%
2Deebo Samuel81%88%
3Davante Adams50%63%
4Justin Jefferson65%71%
5Ja'Marr Chase41%65%
6Tyreek Hill35%41%
Average-58%68%

WR2 defined as 11.5+ points in a game, WR3 defined as 9.7+ points in a game.

These charts show that even the most elite wide receivers will still have poor performances roughly 32% of the time, compared to elite running backs who only have a poor performance 21% of the time. Drafting high-end running backs means more consistent fantasy team performances and fewer 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 starting point 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 2022 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.

Check out our 2022 Draft Rankings to help complete the rest of your lineup and dominate your league mates!


Visit the F6P Fantasy Football page for more advice to get you prepared for the 2022 season.

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3 comments

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[…] Fantasysixpack.net takes a look at why drafting a running back early and often may be the way to go for your fantasy draft in 2020. […]

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