The daily fantasy sports site DRAFT now offers the popular season-long best ball format. Running back strategy can vary depending on your approach to the format, but I traditionally approach best ball drafts with a Zero Running Back strategy in mind to take advantage of consistent wide receiver scoring and profit from the high injury rate of the running back position. However, the advice in this article can be applied to most current draft strategies. Here are my top five running back values in the DRAFT best ball format.
Mark Ingram (62.6 ADP)
The perceived value of Mark Ingram in the fantasy community has been on a downward trend over the last few months. With the signing of Adrian Peterson and drafting of Alvin Kamara, Ingram’s average draft position (ADP) is representative of the industry’s assumption that he will have a reduced role in 2017. I think, though, that his situation has been misunderstood.
Ingram has not relied on heavy volume to be relevant. Over the last three seasons, Ingram has averaged 199 rushes and 41 receptions. Since 2014, Ingram has accounted for 55, 41, and 50 percent of his team’s rushes each season and 21, 38, and 35 percent of running back targets. Additionally, Ingram has had a near 50/50 split on touches inside the ten-yard line over the last two years with Tim Hightower, who averaged 115 rushes per season. An average of 98 targets per season over the last two years have gone to running backs no longer on the Saints roster.
Considering the hefty void left by non-returning players, it’s safe to assume the Saints will attempt to give Peterson and Kamara the leftover opportunity. If we assume that Peterson is still a capable NFL player and that Kamara will be effective in his rookie season, Ingram should still have his routine level of volume.
To top it off, Ingram remains the starter in one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. With the expectation of plenty of touchdown scoring opportunities and the ability to amass a high volume of passing targets, Ingram could be one of the best values in the entire DRAFT best ball format in the early sixth round as the RB23.
Mike Gillislee (54.6 ADP)
The Patriots, whether it is warranted or not, are labeled a perennial headache when it comes to identifying running back value in fantasy football. Last season, LeGarrette Blount had the best statistical season of his career, amassing nearly 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns. While some may view Blount’s performance as an outlier, it is representative of the sheer opportunity that exists for a runner in New England if he has the majority of the rushes.
Since 2012, the Patriots have fielded successful rushing attacks despite no single outstanding talent. Over the last five years, the Patriots as a team ranked second, ninth, 13th, 25th, and third in total team rushes. Additionally, the team has ranked first, second, 12th, 11th, and fifth in total rushing touchdowns. In 2012 and 2016, when Stevan Ridley and Blount accrued the majority of the Patriot’s rushes, they finished 11th and eighth in season-long DRAFT scoring formats (per our NFL Trends tool).
Mike Gillislee has proven to be efficient in his career thus far, possessing a career 5.6 yards-per-carry average on 154 total rushes and a touchdown rate of 7.1 percent. Gillislee appears to be the favorite to inherit the primary rushing role, which could prove to be incredibly valuable if he garners the volume Blount and Ridley have previously handled. As the RB19 off the board, Gillislee could pay huge dividends at his fifth-round cost. It would not be a surprise if at some point during the season Gillislee were the highest-rated backs in our Models.
Jeremy Hill (163.3 ADP)
The lure of potential upside often leads fantasy players astray, especially when it comes to rookies. In 2017, the Bengals drafted running back Joe Mixon in the second round of the NFL draft, and the fantasy community at large has declared former starter Jeremy Hill void of significant value. That is an oversight we can leverage.
In the NFL, Hill has been incredibly consistent in end-of-season scoring. In each of the last three years, Hill has seen 238 touches or more, scored nine or more touchdowns, finished as the RB22 or better in DRAFT scoring, and had top-ten or better rushing volume inside the ten-yard line. Mixon is likely to cut into these numbers, especially in early-down situations, where Hill has been inefficient in two straight seasons with under four yards per carry. However, Hill remains one of the best goal-line backs in the league, converting 43 percent of his touches inside the ten-yard line into touchdowns. With how often the Bengals utilize him near the goal line, Hill still possesses weekly multi-touchdown upside. Considering that he can be acquired in the 14th round as the RB52, Hill is an incredible value.
Darren Sproles (138.3 ADP)
Darren Sproles has had an illustrious career and will go down as one of the most successful and inspirational receiving running backs in NFL history. However, he’s not finished yet. Sproles still offers fantasy value in 2017.
In his time with the Eagles, Sproles has finished no worse than RB27 in end-of-season DRAFT scoring. Additionally, he has averaged 72 targets and scored no fewer than four touchdowns over that same time Former Chiefs offensive coordinator and current Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has shown a proclivity to target the running back position in the passing game, ranking first in the NFL twice in running back target share in both 2013 and 2014. With the Eagles ranking sixth in passing targets in 2016, there should be plenty of opportunity for Sproles to returning value. With an ADP in the 12th round, Sproles projects to be a fantastic high-floor play as the RB48 off the board.
Sproles is one of the running backs to target in Matthew Freedman’s Top 100 NFL Players.
Ameer Abdullah (79.1 ADP)
Entering the league as one of the most exciting running back prospects in a stacked 2015 class, Ameer Abdullah has yet to fulfill the fantasy community’s high expectations thus far. Following a 2016 season in which a Lisfranc injury sidelined Abdullah for the year following Week 2, the fantasy community at large is down on Abdullah. Recency bias may have fantasy players overly criticizing Abdullah and overlooking the value he offers relative to his cost.
In his college career at Nebraska, Abdullah totaled 250 touches or more in his final three seasons, including an average of 24 receptions per season. With Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner failing to impress when given the opportunity last season, Abdullah should be given the opportunity to seize the early-down role. Theo Riddick has proven to be a fantastic receiving option, so Abdullah will likely have diminished running back target share, but the total available targets will likely be ample. Over the last three seasons, Detroit has ranked first, second, and tenth in overall target share to the running back position.
Additionally, Abdullah himself has shown to be a dynamic receiving back, achieving a college yards-per-reception average of 9.5 (Riddick achieved a mark of 10.5) and an NFL yards-per-reception average of 8.0 (Riddick’s NFL career average is 8.2). Considering a far inferior running back in Joique Bell achieved a top-12 season in Detroit in 2014 with 223 rushes and 53 targets, I think that’s within the range of outcomes for Abdullah. As he can be had in the seventh round as the RB30, Abdullah offers league-winning upside.
Be sure to catch my articles on the top players at wide receiver and tight end (out soon) as well as my article on the top quarterbacks. Also, follow our NFL News feed and do research for yourself with the FantasyLabs Tools.