Fantasy Football: Early Round Running Back Volatility

LA Rams Todd Gurley

We, as a fantasy football community are some of the biggest prisoners of the moment. Yearly rankings shift wildly based upon expectations with a new role or offense or a change of scenery. A player who tails off at the end of the season can become damaged goods while a player who finishes a season strong can catapult up preseason rankings the next year.


It’s not only players but positions where we do this. A season ago, a surge of new a exciting running backs exploded onto the scene and help decide fantasy leagues. Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt and other joined Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell and other early round running backs as real difference makers.

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As a result, these players and the running back position in general are owning a good portion of the first couple rounds of fantasy drafts. Now before you go buck wild and target RBs, let’s pump the brakes a bit.

Simply look back to 2015 when people were far too aggressive taking running backs like Jeremy Hill, C.J. Anderson and Justin Forsett in the first round. That season, among the RBs taken in the top ten at the position, only two finished in the top ten. Six RBs finished 25 spots or more below their positional ADP.

Player Drafted Finish Difference Top 10 Finish
Adrian Peterson 1 2 -1 Yes
Le’Veon Bell 2 46 -44 No
Jamaal Charles 3 50 -47 No
Eddie Lacy 4 32 -28 No
Marshawn Lynch 5 59 -54 No
CJ Anderson 6 31 -25 No
Matt Forte 7 7 0 Yes
Jeremy Hill 8 20 -12 No
DeMarco Murray 9 15 -6 No
Justin Forsett 10 40 -30 No
Avg Diff -24.7 2

2017 seems like an anomaly with the current state of the NFL. That last time there was as little volatility at the position was 2013. Which, is interesting because the last time we saw a season where WR variance was as dramatic as last year was the 2013 season.Even with the RB success last season, only four players selected in the top ten at the position finished there. Don’t forget, we were drafting players like DeMarco Murray and Jay Ajayi in the top ten at RB last year.

Player Drafted Finish Difference Top 10 Finish
Adrian Peterson 1 10 -9 Yes
Doug Martin 2 56 -54 No
Marshawn Lynch 3 5 -2 Yes
Jamaal Charles 4 1 3 Yes
Arian Foster 5 46 -41 No
Lesean McCoy 6 3 3 Yes
CJ Spiller 7 27 -20 No
Trent Richardson 8 32 -24 No
Ray Rice 9 22 -13 No
Alfred Morris 10 21 -11 No
Avg Diff -16.8 4


Player Drafted Finish Difference Top 10 Finish
Calvin Johnson 1 6 -5 Yes
Dez Bryant 2 7 -5 Yes
AJ Green 3 4 -1 Yes
Julio Jones 4 64 -60 No
Brandon Marshall 5 5 0 Yes
Demaryius Thomas 6 1 5 Yes
Larry Fitzgerald 7 17 -10 No
Andre Johnson 8 10 -2 Yes
Randall Cobb 9 67 -58 No
Roddy White 10 44 -34 No
Avg Diff -17 6

2017 was also the first time in four years that the average difference between where they were taken and where they finished was less for RBs than for WRs.


RB Average Difference

WR Average Difference


-16.6 -19.2













2012 -11


All of this is not to say, dont draft running backs early in upcoming fantasy drafts. David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Lev Bell, and Zeke are all very rational first round talents. Even Melvin Gordon, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley make a ton of sense with your top overall pick. It can be very compelling to select a RB with 50-80 catch potential.

Just understand the risk associated with the position. Don’t feel compelled grab a RB early in your draft. Players like Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Thomas and other WRs can provide similar upside as the elite RBs and much more safety. You cant win your league in the first couple rounds of your draft, but you can tank your draft with an early round misstep.

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