The 5 Rules of Running Back Drafting

July 27, 2021
Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Picture courtesy of SI.com

Another one bites the dust.

And another one gone, another one gone

Another one bites the dust

Queen, 1980

It’s almost as if Queen was writing about the fantasy running back landscape. Cam Akers is down for the year and you know someone else we’re counting on won’t make it out of training camp. I play in both redraft and dynasty leagues and my strategy is the same for both. I want to win now. Always play to win now. You don’t know if your league will break up and not happen next season. That’s why running back depth and flexibility is key. I’m planning on dealing my Cam Akers shares for an RB or other piece that will help me win this year. Here are my 5 Rules for Running Back Drafting with examples for this year’s draft.

Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson, left, runs against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Darrell Henderson, RB, LA Rams/The Value of Handcuffing: If you own Cam Akers and not Darrell Henderson, then you probably shouldn’t be playing fantasy football. If you’ve got a guy that projects as the no. 1 RB for a team with a good ground game then you’ve got to handcuff. If you really look at the numbers last year, Henderson produced as well as Akers did. It was almost as if they split the season. In the regular season, Akers had 145 attempts for 625 yards and an average of 4.3 yards/carry. Henderson had 138 attempts for 624 yards and an average of 4.5 yards per tote. They’re the same guy because they ran in the same system. I’m going to enjoy Henderson’s nice season this year and deal Akers away for a win now upgrade somewhere on my team. Handcuff and draft systems, not running backs.

Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers/The Ultimate System RB: There’s no doubt that Najee Harris is a good running back, but we don’t know just how good a pro he’ll be. At Alabama, he looked great dominating the competition behind a pro-level O-line and leading in every game. Now he’s going to a Pittsburgh team that faces one of the league’s toughest schedules, with a truly offensive offensive line and an aging quarterback that has lost the zip on his throws. I still like Harris for two reasons: 1. Coach Mike Tomlin will ride or die with a workhorse running back. That’s his system. Najee should get lots of touches. 2. The Steel Curtain. They have one of the best defenses in the league, and that should keep them in every game, meaning that there won’t be too many times that they will abandon the run and just throw the ball. Getting a running back on a great defensive team always works.

Feb 7, 2020; Tampa, FL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter of Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs/Look for post-hype guys: Last season CEH was the breakout rookie to have and often went in the first round with everyone picturing him as the next Priest Holmes. After Game 1 he looked like the next great Andy Reid RB. He didn’t quite get there in the second half of the season and put a sour taste in the mouth of anyone that drafted him early. He was a first-round draft pick that put up third-round numbers. This year, I’m all in on Clyde. He will have a year of experience under his belt. He will have a full, normal offseason regimen. And most importantly, what he won’t have is Lev Bell stealing touches the second half of the season. CEH is as talented as we thought he was and he’ll show us that this year. Buy the second-year breakout candidates.

Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs against the Baltimore Ravens in the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts/Don’t get on the bandwagon: Every year there’s a running back that wins the popularity contest. This year it’s Jonathan Taylor. Despite him having my surname, I don’t want him within 10 miles of my fantasy team. Yes, his end-of-season stats looked great, but did you know that 21%, one-fifth of his rushing yards came in one game against the putrid Jacksonville Jaguars? He had 1169 yards on the season. If you take away that one game, he had only 896 yards rushing, which averages out to 64 yards per game for the rest of his games. That’s hardly elite. Don’t get me wrong, he’s good, and worth a draft pick, but at the right price. This year he’ll have a better QB, and although he had 36 receptions, he’ll still be on the sideline for a lot of 3rd downs when Nyheim Hines is catching passes. Jonathan Taylor’s current ADP (according to FantasyPros ) is 6th or 7th. That’s Alvin Kamara/Zeke Elliot territory. Has JT done anything to be considered that highly? Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Jonathan Taylor belongs in the second round.

Derrick Henry. Picture courtesy of Post-Gazette.com

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans/Fear the Cliff: In the last two seasons, Derrick Henry has amassed over 681 carries and 37 catches, meaning that he has probably been tackled by other giant humans over 700 times in two years. And that doesn’t even factor in the hits he takes when blocking on pass plays. He’s been great, but I don’t want him on my team for the rest of his career. Even if The Rolling Stones said that time is on our side, I’m pretty sure they weren’t singing about the running backs on their fantasy teams. The historical stats of running backs who have had the kind of usage Henry has at his age are not good. Like Bill Belichick, I want to get rid of a player a year early rather than a year too late. Derrick is 27 and he’ll be 28 during the playoffs. Henry is also going in the top three in drafts. That’s a high price to pay for a guy whose wheels could fall off any minute. Fear the cliff.

Whether you’re debating about these particular players or others on draft day, keep the 5 Rules of Running Back Drafting in mind.