Best Ball Rankings: RBs to Take a Stance On (Fantasy Football)

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The summer of Best Ball continues here over at The Fantasy Footballers HQ, and next up in our best ball rankings series is the coveted running back position. Failure to hit on running backs in best ball drafts is a significant disadvantage and has been shown to result in a lower winning success rate in Best Ball leagues. Be sure to check out the Fantasy Footballers DFS Podcast where Kyle and I discussed this concept in more detail and be on the lookout for tons of best ball content to drop in the DFS pass in the coming weeks, including our exclusive 2021 Best Ball Rankings.

Miss the QB Rankings article? Be sure to give that a read here for QBs to take a stance on in Best Ball leagues, featuring Joe Burrow and Trey Lance. Below are the running backs to take a stance in best-ball.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

According to 2020 ADP, Zeke was going off the board as the RB3 in Best Ball leagues, and now he’s considered a consensus back end Round 1 type of player according to most analyst’s rankings and ADP. Why? Literally, nothing has changed from a year ago at this time – Dak is back under center, the offensive line is healthy, and this offense projects to be a top 10 unit in 2021.

After an injury-riddled season for the Cowboys offense, it seems most are forgetting just how consistent and reliable Zeke is for fantasy football. According to our consistency charts in the Ultimate Draft Kit, Zeke has finished as a top 11 option every single year, including an RB11 finish last year with Andy Dalton and Ben Dinucci under center. What’s even more impressive is that Zeke ranked fifth in the NFL in rush attempts from inside the 10-yard line last year despite the Cowboys being a dumpster fire for two-thirds of the season with these…shall we say subpar options under center. With Dak back, his TD upside is massive.

Are we forgetting just how potent Dallas’ offense can be with Dak under center? From Weeks 1-5 (the week Dak got hurt), Dallas ranked:

  • 1st in pace of play
  • 1st in plays per game
  • 3rd in points per game
  • 1st in yards per game
  • 1st in first downs per game

In that time frame, Mr. Ezekiel Elijah Elliott was fantasy’s RB3. That is the Ezekiel Elliott you’re getting in the back of the first round of best ball drafts, making him my favorite value in Round One at his current RB7 ADP. And, when you look at Zeke’s splits with and without Dak in his career, the splits are astounding. Zeke averages nine more fantasy points per game, 12.5 more receiving yards per game, 33 more rushing yards per game and 0.7 more TD per game with Dak under center.

A.J. Dillon, RB, Green Bay Packers

The key in Best Ball if you’re passing on early-round running backs, or taking a zero RB approach, is to find backs later in drafts who could be league-winning players if they were thrust into an elite fantasy situation. That’s exactly what A.J. Dillon represents if anything should happen to Aaron Jones this year. The depth chart behind Dillon certainly isn’t intimidating, and this organization just spent a 2nd round NFL Draft pick on him just one year ago.

Personally, I don’t think Dillon is a special back or extremely talented, but that doesn’t matter for fantasy football or his upside, assuming Aaron Rodgers is back under center. Dating back to 2013, Green Bay’s starting RB has averaged the RB14 overall finish in fantasy football. Note: this sample includes only his RBs who have accumulated at least 100 rushing attempts in a season and were the leading rusher on the roster.

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Year Player Fantasy Finish
2020 Aaron Jones RB5
2019 Aaron Jones RB2
2018 Aaron Jones RB23
2017 Jamaal Williams RB28
2016 Excluded N/A
2015 Eddie Lacy RB27
2014 Eddie Lacy RB6
2013 Eddie Lacy RB6

The bottom line is that you want the Packers’ starting RB in fantasy as long as Rodgers is under center. Clearly, Aaron Jones is the projected starter and is most likely going to lead the team’s backfield again, but if he goes down, oh baby Quadzilla could be a best ball league winner. In our Best Ball rankings, we have Dillon ranked aggressively ahead of ADP given the immense upside he possesses relative to the other backs in his tier should anything happen to Jones.

Mike Davis, RB, Atlanta Falcons

Mike Davis was a waiver wire wonder last year after Christian McCaffrey went down with an injury last year, and if you happened to take a dart throw on him in best-ball leagues, you were really happy with the value he returned given that he was essentially free. That said, most people are viewing Mike Davis as a guaranteed fantasy asset in Atlanta, and there’s plenty of downside to Davis at his current ADP.

First, when you think of Mike Davis last year, do you picture the RB1 weeks, or do you remember the weeks when he was literally unusable in fantasy? Most probably remember those glorious RB1 weeks, but that’s looking through rose-colored glasses. Looking only at the games where Christian McCaffrey was out and Davis earned the start, he had more weekly finishes as RB30 or worse than he did as RB10 or better. In other words, he was extremely boom/bust.

Looking at my previous study which focuses on RB production based on age, it’s clear to see that younger running backs produce in fantasy – plain and simple. Davis is a 28-year-old journeyman who has literally never been fantasy-relevant before the 2020 season. Prior to 2020, Davis had never cleared a 40% season-long snap rate, never carried the ball more than 112 times in a season, and he only cleared 500 rushing yards once in a season and that was by 14 yards for a career-high 514 yards.

Look, I’m not saying Mike Davis can’t be good for fantasy in 2021. Clearly, the depth chart behind him doesn’t provide much competition, but when you look at the history of the RB position, how many 28-year-old breakout running backs can you name off the top of your head? Davis looks like an obvious fade in best-ball leagues given his 4th round ADP.

To get Davis on your roster, you’re selecting him over proven WR producers like Adam Thielen and Cooper Kupp as well as elite QBs like Dak Prescott and Kyler Murray. Additionally, RBs taken in Rounds 3-6 have a 6.2% lower win rate compared to wide receivers taken in the same ADP, according to RotoViz data. At his current ADP, he looks like a player to be underweight on when drafting Best Ball rosters.

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