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Fantasy Football 101: Where do I draft a running back in 2017?

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars-OTA Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Rejoice! Fantasy Football season is almost upon us!

While we are still a few weeks away from fantasy drafts, it’s never too early to start researching and prioritizing players — and one of the biggest questions that fantasy players will face this year is where to draft running backs and which ones to draft.

As many players look for a definitive strategy when it comes to what position in what round, the only immediate answer I can supply is:

It depends.

That may not be exactly what you want to hear, but allow me to break down why multiple variables within you draft will influence where you draft running backs and the value they provide.

Embrace the variables

First, let’s breakdown the different variables as to why it depends where you draft running backs:

  1. The type of fantasy league

Most players draft running backs whether they are playing in a standard league, PPR league, or even a best ball draft, and that is a costly mistake. Be sure to research what type of league you’re playing in, as well as the scoring breakdown.

Why this matters: I’ve seen too many players go heavy on running backs the first three rounds, only to realize they are playing in a PPR league and pass by wide receiver that consistently deliver more points through receptions.

Same goes for scoring. If your league scoring dictates that touchdowns are only worth four points, and you select one running back over another purely on touchdown volume, you’re overlooking reception value that could hurt you through the season.

2. Your position in the draft

Oddly enough, players think because they have the first pick in the draft or the 12th pick, they need to draft a running back due to scarcity.

This is simply not the case.

Becoming a better fantasy player is all about adjusting on the fly. When you head into a draft with a concrete strategy that you do not stray from, you put yourself in a vulnerable position.

Why this matters: Observe what players are being taken off the board.

Don’t feel the need to draft a running back with your pick simply because they are being drafted in the first five picks. You never want to sacrifice value purely because you’ve committed to Zero Running Back Strategy or some other tactic.

3. Pre-hype sources

Fantasy research is crucial to your season success, but you must be careful and critical of pre-hype sources prior to training camp and preseason. Consuming too many predictions prior to these events can influence you to make the wrong choices based on propped up predictions that don’t make a lot of sense.

Why this matters: Be analytical of predictions and dive deeper into hearsay to truly find out if there’s value in drafting a specific running back early.

Now that we’ve identified some variables into your overall draft strategy, let’s take a look at running backs in 2017 and they value they hold.

Return of the feature back?

It was only a year ago that many players resisted drafting a running back simply because the NFL is currently a passing league, and too many players were involved in an RBBC (Running Back By Committee).

As the 2016 season played out, feature backs like David Johnson, Le’veon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott proved their worth not only from a carries standpoint, but with receiving yards as well.

Here is a breakdown of 2016’s Fantasy Point Totals (PPR Standard) according to Fantasy Pros:

David Johnson: 407.8 16 Games

Ezekiel Elliott: 325.4 15 Games

Le’veon Bell: 317.4 12 Games

Antonio Brown: 307.3 15 Games

Jordy Nelson: 304.7 16 Games

Mike Evans: 304.1 16 Games

LeSean McCoy: 299.3 15 Games

Odell Beckham Jr.: 296.6 16 Games

DeMarco Murray: 293.8 16 Games

Devonta Freeman: 284.1 16 Games

T.Y. Hilton: 273.8 16 Games

Drafting running backs in 2017

As we creep up to the 2017 fantasy football season, the most abundant depth positions are wide receiver and quarterback.

The majority of players will want to jump on running backs early. While we already know that Johnson, Bell, and Elliott (pending any type of suspension) will probably go in the top few picks, players like Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy, Jordan Howard, and DeMarco Murray are going early-to-mid second round.

Be skeptical of rookies

This year’s draft class provided some interesting rookie running backs and the teams that selected them. While it’s tempting to draft rookies in general, running back is one of the most difficult positions to predict.

The four running backs that most will draft in the upcoming fantasy football season are: Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, and Dalvin Cook.

While each of these running backs have their appeal, I would only select these running backs as a high upside, low ceiling player. These core four shouldn’t be taken any earlier than the 4th round of most drafts.

Overall running back draft strategy

Drafting a running back in 2017 is really going to depend on your draft position and the current situation of your draft as stated above.

If you see running backs going extremely early, focus more on a top wide receiver that you wouldn’t normally have a chance at your current pick.

This theory should also be applied in reverse.

If an extraordinary amount of top wide receivers come off the board in the first round, keep an eye out for running backs that may have been passed up for maximum value.

While this piece may not provide you with a definitive answer on when to draft a running back in your fantasy football draft, it does highlight what you need to pay attention to when adding the most amount of value for your fantasy football draft.