Let’s take a moment to think about fantasy football rankings. Specifically, the running back rankings. Do you ever wonder why they seem to naturally fall into tiers at certain points? But then down the stretch, they seem to be all over the place? That’s because we’ve been ranking them completely wrong for years. And that’s by trying to force a non-linear situation into one big long list. Then we go and do a fantasy football mock draft against strangers with their own leagues and their own formats in mind and we wonder why the outcome is nothing like our own league. It’s time to put that antiquated process behind us.


As we talked about at the beginning of this Najee Harris article, the glory days of the linear running back depth chart from the early 2000s is all but over. There are few true “every down” running backs. What we have nowadays are some situations where the starter gets the bulk of the work in all situations (New York Giants), some teams will split it fairly evenly (Miami Dolphins), and some will deploy a pass-run split (Detroit Lions). Each offers varying degrees of startable running backs with varying types of “handcuffs” behind them. So why are we expected to simply lump them all on one list and draft that way?

Let’s say you are doing a fantasy football draft. Based on our current composite ADP, the board available to you could look like this

Here you've got a potential every down back on a bad team, a projected early down back back on a good team, an every down back coming off a serious knee injury, a pass down back on a team with a mobile QB, a pass down back who is expected to be suspended, a run down back on a bad team, and a pass down back that could be phased out when the starter returns. They are all going around the same spot in these drafts and we are supposed to somehow rank them in a linear fashion? 

The reality here is that the mental process of drafting the right balance for your team is not a linear task. You need to consider your format. You need to consider who you're drafted so far. You need to consider who is available later. There's a LOT more than goes into just printing out a big list of names (though we obviously offer that too). And that’s why we are introducing our new Dynamic Fantasy rankings.

Dynamic Tier Running Back Fantasy Football Player Rankings

Any Zero RB drafter will tell you that you need the right mix of players. All the bellcows will be gone. If you only draft risky guys or handcuffs, you won't have anyone to start early on. If you take a bunch of guys like Jamaal Williams and Samaje Perine, you might not have viable options down the stretch when the starters come back. The goal here is to understand your format and the roster you are constructing in order to create the best possible combination of starting lineup, bye week reserves, and long-term upside. THAT is how you navigate the fantasy landscape.

Running Back
Christian McCaffreyJoe Mixon
Austin EkelerMiles Sanders
Bijan RobinsonTravis Etienne
Saquon BarkleyAaron Jones
Nick ChubbRachaad White
Jonathan TaylorAlexander Mattison
Josh JacobsJames Conner
Derrick HenryCam Akers
Tony PollardRhamondre Stevenson
Najee HarrisDalvin Cook
Specified Roles
Two DownThird Down
Kenneth WalkerJahmyr Gibbs
JK DobbinsSamaje Perine
Dameon PierceAntonio Gibson
Isiah PachecoJames Cook
David MontgomeryKenneth Gainwell
AJ DillonZach Charbonnet
Ezekiel ElliottDe'Von Achane
Brian RobinsonD'Andre Swift
Damien HarrisJerick McKinnon
Rashaad PennyDevin Singletary
Jeff WilsonPierre Strong
Jamaal Williams 
Kendre Miller
Khalil Herbert
Jaylen Warren
Elijah Mitchell
Jerome Ford
Tyler Allgeier
Michael Carter
Gus Edwards
Tank Bigsby
Pure Handcuff
Tyjae Spears
Chuba Hubbard
Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Keaontay Ingram
Chase Edmonds
Roschon Johnson
Kyren Williams
James Robinson
Alvin Kamara
Javonte Williams
Breece Hall
Leonard Fournette
Kareem Hunt

How It Works

Bellcows: There aren’t many “every-down backs” in the modern NFL. This group of players are the closest you are going to get to that idea. This section includes the guys that play in both running and passing-down situations and, at the very least, split the work down the middle. 

Two-Down: The backfields are split and these guys are the bruisers that play primarily on run downs. Some are the “starter” that come out for a better passing-down running back and some just come in for short-yardage situations. They can still have big upside though if they have seasons like 2016 LeGarrette Blount (18 touchdowns, but only seven receptions), but they are much more viable in standard or half-PPR leagues.

Third- Down: The other half of the split. These players have pass-catching chops but many don’t have the size for the full role or simply have another back on the team better fit for short-yardage work. Best suited for PPR leagues, though some may transcend into bigger roles like Austin Ekeler or Alvin Kamara of the past.

Handcuff+: These players have another back on the team that is a starter capable of playing both run and passing downs. But they mix in often enough to provide some standalone value and could see a big boost with injury. 

Pure Handcuff: These are the guys you can really only start in your league if the starter gets hurt though they could have huge upside if they get the full-time role.

Injury: These players are either injured or suspended so are strictly stash plays.

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