The running back position seems to be everyone’s top priority this year in fantasy football drafts for the 2018 season. There are currently 9 RBs with a first-round average draft position in PPR formats (10 in standard) in 2018. However, in the three years prior only 6 RBs had an average draft position in the first round so why are people so confident in the RB position this year? We are going to take a look at the numbers and find out how you should approach the running back position in your upcoming 2018 fantasy football drafts.

Outlier Finishes for 2017 Running Backs

In 2015, 5 RB1 finishers were drafted in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts. In 2016, 7 RB1s came from those rounds. However, in 2017 7 RB1s were top 3 round picks in PPR with 9 finishing as an RB1 in standard leagues. Last year was a bit of an outlier compared to the previous two years which is one reason people could be leaning towards taking running backs early this year.

The 2017 fantasy running backs also outperformed finishing as RB2’s. Every single running back with an ADP in the 2nd round or higher in 2017 finished as an RB2 or better in both standard and PPR leagues.

In 2016 2 PPR RBs and 3 standard RBs did not accomplish that. 2015 follows the same path with 4 RBs from the first two rounds not finishing as at least an RB2. Two or three running backs may not seem that significant, but it again shows how 2017 was an outlier year for running back performance.

Early Round Running Back Dominance

Looking at 2017 as an outlier year may make you want to wait on drafting a running back in your fantasy drafts. However, waiting on running backs for the later rounds may be just as difficult.

Rounds 4 through 7 have supplied 4, 3, and 1 RB1s from years 2015 to 2017 respectively. In comparison, the first three rounds supplied at least half the RB1s for the past three years.

You have similar odds in the late rounds to undrafted players with 3, 3, and 1 RB1s coming from those rounds in years 2015 to 2017 respectively. While you certainly have a chance at picking an RB1 from these mid or late rounds you have significantly better odds at picking one early.

In 2017 14 backs finished as an RB2 or better for at least half the weeks from weeks 1 to 16 with Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley tied for the most at 14 weeks. Rounds 1-3 provided 11 of those backs in PPR leagues and 10 in standard. 2016 and 2015 aren’t much different with rounds 1-3 supplying about half the RBs who would accomplish the same task for that given year.

If you want a running back on your team who is going to be worth starting most weeks of the season and has a very good chance at finishing as at least an RB2 your best bet is to draft one in the first three rounds of your draft with the first round giving you your best shot. This is why running backs are being so heavily drafted in the first round of upcoming 2018 drafts.

We also saw there not being much of a difference between standard and PPR leagues. The true elite running backs get in involved in both the running and passing game so it makes sense that regardless of league format most of the RB1s still come from the early rounds. You may have slightly better odds at finding a late round pass catching superstar back in PPR leagues, but those guys typically fit better as an RB2.

While you shouldn’t feel pressured to reach for a running back in the first round you should keep in mind that after the 3rd round you are severely hurting your chances at drafting an every week starter. Take advantage of those that feel the pressure to reach for an RB over a stud WR if one falls to you because you can still get quality backs in the 2nd or 3rd round like Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy, and Jordan Howard. Every year elite running backs carry teams to championship titles and now you know where your best chance at finding one is.

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