FANTASY PLAYS: Holdouts add uncertainty at running back

The landscape surrounding fantasy football’s running back position has dramatically changed since last season.

Last season’s top overall pick, Rams RB Todd Gurley, is being selected in the second round of 12 team drafts because of his troublesome knee.

Fantasy football drafts are further muddied as Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon continue to hold out because of contract disputes.

You’ll still need to focus on RBs early in drafts. Per consensus draft rankings in points-per-reception (PPR) scoring formats, seven of the first 12 picks are RBs.

Many teams will once again use the running back by committee approach.

Your strategy in mid-to-late rounds should be to select RBs with upside and a direct line to a starting job.

Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara are usually the first RBs taken in drafts.

Barkley is the cornerstone of the Giants‘ offense. He had 2028 total yards last season.

McCaffrey scored 13 total TDs and led all RBs with 107 receptions for the Panthers last season.

Kamara caught 81 passes and scored 18 total TDs for the Saints last season. Will new Saints RB Latavius Murray cut into Kamara’s TD production? It’s unlikely. Kamara shared the backfield with Mark Ingram for 27 games the past two seasons and still scored 25 TDs.

As of this writing, Elliott is the fourth overall pick in most drafts. While many speculate he’ll be signed by Week 1 if you draft Elliott, limit your risk. Draft backup Tony Pollard as well.

Gordon’s holdout could force him to miss regular-season games. He’ll still cost you a second-round pick. If you draft Gordon, draft backup Austin Ekeler. If you miss out on Ekeler, grab Chargers RB Justin Jackson in the latter rounds.

Cardinals RB David Johnson’s average draft position (ADP) has been slowly rising (ADP 5). He had the 11th highest fantasy point per game (FPPG) average last season despite running behind one of the worst offensive lines in football.

Some feel it hasn’t improved much, yet optimists believe Johnson will have more opportunities in new head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s fast-paced offense.

Jets RB Le’Veon Bell hasn’t played an NFL down since the 2017 season. He proved that he’s in tremendous shape by running the Jets’ conditioning test twice on the first day of training camp. Bell has the potential to be one of the top backs in fantasy.

James Conner, Bell’s replacement in the Steelers’ backfield, had the seventh-highest FPPG average last season. Some speculate the Steelers may limit his workload, but Conner should continue to thrive in the Steelers’ RB friendly offense.

Despite being a second-round pick, when Gurley is on the field, he’ll likely deliver first-round type production. However, his workload will be managed. Rookie Darrell Henderson has struggled this preseason. Malcolm Brown, who often goes undrafted, has value as an alternative Gurley backup.

Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette are typically drafted in the second round of 12-team fantasy football leagues.

Mixon will be running behind an injury-depleted offensive line. However, the Bengals want to run the ball more this season, and he’s talented enough to overcome his line’s limitations.

Chubb, became the Browns‘ lead back in Week 7, and averaged 5.2 yards per carry (YPC). Chubb’s workload will decline once Kareem Hunt returns from his eight-game suspension, but he’ll still have a significant role in the offense.

Injuries cost Vikings RB Dalvin Cook 17 games of his first two NFL seasons. When healthy he can do it all, but if you roster Cook, roster his backup, Alexander Mattison.

Fournette has first-round talent but he’s averaged just 3.7 YPC in his first two seasons. Fournette’s a high-risk, high-reward pick.

The Chiefs have a high-powered offense, but beware of drafting Damien Williams. He has just 183 carries in his five-year career and coach Sixth-round draft pick Darwin Thompson has looked impressive this preseason.

Offensive scheme should also be considered when targeting fantasy RBs. The Seahawks, Titans and Ravens executed the highest percentage of run plays last season. Chris Carson should again lead the team in carries, but Rashaad Penny should have an increased role in the Seahawks offense. Both have stand-alone fantasy value.

Titans RB Derrick Henry led all RBs with 625 rushing yards the last five weeks of last season. He’s been dealing with a calf injury this preseason, but if healthy and if the Titans fully commit to expanding his role, he’ll likely outperform his 20 ADP.

Ravens RB Mark Ingram (ADP 21) will have to fend off Gus Edwards, rookie Justice Hill and QB Lamar Jackson for rushing opportunities, but he should be the Ravens’ busiest back, and a productive RB2.

Josh Jacobs (ADP 19) should be the NFL’s most-productive rookie back. He’ll likely lead the Raiders backfield in carries and deliver RB2 production.

Bears rookie David Montgomery (ADP 23) is a, multi-talented back. His role in the Bears’ offense should expand as the season progresses, but with Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen in the mix it may take a while.

Bills rookie Devin Singletary (ADP 49), may provide better value than Montgomery. With a backfield featuring aging veterans Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy, and T.J. Yeldon, Singletary has a clearer path to a lead back role than Montgomery.

Eagles rookie Miles Sanders (ADP 30) will have to compete for touches against Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement as part of a backfield notorious for using a committee approach.