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Fantasy Football 2023: How to Draft RBs Rising in ADP

With NFL Preseason Week 1 in the books, drafters can utilize new information. Data like personnel deployment and usage should influence how fantasy players draft teams, but it is also paramount not to overreact to noise.

Below, Daniel Racz, the winner of Underdog Fantasy’s 2022 Rookies and Sophomores Tournament, will highlight four running backs rising in Average Draft Position (ADP) based on recent news and recommend how to draft them. 

Changing ADP Dynamics, Tournament Selection

As fantasy football drafts occur throughout the year and ADP fluctuates throughout the drafting season, acquiring the best prices (latest ADPs) on players is ideal. So, drafters need to be price-conscious when new information shifts ADP. 

In flagship tournaments on DraftKings and Underdog that have been open for months, teams should target players falling in ADP if all else is equal. Conversely, contests over short periods (time-boxed tournaments) are ideal for targeting players’ rising ADP.

In time-boxed tournaments, ADP remains relatively constant. In these tournaments, there is far less competition from teams with players at substantial ADP discounts. 

Khalil Herbert

Khalil Herbert (ADP 102.3)

Khalil Herbert’s highlight reel touchdown reception on a screen pass and his drives on the Chicago Bears’ starting unit have pushed his ADP up more than a round into the middle of the ninth round. Herbert’s ADP likely will continue to rise, possibly as high as the early eighth round.

Before the Bears’ first preseason game, drafters assumed Herbert would be the Bears’ lead running back and drafted him at the end of the 10th round. Now, fantasy players will select Herbert as a known starter in drafts. Given Herbert’s profile as a dynamic rusher without much-receiving upside who could cede goal-line work to Justin Fields, drafters should not select him often in the eighth round. At Herbert’s current ninth-round cost, he remains a strong selection. 

Kenneth Gainwell (ADP 149.2)

While some running backs, like Herbert, see their ADP rise from playin in preseason games, others, like Kenneth Gainwell, rise in ADP due to not playing. With D’Andre Swift playing the opening stretch of the Philadelphia Eagles’ first game and Rashaad Penny playing well into the second quarter, the market assumes Gainwell has a secure role in the Eagles’ offense.

Coach Nick Sirianni has stated a desire for all of the team’s running backs to receive some in-game reps during the preseason, and it is logical to give new additions like Swift and Penny more work than returning players like Gainwell. Unless Gainwell receives minimal preseason work while Swift and Penny play deep into games, drafters should exercise caution anywhere earlier than pick No. 135. That could change with more information supporting Gainwell’s role within the offense. At his current ADP, Gainwell remains a strong selection. 

Dalvin Cook (ADP 92.0)

With Dalvin Cook's free agency tour ending with the New York Jets, his ADP has climbed from the early ninth round into the late eighth round. Cook offers significant contingent upside if Breece Hall suffered a setback or compensatory injury after tearing his ACL last season.

Additionally, Cook should see a large share of the early-season touches, with the Jets intending to ease Hall back into the mix. While early-season production is far less meaningful than late-season production, zero-RB teams that select Cook can afford to take more upside and contingent bets later. 

However, Cook also has a significant and equally noteworthy downside case. With falling yards per route run (YPRR), success rate and rushing yards over expected (RYOE) in recent years, there is a chance Cook does not have any gas in the tank. If Hall returns to form, the Jets are not likely to give Cook any meaningful work during the fantasy season’s impactful weeks. 

Ultimately, targeting Cook anywhere ahead of the middle of the eighth round invites too much risk relative to the potential payoff, which could only materialize if Hall misses time. At the end of the eighth round, Cooks is a fine, bordering on poor, selection. 

Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott (ADP 153.5)

After signing a one-year contract with the New England Patriots, Ezekiel Elliott jumped two rounds in ADP into the late 13th round. However, drafters should expect his ADP to keep climbing. 

Elliott, clearly past his prime, should serve as the primary short-yardage back on a team that projects significantly below average. As such, his goal-line opportunities will be few and far between. Additionally, his lack of athleticism and poor receiving ability limit his contingent value if Rhamondre Stevenson were hurt. 

Elliott remains a fine selection at his current ADP and even into the early 13th round. However, if his ADP enters the 12th round, drafters should strongly fade Elliott. 

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