Recently, I made my 2023 debut with my take on the Jumbo WR3 Theorem, and today I’m back again with more CFF best ball draft strategy. This time, let’s look at running backs and find opportunities for decent floor, high upside guys coming in at mid to late-round ADP. Here are five running backs that certainly need to be considered in the mid to later rounds of best ball drafts due to their floor/upside combo. 

Kaytron Allen, Penn State

RB1 – Nick Singleton

Courtesy of Nittany Sports Now

Allen might be my highest-owned player in all the best ball drafts I’ve done this off-season. The second-year back is considered second fiddle to the ultra-talented Singleton, but even then, he can still be very productive as RB1B/RB2 in the Penn State offense. Last season, we saw the Nittany Lions utilize both Singleton and Allen significantly. Allen out-touched Singleton by 11 carries and nine receptions. To grab Singleton, you’ll be using top-three-round draft capital, while Allen is being drafted between rounds 10 and 13 in most leagues I’m in. Allen’s floor is his 2022 production (eight double-digit fantasy performances in 13 games) with top-three-round upside if something happens to Singleton. 

Noah Whittington, Oregon

RB1 – Bucky Irving

Whittington is a personal favorite of mine due to his role in what should be a top-five scoring offense in 2023. Would it surprise you to hear that he only had 17 fewer carries and nine fewer receptions than top seven-rounder Irving last season? Well, Whittington is being picked in the 20th round or later in almost every draft I’ve been in, and I don’t understand why. He generated double-digit fantasy points six times in 13 games, with just six total touchdowns. Bo Nix had 14 rushing touchdowns in 2022, something unlikely to happen again. Considering the other options in the 20th round and later, taking a stab at a guy in a high-powered offense like Oregon’s is a no-brainer to me. 

Jovantae Barnes/Gavin Sawchuk/Marcus Major, Oklahoma

RB1 – Jovantae Barnes/Gavin Sawchuk

The Oklahoma running back situation has to be one of the bigger question marks in CFF right now. At the end of the 2022 regular season, we all likely assumed it would be Barnes’ job in 20me; Sawchuk was super impressive in the bowl game and has continued to wow people in the spring/summer. Also in the running back room is Marcus Major, a veteran with good career numbers on limited carries.

This situation reminds me of the USC WR room in that I’m going to start trying to get one of these three in each draft. Major is a guy being picked in the final rounds of drafts who could easily turn into Eric Gray if given the first opportunity or if one of Barnes/Sawchuk gets injured. Sawchuk is likely to have the biggest upside and can be found drafted in the teen rounds. Barnes is the most expensive of the bunch, but slowly seeing that cost near Sawchuk’s ADP. Last year’s data is skewed due to injuries, but the RB1 ran for 1,300 yards and 11 TDs, while the RB2 ran for 500 yards and five TDs. It’s hard to resist taking one of these guys per draft if the price is right.  

Austin Jones, USC

RB1 – MarShawn Lloyd

Courtesy of USC Athletics

If you follow me, you know I’m a huge Lloyd fan. While he’s not as lean as Travis Dye was, I still see a similar game that fits the Trojans’ offense better than Dye’s size/skill set did going into last season. Lloyd is 5’9″, 212 lbs., and recorded 18 receptions in nine games last season. He’s capable of catching the ball and can definitely handle a large carry total with his frame. One knock against Lloyd is that he is coming back from injury, and conversely, Jones finished the 2022 season with a solid stat line for USC (135/705/5 with 25 receptions). The floor isn’t as nice as other backs listed here, but the winner of this gig is a top 15 CFF running back. The RB2 I still have projected for over 450 rushing yards, 19 receptions, and five total touchdowns.

TJ Harden, UCLA

RB1 – Carson Steele

Harden burst onto the scene in the second half of last season while Zach Charbonnet was battling injuries, rushing for 200 yards and a TD in the last two games. While a small sample size, his 44 carries for 325 yards (7.4 YPC) were impressive to those that watched live. Add on the fact that he had an impressive spring, and Harden makes for a great value in 2023. Steele was super impressive for Ball State last season, but we’ve seen players from the G5 transfer to the P5 and stumble. Steele is a top 4-5 round pick, while Harden is being selected in the 10-12th round range. We should see more of a split backfield this season, and the more the spring/summer carries on, the more I think it’s Harden’s job to lose. This makes him an incredible value where he’s being selected while maintaining a decent floor if he’s more of an RB1B/RB2. 

Honorable Mention: Jonathon Brooks, Texas

RB1 – Cedric Baxter

Brooks is the leading returning rusher for the Longhorns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. He only had 30 rushing attempts in 2023, generating 6.6 YPC and six total touchdowns. Baxter seems to be the future of the Longhorns backfield, an incredibly valuable position in CFF, but is it possible that Baxter is more Jayden Blue than Bijan Robinson? Blue likely has no CFF value unless he transfers, while Bijan did perform well his true freshman year; it wasn’t until his second year that he broke out. Brooks possesses the size you love in a running back (6’0 “, 207) and has been effective, albeit limited usage so far. Whoever wins the Texas RB job will be a no doubt top 4-5 round pick, and to me, Brooks has just as much of a shot at that as Baxter, even though he’s not being picked that way. The only caveat is that the RB2 for Texas likely doesn’t have the floor you’re looking for with this draft strategy.

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