DFS NFL Strategy: RB Selection for Tournaments

Posted on September 2, 2016

Here at RotoQL, we strive to offer you the best information possible, including our real-time daily DraftKings and FanDuel NFL lineup optimizer, NFL lineups and DFS NFL strategy videos to provide you with the greatest chance at succeeding in daily fantasy sports. That is why we have partnered with several of the top daily fantasy NFL player rankings and projection sites in order to help you achieve this goal.

NFL season is right around the corner, and that means Daily Fantasy Football is back. Saahil Sud, formerly Maxdalury, has created a strategy on how to approach selecting each position for your lineups, in both cash games and tournaments. Over the next few weeks, we will be going over these strategies in detail. Next up is Saahil’s strategy for how to pick running backs for tournaments.


The salary for running backs tend to be a lot lower than the salary for quarterbacks. The average RB has a salary of $4,918, while the average QB salary is $5,957 (wide receivers are similarly priced as running backs). Running backs also have the highest dollar per point of any position, averaging $862 per fantasy point. What this means that generally a random running back is not going to be as good of a play as a random wide receiver (WRs average $593 per fantasy point). A big reason for this is because players receive points per reception, and wide receivers tend to catch more passes in a game than running backs.

Correlation to RB Fantasy Points / Game

One thing you want to look at is the correlation between fantasy points and other stats. Of course, the number of yards per game for a team is going to be very highly correlated to running back fantasy points. If a player is putting up a lot of yards, he’s going to be scoring a lot of fantasy points. Another important stat to look at is snaps per game. Players that get continuous opportunities are going to put up a lot of fantasy points. Although they are close, you look at snaps per game instead of individual touches per game because snaps per game offers you a little more consistency.

Another thing that is very important is receiving yards per game, especially when we’re talking about tournament strategy. Receiving yards are going to give you extra points than you would normally expect out of the running back position. Also for monster performances, almost always the running back is going to have to put up a lot of receiving yards to get a 25 or 30-point game.

Other Factors

Similar to the quarterback position, another key factor to look at is the favorites and underdogs of each game. The average number of rushing yards per game for favorites comes out to about 13 yards more than the average for underdogs. Looking at rushing touchdowns per game, the favorites average 0.88, while the underdogs average .64, almost a quarter of a touchdown less per game. Favorites also had 1+ rushing TD games 59% of the time, while underdogs only had 1+ rushing TD games 47%. 12% is a significant difference, and since we want to target running backs that are likely to score a touchdown, you are better off selecting favorites for your lineups. You also want to look at home versus away stats. Running backs playing at home average more attempts, yards, and touchdowns per game than running backs playing on the road. But you can attribute that to most home teams being the favorite.

Coefficient of Variation

We’ve discussed coefficient of variation in some of the other RotoU articles, but for those who forgot, CV is the standard deviation of a data set divided by its mean. CV is used as a measure of consistency. The CV for running backs is going to be higher than it is for quarterbacks, yet lower than the CV of wide receivers and tight ends. We know this because running backs touch the ball second most on the team, following the quarterback. So running backs should be more consistent, but may not have as much of an elite upside as wide receivers or tight ends.

Rushing By Field Position

Looking at the chart in the NFL GPP and tournament RB strategy video, we can see that the most rushing attempts come from inside the opposition’s 10-yard line and on a team’s own 1-10 yard line. It should come as no surprise that plays that start inside the opposing team’s 10-yard line are going to result in the highest number of rushing touchdowns, with rushes that start inside the red zone (opposing team’s 20-yard line) resulting in the second highest number of rushing TDs. This makes sense since rushes that start in these areas of the field require the running back to run less yards in order to score a touchdown than he’d have to run starting on his own 20-yard line. Because of this, you want to target running backs that will receive carries inside the red zone and the opposition’s 10-yard line.

Key Elements

There is a smart strategy for how to pick your running backs for GPPs, and it involves looking at several key elements. The first one is a team’s run/pass ratio. It is obvious that when a team is trailing in the game, they are going to pass the ball a lot more than they are going to run it (66% passing to 34% rushing). When the game is tied, these percentages get a little closer, but teams still throw the ball more than they run it (56% passing to 44% rushing). But when a team is leading, you’re going to see a much more balanced play call distribution between the pass game and run game (51% rushing to 49% passing). What this means is that you really want to target players who are on teams that are likely to be leading for most of the game, which is big favorites.

Looking at the 10 highest scoring games from 2013-2014, we can see that, while we have some running backs that are very elite and can put up 60+ points on one occasion, we see that running backs are generally not going to have as high upside as wide receivers. That is primarily because running backs don’t catch the ball as often. Also when you get into a game where a team is behind in the last few minutes and the team is passing like crazy, those are the situations that are really going to rack up huge fantasy scores, and we won’t see that with running backs as much. So you might not want to target expensive running backs as you would wide receivers in tournament lineups.


Now let’s look at stacking a running back with other positions in DraftKings. Stacking a running back and his defense has proven to be a successful strategy, with 19.4% of top-10 lineups in DK’s Millionaire Maker tournament having this stack combination. The running back – wide receiver combination was also a successful pairing in 2015, with 23.8% of top-10 lineups having a wide receiver and running back from the same team. However in Saahil’s NFL GPP and tournament RB strategy video, he tells us that he prefers stacking a running back with his defense, rather than with a wide receiver. The reason for this is because if a team’s defense is doing very well, it is likely that they have a big lead, meaning the team will focus heavily on running the ball in order to run the clock out. This leads to many more opportunities for the running back to score fantasy points, so there is a clear correlation between the two positions. On the other hand, there is not a strong correlation between running back and wide receiver. If anything, the two positions take away from each other. If one gains yards on a play, the other one cannot gain any points. While stacking a running back and a wide receiver can sometimes be effective, it is something that Saahil’s tends to shy away from.

If you take a look at stacking combinations in FanDuel, you see similar results as DraftKings. The running back – defense stack was found in 12.9% of the top-10 lineups in FD’s Millionaire Maker tournament, while the running back – wide receiver stack was found in 20.6% of top-1o lineups. These numbers are slightly lower than the numbers we saw on DraftKings, but they still show that stacking a running back with another position can prove to be successful. Just like with DraftKings, Saahil suggests going with the running back – defense stack over the running back – wide receiver stack.


We picked a random week from the 2014 NFL season to take a look at RB ownership. In this one week, we see that there is one running back that is very highly owned in Rashad Jennings (35.2%). You also see a few other, more elite running backs with high ownerships as well. This is because FanDuel has no PPR, so running backs are generally more valuable. Touchdowns are worth a lot, and the higher priced running backs are the running backs who will play three downs and will get the goal line opportunities. So these top running backs offer a little bit more consistency on FanDuel. With DraftKings, you see a much wider disparity and less ownership for the high-priced running backs.

Plus/Minus for Big Spread Games

As we discussed earlier, running backs that are on a team that is favored are going to put up more fantasy points than a running back on a team that’s an underdog. This is especially true with double digit point spreads, where you see a bigger disparity. If a team is a big favorite, they are expected to maintain a big lead throughout the game, and thus they will be running the ball a lot more, as long as the game goes according to plan.

NFL Tournament Lineup Example

In this lineup example from last season, Saahil targeted David Johnson and Thomas Rawls as his running backs. Johnson was getting all of the goal line carries for the Cardinals while also catching a lot of passes from Carson Palmer, thus making him an elite tournament option. With Rawls, he was lower owned, and so lower-priced, because he was filling in for Marshawn Lynch. Backup running backs tend to be very good plays because they will have a lower price point, but will probably get a similar amount of touches as the starting running back would get if he were playing. Rawls, similar to Johnson, tends to get a few receptions every game, which helps boost his value as he gets points for catches and receiving yards. Rawls scored five points from his receiving stats, which could make the difference between you winning or losing your tournament. You won’t get those receiving points with a running back like Adrian Peterson, who is likely to end up with more rushing yards but won’t catch any passes.

More Daily Fantasy Research from RotoQL

RotoQL offers numerous different resources to help increase your chances at winning in Daily Fantasy Sports. You can check out our video tutorials on how to use RotoQL at the Zen Desk (rotoql.zendesk.com). If you have any specific questions, feel free to email us at support@rotoql.com. Finally if you are new to DFS or just need a refresher on some of the fundamentals, visit RotoU (/university). We hope you learned from Saahil’s strategy for how to pick running backs for GPPs!

Make sure to check out RotoQL for daily fantasy football. Pro Football Focus projections to create the best daily fantasy NFL lineups with RotoQL’s real-time daily NFL lineup optimizer. Our premium subscription includes premium insights for DraftKings and FanDuel NFL strategy.