Around the turn of the century the prevailing fantasy draft strategy was always go RB-RB to bookend and kick start your run. Since then, the passing game has taken off and almost every backfield features an RB tandem, negating the need to go RB early and often. Until this year, when every fantasy analyst and their great aunt is recommending, nay, insisting that you go RB-RB in your draft. While that is a possible strategy, let’s not get crazy. Consider the following:
The 25th ranked RB scored fewer points than the 25th ranked WR in standard scoring leagues.
Of the top-25 scoring RBs in 2012, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiler, Alfred Morris, Mikel Leshoure, and DeAngelo Williams were ranked outside the top-25 to start the year.
Similarly, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, Fred Jackson, and maybe Jonathan Stewart were ranked in the top-25 to start the year but finished well outside.
If you owned Shonn Greene, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Willis McGahee, or DeMarco Murray, all top-25 RBs, you probably were not satisfied with their production.
More WRs (10) had double digit TDs than RBs (8) last year
All that to say that just because a player is ranked inside the top-25 RBs, does not mean they will end there, and even if they do, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to be pleased with their production. Looking at this year, there are between 12-16 RBs you can feel comfortable with drafting early (depending on how you feel about guys like Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Chris Johnson, and Maurice Jones-Drew).
After that, the RBs just become a bunch of conditional lotto tickets. David Wilson and Montee Ball are both great IF they get the majority of the carries and learn to pass protect. Darren McFadden and DeMarco Murray are great IF they can stay healthy. Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush will help you IF you’re in a PPR. Yet all these RBs are starting to go in the third or fourth round of expert drafts. Taking big Ifs at RB early doesn’t make sense.
Instead, here’s a strategy designed to take advantage of the current trend by bucking it to some extent. While there will be some variation based on your draft position and the size of your league, this strategy involve stocking up on top-20 WR talent, knowing that you don’t need to get great value out of your RB2 slot to win:
Round 1 – Get your RB1. Period.
The Elite RBs are still the best thing out there and if you don’t take one in the first round, you’re taking a gamble that you can strike gold twice later in the draft. Not likely, so get a RB who can anchor your team. Marshawn Lynch is a name to keep an eye on if he slips, since he’s not a homerun hitter like C.J. Spiller or Jamaal Charles, but he managed at least 100 yards or a TD in nine of his last 10 games. Consistency is key for your RB1.
Round 2 to 4 – Zig when they Zag
If you can get an RB2 that is a border line RB1 with your second pick, go for it. That means take the highest ranked of the top 16 RBs (Peterson, Foster, Lynch, Martin, Rice, Spiller, Charles, Morris, Richardson, McCoy, Forte, Ridley, Jackson, Jones-Drew, Gore, Johnson). But, if you had an early pick or you’re in a deeper league and everyone went RB, go to WR, and take WR with those three picks.
Don’t be tempted by that sexy RB that you know is just going to be flaky all year before breaking your heart, wait to get one with personality later. Also, hold off on TE and QB. There is way too much value in later rounds.
Round 5 – Best Player Available
At this point you either have two top-16 RBs and two top-20 WRs, or one RB and three top-20 WR. Now take a look around, what happened in the first four rounds? Was there a run on QBs? A crazy number of RBs taken? Did people take only WRs in round 4? Round 5 is when we take the best player available regardless of position. Even if that means taking a fourth WR. Just do it.
Round 6 to 10 – Zag when they Zig
Most fantasy leagues have seven starters (not counting K and DEF), so rounds 6 to 10 are when most people focus on filling out their starting line-up. Because of the craziness around RBs this year, most people in your league will be focused on filling out their starting WRs and TEs at this point, so now is the perfect time to focus on your RB2.
Why hello Ryan Mathews, DeAngelo Williams, Rashard Mendenhall, Daryl Richardson, Shane Vereen, Vick Ballard, and Andre Brown, funny to find you here.
Are any of these RBs particularly exciting? No. Will many of them finish in the top 25? Absolutely. So grab a handful of these RBs from the reject pile knowing that you’ll find one or two capable of filling in that RB2 slot. Oh, and you should probably get a QB in this range if you didn’t get one in round 5.
Round 11+ – Finishing your roster
At this point you just need to finish up your roster. Take one TE in rounds 11 or 12, and a K and DEF at the tail end. Maybe take the best kicker in Round 14 and the Cardinals D in Round 15. Any remaining bench spots need to be filled with more lottery ticket WRs and RBs.
This means taking players who have a chance, however small, of busting out big. This is not a Santana Moss type player who might get you 600 yards and a couple touchdowns. Moss and players like him should only end up on your roster if you’re in deeper leagues (14-16 players).
Instead look for younger players or players who missed recently because of injury. Or look for a position where there appears to be some uncertainty (the New England receiving corp comes to mind). Regardless, pick players that let you dream: Aaron Dobson, Julian Thomas, University of Pittsburgh stud Jon Baldwin was just traded to San Francisco after a disappointing developmental career phase in Kansas City. Maybe he does something.