Fantasy football draft strategy – Going RB heavy with the 1st pick

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 29: Running back Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown with teammate wide receiver Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Ford Field on October 29, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 29: Running back Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown with teammate wide receiver Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Ford Field on October 29, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: PITTSBURGH, PA – JANUARY 14: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on prior to the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field on January 14, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

It’s draft day. If you’re anything like me, this is Christmas morning and you’re a kid all over again. The countless hours of study for your Fantasy Football Draft Strategy, mock drafts and time reading articles are finally going to pay off.

You haven’t quite figured out your Fantasy Football Draft Strategy, but you get to the draft and draw a number from a hat. You got the number one overall pick!


Not so fast.

You love the fact you can get literally anyone you want, but now wonder who to take at the two-three turn. Do you go with back-to-back running backs? Do you take back-to-back wide receivers? Do you draft nothing but running backs the first three rounds?

I am going to answer all of your questions in a series of articles, this being the first one, on applying various draft strategies from every draft position. I will show you what your roster can look like when you draft a running back first, a wide receiver first, running backs with your first two picks and the list goes on.

I am an admitted mock draft addict, for your sake and for my hobby, I have taken the time to fully draft every single one of these teams you are about to see.

Today we examine the deployment of a heavy running back approach with the first overall pick in a 12-man snake draft.

As a disclaimer, I am in the camp of drafting quarterbacks, tight ends, kickers, and defenses with my last picks to get as many athletes with upside as possible. Also, I know expert rankings differ site to site, so I have gone ahead and included Yahoo mocks along with ESPN mocks. Yahoo’s auto setting give .5 points for PPR, ESPN uses the full PPR format.

The running back heavy strategies this article takes a deep dive include: Zero WR (or RB-RB-RB), RB-RB-WR, RB-WR-RB, and others.

(Typically any reference to draft strategy will refer to your selected picks’ abbreviation through rounds 3-4 (ex. RB-RB-WR-WR). The reasoning being, the first three to four rounds are crucial for any fantasy football team. These are the rounds that you pick your sure-fire studs, your can’t miss guys. )

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: SEATTLE, WA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams laughs on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 17, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks won the game 42-7. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: ZERO RB

The strategy is in the name. Draft nothing but running backs. No, I don’t mean for your entire team, I mean for the first three rounds where you draft the core of your fantasy squad.

You will notice while drafting there are tier cutoffs and it usually happens at the running back position in rounds three and four.

While selecting a certain receiver or back may help your depth, you notice there is a steep drop off from the guy you are about to pick to the guy that was selected at the same position right before you. These are tier breaks at the position.

Below is a draft that Yahoo gave me an A on using the zero WR strategy.

I really like this team and feel it can compete for a championship. The key to using the zero wide receiver strategy is to get your sure-fire running backs with those first three picks, then stock up on late-round wide receivers with upside.

My starters at receiver will likely be JuJu Smith-Schuster and Allen Robinson, but if one or both don’t pan out, I’m perfectly comfortable plugging and playing my back up pass catchers. I would like to have more of a sure thing at the WR position, but my team will be carried week to week by my stud running backs. Anything extra my receivers give me is a plus.

Many draft backup RBs after selecting their starting two receivers (assuming you play in a flex format and not a three WR format). This isn’t such a bad strategy on the off chance one of your stud running backs goes down, or if you need to fill in some bye weeks and still get wins.

I know I’m taking a gamble with Luck at QB, but with my 12th pick, that’s stock I will gamble on all day long. Should Luck come back healthy, Doyle will be a serviceable TE week to week. If not, there are always free agent finds that you can plug and play. Your advantage comes from having the best RB core in your league.

Below is a roster from ESPN using the Zero RB strategy:

I love getting either Bell or Gurley at number one. Freeman will sometimes find his way to you at the end of the second round. If so, take that value all day.

Realistically when it comes to selecting your second running back, a lot of people on ESPN are having to choose between Joe Mixon, Jerick McKinnon or Jordan Howard.

Each has huge upside and appear to be the lead back in their respective systems. However, each one of them carries some type of high-risk, high-reward type of situation.

Howard has the best track record, but has Tarik Cohen fighting him for third-down work. Mixon appears to be headed for a heavy workload, but can he handle it and will he produce? Same goes for McKinnon in San Francisco. Either way, one of the two picks here will surely be a top twelve back come season’s end, right?

You’re going to have to gamble when it comes to the wide receiver position. For example, I took JuJu Smith-Schuster in both drafts. Realistically, JuJu’s floor is a WR 3. His ceiling has yet to be determined, which is why I gambled on him in both leagues, feeling he has the potential to creep up on WR 1 numbers.

Other receivers who will be around by the four-five turn include the likes of Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Hogan, and Robert Woods. I think I made the right pick in JuJu.

I’m not blown away by my receiver core in either league, but that’s why you use your bench to draft guys with upside. Finding a back-end RB1 is much more difficult than it is to find a back-end WR 1, high-end WR 2 in my opinion.

Even without a clear WR1 on my team, I still have confidence I can win a championship on my running backs alone.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: CHICAGO, IL – SEPTEMBER 10: Jordan Howard #24 of the Chicago Bears warms up prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Soldier Field on September 10, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: RB-RB-WR

When you’re drafting from the one spot, RB-RB-WR and RB-WR-RB is essentially the same strategy. You have back-to-back picks, so depending on who you want to click on first determines whether you are using RB-RB-WR or RB-WR-RB.

Typically when applying this strategy, I will focus more on getting myself a third running back after my receiver selection at the end of the second or beginning of the third round.

This strategy of throwing a wide receiver into the mix with your first three picks is beneficial because rather than going after a running back who might not have the secure value, you can now get a quality WR 1 that you are confident in at the same price.

Below is an example of what your team can look like going RB-WR-RB (or RB-RB-WR) on Yahoo:

Again, love my backs and now I have a WR1 that I am pretty confident in. Here are some of the players I chose Thielen and Freeman over:

Tyreek Hill (KC – WR)
Stefon Diggs (Min – WR)
Amari Cooper (Oak – WR)
Jerick McKinnon (SF – RB)
Travis Kelce (KC – TE)
Josh Gordon (Cle – WR)
LeSean McCoy (Buf – RB)
Larry Fitzgerald (Ari – WR)
Zach Ertz (Phi – TE)
Aaron Rodgers (GB – QB)
Jay Ajayi (Phi – RB)

So if you prefer McKinnon to Freeman or Diggs to Thielen for example, feel free to plug those names into their respective spots on the mock roster and this is what your team can look like.

Below is an ESPN mock draft:

The Gurley Thielen combo is hard to deny. Then you toss in the upside of McKinnon and combine that with Cooks and Derrick Henry? Sounds pretty solid to me.

Then you take a peek at the bench and see you have Tevin Coleman to deploy when needed. Part of my bench is cut off, but as you can see I selected a bevy of high ceiling WRs.

Having week-to-week starters won’t be an issue with this team. The issue is going to be selecting your starters when one of the WRs breaks out.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: CHICAGO, IL – DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass the football in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 3, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Zero WR with a QB Focus

Some argue that when applying the Zero WR strategy you should also draft a top-end QB to make up for the lack of a WR1. They may also suggest toss in a TE1 for good measure. If you are with this line of thinking, I’m not with you.

However, just because I don’t think the same as you doesn’t mean I don’t want to help you. So, here is what your team can look like when you use the Zero WR approach while putting emphasis on drafting a top quarterback and/or tight end with a Yahoo mock draft.

Still getting an A, so can’t complain. I really liked this roster, but have an issue with not having the backup depth at the WR position. Other than that though, this team seems solid.

More from FanSided

Just so you have an idea what your receivers can look like, here are the WRs who went after I picked my two, feel free to plug them into this roster if you prefer them over my selections:

Brandin Cooks (LAR – WR)
Marvin Jones Jr. (Det – WR)
Robert Woods (LAR – WR)
Will Fuller V (Hou – WR)
Corey Davis (Ten – WR)
Michael Crabtree (Bal – WR)
Chris Hogan (NE – WR)
Pierre Garcon (SF – WR)

I personally think Cooks could easily outdo either of my receivers, as could Fuller, but it’s your pick and you have to be the one who lives with your roster for an entire fantasy season.

Here is Zero WR with a focus on the QB & TE from an ESPN mock:

I got the best running back in the NFL and the best quarterback in the NFL. I was amazed that Alshon Jeffery made it to me at the end of the fourth/beginning of the fifth round. That probably won’t happen all of the time.

I didn’t get a top-tier tight end like I set out to do, but I did stock up on TEs that I feel have huge upside and massive break out potential. If one of them break out, this team is dominant.

Thank you for taking the time to read through these different strategies and see what your fantasy team can look like this coming season. I will continue to release articles like this in a series so you know what your team can look like no matter where you draft from.

Next up, the Zero RB strategy.

Next: Fantasy Football Mailbag - Week of July 9th 2018

Best of luck in your Fantasy Football drafts and stay tuned to Fantasy CPR all season long for fantasy football and DFS news and analysis!