Last Week's Question: Is Zero-RB irrelevant
in the age of golden handcuffs?
I received more feedback on last
week's question than I can address in a single column, but
I want to feature as much commentary as possible this week before
broadening the question for next week.
The most important response to my question came from FFToday.com's
editor, Mike Krueger. Although he didn't answer directly, his
editorial decision to omit the final phrase from my question served
as a kind of subtextual response.
Whether he shortened my prompt to "Is Zero-RB Irrelevant?"
to save space or because he didn't buy my "golden handcuff"
argument, his title certainly enticed more readers to respond
to the column than mine would have. (That may be why he's the
Many of the readers who chimed in didn't address my central point
concerning RB handcuffs at all because they were eager to argue
that zero-RB is (or isn't) relevant based on their own drafting
Mat, for instance, emailed me with this detailed response:
In all my leagues over the past 10 years, I have multiple championships
and am a perennial favorite. In one CBS dynasty/auction league
I once ran off 24 straight wins over 2 seasons. The loss finally
came when I lost my starting QB and RB in the same week during
a game. I've gone away from traditional FF leagues and am playing
more daily [contests, but I remain] in one league. I'm 5-0.
Here's my strategy every year: Draft running backs early and often.
I currently have 8 on my roster including D. Johnson, D. Freeman,
L. McCoy, D. Williams, S. Ware, B. Powell, M. Asiata and J. Rodgers.
The last 3 were in-season pickups; I dropped C. Ivory, D. Sproles
and a backup TE for them. My QB is Roethlisberger (4th round).
The reason I do this is WR is easier to hit on late in a draft
than RB. There are only a handful of feature backs left in the
league, and I have 2 of them in Johnson and McCoy. [By contrast,]
WRs emerge all season long.
For example, I drafted J. Landry as my first WR in the third round
Smith in the 16th. I have added Will
Fuller and T. Pryor mid-season, so my starting lineup in a
ppr league with a flex is:
1. D. Johnson
(I play match ups weekly)
As for bye weeks and my kicker and defense, I don't care. I drop
my kicker and pick up the next best available. I'm a little more
selective on defense.
I'm a "you can't have enough RBs" kinda guy, and you
can't argue with my success.
When I replied to thank Mat for his response (as I try to thank
every reader who writes in), he followed up with this note: "I
re-read your question and I'm not sure I answered it. You were
correct in your [assumption that RB handcuffs played a major role
in our success]. We rode D. Williams and S. Ware early. Now McCoy
has come around, giving us a nice 1-2 punch with David Johnson."
I'm grateful to Mat not only for writing in with his general
response, but for following up to engage my question more specifically.
Before I focus on one part of his initial answer, however, I want
to point out that Mat wasn't alone in privileging the part of
the question that piqued his interest. And since Q&A has always
been a reader-driven column, I'm happy to take the conversation
wherever the audience wants to see it go, so we don't need to
focus on RB handcuffs just because that was the way I framed the
My favorite part of Mat's response was when he identified himself
as a "you can't have enough RBs" sort of owner. In today's pass-happy
NFL, that lesson may seem a little outdated. But it isn't, as
I discovered this year after losing both Adrian
Peterson and Doug
Martin in the FFToday Staff League. Even though I lost two
of my top wideouts (Donte
Moncrief and Eric
Decker) fairly early as well, I had little difficulty in recovering
lost ground at the WR position by snagging Cameron
Meredith on waivers and elevating Sammie
Coates from my bench. But I never had a realistic chance to
recover from my RB setbacks because in a league full of experts,
most of my opponents are indeed "you can't have enough RBs" kinda
guys—which put me in the position of scrounging for the likes
Artis-Payne and Justin
Forsett. There is wisdom in Mat's words. Heed him.
Joe is another reader who was less interested in connecting RB
handcuffs to the zero-RB approach than in explaining how his own
avoidance of the zero-RB approach has translated to success in
In a pretty competitive 12-team league, I am in 1st place and
I feel like I had a good draft strategy. I had the 4th pick and
with the top 3 WRs off the board I decided to go RB in the 1st
and 3rd rounds while "reaching" for receivers I thought
would excel in rounds 2, 4, 5 and 6. I targeted 2 QBs that I thought
could carry my team week to week and again "reached"
for the TE I had rated very high. [My] top 10 picks have propelled
me to a 4-1 record with 50 more points than 10 other teams (one
team has 5 more points than me, but I just beat that team). I
hope this is helpful. Here is my draft:
Joe's story demonstrates a point that too often gets overlooked
in discussions about the zero-RB approach: It's way more important
to pick the right RB or the right WR than it is to decide whether
to go RB or WR.
With the 4th overall pick, Joe had already missed out on Antonio
Beckham Jr., and Julio
Jones. So it made perfect sense for him to zag towards RB after
all that zigging towards WR. But the reason the RB choice worked
was that he made a great selection. Lots of fantasy owners with
the 4th pick were in the exact same position, but those who opted
to go with Todd
Gurley didn't screw up because they picked a running back; they
screwed up because they picked the wrong running back.
Meanwhile, yours truly went with Green and B. Marshall in the
first 2 rounds. I'm near the bottom of the league in points, which
blows the whole zero-RB strategy out of the water.
Something tells me Dan would be singing a different tune if he
had taken J. Jones and M. Evans with his first two picks instead.
Sometimes our disappointments are tied more to our particular
decisions than our general strategies.
In Thomsoad's opinion, the zero-RB approach has become too mainstream
to be much of a differentiator in draft strategy:
I have been a zero-RB proponent for years[, but] this year is
my worst showing thus far. In my 10-player PPR league I am middle-of-the-pack
with my 1st four picks being ODB, B Marshall, A Jeffrey, and R
Cobb. Thus far as a group they have been largely underwhelming.
I believe the increase of the zero-RB approach has watered down
this philosophy this year somewhat. My hope is that next year
people will go back to a RB RB/best man approach as most people
new to this formula received less than stellar results.
The notion that zero-RB has perhaps become over-popular characterized
other responses as well, such as this one from Dan (not the Dan
Just like the stock market, when everyone is on the
same plan, buy the values. The zero-RB "heroes" are great, but
if everyone is saving their $ for wideouts, there's plenty of
value left over in the middle. I had no intention of owning DeMarco
Murray this year, but he was [so] cheap in my auction draft
[that] I happily took him. It's always been and always will be
about value. RBs still score a lot of points.. And if you have
two great ones that's points and an advantage every week since
your opponent's "zero-RB" guys probably can't touch yours if you
know how to draft.
I look forward to reviewing more answers to the question in next
week's column. For now, however, I want to put the discussion
on pause and thank everyone who commented or emailed a response.
This Week's Question: What worked
(or didn't) about your draft strategy in 2016?
Although I welcome more feedback on my assertion that the emergence
of so many backup/handcuff RBs in 2016 may be why the zero-RB
approach seems less important this year than it was in 2015, I
also want to invite readers to run with the impulse that guided
most of the responses I received in Week 6.
Accordingly, if you have a strong sense of what you did well (or
poorly) in your draft this year, please consider posting your
thoughts in the comment section below or emailing
them to me.
Note to readers: Like many experts,
Schiff fell prey to overconfidence in the Steelers in Week 6,
so his top pick is no longer perfect in 2016. But since he wanted
to save the Steelers for later in the season, he didn't follow
his own advice in his Survivor Pool. Instead, he took the Cardinals
over the Jets. Here's hoping that many of you did something similar.
The Battle of Ohio shouldn’t be much of a battle this week
when the Cleveland Browns visit the Cincinnati Bengals. Back in
2014, Brian Hoyer led the Browns to an upset victory in Cincy,
but Cody Kessler and company probably won’t be as lucky
in surprising this year’s Bengals. In fact, until the Cleveland
defense improves, the hapless, winless Browns aren't likely to
upset anyone. Take the Bengals if you haven’t used them.
#2: New England over Pittsburgh: (5-1,
HOU, AZ, CAR, WAS. GB, TN)
It looks like Big Ben will be out for 4 to 6 weeks, and the timing
could hardly be worse for the Steelers. The bye in Week 8 should
help, but losses vs. AFC opponents (New England in Week 7; Baltimore
in Week 9) could easily cost Pittsburgh home-field advantage in
the playoffs. The Steelers' recent loss to Miami would have been
humiliating enough even if no one had been hurt, but the loss
of Roethlisberger means that the Dolphins added injury to their
insulting win. As a result, the Pittsburgh fans who saw nothing
to get excited about in backup Landry Jones last year must count
on him to play better against the mighty Patriots than Big Ben
played against the lowly Dolphins. (My advice: Don't hold your
breath.) Meanwhile, the Patriots seem to be getting back in stride
(with Tom Brady's suspension a fading memory and Rob Gronkowski
looking healthier by the week). Look for New England to walk away
with this one based upon leadership under center alone. The Pats
would be my top pick if I hadn't already used them in that slot.
#1: Green Bay over Chicago: (5-1, SEA,
CAR, MIA, CIN, NE, PIT)
Aaron Rodgers is 12-4 in his career against the Chicago Bears.
That stat alone would be enough for me to choose this game over
most any other this week. And the fact that Green Bay is playing
at home (a significant advantage anytime) would be a sufficient
clincher under ordinary circumstances, but I always have reservations
about divisional matchups—since anything is possible when
two teams know each other inside and out. In the final analysis,
Chicago's miserable offense prompts me to take this contest as
my top pick for Week 7. The Bears have a grand total of 101 points
so far this season (good enough for 29th in the NFL), which puts
the last nail in the coffin of the argument against them as far
as I'm concerned. Aaron Rodgers and the Pack should have a much
needed rebound performance at home.
Mike Davis has been writing about
fantasy football since 1999--and playing video games even longer
than that. His latest novel (concerning a gamer who gets trapped
inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms) can
be found here.