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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

What Worked (or Didn't) about Your Draft Strategy?

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'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 editor.)

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 experience.

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 and Steve 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
2. Mccoy
3. Landry/Pryor
(I play match ups weekly)
5. Kelce
6. Freeman
7. Roethlisberger
8. Gostkowski
9. Denver

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 question originally.

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 of Cameron 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 2016:

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:

1. (4) David Johnson (Ari - RB)
2. (21) Mike Evans (TB - WR)
3. (28) C.J. Anderson (Den - RB)
4. (45) Randall Cobb (GB - WR)
5. (52) Michael Floyd (Ari - WR)
6. (69) Marvin Jones (Det - WR)
7. (76) Delanie Walker (Ten - TE)
8. (93) Frank Gore (Ind - RB)
9. (100) Arizona (Ari - DEF)
10. (117) Matthew Stafford (Det - QB)
11. (124) Jameis Winston (TB - QB)
12. (141) Corey Coleman (Cle - WR)
13. (148) Michael Thomas (NO - WR)
14. (165) Eric Ebron (Det - TE)
15. (172) Bruce Ellington (SF - WR)
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 Brown, Odell 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.

Dan made this argument in reverse when he wrote:
The first place owner in our league drafted David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams. He then picked up J. Howard and T. Riddick to fill out his RB corps.

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 quoted above):
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.

Survivor Pool Picks - Week 7 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

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.

#3: Cincinnati over Cleveland: (4-2, JAX, OAK, DAL, MIN, PIT, NE)

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.