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Jason Katz | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Bucking the Trend: The Early RB Approach

Thereís no debate that wide receivers have taken over fantasy football. They are almost universally viewed as safer, more consistent, and more reliable from season to season and week to week. I am not here to tell you thatís not true. I believe it is. But even so, making sure you grab two running backs in the first three rounds might be the key to getting a leg up on your competition this season.

The purpose of this article is about draft theory and team composition. I will use specific players as examples to illustrate my point, but the players themselves are irrelevant Ė focus instead on what the players represent.

We are now in the heart of draft season. Iíve done more mocks than I can count from the front, the middle, and the back end. Iíve tried every strategy you can imagine and what I noticed was something unexpected: I always like my team most when I draft running backs early.

I often find when itís my turn to pick, I have a receiver ranked as the best player on my board. Using the very common ďbest player availableĒ (BPA) strategy, in theory, I should be selecting a receiver each time. But obviously, I have to draft running backs at some point, which means in a handful of rounds, I canít select the best player available. This poses the all-important question: When is the right time to ignore the best player on my board and take a running back? The answer typically comes in Rounds 1-3.

Adrian Peterson

In the WR-happy world of fantasy football, taking two running backs early is still a viable strategy.

This seems counterintuitive. Receivers are safer and less likely to fail. However, I am also looking to gain an edge over my opponents. Letís say I pick somewhere between 6 through 9 in Round 1. The big-three wide receivers are already gone (Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones). There are a number of receivers I like ranked 4-20, but only a handful of running backs I feel confident in. Even though I have a plethora of receivers ranked ahead of the running backs, I pass on the likes of A.J. Green or Dez Bryant and take Adrian Peterson in the middle of the first round. In Round 2, I can select a wide receiver (Brandin Cooks or Jordy Nelson) without much drop-off from Green or Bryant.

But this isnít all that uncommon Ė to take a single running back early. What about selecting two? The depth of the receiver position means there are still high quality receivers available in the Round 3. I would pass on them and take a second running back even if itís a little bit of a reach based on ADP. In a PPR format, I project Latavius Murray to score approximately 14 fantasy points per game and would select him instead of Julian Edelman, Randall Cobb, or Demaryius Thomas, all of whom I project to outscore Murray. It doesnít have to be Murray; it can be any running back you believe in.

After three rounds, I now have two running backs and one wide receiver. But in the fourth round, I now set my sights on Jordan Matthews, Eric Decker, or Jeremy Maclin, all of whom I project to either match or outscore Edelman, Cobb, and Thomas. Meanwhile, the running backs typically available in the fourth or fifth round, I project to score ranging from 10-12 fantasy points per game. I have now created value for myself by taking the running back early because the difference between a receiver in Round 3 and the receivers in Rounds 4-6 is less than the difference between my third-round RB and my top ranked running backs in Rounds 4-6.

Look at the composition of your team relative to the other owners. Letís say the team picking at No.3 takes David Johnson and Latavius Murray in Round 3, leaving him with a receiver duo of Keenan Allen (Rd2) and Jeremy Maclin (Rd4). You pick at No.6 and go receiver heavy with A.J. Green and Amari Cooper, but your starting running backs are DeMarco Murray and Jonathan Stewart.

This is just one manís analysis, but Iíve found that there are more receivers in the mid-late rounds that Iíd feel comfortable with as flex players as opposed to running backs that I may have to start. The players may not be the same, but the theory holds true. The depth at the receiver position coupled with the scarcity of quality running backs makes drafting two running backs within your first three picks a viable strategy.

You may not like the same players as me and you may conclude that you just want to play it safe and stack up on WRs. Thatís perfectly fine. But as the old clichť goes, sometimes you need to zig while everyone else zags. Before you draft for real this year, at least consider how you may be able to benefit from taking two running backs in the first three rounds.


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