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Jason Katz | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Draft Strategy: Picking in the Top 5

David Johnson

RB in Round1: Your draft sets up nicely if you're comfortable taking David Johnson at 1.05.

For each of the past three seasons, there was a particular strategy I preferred regardless of draft position. That is not the case in 2019. For those of you counting down the days until my late August draft strategy article, fear not, as that article is still coming. The only difference is it won’t be the strategy for me this season. In 2019, the optimal strategy is split depending on your draft position. In this bonus July strategy article, I will cover my ideal strategy when drafting with a top five pick.

ADPs are going to change so I will do my best to be as broad as I can but there is a clear “big four” at running back this year: Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Saquon Barkley. The consensus 1.05 is and will likely remain David Johnson. I understand arguments for Melvin Gordon (before this holdout issue arose), but I believe DJ is in a tier by himself at 1.05. It is always advantageous to secure an elite running back over an elite wide receiver. Using 2018 as an example, there were six running backs that averaged more fantasy points per game than the WR1, Davante Adams. In 2017, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell both averaged more fantasy points per game than the WR1, Antonio Brown (and it got even worse as you moved down the ranks of RB1s vs. WR1s). In 2016, four running backs averaged more fantasy points per game than the WR1, Antonio Brown. You want the elite RB if you can get him. There is a cutoff after 1.05 because the safety level of the running back drops such that the advantage in having the elite RB no longer outweighs the safety of the WR.

When picking in the top five, you should take one of the aforementioned five running backs. Going RB in the first round gives you the flexibility to go in any direction in each of the next four or five rounds making “Single RB” - which was the topic of last year’s draft strategy article - a very viable strategy this year. You have the advantage of being able to secure a very strong WR1 like Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton, or Adam Thielen in the second and there is a decent chance Hilton, Thielen, or Stefon Diggs will be there in the third. If you can draft two WR1s to go along with your elite RB1, you are sitting pretty. That is the secondary reason drafting in the top five is so different than being saddled with a pick in the back seven. As I will get into more in August, your WR options in the third round are going to be weaker relative to those picking at the top, which impacts what you do in rounds 1 and 2.

After you’ve taken your elite RB in round 1, you don’t have to go WR-WR in the next two rounds. If Nick Chubb falls, he is hard to pass on or you could roll the dice on Todd Gurley. You could also take your pick of Leonard Fournette, Damien Williams, or Marlon Mack. I prefer going WR-WR because I trust the second and third round WRs more than the RBs. It is very easy to see how things can go very wrong for every second and third round running back. Fournette could get hurt. Williams is a UDFA thrust into a feature role for the first time at age 27 and has never had more than 50 carries in any season. Mack has passing down concerns due to Nyheim Hines and goal line concerns due to Spencer Ware. With the concerns noted, the RBs all have higher ceilings than the WRs. It is obviously important and necessary to balance risk vs. reward. If you think Fournette can stay on the field this year or Damien can hold that job for the entire season, those RBs are going to end up being better picks than the WRs available in rounds 2 and 3. That’s the inherent advantage of picking top five – you have this freedom.

Another benefit to my preferred strategy of going RB-WR-WR is the running backs available in rounds 4 and 5. For the past two seasons, the running back landscape was a complete wasteland in round 3. For example, look at last year’s ADP of running backs being in the third round…

3.03 - LeSean McCoy, BUF
3.04 - Alex Collins, BAL
3.06 - Royce Freeman, DEN
3.07 - Jerick McKinnon, SF
3.12 - Lamar Miller, HOU

Yikes. Compared to the WRs available in round 3 last season (Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill) it’s easy to see where your draft capital should be focused. Taking a look at rounds 4, 5, and 6 in 2019, you can grab Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, James White, Tarik Cohen, and Tevin Coleman. While none of these backs are extremely safe, I feel much better about them than I did about their 2018 counterparts. This difference also plays a huge role in the viability of the optimal strategy for picking in the back seven.

Ultimately, the crux of the top five pick strategy is securing an elite running back in the first round. Doing so allows you to mine for value over the next few rounds without having to worry whether or not you’re strong enough at the position. If you want to wait until the seventh or eighth round to take your next running back, you can do that. So while y preference would be to go WR-WR rounds 2 and 3 and then take an RB with either my fourth or fifth round pick, I am not pigeonholed into any one path. If WR value presents itself or if you want to take a TE or a QB, you can do so without worrying about being weak at RB; your sole elite RB can carry your backfield. On the flip side, if you want to load up at running back, possibly taking as many as three in the first four rounds, there is enough WR value, particularly in rounds 5 through 7, to make that strategy work.

Taking the elite RB in the first round opens up the remainder of your draft. However, it only works if that RB is both extremely safe and has elite upside. Check back in late August as I delve into why the rest of the RB1s do not meet this threshold and discuss the best way to build your team from picks 6 through 12.