The first and second rounds are being dominated
by running back picks... as they should.
My annual draft strategy article is, without question, my favorite
article to write every year – and I write a lot of articles.
I like to think I’ve been on point the past two seasons with
RB Heavy and the
2018 is a very interesting year because the early rounds are
being dominated by running backs. Initially, I wanted to recommend
going RB-RB, which, technically, I still am but only four owners
can truly go RB-RB. Why? Because there is a clear “Sweet
16,” at RB this season:
Regardless of your draft position, if you can draft two of these
16 RBs, you should. Although, McCoy is a tenuous part of that
group – we’ll leave him in. Once you get past McCoy there is a
clear drop-off at the position making it difficult for 8 owners
to pull off the RB-RB strategy in the first two rounds.
Why Not Go Against the Grain?
With the RBs returning to dominance, you will hear some say you
should “zig while others zag” and take wide receivers
in the first two rounds. Here is why you shouldn’t. Since
the great wide receiver boom of 2015, WR performance has dropped
for two consecutive years. A large part of that is due to the
decrease in overall targets for the position. Last year, WRs saw
a total of 9,402 targets, the lowest total since 2009 (9,569).
From 2012-2016, WRs collectively saw over 10,000 targets in each
of those years. So where are the targets going? You guessed it,
to the running backs! In 2015, RBs saw 3,312 targets, which was
the highest total since 2007…until 2017, when RBs saw 3,444
targets. And it’s not just the totals that we should pay
attention to as totals can be skewed by volume. Those 3,444 targets
accounted for 21.2% of all targets, the highest since 2007 (20.4%).
Even with an increase in targets, running backs actually underperformed
last season due to a decrease in rushing touchdowns (380). Aside
from the disastrous and anomalous 2015 season, that 380 TD mark
tied with 2014 for the lowest total since 2001. We should see
some positive regression in the touchdown department from RBs
Also, let’s consider the WR value that can be had in the
middle rounds as why you should focus on the RB in Rounds 1 and
2. If the handful of elite WRs fall farther than they should,
I would say to go grab one. Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr.,
and DeAndre Hopkins all have first round ADPs and typically go
within the first 8-10 selections. You’re not getting a discount
on any of them.
By the middle of the second round, you are drafting high end RB2s
meaning you can get low-end WR1s in the third round. Why spend
a mid-second round pick on Keenan
Allen or Michael
Thomas when you can grab Adam
Thielen or T.Y.
Hilton in round 3? Obviously the specific players can vary
based upon your personal evaluations so substitute whomever you’d
like for this analysis but consider what you like better: Christian
McCaffrey (Rd2) and Adam
Thielen (Rd3) or Keenan
Allen (Rd2) and Derrick
Henry (Rd3)? If you’re high on running backs like Henry, Alex
Collins, or Kenyan
Drake then feel free to disregard this strategy and go with
a second round wide receiver but having high confidence in a running
back outside of the “Sweet 16” doesn’t seem optimal. We can acquire
reliable wide receivers in the third and fourth rounds but can’t
do the same at running back, making it imperative to devote the
first two rounds to RBs, if possible.
What if I can’t Grab Two "Sweet 16" RBs?
Historically, any strategy can work – and that’s true – you can
win with any draft strategy, but that doesn’t mean any strategy
is optimal. For instance, it’s seems difficult to employ a Zero
RB this year. If you pick at the nine spot in a RB heavy draft
and Antonio Brown falls to you, I get it – draft the Steelers
wide receiver. If, somehow, Beckham is there round 2, go ahead
and take him as well. You can go WR-WR and secure a massive edge
at the position. The reality is, absent an extreme outlier circumstance
as I just described, a WR-WR start is going to leave you less
confident about your edge over someone that goes RB-WR or WR-RB
and then grabs a second WR in the third round. You must come
out of the first two rounds with at least one running back.
Yes, I am saying WR-WR is not a viable strategy this year.
Now that you’ve settled on grabbing at least on RB in the
first two rounds, the question is how to handle finding your second
RB. The “Single RB” strategy is essentially Zero RB,
but with one stud RB instead. It’s time to load up on wide
receivers in rounds 3-6. Why? The difference between average fantasy
points scored by round is a lot smaller beginning in round 3.
In other words, your first two picks matter a lot more than the
rest of your draft. The odds that you find a reliable player in
round 3 aren’t much higher than the odds you find a reliable
player in round 6. But since so many RBs are off the board, there
will be higher quality WRs available in the middle rounds. Take
them! Load up! Do not seek out any specific player to be your
second RB. Play on targeting a plethora of RBs like Tarik Cohen,
Marlon Mack, Chris Thompson, Rex Burkhead, a Packers RB, and in
the late rounds, Corey Clement or Giovani Bernard, will give yourself
a good chance of hitting on a player that can emerge as your RB2.
The key is to not panic about having a question mark at RB2. Remember,
only four teams will be able to have the luxury of not worrying
about their second running back. The majority of your league has
the same problem you do. You are not at a disadvantage! The way
to secure your advantage is to grab those wide receivers in rounds
3-6 while other owners scramble to reach for running backs.
Don’t be Surprised
So get out there grab two running backs early if you can. Otherwise,
secure one stud RB and stack your WRs. You can certainly be successful
ignoring everything I said and implementing another strategy.
And, as always, mock draft! Practice exactly what I’ve recommended
here. Also practice the exact opposite of what I’ve recommended.
Have a firm grasp of multiple strategies so you are equipped to
adapt as needed. Every draft is different. If you come in prepared,
you can never be surprised.