Fantasy Football Draft Strategy Advice: Breaking the Foundation – Why You May Want to Wait to Draft Your RBs

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Over many years of playing fantasy football, I have realized a few things:

  1. Leagues are won by the individuals who pay attention and make sound roster moves.
  2. The best drafters find value and win in the middle rounds.
  3. I am never lucky enough to have a high round draft pick. The highest pick I’ve had in the past three years is 5th, and that was in an eight team league. Outside of that, the highest I have had is ninth.

And I’m okay with these things. In fact, if I can’t get one of the top three guys most years, I would prefer to have the backend of the draft and bookend my picks. This does a few things: it makes my decision a little easier by allowing me to grab two guys I want, and it allows me to see how the draft is unfolding and know when I need to start jumping on players I want.

This year you have AP, Foster, Jamaal Charles, CJ2K and Ray Rice as the guys I look at as super elite running backs. In PPR formats, I would put McCoy there as well. If you aren’t going to get one of those guys, what do you do?

First off, you have to have a plan and know your players.

With the 5th pick in an 8-team league last year, I went with Andre Johnson and when it came back I went with Randy Moss. Terrible idea, right? I actually landed the exact same guys in a 12-team format with the 9th overall pick.

At #5 in the 8-team league, I didn’t feel overly excited or sold on any of the running backs, and I know I didn’t need to reach for a QB in such a small league. My thought was that I could solidify my starting wide receivers early knowing there would still be talent at RB later. My first three picks in the 12-team league ended up being Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, and Jonathon Stewart. Yes, I failed. By Week 4, two of my first three picks were benched, then Johnson got hurt and didn’t play out part of the year.

Guess what my record was in these two leagues. Not good, right? Actually, my record was 9-4 in the 12-team league (I went on to win the playoffs) and 13-4 in the 8-team league (capturing the best record and most overall points scored).

Many analysts will tell you that it is a must to grab a running back early. They say that the RB position is the foundation of a team. I won’t disagree that RB is important and that they normally score a huge portion of your points, but I believe that the goal should be to win at every position by as many points possible. If you can’t win at that position, you want to keep it as close as possible while winning everywhere else.

Think of your team as a lottery ticket where you have to guess nine numbers exactly correct. Those nine numbers are your QB, two RBs, two WRs, a Flex, TE, D/ST, and Kicker. The point difference for kickers and D/STs over the course of a year is never very significant, so I will give you those two numbers. Now you just have to correctly pick seven more numbers to guarantee hitting the lottery.

To make it simple, I will use ESPN standard scoring to display this.

While it isn’t always true, traditionally it is common that the top five (give or take) players, based on their preseason average draft ranking, will finish in the top ten for their position, top fifteen at worse. As researched by Matthew Berry in his Draft Day Manifesto, it gets muddy after that with 43% of the top 20 WRs and RBs being drafted outside of the top 20 for their respective position.

Taking standard scoring last year, Arian Foster finished first with 313 points. Tenth place was Ray Rice with 200 points. That is a 113-point difference or 7 points a week. Ray Rice was drafted in the top five picks last year. This year he is going as a top six pick.

Recall me saying that fantasy football, to me, is a positional battle? I hope to win at as many positions as possible by as many points as possible.

Let’s say I knew how the year was going to pan out point wise and I had the 10th pick in a 10-person draft and that before my pick everyone stuck to the idea that you have to draft a number one RB. How would it benefit me to take the #10 RB, knowing I’m already behind and going to lose in that position? Why not solidify two top receivers and know you’re going to win at both of those positions, hoping to make up the point differential with them?

Currently the top five ranked receivers on ESPN are Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings and Larry Fitzgerald. My personal take on them aside, they are all stud receivers who are in your lineup every week. Having two of them would make you feel pretty confident about your team, right?

Going back to my 12-team league last year, I picked up Rashard Mendenhall in the fourth round, Ahmad Bradshaw in the fifth, and Foster in the sixth. They finished 9th, 14th, and 1st, respectively, in standard scoring for RBs. Am I going to hit that sort of gold every year? Absolutely not. But do I believe that I have a chance to find great value later that could become a top ten RB this year? I know I do.

Outside of positional winning, I believe fantasy football is about making as few decisions as possible. If I’m in the 10th and 11th picks, and I take Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, they are starting on my team every week. No doubt in my mind, barring injury, they are starting and they will be studs.


So say we have already been given the D/ST and the Kicker numbers and are 100% on them. Now we have locked up two studs at WR and we are 100% on those numbers. That is four out of nine numbers we are 100% on. In a 10-team league, you should be able to land a top 10 QB no problem, so let’s take them out of the equation as well. TE can be tricky with some very high performers, but you should be able to find a top 10 TE that will only average a couple of points difference per week.

Your lottery ticket is now looking like this: You hit dead on with 5 numbers and are 75% (the TE position) with your sixth number. Only three more numbers to fill.

Remember the stat I gave you from Berry? 43% of the top 20 WRs and RBs came from outside of the top 20 average draft positions. If you locked up two stud receivers, you could hypothetically spend the next 4 rounds picking up RBs to use in the best matchups and hope that one of them molds into a top five guy over the course of the season. If you had the 10th overall pick, you would be looking at picks 30, 31, 50, 51. What if I told you your team could look like this with your first six picks:

  • WR: Andre Johnson
  • WR: Larry Fitzgerald
  • RB: Ahmad Bradshaw
  • RB: LeGarrette Blount (mark this guy, I think he’s top 5 this year)
  • RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
  • RB: Shonn Greene

After that you could pick up a Josh Freeman or Eli Manning at QB and then a guy like Owen Daniels at TE with your 70 and 71 picks. If you didn’t like that, pick up a QB in the mix of those next four rounds in place of one of the running backs.

And this is just a composite based on ESPN Draft Results. If you like Felix Jones or Jahvid Best better, they should be there with your 3rd and 4th round picks. If you want a QB like Romo or Matt Ryan, spend a 4th or 5th round pick and then come back with a guy like Marshawn Lynch, Tim Hightower (great value, probably need to grab him in the fifth now), or Fred Jackson.

Notice a trend with the running backs I’ve mentioned? They are all starters, should all see the field often, and all have the opportunity to break into the top 15.

I’d even wager that if your RBs look like Blount, Felix Jones, Green-Ellis, and Marshawn Lynch in those rounds, you will have two guys that break the top 15 and maybe even the top 10 this year. You’ll also be winning your league.

Remember, this is based off of the current (9/3) ESPN Live Draft results rankings and it is likely that players will go up or down based on news and other goings on. However, all of these players have skills, potential, and will be a great value for you in those rounds.

Final Thought

Fantasy Football is about winning at every position and having to make as few starting decisions as possible. If you draft this way, stay active on the waivers to find breakouts, and trust in yourself to find the best matchups and make solid trades, I promise you that you will put yourself in a position to win your league.


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