“Round Robinson”: Is RB-RB still a viable draft strategy?

It’s a passing league.

Turn on any of the pregames, any of the film study shows, any segment involving Trent Dilfer, that’s what you hear. We’re in an age where 4,000-yard passing seasons aren’t exceptional, they’re the norm; where a 1,000-yard receiving season can be considered ho-hum (just ask Brian Hartline owners); and where giving up almost 300 yards per game through the air can still land you in the playoffs. Contracts for QBs and WRs are now reaching nine figures, while a RB who nets 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 13 TDs just signed for one year at $3 million. That’s the new NFL world we live in.

One group, however, still gives the ground game plenty of love, and that’s us, the fantasy community. Look at any of this year’s preseason rankings and you’ll probably see nothing but RBs occupying the first five spots. But scroll down a little and things start to change. ESPN.com’s rankings, for instance, have 11 RBs in the top-20 (NFL.com and FantasyPros.com each list 12). It’s still the dominant position at the top of the draft, but not nearly as much so in 2008, where 15 RBs were in the top-20 overall.

As the positions at the top of the draft have changed, so too has the drafting philosophy. Going RB with your first two picks used to be the smart play, the safe route. Locking up your two-deep at fantasy’s most important position gave you a strong foundation for your team. Nowadays, you might find one or two teams that take this approach in your league and that’s it. Last year’s fiasco at the top of the RB ranks, where many whiffed thanks to either injury (Foster, Martin) or lack of production (Richardson, Rice, Spiller), left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. That, along with the emergence of so many dominant pass catchers, means most aren’t willing to put back-to-back backfield picks at the top of their draft. But are we dismissing this tried and true draft strategy before its time?

I took to the mock draft circuit to see what teams come out like when you spend both your 1st and 2nd round picks on RBs. Just so we’re clear on the rules, these were all 12-team snake draft leagues (no sissy 10-teamers here) using standard scoring and no PPR.  For the sake of balance, I varied my pick in the selection order to see how that changed the dynamic of the strategy, and as you will see below, some worked out better than others.

 

With the #1 Overall Pick:

  • 78227661.01 – Adrian Peterson, RB
  • 2.12 – Giovani Bernard, RB
  • 3.01 – Alshon Jeffery, WR
  • 4.12 – Matthew Stafford, QB
  • 5.01 – Michael Crabtree, WR
  • 6.12 – Pierre Thomas, RB
  • 7.01 – Marques Colston, WR
  • 8.12 – Greg Olsen, TE

Take your pick of who you like among the Big 3 at RB, but getting one of them allows me just a tad more risk with my RB2. I love Gio, though, and I think he will give me a big return on my investment. The beauty of having an early pick is that I’m able to get strong WR1 to go along with those two in Jeffery. As you’ll see below, a lot of times that isn’t the case. A lot of those middling, unexciting RBs go between picks 25 and 48, which is why I can allow myself to take Stafford, my 4th-rated QB, and Crabtree at that turn.  Doing so keeps me from getting a strong #3 RB, but that is some of the freedom you are afforded when drafting strong at the position up top.

 

With the #5 Overall Pick:

  • forte11.05 – Matt Forte, RB
  • 2.08 – Alfred Morris, RB
  • 3.05 – Antonio Brown, WR
  • 4.08 – Victor Cruz, WR
  • 5.05 – Andrew Luck, QB
  • 6.08 – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR
  • 7.05 – Pierre Thomas, RB
  • 8.08 – Jordan Cameron, TE

It’s hard to like this tandem as much as the previous group, but Forte and Morris have about as high a floor as any duo you could put together. The WR group was a story of barely missing out. I would have loved to have gotten Jeffery or Randall Cobb at WR1, and Keenan Allen or Pierre Garcon at WR2, but they all went just a couple picks before I had the chance. Had I landed any of them, this team would look a lot more formidable, but that’s the risk you take when you’re searching out starting receivers in the 3rd-5th rounds. There’s a lot of safety at the top with some higher upside plays in Patterson and Cameron on the back-end.

 

With the #8 Overall Pick:

  • arian-foster-dynasty-league-news1.08 – Arian Foster, RB
  • 2.05 – Doug Martin, RB
  • 3.08 – Antonio Brown, WR
  • 4.05 – Larry Fitzgerald, WR
  • 5.08 – Rashad Jennings, RB
  • 6.05 – Michael Floyd, WR
  • 7.08 – Jordan Cameron, TE
  • 8.05 – Matt Ryan, QB

This is without question my least favorite team of the four. There’s big risk, big reward with Foster and Martin together as they were both solidly inside the first round last year. The injury risk meant spending a higher pick on my RB3 than in any other mock, but Jennings was a necessity as the best RBs on the board when the 6th-round pick came around included Joique Bell, Stevan Ridley and Fred Jackson. Being able to pick a QB or TE with a premium pick was out of the question at that point. The tradeoff is that this is arguably the strongest WR group so far with Fitzgerald and Brown both capable of being low-end #1 WRs. Normally, I wouldn’t draft two WRs from the same team this high, but this exercise is all about assembling the best talent on the board, and Floyd was too good to pass up.

 

With the #11 Overall Pick:

  • nfl_a_bell_576x3241.11 – Arian Foster, RB
  • 2.02 – Le’Veon Bell, RB
  • 3.11 – Andre Johnson, WR
  • 4.02 – Pierre Garcon, WR
  • 5.11 – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR
  • 6.02 – Robert Griffin III, QB
  • 7.11 – Lamar Miller, RB
  • 8.02 – Greg Olsen, TE

Foster is again the best RB available at pick 11 and this time his backfield mate gets an upgrade to Le’Veon Bell. I feel much better about this combo than the previous duo of Foster/Martin. I was wondering when I’d see Johnson turn up on one of these teams as he was often the next WR on the queue after I picked in the 3rd round. All this talk of him being unhappy and the Texans’ QB issues shouldn’t affect his numbers on the field. Teaming him up with Garcon and Patterson (not a coincidence he’s on multiple squads) is a nice little triumvirate of pass catchers. Miller as this team’s third RB is again proof of the luxury that spending those first two picks on RBs provides.

What It All Means:

We’ll start with the positives. Taking the two RBs up top means not having to deal with questionable guys like Ben Tate, Ryan Matthews or Trent Richardson occupying one of your starting spots. There’s some peace of mind at a position that falls off quickly should you not get one of the “bellcow” rushers in the game, which are diminishing year by year. Every round after the first, the names at WR are much more attractive than those at RB, and you can use those next 3 or 4 rounds to load up at WR or take a premium QB or TE if you choose without having to necessarily worry about finding a third RB to step in should either of the first two disappoint. The one exception in this exercise is the team with the 8th pick due to the injury concerns. The opportunity to stock the rest of your starting lineup with lower risk players makes for a much safer team when you leave the draft room. WR is again deep this year and being able to choose three or four WRs in the middle rounds is quite the luxury, especially since most weeks you’ll find a pass catcher starting over a runner in a flex spot.

What you gain in safety however, you potentially lose in explosiveness. Going RB-RB at the top shut me out of the elite tier of WRs (Johnson, Thomas, Bryant, Green, Jones, Marshall), QBs (Manning, Brees, Rodgers) and TE (Jimmy Graham). You may be fortunate enough to find one of those guys available at the very top of the third round if the draft breaks right, in which case you’ve struck gold, but odds are unlikely that you land another stud, especially at WR. The advantage you should have at RB in just about every matchup can be negated by facing one or possibly two of these players in your opponent’s lineup, and these guys all have the capability of winning a week with a monster performance. It also means putting a lot of faith in a very volatile position. Should you miss on one of these two, it’s now an uphill climb to make up the difference. I think the volatility we saw last year was an outlier, but the turnover at the top of the running back ranks year over year makes this a gamble in its own right (that’s why WRs typically dominate the top of any dynasty rankings). Any team certainly takes a major hit if it loses one of its top two picks, but making them both RBs increases the odds of this occurring.

The Takeaway:

Ultimately, I think there is a time and place to make RB-RB the way to go. A lot depends on the way your particular draft shakes out, but there are spots where it makes sense to take running backs off the board back to back. If you get one of the elite three at RB, I think it makes a lot of sense to book-end the position with another back like Bernard, Ball or Stacy because there is a big drop-off in my opinion after the first 15 RBs are gone. Similarly, if you’re at the bottom of the first round and can get two top-10 guys like Foster, Murray, or Bell, then be able to go after a couple of top-15 WRs or a Stafford/Luck/Newton type at QB the next go-round, I think you’ve done well for yourself. Where I don’t like the RB-RB strategy is if you’re picking in the middle of the round. Even if you’re able to snag a RB from that second tier (Forte, Lynch, Lacy), the second back you get isn’t worth passing up on a dynamic receiver like Dez or Julio. And if you don’t land one of the top six at RB, taking an Arian Foster at the expense of Megatron, DT or Jimmy Graham doesn’t net you the value at the top to make it worth it.

Going RB-RB is indeed a plunge. I invite you to mock it out for yourself and see if you like the results. Despite this being more of an old school approach to the draft, be open to the possibility if it falls in your lap and don’t be afraid to run with it.

 

Questions, comments, agreements and disagreements are always welcome @sharpshot3ball. Good luck as you prep for your upcoming drafts and a season of utter domination.

 

 



Categories: Fantasy Football, Football Writers, Major League Fantasy Sports, MLFS Authors, Weekly Roster Advice

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2 replies

  1. Good stuff man, it’s always enjoyable to read mock draft analysis. That was to be my next go round, that or handcuff necessities. I think your best draft was at the #5 spot as the upside on those two guys was great, and I waxed extensively on Andrew Luck.44

    Foster/Martin would be terrifying to own imo. I’m just not convinced on Martin, and hope someone can make a compelling argument for him.

    Which team was your favorite?

  2. I’d probably say the team picking first, which is strange since I usually never like picking twice at the turn. The top end talent was there with Peterson, Jeffery and Stafford while not sacrificing much at RB2 or WR2. As you can see, I’m completely on board with your Pierre Thomas sleeper pick as well, PPR or not.

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