As we look forward to Fantasy Football draft season there is a major looming debate coming. Over the last couple of years many players have utilized a Zero RB draft strategy early in the draft due to the lack of high-end RBs. Well, now that there are more high end RBs (David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott) worthy of a top 5 pick leading to the question of what the best draft strategy is? Let’s take a look at each with the positive and negatives along with a look at how going that direction might look on draft day.
Overview: The basic idea of this strategy is to avoid taking RBs early in the draft and instead focus on taking WRs. This leads to taking a quasi RB by committee approach, but taking a bunch of RBs in the middle rounds.
Positives: With the NFL’s focus on the passing game, high-end WRs have become a must have of any successful Fantasy Football team. This is especially true as more and more leagues move to a PPR format. Many teams have clear-cut #1 WRs and thus the risk factor of taking a WR early is lower than that of taking a RB.
Negatives: You are putting a lot of pressure on yourself to hit on a couple of mid round RBs. As with any strategy an injury can turn things bad really fast. This is not only the case for the WR getting hurt but if that team’s QB gets hurt that can lower value for a WR quickly.
What might this look like on Draft day? Let’s assume you have the 8th pick in a 14-team league. Right now, based on My Fantasy League ADPs if you employed a Zero RB strategy you could take AJ Green (1.08), Brandin Cooks (2.07), and Davante Adams (3.08) in the first three rounds.
Taking a RB Early
Overview: In the last year, there has been an increase in top end fantasy backs like David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon and Jordan Howard it has caused more folks to start taking RBs early again.
Positives: With many NFL teams going RB by committee getting a top end RB can really differentiate your team from the competition. The top RBs have also become huge threats in the passing game making them even more valuable in ADP leagues. Last year David Johnson had 80 catches, Le’Veon Bell had 75, Ezekiel Elliott had 32 and Devonta Freeman had 54.
Negatives: The bust rate for RBs is much higher than that of WRs. Look at all the high round picks last year that were bust like Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, Lamar Miller, Doug Martin and Jamaal Charles. More so than at WR you can find value at RB later in the draft. For example, Jordan Howard, LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, and Rob Kelley were all later round picks. The tiers at RB drop off rather quickly after Johnson, Bell and Elliott, and as a result you must have a high pick to expect to get any of the elite backs.
What might this look like on Draft day? Assume you have the 3rd pick in a 14-team league. Right now, based on My Fantasy League ADPs if you went with an elite RB early you could come away with Le’Veon Bell (1.03), Sammy Watkins (2.12), and Carlos Hyde (3.03) in the first three rounds.
You will need to decide as to what the right direction is for you along with what your level of risk tolerance is. While doing research and looking over expert’s draft boards is important, you are going to ultimately decide your own value of players. Do you value Antonio Brown over David Johnson? What about Julio Jones over Le’Veon Bell? Seeing as DSE is a dynasty league that adds in another layer in the players age. You might value David Johnson over Antonio Brown because Johnson is 25 years old and Brown is 28. I think the bigger questions are towards the end of the 1st round of drafts for a 14-team league. My Fantasy League ADPs right now are Devonta Freeman (1.11), Michael Thomas (1.12), Todd Gurley (1.13), TY Hilton (1.14), Melvin Gordon (2.01), Dez Bryant (2.02), Allen Robinson (2.03) and Jordan Howard (2.04). Looking at these ADPs a little deeper shows us that the majority of people are taking Devonta Freeman over Michael Thomas. This is interesting to me as I would rather have Thomas. Freeman is in a time share with Tevin Coleman and the Falcons lost their Offensive Coordinator (Kyle Shanahan). On the other hand, Thomas has seen Brandin Cooks traded away this offseason opening even more targets for him. This is highlighted even further when you realize that Thomas is 22 and Freeman is 25.
As you prepare for your draft and evaluate the current ADPs of players, decisions will be made as to how you value those players while understanding the long-term effect of drafting that player in that spot. For example, you take Todd Gurley at 1.13 over TY Hilton. Now who is going to be available to you when you pick again at 2.02? Would you rather have Todd Gurley and Dez Bryant, TY Hilton and Jordan Howard or TY Hilton and Dez Bryant? The whole key to whether to go RB early or go with Zero RB is understanding what those strategies will mean for the long-term look of your team. My suggestion is to do mock drafts and try different ways of drafting. Do one where you go Zero RB and then do one where you go RB early. After you finish each draft evaluate how your team came out. I would advise to find mock drafts as close to the format of your league as possible. It won’t do you any good to do a mock draft for a DSE league that is a 2 QB or isn’t a PPR as that will change the way the draft goes. After you have done these mock drafts you can make an educated decision about which strategy you think works best for you.
You are going to hear many experts over the next few months state in absolutes that you must take a WR early or you have to take a RB early, but the reality is either of these strategies can be successful for you depending on how you execute the entirety of your draft. I am sure there are plenty of teams that won championships last year that took a Jamaal Charles or Keenan Allen early in the draft because they found a Jordan Howard or LeGarrette Blount in the later rounds. We tend to solely focus on the first few rounds of a draft and not see the whole picture. In the next article, we will look at the concept of “draft pockets” and understanding where the value in the draft is for each position.