Zigging, Not Zagging: A Running Back Draft Strategy

By Harold Studer

It’s the Fourth of July weekend, and everyone is celebrating in many of the traditional ways. Fireworks, BBQs, and a few cold ones are all anyone has focused on all weekend; but for a select few, only the most devoted fantasy football owner, the holiday weekend marks the time of year when the fantasy season is about to kick into high gear. In just over a month, the NFL preseason will begin and football will be on everyone’s mind again, but the diehard owners realize the planning and preparation needed for your draft starts now.

Most owners begin by developing a draft strategy, looking for ideas to help us stand apart from our competition and gain an edge. This pursuit is part of being a serious fantasy football player, developing a method to adapt to the ever changing fantasy landscape and finding alternative ways to accomplish the ultimate goal, a fantasy championship.

One of the best tidbits for draft strategy I advocate is to know your league mates. Knowing their tendencies, favorite players or team, and even their drafting philosophy is invaluable information. That being said, if you’re reading this, I assume you are one of those serious fantasy owners I described above and hopefully everyone else in your league is a little less dedicated.

While I’m assuming things, I also assert that the numerous hours of research and pouring over the intricacies of offensive depth charts is more prep than most novice players dedicate to the draft; but those novice owners do start prepping by listening to all the analysts. This is a good place to start when formulating a strategy because this year the most heralded trend among the fantasy community has been a WR early or Zero RB strategy.

Now, I know all the buzz has been around elite level WRs and grabbing them early and often in your draft, but I’m here to tell you that isn’t necessary. Sure, having big name guys on your roster makes everything look spectacular and they get you monster weeks that blow away your competition, but what are you sacrificing…? Consistency and strength at the RB position.

Maybe I’m a traditionalist, but the strategy I’m suggesting for your fantasy draft this year isn’t something new or extremely complicated. It is a strategy that’s been used for many years to great success, draft RBs early!

My arguments for a RB heavy early round draft strategy are as follows:

– WR Emphasis: The trend this year is to draft WR early and often. Everyone is jumping on this bandwagon this year. This strategy leaves you plenty of room to target RBs early, and you’ll be surprised at the selection, because everyone else is focused on pass catchers. In my most recent mock draft, from the 7th spot, I was able to grab D. Johnson (1/7), E. Lacy (2/14), L. McCoy (3/27), and R. Matthews (4/34).

– WR Depth: Seeing all the WR talent go off the board early and often can be scary, especially since you won’t have those guys on your team. That being said, with the depth of the position, and tendency of NFL teams to pass more often, you can follow up your early round picks with some awesome mid- round values at WR. They don’t have to be elite to score you consistent points and contribute. In that same draft I followed by focusing on WR as other teams filled in their RB corps. I ended up with J. Edelman (5/47), M. Floyd (6/54), D. Moncrief (7/67), and G. Tate (8/74).

– RB Injuries: Most of the argument for WRs this year is based on the let- down we all felt from top RBs last year. That type of injury laden year is an anomaly, not the norm. Therefore, I expect fewer injuries making the RB stable even more powerful this year. The top backs should all see increased value with more time on the field compared to last year. And if injuries do pile up like last year, then it is even more important to play the odds with a larger selection of the top talent at RB.

– RB Scarcity: In years past, drafting RBs early was the norm because the number of top talent at the position was limited. Well, with the devaluation of the position by teams, I argue that it is even more important than ever to secure the talent of these top RBs. Just consider the emergence of passing down backs, specialty backs, and the dreaded RB committee. Focus on every down backs who will be the workhorses of their offenses with your early picks, and supplement with specialty guys later in the draft. Remember, RB scarcity is still an issue, especially when compared to a field of WRs deeper than ever.

So, if you have the stomach to handle this draft strategy, while names like Brown, Julio, Dez, and Beckham Jr fly off the board, I assure you it could pay dividends this year. Zigging when everyone else is zagging isn’t always a bad idea in fantasy football.