While the fantasy landscape has certainly changed over the years, the idea that a team cannot make a serious run for a championship without a solid stable of backs remains one of the truest statements we can make. What can be debated is what strategy yields the best season long team.
One of the oldest fantasy strategy stems from a time when securing two bell cow running backs was the key to a championship team. Fast forward a decade or two, and there’s even fewer elite backs than there were in the heyday making RB/RB strategies a little less necessary but no less effective when done right.
The idea is that, with a relatively shallow pool of top tier backs, securing two of them gives you a notable advantage over every team you play as 99.9% of formats force two backs to start every week. Drafting early gives you an advantage by securing one of the elite backs at the top of the position, but drafting late secures you two RB1’s with this strategy.
A few possible pairings would be as follows:
- Early Pick: Elliott/Gurley/Bell with Mixon/McCaffrey/McKinnon
- The simple fact that your three highest ranked players are the ones we’ve named further emphasizes the need for a 2nd high end back.
- Middle Pick: Barkley/Kamara/Fournette with Cook/Howard/Freeman
- This is where you see the strategy work the best, in my opinion, as you’ve secured two RB2’s and only have a handful of picks before you can fill your top receiver position.
- Late Pick: A combination of Fournette, Hunt, Gordon, and Cook
- We’d argue that drafting near the turn in the first is the position least shackled to rankings. With a long wait before round 3, we suggest taking the two backs who you feel have the best chance at being a top back. If you like Mixon better than Hunt or Gordon, by all means grab him.
The strategy is a sound one, and one that has produced numerous fantasy winners, but it does present it’s own difficulties. By skipping the receiver position, you do weaken yourself against teams that diversify. There’s something to be said about “owning” a position, but with players likely to elevate beyond their draft price, it’s a risk that’s easy to swallow.
One of the more difficult draft strategies, the ZeroRB strategy (and it’s many hybrids) argue that the middle and late tiers at the RB position feature the highest value. Building up elite talent at WR early and often adding a TE and QB first, a true ZeroRB team would select it’s first back in the 6th round or later. Here’s a list of the types of backs you’d be targeting in those middle rounds to fill out your roster.
- 6th: Rashaad Penny, Royce Freeman, Ronald Jones
- 7th: Marshawn Lynch, Dion Lewis, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead
- 8th: Kerryon Johnson, Marlon Mack, Tevin Coleman, Carlos Hyde
- 9th: Jamaal Williams, Isaiah Crowell, Tarik Cohen, Duke Johnson
It may be terrifying to go into week one with a RB group of Royce Freeman, Rex Burkhead, Kerryon Johnson, and Jamaal Williams, but you’d also have 4 likely starters despite having waited until those middle rounds that no one wants to draft in.
The idea that pairing those 4 backs (and 2 more later round backs like Chris Carson, Peyton Barber, Chris Thompson, or Doug Martin) with three top 15 WRs is why the ZeroRB strategy has taken on so many band-wagoners in the past few years. If you’re comfortable identifying talent in those late rounds, this is a very viable strategy… if not, skip it all together.
Alternating; RB/WR or WR/RB
Depending on where you’re drafting, this is a strategy that both makes sense, but also sets you up with a weaker roster as you’re conceding both the WR and the RB position to teams who drafted strong at either position. That’s not to say it’s not a viable way to build your roster, but it would require a sound understanding of ADP data and how your league drafts.
Before I make it sound all doom and gloom, this is closer to how I draft than either of the back to back strategies. My personal preference is to draft my highest ranked player in the first four rounds, either RB or WR… and there’s a reason for that. Much like Bill Belichik drafts the best available vs to fill a need, there’s value in grabbing both positions if you can get a player who may have fallen to your 2nd pick.
Players who may fall into this category are guys like Julio Jones or Odell Beckham for wide outs, or Melvin Gordon or Leonard Fournette. If those guys are shunned by your fellow owners, don’t skip them just to stick to your WR/WR
What was once merely a crowded backfield is now akin to a clown car, as former Redskins and Cowboys bell cow back Alfred Morris has been added to the fold. It is easy to connect the dots following a Jerick McKinnon injury scare and this signing, so forgive me if my wavering opinion of McKinnon as a three down back takes yet another shot.
The issue becomes what do the 49ers trust McKinnon to do? With Breida on the roster, we have to cap his passing game output, and this addition puts a cap on his touchdowns as Morris is a much better red zone back. What McKinnon then becomes is a between the twenties guy who can’t be expected to have the 15-20 touches a game we were hoping for.
Of course, the chance is always there for McKinnon to surprise us as we’ve never really seen him with an uncontested workload, but it’ll take a lot of impressing to hold off the stable of backs behind him. Even Joe Williams should be in line for some work, so temper your expectations when drafting McKinnon. At this point, he’s in a bit of a slide in the Dr’s rankings, and he should be moving down your draft boards as well.
When it was reported that Jerick McKinnon was removed from practice for a knee injury following a hit, we held our breath as we awaited the results of his Sunday MRI. When the results came back as a “mild muscle strain” it was met with a collective sigh of relief. Following the Guice injury, it’s understandable that we may have expected the worst.
With McKinnon likely to start week 1, the concern becomes whether or not he can hold up over a 16 game season with a full lead-back workload. His 200 combined touches last year was his most in a single season, and expecting him to remain healthy with an additional 100 touches may be a bit of a pipe dream.
McKinnon profiles as the kind of back who, when healthy, can provide dividends thanks to his proficiency in the passing game, but it may be a bit premature to anoint him a top 12 running back in fantasy. His current ADP in standard ESPN leagues is 26th overall, good for RB14, a tick down from where he’d been in weeks past. It seems that drafters are starting to get cold feet with McKinnon as anything other than an RB2. He’s a high risk play who, while the argument for a high floor stems from the idea that he’ll have three down opportunity, features a fair amount of risk in the third round of drafts.
At his current draft price, I won’t be owning many shares in McKinnon this year; though I see the value in McKinnon if he falls a bit farther. There are few unproven backs who have been given the keys to the kingdom like McKinnon has, so the unknown may not be a dissuasion for some. Draft with caution.
Following the trade of Corey Coleman to the Bills, it was Antonio Callaway who’s name started showing up on sleeper lists as he began to impress in camps. With Gordon still not practicing, and Coleman no longer in Cleveland, Callaway was looking better and better by the day.
Queue the traffic stop that now has him in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
In addition to the possession charge, he was also cited for driving with a suspended license. Of course, he’s claiming the bag of contraband didn’t belong to him, but the team is currently evaluating the evidence and will address the issue in the coming days/weeks. While Callaway shouldn’t be written off at this point, it’s important to monitor the situation as any discipline could hurt his chances at securing a role early in the season.
With Gordon expected to return at some point, and Jarvis Landry slowly morphing this receiving corps into his own, there is a question to how much work Callaway would receive even if he doesn’t face discipline. While I like him in deeper formats, I’m preaching caution if you’re considering him in redraft or shallower formats. If he faces any kind of suspension, then it’d be hard to convince me he’s worth drafting in any format.
The first major injury of the 2018 season hit one of the brightest prospects from this rookie class in Derrius Guice. What was initially reported as an MCL sprain is being reported today as a torn ACL. With the news comes the long road to recovery as the rookie running back will miss the entirety of the 2018 season.
While we certainly wish Guice all the luck in the world as he goes through the process, we instead turn our eye to the question marks in the Washington backfield. The names in line for an expanded work load are uninspiring and should be approached with caution.
It’s amazing how long “a year ago” can feel, but when the Redskins drafted Guice they pushed Samaje Perine so far back in fantasy owners minds it felt like decades. With the news that Guice is out, though, Perine’s name is bound to pop back into the discussion. While he’s got just as much chance as any back on this list to win the job, he’ll have to improve on the sub par efficiency that saw his star fade so quickly in 2017.
The list of uninspiring Washington plodders is a long one, and Rob Kelley is just another name on that list. What he does have going for him is that he’s not the last Redskins back to bust out; that would be the previously mentioned Perine. With the lack of attention, Kelley may just be the man who wins the first two downs in this offense. It’s likely that he and Perine will be asked to compete for touches, so it’s worth monitoring, but I don’t like Kelley’s talent despite the potential opportunity. He’s a late round flier at best, and even then he may not be worth a roster spot.
For a few years now the only Washington back worth owning has been Chris Thompson. His lack of early down work may keep him from being a weekly start, but his 90 catch potential in the passing game makes him own-able even in non PPR formats. Of course Thompson still hasn’t returned from a serious leg injury that ended his 2017 season. He’ll likely be in line for passing down work when he returns, but don’t expect a heavy workload on the ground.
I’ll stop short of declaring a three down winner, as Thompson will resume his roll in the passing game, but my dislike for Rob Kelley’s boring game has me leaning towards Perine. Until they add another name to the backfield or find a diamond in the rough on the practice squad, it’s likely Perine’s job to lose. As mentioned previously, monitor this backfield if you really need to own a piece of it, but don’t over draft. The starter is likely a flex player at best.
In our ongoing series “Who do YOU Take?” We’ll jump into a 12 team PPR mock draft and examine what the 10th round of the draft looks like. Narrowing it down to a few players, we’ll let you know why we feel the way we do about the players being drafted and help you narrow down your search for the best draft possible. As before, we selected a random draft spot and received the 6th overall pick.
Our 9 Player Roster so far:
- Saquon Barkley
- Davante Adams
- Jordan Howard
- Demaryius Thomas
- Alex Collins
- Jamison Crowder
- Drew Brees
- Trey Burton
- Jamaal Williams
While I may have taken a leap of faith with Barkley at 6 overall, I like this teams overall depth at both WR and RB. Having a consistent QB and a high upside, good value TE leaves me with the type of roster I like in a 12 team league. But the 10th round presents an interesting issue as I can justify grabbing a 4th receiver here, but I can just as easily argue that grabbing the best value here is even more important than drafting for need. Below are six available players I would target in a similar draft situation
- Isaiah Crowell
- C.J. Anderson
- Rishard Matthews
- DeSean Jackson
- Anthony Miller
- George Kittle
I feel pretty confident in my running backs so I’d probably only entertain Crowell and Anderson for a moment, but I do like both players’ value in the 10th round. In the end, my decision comes down to filling out my depth at WR or adding a second tight end to pair with Trey Burton (who could very well be a massive bust given his lack of a track record in the NFL).
This is a simple decision as well, as I’m not willing to pass on a wideout in favor of a second tight end. Given that there are other TE’s like Eifert, Cook, and Watson who I can likely target several rounds from now, I’ll pair down my decision to the three wide outs I have named above
The Case for Matthews
With the signing of Matt Lafluer as the Titan’s offensive coordinator, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about this offense. It’s highly unlikely that Mike Vrabel assumes control of the offense given his expertise on the other side of the football, so we expect this offense to look a lot like the high flying Rams offense last year. While Corey Davis rightfully demands a lot of the buzz, Matthews has a real chance to chew up a ton of targets out of the slot. With a two headed backfield featuring Dion Lewis, I can see Matthews terrorizing the middle of the field to the tune of 90+ targets.
The Case for Jackson
It’s easy to discount Jackon’s 2017 season as a sign that the aging vet has slowed down, but that explanation doesn’t account for the eyeball test. There were countless plays that saw Jackson find plenty of separation yet fail to haul in an over thrown pass. When Ryan Fitzpatrick took over for Winston last year, his production soared – leading me to believe that Jackson is still the elite down-the-field threat he’s been his whole career. There are some cons to drafting a receiver in this offense, especially given that Winston will already be missing time due to a suspension, but his ceiling is as high as his usage. I expect a bounce back year for the Buccaneers burner.
The Case for Anthony Miller
Miller continues to get overshadowed by the rest of his rookie class, and I’m not sure that should be the case. Of the wide outs selected early, Miller has the easiest path to a high number of targets. When the Bears moved up to select him at 51st overall, it signaled their belief that he could be an impact player right away. Sure, the most recent “unofficial” depth chart listed Taylor Gabriel as the starting slot man, the off season hype machine has been turned up to 11 as Miller continues to impress in camp. As the most talented receiver not named Allen Robinson on the roster, it’s only a matter of time before he sees meaningful snaps, and as a sleeper candidate, I like him to far out produce his draft position.
It’s not an easy one, but I’ve removed Jackson from consideration thanks to his lack of targets. Being a big play receiver doesn’t help me in a PPR format as much as the two potential slot men do. While the allure is there for Anthony Miller, drafting a rookie WR over a guy who’s already established in his offense seems a bit foolish to me. The floor for Matthews is criminally underrated this late in drafts, and while I’d be okay with Miller if he wasn’t here, drafting Matthews ended up being a fairly simple decisison.
As we continue to preach preparation here at Dr. Fantasy, we’ll shine our spotlight on the age old question of “when do you draft a QB?”
There’s plenty of different schools of thought on this one – I’m sure you’ve got the guy in your league who throws a second round pick at Aaron Rodgers every year. I’m not here to tell you that guy’s wrong. What I will tell you is that it’s often times far easier to secure a top 10 QB later in the draft while securing a stud RB or WR in that same spot than it is to hope you hit on all your mid round picks to make up for it.
There’s only a handful of QB’s that I’d consider “early” round picks. They are as follows:
- Aaron Rodgers (ADP 23)
- Tom Brady (ADP 29)
- DeShaun Watson (ADP 46)
- Carson Wentz (ADP 55)
- Russell Wilson (ADP 56)
- Cam Newton (ADP 58)
You can certainly waste an entire day arguing the merits of each of these QBs, but the fact is that if you want one of them, you have to prepare yourself to spend big time draft capital to acquire them.
Ignoring Wentz, Wilson, and Newton (because they all have decent value in the 6th round), we find ourselves debating second year QB DeShaun Watson, perennial #1 QB Aaron Rodgers, and a 41 year old Tom Brady.
Of this group only Aaron Rodgers is worth considering at their current draft point. Consider this; by selecting Rodgers at 23rd overall (his current ESPN draft price), you’re passing on the 2nd tier of receivers and the end of the starting running backs pool. Is it worth it to piece together a skill position group without a 2nd round pick? For an argument, here is what you can expect from Rodgers + an 11th round WR and what you can expect from 11th round Matt Stafford + a 2nd round receiver.
- Aaron Rodgers (20.3 points per game) + DeSean Jackson (6.1 points per game)
- Mike Evans (10 points per game) + Matt Stafford (16.6 points per game)
Consistency wise, there’s not much of an argument as DeSean Jackson is, at best, a flex play and bye week fall back. While you’re likely to have other wide outs on your team, you can instead draft a starting QB who’s 50% production (compared to Rodgers) is far more appealing that the 35% you’d get from Jackson (compared to Evans).
Now extrapolate that for Watson and Brady and there’s little argument that those guys are as valuable in the 3rd and 4th round as a 2nd back or wide receiver. If you’re not really sure how to piece together a team with high upside backups and sleeper wide outs, we implore you: wait on a QB.
It’s football season folks! With the Hall of Fame Game officially behind us, we can confidently welcome you to the heart of draft season, and the most critical time in the preparation process.
Undoubtedly you’ve purchased your magazines or draft kits, and are reviewing the print to find players you’re interested in and players you’re out on. But if we don’t pay close attention to what’s going on in camp, we’ll miss the movers and shakers as they separate themselves from their competition.
Chris Carson| RB – SEA| At this point, the prospect of Rashaad Penny inheriting a three down workload looks slim to none as the team, and it’s beat writers, continue to pound the drum for Chris Carson. Being said to have looked like the “most impressive back” in camp doesn’t mean he’ll be a top 10 RB, but it does lend credence to the idea that he could have far more value than his 16th round ADP would suggest.
Isaiah Crowell | RB – NYJ | Still only 25 years old, it’s strange to me that Isaiah Crowell would be considered an after thought; yet here we are. Currently being drafted around pick 100, Crowell offers a ton of upside for a relatively low risk pick. With a firm grasp on the early down work, and less competition with Elijah McGuire finding himself injured, there’s a relatively high floor for The Crow in 2018.
Marquise Goodwin | WR – SF | Maybe I’m just stubborn, or maybe I’m just a Pierre Garcon truther, but I was surprised to hear that Goodwin has been performing well above expectations as Jimmy Garoppolo’s top target. Reading through the off season hyperbole machines that are the local media can be taxing, but the overwhelming signs are pointing to a monster year for the former Bills cast off. With his blend of speed and route running, Goodwin factors to be a major part of San Francisco’s resurgence in 2018.
Lamar Jackson | QB – BAL | There continues to be this narrative around the fantasy community that Lamar Jackson will be starting sooner rather than later in Baltimore, but after his lackluster performance in Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game, I’m thinking Flacco’s job is safe. He was inefficient, completing only 3 of 10 passes, and did nothing to really excite me with his obvious athleticism. He’s a late round prospect in dynasty leagues, but in redrafts and most keeper formats, he’s not worth drafting.
Doug Baldwin | WR – SEA | It’s not an issue with talent, but with his ongoing injury issues, Baldwin’s prospects of repeating as a WR1 are in jeopardy. As his knee injury lingers, likely costing him all of the preseason, there’s a very real chance Baldwin could stumble out of the gates. At his current draft capital (Rnd 4 as the WR15), he’s a risk that I’m not willing to take without some better assurances.
C.J. Anderson | RB – CAR | This one may feel like I’m grasping at straws here, but the news out of Carolina has been nothing but glowing in terms of Christian McCaffrey and his potential uses. Missing from the headlines is anything to do with newly signed bruiser CJ Anderson. With coach Ron Rivera suggesting he’d like to give McCaffrey 25+ touches per game, it’s becoming clear that they value their 2017 draft pick a little more than drafters are expecting. While I still think Anderson will be involved in the offense, I’m questioning, now, just how heavily.
Things in New England haven’t gotten much better for a team riding the waves of a turbulent off season with the news that free agent wide out Jordan Matthews has been released.
A hamstring injury recently suffered by the mercurial receiver was deemed “significant” and the Patriots deemed it was time to move on. With lingering injury issues to Malcom Mitchell (knee) and Kenny Britt (hamstring), it’s likely the Patriots consider adding depth to aid a group that’s already without Julian Edelman for four games.
Veteran Eric Decker was recently worked out by the team, and has to be considered one of the better bets as his skill set works with how Brady operates, but it’s a situation to monitor.
In the meantime, the value on Chris Hogan should be bumped slightly as only he and Gronkowski return as reliable passing game targets among the receivers and tight ends group. Rex Burkhead and James White could see a bump in value as well due to their proficiency catching the ball from other areas outside of the backfield.
As usual, the Patriots will go into the preseason with questions fantasy owners would love to have answered.
When healthy, Michael Crabtree is one of the NFL’s most underrated goal line threats, and if his current ADP is any indication, he’s not getting nearly enough respect after signing with the Ravens in the off season. Since 2012, Crabtree is one of only four players with four seasons over 8 TDs; Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Michael Crabtree, and Brandon Marshall.
Aside from Marshall (who’s not worth drafting after he proved last year he’s washed up), Green and Brown are consensus top 10 players at the position while Crabtree is being selected way down in the 8th round. Is it because the recency bias has us down on the Ravens as a passing attack? Is it because he was shipped out of San Fransisco early in his career with the too-soon label of draft bust?
Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say he’s been getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment pretty much all off season. Going into 2018, Crabtree is the undisputed #1 receiver in an offense that is looking to improve all over the field. With pressure from having Lamar Jackson in the fold, reports out of Baltimore is that Flacco looks as good as he’s ever looked, and that he’s targeting Crabtree heavily in the red zone already.
If you’re looking for your low risk WR3 who has massive upside, look no further than Crabtree in the 8th. Currently going around 77th overall, expect him to far out perform those around him. With a lack of proven performers around him, Crabtree should factor in heavily in targets; I expect him to hit the 120 mark, collecting around 70 receptions and 750 yards while seeing the end-zone around 9-11 times. If he can carve out the 140 target range, he’s a high end WR2 with a very manageable floor.