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Fantasy Wars: Zero RB vs RB Heavy

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Fantasy Wars: Zero RB or RB Heavy? Representing Zero RB is Christian Anabalon. On the RB Heavy side, is Will Weiss. Who’s got the right draft strategy? You decide.


Fantasy Wars Opening Arguments

Christian Anabalon: The toughest decision leading up to the draft is who to draft. There are many different routes to take when planning out your draft. I believe you should be flexible come the day of the draft but still have in mind bullet points to roughly follow. I for one, have become a firm believer in the zero RB draft strategy as the best. Shots fired in our first ‘Fantasy Wars’.

Will Weiss: The NFL is moving to more RBBC (running back by committee). While it is great for the NFL, it is not great for fantasy. The RBBC devalues the RB and reduces the weekly upside from each player. Instead of one player being on the field for rushing and passing downs, in an RBBC you have more specialist backs on the field for each situation. The fewer snaps a player is on the field, the fewer chances that player has to score your team points. Because of that, it is absolutely vital that you grab the top-end running backs early.

The Volatility of Running Backs

Christian: Running backs should be paid more in the NFL for what they put their bodies through. I respect the craft and the toughness of the position. Every drive they’re in the trenches, blocking for their QB, or running short routes, liable to get lit up. It is because of these factors that the running back position is quite a minefield to maneuver.

Last year two of the biggest names went down due to injury: Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley. These two phenomenal players combined to play only five games.

Fantasy football and regular football, of course, require players to play in order to win. The reason I say this is that year in and year out it seems there are more running backs that go down year to year compared to receivers. Even if a star running back goes down, his backup is often plug-and-play as a viable replacement option.

Already just this preseason, Cam Akers, who was poised to have a stand-out year, has to sit the rest of the season and more because of a torn Achilles. Now, Darrell Henderson is being drafted as a top-24 running back.

Because of these types of situations, I try to avoid using my first three picks on a running back. If you have a  top-three pick in a one QB league, go for it and spend it on a guy like Christian McCaffrey. Use your next two or three picks on other positions. If your pick falls in the second half of the draft, I would lean towards WR/TE/WR.

Take the positional advantage at TE where last year there was over a 200 point differential between the TE1 Travis Kelce and the TE24, who wasn’t able to break 100 points.

The Injury Clause

Will: Fantasy players believe that running backs get injured more than other positions.  This, fortunately, is not true.  Last season the top ten running backs averaged almost 15 games played including 16 games from Derrick Henry. At the same time, last year’s #1 WR in ADP Michael Thomas (who is out again this season) played in only seven games. Julio Jones played in only nine games last year, and in two of those games, he had under 40% of the snaps. George Kittle played in only eight games.

The truth is that all positions get injured and miss games.  It is a poor strategy to avoid drafting the top players at a position because the player “might get injured”. Any player at any position can get injured.

Lottery Tickets

Christian: I think it’s fair to say that most people could not have predicted either James Robinson or Mike Davis to be top-12 fantasy running backs on the year. And if you did, congrats. You were a (lying) anomaly.

My point is that you should start receiver heavy in the draft, but when it’s all said and done you should have more running backs on your squad. Draft dart-throw players. Some of them may not pan out, but for the ones that will hit, it’ll be worth it.

These surprise breakouts can help elevate your team to another level. With an already dynamic squad you would have drafted, these can be the x-factors to help propel your team to a championship.

Get the Best

Will: The best running backs go early in drafts. There are very few running backs who have enough talent and opportunity to be week winners. Those RBs that do are the first to be drafted. That is why it is important on draft day to make sure your first two picks are running backs.

Last season seven of the ten top scorers in standard leagues were running backs (excluding QB’s). In 2020 the NFL saw offenses take advantage of the lack of a real preseason, as the defense’s ability to compete was hurt.  This resulted in 74 more passing touchdowns and 85 more rushing touchdowns in 2020 than in 2019.

Talent Vs. Opportunity

Christian: It’s a bit more difficult for a receiver to jump the depth chart in such a fashion even with injuries. We already discussed the Akers/Henderson situation but let’s look at a mirroring one in New Orleans.

There is a possibility that Michael Thomas will miss at least the first half of the season this year due to a surgery that took place around his ankle injury. Behind Michael Thomas on the depth chart are Tre’Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway. Even though these two will move up in ADP, they will not shoot up like Henderson.

They have the opportunity but they won’t skyrocket like a backup running back being thrown in a starting position due to injury or other reasons.

The Numbers

Will: While the end-of-season ranking is important, it’s not the only factor to consider when deciding that RB heavy is the right draft strategy this year. Depth of position is also very important. The drop-off between RB3 and RB4 was 70 points. The difference between RB9 and RB10 was 20 points. When we talk about WRs the difference between WR1 and WR10 was 70 points. The drop-off between WR10 and WR20 was 28 points. That may sound like a lot of points, however, compared to RB it really is not that much. The difference between RB10 and RB20 is 38 points.

Shelf Life

(Ignore for redraft leagues)

Christian: It is widely known that wide receivers can perform at a higher level longer than running backs. It is what it is. The usage of running backs impacts this fact. If you are drafting in a dynasty league, grab elite receivers who can hold up your team for longer than you would expect.

Later, when you want to move off an elite receiver, you can trade them for running backs who are on their rookie contracts. In a dynasty league, you want assets that increase in value over a period of time. It’s all about assets that appreciate.

Three years ago, Todd Gurley was by far the most talented and coveted fantasy football player. Now, he’s currently a free agent. Five out of the past six years, Deandre Hopkins was a top-five fantasy receiver and he looks like he’ll be able to continue that streak.

The Names

Will: It is easy to become lost in numbers, so let’s put actual player names in to see how you feel now. According to the IDP GUYS ADP, the first eight picks are running backs. Players like Alvin Kamara,  Christian McCaffery, Nick Chubb, and Ezekiel Elliott are all being drafted in the first round. By the time you get to pick number 20, already 11 running backs have gone off the board. Between RB1 and RB11 there was a difference of 150 points last season. The difference of 150 points is more than Chris Carson scored the whole season. That’s a really significant drop-off.

Carson finished the 2020 season as RB16. The WR16 last year was Chase Claypool, who is currently the 31st WR drafted with an ADP of 84 this year. To put it more simply, you get the same points from a WR drafted at ADP 84 as you get from a running back drafted at an ADP of 36. The difference between WR1 and WR11 was only 78 points.

To find a WR that scored 78 points you have got all the way down to WR62, Greg Ward. Players going around Chase Claypool are Raheem Mostert, Courtland Sutton, Damien Harris, and DeVonta Smith. If you didn’t grab the early-round RBs you would be forced to draft Damien Harris or Raheem Mostert who has little upside and are in split backfields. In doing so you miss out on the upside of Sutton and Smith.

Fantasy Wars Closing Arguments

Christian: You should target receivers early and arrange a stable of some of the best pass-catchers in the game now. There will be running backs that fall later in the draft that you can snag. You can find starting RBs who will get touches like Chris Carson, Travis Etienne, Myles Gaskin, and similarly others after the fourth round.

Every year the NFL changes rules in favor of passing the ball, protecting the quarterback and wide receiver positions. NFL teams are creating receiver rooms filled with multiple WR1s and so should you.

Will: I know this sounds stat-heavy so let me sum it up for you. There is a very fast and very steep drop-off in points at the running back position. The top running backs score enough points to be two players in a week. The depth at WR allows you to wait for the later rounds to get the same value as the top-end RB2s. On any play, there can be injuries to any player.


Thank you for reading Fantasy Wars! You can follow Will on Twitter at @FF_SkinnyChef, and find more of his work on his IDP Guys author page. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @FFCAnabalon, and find more of his work on his author page. To stay updated on everything from the IDP Guys, follow us on Twitter @IDPGuys or on Instagram IDP Guys.
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