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Monday, January 7, 2013

100% Running Back Bench

With the fantasy football season over, I've been doing some thinking about the draft and the waiver wire and how teams evolve throughout the year.

Doesn't it seem like wide receivers and tight ends can emerge from out of thin air?  TY Hilton and Cecil Shorts?  Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Myers?  The great proven commodities tend to deliver unless injured, but the mid-round plays aren't usually any better than the guys you get off the wire.

It's pretty much the same with kickers and defenses, but we don't need to really spend any time there.

But what about quarterbacks and running backs?  Okay, quarterbacks first.  The top end QB's tend to deliver and some of the mid-round guys in any given season will explode for great seasons.  The bottom 1/3 (maybe close to 1/2) of starting NFL QB's are usually about what we expect.  So, on draft day it's best to either invest in a super stud like Drew Brees or drop two mid-round picks on the Peyton Manning's and Robert Griffin III's of the world.  If you go for the latter, I suggest back-to-back picks in the 5th-7th rounds.  If you had employed this sort of strategy in 2012, you probably would have ended up with two of:  Manning, Manning, Griffin, Cutler, and Roethlisberger.  Something like that.  Obviously, Eli and Cutler weren't so good and Rothlisberger was only good when healthy... but Peyton and Griffin were gold.  Taking a shot on any two of those guys in just about any year is a great way to go.  The best part of this strategy?  Your first 4 or 5 picks were spent on studs at RB and WR.

That has typically been my M.O., but I'm thinking about a new way. Let's think for a second about running backs.  They are a little more dependable early in the draft, but frankly not that much more.  Your mid-round picks might deliver strong seasons for you 40% of the time and your early-round picks maybe 60% of the time.  The other big thing with RB's is that they are the rarest of all commodities in fantasy football.  (Real quick breakdown - Let's say for example that you have a 12-team league that starts two RB's and a flex.  That league will be starting approximately 30 RB's per week.  There are 32 teams in the NFL and they typically only have one main fantasy-worthy RB each.  In bye weeks there are only 28 teams playing.  There are eight bye weeks in the fantasy regular season.  There's just not enough of the RB resource available, which explains why people give starts to bad RB's and backup RB's all the time.)

Okay, so let's go back to the new concept.  Let's say for a moment that you get Drew Brees in round 1 of a 16-round draft.  Let's also say for a moment that you agree with the concept that stud WR's and TE's will deliver and other good ones will emerge from nowhere during the season.  Further, let's say that you agree with the concept that stud RB's are somewhat unpredictable and mid-round RB's are often really good values.  With all of that in mind, I present the 100% RB Bench.

Here's what you do...  Brees in round one.  You draft two WR's and one TE at some point in the first five rounds.  So, after five rounds you have one of the top QB's, two very strong WR's, a solid and predictable TE, plus one strong RB (probably from the 3rd round, maybe 4th).  In 2012 it might have been Brees, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson, Reggie Bush, and Owen Daniels.  Look, hindsight is 20/20... but that is the sort of thing I would have done with this strategy last year.

In round 15 you get the kicker you want.  In round 14 you get a top 6 defense.  And, the big thing...  In rounds six through 13 plus round 16 you draft all running backs.  So, yes, 16 rounds and ten running backs.  If you had done this in 2012 you would have had all sorts of guys like Shonn Greene, Stevan Ridley, and C.J. Spiller.  The problem is that you would have gotten a lot of guys like Jonathan Stewart and Donald Brown too.  It's not a fully-baked concept, but I wanted to share some of the things I've been noodling on.

I think at this point that it would still be a better option to do more of a hybrid approach.  If in 2013 you took Ray Rice in round one and you used your 6th and 7th round picks on Tony Romo and Andrew Luck you would be better off.  Let's say you took A.J. Green in round two, Dez Bryant in round three, Aaron Hernandez in round four, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis in round five.  Then, seven of your last nine picks are all RB's to pair with Rice and BJGE.  That is the sort of draft that could really happen this August and it is the sort of squad that would win a championship.  The trick with this roster is to jettison under-peforming RB's for emerging receivers just before the bye weeks start.  It gives you a few games to evaluate what is happening with these mid-round RB's.  I like the sound of that draft a lot.

Just some thoughts about football before we turn our focus to baseball.  Pitchers and catchers in like five weeks, people!