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Born to Run - A Case for Going RB/RB Early in 2017 Drafts

 The NFL is changing. Over the past several years the league has become increasingly pass-happy, leading to a rise in overall points scored. Due to this, the wide receiver position has taken center stage on Sundays, and top WR are being selected early and often in round one of fantasy drafts. We are also at a point where many teams feature two, if not three WR in their offense. This has led to the receiver pool continuing to fill up with more solid options, deeper into the later rounds.

Where does this leave the running backs? The same position we historically saw being selected in the top three slots of round one, where players like Adrian Peterson, Ladainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander and many others resided for years on end. We are seeing many less 300-carry and even 200-carry running backs each year. The days are nearly over for offenses that attempt to ground and pound their opponents as their number one offensive philosophy. We are also witnessing the rise in offenses that give multiple RB enough touches in a game-by-game basis to become fantasy relevant. This all adds up to a higher quantity of fantasy RB available, however the quality you receive is much less than in years passed. This has made bell-cow running backs few and far between in fantasy. To ensure you grab one or even two of the top 15 RB off the board early, your opponents will be scrambling through their lists to find the next RB to fill those ever-important starting lineup spots.

I want to show you how this season, taking the “RB-RB” approach in your draft will cause panic for your league-mates, and leave you with the best Week 1 starting roster in all of your leagues.

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Ideal RB/RB Scenarios from Any Draft Slot

Here's a typical first two rounds for Standard Re-Draft 12-Team Leagues:

  1. David Johnson (RB)
  2. Antonio Brown (WR)
  3. Julio Jones (WR)
  4. Le’Veon Bell (RB)
  5. Ezekiel Elliot (RB)
  6. Odell Beckham (WR)
  7. Mike Evans (WR)
  8. LeSean McCoy (RB)
  9. AJ Green (WR)
  10. Melvin Gordon (RB)
  11. Devonta Freeman (RB)
  12. Jordy Nelson (WR)
  13. T.Y. Hilton (WR)
  14. DeMarco Murray (RB)
  15. Jordan Howard (RB)
  16. Amari Cooper (WR)
  17. Dez Bryant (WR)
  18. Todd Gurley (RB)
  19. Jay Ajayi (RB)
  20. Rob Gronkowski (TE)
  21. Aaron Rodgers (QB)
  22. Michael Thomas (WR)
  23. Lamar Miller (RB)
  24. Leonard Fournette (RB)

Take note that out of these commonly selected first and second round players in a standard draft, only 11 of 24 are running backs. If you find yourself with a top-five pick in round one, you could take the best RB on your board, and with your 2nd choice, grab whichever of these RB remain.

Pick #1 Scenario:

1.1 David Johnson (RB)
2.12 Leonard Fournette (RB)

With this, your next selection at 3.1 can be the best WR remaining on your board (recommended) or if a top QB or TE are still there, roll the dice. Same rules apply for any of the top 5 spots.


Pick #2 Scenario:

1.2 Le’Veon Bell (RB)
2.11 Lamar Miller (RB)

Lamar Miller was a popular choice in the back end of Round 1 a season ago. Those dreams of a breakout season were derailed by the disappointment that was QB Brock Osweiler. Now with rookie QB DeShaun Watson under center, Miller should continue to see upwards of 300 carries.


Pick #3 Scenario: (If DJ and Bell are gone by this point)

1.3 Ezekiel Elliott (RB)
2.10 Jay Ajayi (RB) or Miller/Fournette

To land Jay Ajayi in round the later stages of round two might be on the optimistic side, but I see Miller and rookie Leonard Fournette as quality choices here also. Ajayi was on a tear during a stretch of 2016, boosting him to top 10 RB status. He finished with 1,272 yards and 8 rushing TDs on 4.9 yard per carry.


Pick #4 Scenario: (Top 3 RBs are taken)

1.4 Antonio Brown (WR) VALUE ALERT!
2.9 Todd Gurley (RB) OR Ajayi OR an even higher ranked RB on your board slips such as Jordan Howard (RB).

In this case, the drop-off at RB in terms of value is too great to employ this strategy, so you're better off going with the top receiver in your rankings. In this case, I have Antonio Brown as the fourth overall pick.


Pick # 5 Scenario: (Top 3 RBs and A. Brown are taken)

1.5 Julio Jones (WR) VALUE ALERT!
2.8 Jordan Howard (RB)

The last two first round choices are picks of high value no matter what type of league scoring. They are both generational players both in fantasy and reality and I would advise selecting either Brown or Jones if given the chance.


Pick # 6 Scenario: (Top 3 RBs, Brown and Jones are taken)

1.6 LeSean McCoy (RB)
2.7 Jordan Howard (RB)

This is where it will get interesting. At #6 you have to assume all of DJ, Bell, Brown, and Jones are gone, and the manager selecting at #5 will have a choice between Zeke Elliott, Odell Beckham Jr (WR), and Mike Evans (WR). If they take Zeke, I like LeSean McCoy here, and love him in the middle or back half of round 1. This is a former perennial #1 overall pick from a few years ago, and he certainly looked youthful this past season. In his age 28 season in 15 games started, McCoy carried 234 times for 1,267 yards and 13 TDs. Vintage Shady. He was also targeted 57 times and racked up 50 catches for an additional 356 yards and a score. He is the focal point of an improving Buffalo offense, behind a tremendous O-line.


Pick #7 Scenario:

1.7 LeSean McCoy (RB)
2.6 DeMarco Murray (RB)

DeMarco Murray ended up being one of the biggest values a season ago, partly because the Tennessee Titans selected former Heisman Trophy Winner Derrick Henry #45 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. This looked to be a 60/40 split if not closer. However, Murray got the opening carries early in the season and never looked back. The former Oklahoma standout put up 1,287 yards and 9 TDs on 293 carries, while adding 53 receptions on 67 targets, for an additional 377 yards and 3 TDs. Massive numbers and still one of the league’s true bell-cows behind one of the best line’s in the league. Now with an improved passing attack under Marcus Mariota, along with the signing of Eric Decker and addition of WR Corey Davis, there Murray should see a lot less eight and nine-man defensive fronts in 2017.


Pick #8 Scenario:

1.8  LeSean McCoy (RB)
2.5 Murray/Howard (RB)

Most of your leaguemates are likely not employing the RB/RB strategy without a top-three pick, so there's a good chance McCoy is still around if you've got the eighth pick.


Pick #9 Scenario:

1.9 LeSean McCoy (RB)
2.4 Devonta Freeman (RB)

Assuming Shady McCoy is there for the taking at #9, I would love picking in this spot the most right now. Freeman caught fire down the stretch last season, scoring eight TD in the final six regular games for Atlanta. Tevin Coleman was also a factor, but Freeman out-carried him 227 to 118. Kyle Shanahan has moved on to San Francisco, and the Falcons could go back to more of a one back system. Freeman will be looking to cash in during his contract year.


Pick #10 Scenario:

1.10 Melvin Gordon (RB)
2.3 Freeman/ Murray/Howard

L.A. Chargers RB Melvin Gordon makes a lot of sense near the end of Round 1 due to his breakout campaign in 2016. He was able to amass 1,416 yards from scrimmage to go with 12 TD.


Pick #11 and #12 Scenarios:

1.11/1.12 Gordon/Freeman

2.2/2.1 Murray/Howard

At the end of Round 1, you will have a choice of several remaining RB. This is a prime position to employ the RB-RB strategy, as you will have both RB lineup slots filled with 300-carry candidates - a dream scenario in standard leagues.

To summarize, executing any pre-draft strategy from beginning to end over the course of a draft will require patience and the ability to use your tiers as you sift through pre-determined choices. You will simply need to feel comfortable without having the upper-echelon WRs on your roster for likely the first time in a few years. Instead of seeing names like AJ Green, Brandin Cooks and Julian Edelman as your WR1 WR2 and WR3 respectively, you might see Doug BaldwinDonte Moncrief and DeVante Parker in those slots. The WR position might be deeper than ever, and you can still grab 1,000 yard 10 TD players in round three and beyond. So just remember, while your opponents shuffle in and out RB with up and down touch amounts on a week to week basis, you might just be kicked back watching NFL Redzone to see your top RB breaking through the goal line and lighting up your laptops and devices all Sunday long.

Happy Draft Season!


More 2017 Fantasy Football Analysis

Check out all of RotoBaller's fantasy football rankings. Staff rankings are updated regularly for all positions and include standard formats, PPR scoring, tiered rankings and dynasty leagues.

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