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Born to Run - Starting RB/RB in Fantasy Football Drafts

Way back when I first started playing this wonderful game, this type of article would be superfluous. Obviously you should go RB/RB if you can. That was back in 2003 and for much of the 2000s, there was little debate over the optimal strategy - if you could get two quality RBs in the first two rounds, do it.

In the late 2000s, we started to see signs of a shift. It coincided - and this shouldn't be all that surprising - with the Calvin Johnson era. Since so many fantasy owners were taking RBs early, elite WRs were available later than they should've been. In 2007, Calvin's rookie year, WR1s outscored RB2s by a total of 381 points (all stats are ppr scoring). Since then, the WR1s have collectively outscored the RB1s in six of the last 11 years, including 2007. Specifically in 2015, WR1s outscored RB1s by a whopping 901 points. That's why in 2016, for the first time in my fantasy career, we saw a WR go first overall (followed by two more WRs). It was pretty obvious that 2015 was a huge anomaly - not necessarily in WR scoring, but in RB scoring. Since 2007, the lowest total of all the RB1s was 3,158 points back in 2007...except in 2015, where they scored 2,773. It was this type of research that led me to publish this article in 2016 on why you should zig while others zag and go with an early RB strategy. It turned out to be correct as RB1s bounced back considerably, outscoring WR1s by 86 points.

Last season, it was the WR1s that had a 2015 RB1s type season, putting up their lowest combined point total in the last 11 years en route to being outscored by the RB1s by 191 points. But people are wise to what happened in 2015 and don't want to fall into the same trap. Nevertheless, RBs are back dominating the first two rounds, leaving perceived elite WRs like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and Mike Evans available in the second round. With everyone seemingly back to going RB early, is now the time to load up on WRs or perhaps go Zero RB? WR/WR can certainly work and so can Zero RB. The goal isn't to persuade you to commit to the RB/RB strategy, but rather to explain why it is viable and something you should not be afraid to do if it makes sense during your draft.

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One of the main arguments against the RB/RB approach is that RBs are the easiest to find on the waiver wire throughout the season. Last year, we saw a whole host of players emerge from relative obscurity to have a significant impact: Alvin Kamara, Alex Collins, Jerick McKinnon, Latavius Murray, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and Kenyan Drake are the ones that come to mind. There were others. Even if it is just for a week or two, like Chris Ivory when Leonard Fournette was dinged up or benched for a game, if we can constantly find RBs like that, why spend your first two picks in a draft on one?

I don't think the goal should necessarily be to rely on the waiver wire. You want to draft the most complete team. Ultimately, no player in fantasy is more valuable than the three down workhorse elite RB. If you can get one of them, you should. If you can potentially get two, you definitely should. As indicated above, elite RB1s typically outscore elite WR1s. RB1s are also more reliable on a week to week basis because their touch count is more consistent.

One of the most important factors, however, is the caliber of WR you can acquire later in the draft. Even more important, is the caliber of RB you can expect to get later in the draft. While it is still a bit early to dissect ADP, by the end of the third round, if you don't have two RBs, the next RB you draft will be ranked as a low end RB2 at best. At the same time, you can still draft legitimate WR1s well into the third round.

I want to keep this more theory based than player specific because obviously the guys at the top of the draft are all very good fantasy producers and we each have our own opinions on who we'd prefer. For that reason, don't get caught up on the specific names I use if you don't like those players - just replace them with similarly situated players you do like. As an example, you can grab legitimate WR1s like Davante Adams, A.J. Green, and Mike Evans in the middle of the second round. But you can also take legitimate WR1s like Doug Baldwin, Tyreek Hill, and Larry Fitzgerald in the middle of the third round. So what looks better, something like Kareem Hunt, Devonta Freeman, and Larry Fitzgerald or Kareem Hunt, Davante Adams, and Derrick Henry? Again, you can flip the players around to more suit your preferences, but the fact that you can secure legitimate WR1s in the third round and then legitimate WR2s in the fourth round should help illustrate how viable the RB/RB strategy is.

The RBs going beyond round two all have serious concerns - far greater concerns than the WRs. The odds of your third or fourth round RB busting completely appear to be much greater than the same happening to your third or fourth round WR. You should feel a lot better about securing a guy like Josh Gordon, Allen Robinson, or Alshon Jeffery in the fourth round than you would about Jay Ajayi, Rashaad Penny, or Derrius Guice. With the blurring of the lines between WR1s and WR2s and WR2s and WR3s, the drop off in the quality of your WRs should you go RB/RB will not be nearly as great as the drop off in the quality of your second RB if you exit the second round without one.

While it may be easier to find RBs on the waiver wire, it is easier to find WRs later in the draft. And you can still find those waiver RB darlings and extract value from them even if you have a loaded RB corps. With the depth of quality WRs and the fact that there are legitimate NFL WR1s available as late as the eighth or ninth rounds, loading up on RBs early is an excellent way to maximize the value of your team coming out of your draft.


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