The Ideal RB-Heavy Fantasy Football Draft
Donald Gibson discusses a running back-heavy draft strategy. This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from Donald, head to Fantasy Fusion.
Believe it or not, I have gotten in Twitter fights about how I’m not a fan of the Zero RB Strategy. For those who may be unfamiliar, Zero RB is a strategy where you ignore RBs in the draft for as long as you can while loading up on other positions, then pick high-upside RBs or at least those who have a reasonable path to starting.
I understand the appeal, but the main reason I avoid it is because WR is always extremely deep. For example, the 70th overall WR according to FantasyPros PPR rankings is Jamison Crowder, a very serviceable WR that I would be extremely happy starting as a flex. The RBs around him are Ronald Jones II, Royce Freeman, and Sony Michel. Granted, all of them have plenty of upside, but they could also fall flat on their face.
I’d rather get some stud RBs early and fill in the gaps with some solid WRs. I’m going to run through a sample draft at the fifth spot of a 10-team PPR draft with an emphasis on an RB-heavy approach. Rankings and ADP are courtesy of FantasyPros. And the draft was conducted using the Draft Wizard. It’s a great easy (and free) way to prepare for your draft and see how different strategies unfold before the big day.
Shall we begin?
This is an easy one. We’ll probably be looking at David Johnson (ranked fourth), Ezekiel Elliott (five), or Alvin Kamara (seven). I feel a lot better about Johnson, or Zeke than Kamara, so we’ll go with Johnson.
Round 1, Pick 5: David Johnson (RB – ARI)
You better believe we’re going RB again here. Kareem Hunt (13) could fall to us at 16, but it’s probably more likely that we’re looking at Melvin Gordon (16), Dalvin Cook (17), or Leonard Fournette (18). I also prefer Gordon of the group, but this one’s really up to personal preference.
Round 2, Pick 16: Melvin Gordon (RB – CAR)
Running back again? Yep, absolutely. At the 25th spot, we have two very good RB values. Devonta Freeman (25) and LeSean McCoy (27) should both be there. Jerick McKinnon (23) will probably still be around, as I think a lot of people will have trouble pulling the trigger that early on him. I have Freeman at 16th, so he’s the obvious choice for me.
Round 3, Pick 25: Devonta Freeman (RB – ATL)
This is where it gets a little hairy. In most leagues, you can only start a maximum of three RBs per week, so it may be overkill to take another one here. From 33rd to 39th overall, our options are Golden Tate, Zach Ertz, Amari Cooper, Jordan Howard, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Mixon, and Allen Robinson.
I don’t think Howard or Mixon are immense values or “must-haves,” so I’m going to go WR here. Tate would be my choice if he’s available. Luckily for me, I’m running the show here, so he is!
Round 4, Pick 36: Golden Tate (WR – DET)
We could go either way here. If there is a solid RB, that’s fine. If not, I’d go after an upside WR to pair with our slew of bell-cow RBs and a high-floor receiver in Tate (that is what we call foreshadowing, folks).
At pick 45, we’re looking at Josh Gordon (43), Juju Smith-Schuster (44), Russell Wilson (45), Alex Collins (46), Tom Brady (47), Brandin Cooks (48), and Marvin Jones (49). As the unofficial (self-proclaimed official) chairman of the Brandin Cooks fan club, I’d probably be swayed in that direction, but the best choice here is Josh “Upside WR” Gordon. His ADP, however, is 35, so I can’t justify getting him 10 spots later.
You guys probably thought that I wasn’t going to let my bias get the best of me, but you were wrong. Chairmen have responsibilities too.
Round 5, Pick 45: Brandin Cooks (WR – LAR)
Okay, so we have the base of our lineup together now. We’ll either be looking RB or TE here, so let’s see what our options are.
Tight end gets just as ugly, but I don’t think we can pass on Lamar Miller here. Also, Mark Ingram has an ADP of 52, so if he falls to 56, I’m all in for that too, especially since you can afford to sit him through his suspension as you already have three high-quality RBs.
Round 6, Pick 56: Lamar Miller (RB – HOU)
If Engram is still available, he’s my pick. If not, we’re looking at Jimmy Graham and Royce Freeman. Ronald Jones II and Sony Michel have ADPs in the mid-50s, so I can’t justify getting one of them here. Let’s go with Graham because I have no desire to hop on the Trey Burton train this year.
Round 7, Pick 65: Jimmy Graham (TE – GB)
This one is a no-brainer for me. Marlon Mack is ranked 86th overall with an ADP of 81, and I have him in the 50s and would have been fine taking him earlier. I’d imagine this is a guy that the Zero RB-ers will be going after, but we’re going to take him first as a symbol of our revolution.
Round 8, Pick 76: Marlon Mack (RB – IND)
I think we need some balance now, so let’s try to grab a WR here and maybe in the next round too.
At 85th overall, we have Randall Cobb (83), DeVante Parker (85), Robby Anderson (89), and Jordy Nelson (91). It’s like a cavalcade of people that disappointed last year, accompanied by a guy who does questionable things when he’s arrested.
Randall Cobb may miss some time in the offseason with an ankle injury, but I love his opportunity this year if he’s healthy. Let’s go with him.
Round 9, Pick 85: Randall Cobb (WR – GB)
Let’s look at WR again. Marquise Goodwin was very good with the emergence of Jimmy Garappolo last year, and he’s ranked 99th. Like the Marlon Mack situation, I have him in the 50s and would be ecstatic to grab him here.
Round 10, Pick 96: Marquise Goodwin (WR – SF)
Williams has a very reasonable chance to start in GB and showed last year that he could handle it. He’s my guy here, though I like Johnson’s chance at a starting job as well.
Round 11, Pick 105: Jamaal Williams (RB – GB)
Okay, to save time, I’ve compiled the last five rounds into one section. We still need a QB, K, and D/ST, so that leaves us two spots for an RB, WR, or TE. We currently have six RBs, four WR, and one TE
- Round 12, Pick 116: Allen Hurns, WR: I’m pretty sure he’s the WR1 on the Cowboys right now. That’s enough for me in the 12th round.
- Round 13, Pick 125: Marcus Mariota, QB: Rough schedule after Week 2, but I’ll move on to the next QB at that point. See more on how I stream QBs here.
- Round 14, Pick 136: Doug Martin, RB: He could end up as a productive starter, and no one would be surprised.
- Round 15, Pick 145 and Round 16, Pick 155: Defense and kicker of your choosing
Okay! We made it. Here’s what our lineup looks like by position:
- QB: Marcus Mariota
- RB: David Johnson
- RB: Melvin Gordon
- WR: Golden Tate
- WR: Brandin Cooks
- TE: Jimmy Graham
- FLEX: Devonta Freeman
- DST: Your choice
- K: Your choice
- Lamar Miller
- Marlon Mack
- Randall Cobb
- Marquise Goodwin
- Jamaal Williams
- Allen Hurns
- Doug Martin
I love it. We have a powerful RB group and a nice combination of safety and upside receivers. The QB and TE situations should be okay, but feel free to take them a round or two earlier. If there are two things to take away from this exercise, they are:
- RBs are important (obviously). It’s a lot easier to make a strong team if you go heavy at RB early and grab value WRs late. If you try to do the opposite and your RBs flame out, you end up starting LeGarrette Blount and hoping for a TD every week.
- Stay flexible. Don’t go into a draft saying that you’ll definitively take certain players at certain draft spots. Weird stuff happens, and guys fall, so don’t take Melvin Gordon over DeAndre Hopkins in the second round just because you told yourself you were going to draft an RB.