RB Heavy Draft Strategy: Past and Future (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Donald Gibson
Jun 5, 2019

Drafters who used an “RB heavy” approach and took LeSean McCoy as one of their top RBs were disappointed in 2018

Coming into 2018, I was a massive proponent of getting your stud RBs early. The “Zero RB” strategy was taking over, and I saw it as an opportunity to lock down RB early while everyone threw darts later.

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A Review of the RB Heavy Draft Strategy

I must admit, the strategy kind of disappointed me. In certain rare situations, it worked beautifully (more on that in a bit), but most of the time, you were left with at least one dud that could derail your season. For the purposes of this article, let’s define “RB Heavy” as taking an RB with three of your first four picks. In a 12-team league, that would encompass the first 48 picks.

According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, there were 22 RBs in the first 48 players taken in PPR drafts during 2018. Of the first 22 RBs taken, only 11 of them finished the season as a top-22 RB. That seems like a big deal, but it’s probably pretty typical historically. Here are those guys: Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, Joe Mixon, Kareem Hunt, Derrick Henry, and Jordan HowardSeven of those 11 (Barkley, Gurley, Kamara, Elliott, Gordon, Johnson, Hunt) were drafted in the first round (first 12 picks), and Christian McCaffrey was at 13th overall. Let’s include him with the rest since you would probably only have gotten him with the 11th or 12th pick.

That leaves us with three guys drafted in the top 22 that finished in the top 22 among RBs, but were not first or very early second-round picks: Mixon, Henry, and Howard. Essentially, unless you got two of those three after taking a stud in the first round, you were probably disappointed with the strategy. Howard’s ADP was 20 and Mixon’s was 23, so unless you took RBs with your first three picks, it would have had to be a stud, Howard/Mixon, then Henry, whose ADP was 44, in order to get three RBs that all finished as a top-22 RB. There is also the possibility of stacking two of Gordon/Hunt/Fournette/McCaffrey at the one-two turn, but that was probably rare and tough to do.

The main thing that made this strategy hurt a bit more was the immense value you could get at RB later. Take a look at the below (PPR scoring).

Player Position Rank Overall ADP
James Conner RB6 168
James White RB7 104
Tarik Cohen RB11 88
Phillip Lindsay RB13 Outside of Top 200
Chris Carson RB15 69
Nick Chubb RB17 131
Adrian Peterson RB19 82
Marlon Mack RB21 98

 
As a guy who had tons of LeSean McCoy and Lamar Miller, it’s pretty heartbreaking to see that I wasted those picks and could have had someone significantly better at a fraction of the price. Adding any of the guys above combined with a stud first round RB would have set you up beautifully. Based on this data, I think the ideal draft approach last year would have been to take a first-round stud RB, then wait a bit and grab some mid-to-late round guys and hope they pan out like the players above. If only we knew that back then…

The Approach in 2019

In drafts this upcoming season, I’ll probably use a slightly-modified version of the strategy that I just mentioned. I’d still definitely like to get an RB early, whether it’s in the first or second round, as I’m comfortable with most of those guys as it stands today. After that, I’ll probably try to wait until Round 5 at the earliest to grab another. After four rounds, you can have a stud RB, three solid WRs, and maybe one of the big TEs.

If you start loading up at RB later, here are some guys in the fifth round on that I’ll be targeting: James White (PPR ADP: 56), Tevin Coleman (73), Rashaad Penny (82), Miles Sanders (86), Latavius Murray (105), and David Montgomery (119). Plenty can change between now and draft time. The most important thing to keep in mind while drafting is to stay fluid and not be too strict to your draft strategy. If you’re picking in the second round and, for some reason, Melvin Gordon is still there, don’t pass on him because you told yourself you were only taking one RB early.

Running backs are arguably the most important and probably the most frustrating position in fantasy football. I’m always going to be a proponent of getting a stud RB early, but we’ve seen time and time again that you can always find value late in the draft and later in the season. Don’t spend all your draft equity on RBs if you can help it.

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2Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
3Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
4Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
5David Johnson (ARI)RB
6DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
7Davante Adams (GB)WR
8Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
9Joe Mixon (CIN)RB
10Le'Veon Bell (NYJ)RB
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13James Conner (PIT)RB
14Travis Kelce (KC)TE
15Nick Chubb (CLE)RB
16Michael Thomas (NO)WR
17JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT)WR
18Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
19Dalvin Cook (MIN)RB
20Mike Evans (TB)WR
21Antonio Brown (OAK)WR
22George Kittle (SF)TE
23T.Y. Hilton (IND)WR
24Marlon Mack (IND)RB
25Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
26Amari Cooper (DAL)WR
27A.J. Green (CIN)WR
28Damien Williams (KC)RB
29Adam Thielen (MIN)WR
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15Trea Turner (WSH)SS
16Gerrit Cole (HOU)SP
17Jacob deGrom (NYM)SP
18Chris Sale (BOS)SP
19Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
20Anthony Rendon (WSH)3B
21Manny Machado (SD)3B,SS
22Whit Merrifield (KC)1B,2B
23Aaron Judge (NYY)RF,DH
24Adalberto Mondesi (KC)2B,SS
25Josh Bell (PIT)1B
26Juan Soto (WSH)LF
27Kris Bryant (CHC)3B,RF
28Pete Alonso (NYM)1B,DH
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30Xander Bogaerts (BOS)SS
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7Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
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