Even though I’ve become somewhat of a sage dynasty player over the years, I cut my teeth in the murky waters of redraft. So I’ll quickly take you back to a simpler, friendlier time: 2006.
I was invited to my first online fantasy football league by one of my counselors at Butte Community College (yes, the same one Aaron Rodgers and Larry Allen attended). It was 2006 when ESPN’s fantasy football coverage was headed by Eric Karabell and Scott Engel. They would add the legendary Matthew Berry a year later. It was the broadband era’s greatest victory. Online fantasy football was our Simba.
I was unlucky in drawing the No. 2 pick in the 10-team draft with standard scoring and no flex position. Instead of the legendary LaDainian Tomlinson, I settled for Larry Johnson of the Chiefs. Peyton Manning and a couple of other quarterbacks came off the board in the first round (simpler times). I didn’t realize it at the time, but I pulled off a deadly “Hero RB” draft. I didn’t select my RB2 until the sixth round. I took both of my wide receivers, tight end and quarterback before landing Cowboys’ bruiser Marion Barber.
That draft was only ten rounds long, with six starters and four bench spots. I won the league running away, much to the chagrin of my counselor and a handful of professors. I credit that championship to my impetus to grab top wide receivers (and Antonio Gates) before reaching for another running back. Fantasy football today is teeming with information. The quality of play has progressed to heights that would have been unimaginable in 2006. Yet, Hero RB has persisted through the game’s evolution as an ultra-viable and value-centric strategy for virtually any type of league.
The gist of it is simple: one stud running back in the first two rounds, followed by addressing the starting positions everywhere else, then a warm body for the RB2 spot after that. Let’s break down why the strategy works and who to target to win in 2022.
You can check out my Hero RB strategy for dynasty drafts here.
For any redraft strategy, a manager must maintain “fluid rigidity.” Yes, it’s an oxymoron. However, it still makes sense because you must be rigid with only selecting the running backs who can anchor the RB1 spot while maintaining flexibility within the first two rounds to avoid missing elite receivers. Hero RB is receiver-centric. The goal is to roster as many top receivers as possible along with a top running back.
An example of the importance of flexibility would be staring at Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase in the first round and taking Derrick Henry instead because you felt compelled to lock in the top RB first. The optimal play in Hero RB is still trusting the math and locking in an elite receiver. Anchor running backs like Joe Mixon, Leonard Fournette, and D’Andre Swift will nearly always slip into the second round, especially if your league mates are also plucking receivers.
Since the age of running backs really isn’t a factor in redraft, more of them are viable to be your Hero RB. Jonathan Taylor is the alpha and omega, stunning the world if he is not the 1.01 in any 1QB league. Following him are many viable heroes to anchor your roster as an RB1.
Here are the ones I trust when employing the Hero RB strategy.
- Jonathan Taylor
- Christian McCaffrey
- Najee Harris
- Dalvin Cook
- Derrick Henry
- Austin Ekeler
- Joe Mixon
- D’Andre Swift
- Leonard Fournette
You might justifiably disagree with a few of the RBs I will believe in for Hero RB. That’s okay. The crux of the strategy lies in your draft position. Fluid rigidity can also mean that a late-first draft position leaves you uncomfortable with using the Hero RB strategy in favor of Zero RB or even Robust RB.
As managers, we are allowed to pivot whenever necessary. Javonte Williams would have been a slam dunk for a hero, but the Broncos brought back Melvin Gordon to keep the waters muddy. Saquon is not for the risk-averse but will have plenty of opportunities to prove his doubters wrong and return to fantasy glory. Chubb just doesn’t have the pass-catching role to justify such a critical roster spot, even if he’s one of the best in the game. Conner’s bugaboo is always health and might be due for extreme touchdown regression. Gibson is one of my favorites to silence the rumors that JD Mckissic and Brian Robinson will adversely affect his fantasy ceiling, but it would still make me nervous to use him as an anchor.
The running back landscape won’t be a pretty sight when the time comes to fill that last starting spot. Don’t panic. By then, your roster should have a full stable of top wide receivers, a top tight end and a quarterback with Konami qualities (it’s that easy!). I also prefer to fill every flex starting spot with receivers through the draft, which punts my RB2 selection into near-oblivion. The RB2 spot will inevitably be a glaring eyesore among the other starters, but it’s worth it.
In redraft, I have found the most success with a Hero RB build where my RB2 is one of many backs. The fragile nature of the position opens the door for late-round running backs to become league winners in the second half of the season. Be proud if every player on your bench is a running back. Hoard the handcuffs. Streaming quarterbacks and tight ends through their bye week is easy. You won’t need to worry about receiver depth with Hero RB, so shift the focus on mid and late-round selections on a specific type of running back: receiving role and pathway to increased work through injury. Here are some of the RB2 targets who will litter my redraft rosters in 2022.
- Tony Pollard
- Michael Carter
- JD McKissic
- Nyheim Hines
- Kenny Gainwell
- Isaiah Spiller
- James Cook
- Dameon Pierce
- Rachaad White
- D’Onta Foreman
- Khalil Herbert
Pollard’s ADP has held up as a value in RB3 territory, but leagues that start multiple flexes will often see him off the board before the RB2 spot is addressed in Hero RB. Carter’s ADP has plummeted on the heels of the Breece Hall selection, but he’s a perfect candidate for the RB2 spot with his great hands and shiftiness. McKissic and Hines are each starting options in passing downs for their respective teams, making them incredibly stable in PPR. Finally, Gainwell is a player who can absolutely smash his current ADP in the Philly offense (I expect him to).
The four rookies each have their own desirable traits: Cook as a receiving specialist in an elite offense, Spiller as the thunder to Ekeler’s lightning for the Chargers, Pierce as a potential bell cow in Houston, and White as a weapon in space for the Bucs. Foreman will be more utilized next to Christian McCaffrey to keep the Stanford star upright this season and can carry a heavy workload should CMC go down again. Herbert already proved himself worthy last season in David Montgomery‘s absence. I’ll reiterate: don’t be afraid to fill your bench to the brim with running backs.
Many forks in the river lead to a fantasy football championship. The draft is the alpine lake at the river’s head. The ocean isn’t visible yet, as in “you can’t win the league from the draft.” Employing certain strategies is like choosing a canoe, a kayak, or a raft to traverse the current and avoid the inevitable snags that arise during football season.
Hero RB is tried and true. It is neither too risky nor too safe. It is up to each manager to make choices during the season and get some luck along the way, but a great way to navigate the rapids is to have a sturdy foundation stemming from the draft. The chart below is how an ideal Hero RB draft would transpire in a 1QB league.
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