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Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Robust RB (2024)

The Law of Polarity states, “Don’t avoid extremes, and don’t choose any one extreme. Remain available to both the polarities — that is the art, the secret of balancing.” In a society that embraces the “all in” mantra of doing things, fantasy managers are presented with a thrilling crossroads come draft season when choosing draft strategies.

Do they opt for a method that values the running back position and attempts to sink as much capital early on as possible? Or shift gears and proceed in the opposite direction, ignoring the position altogether early on, or perhaps just selecting one running back as an anchor?

From the outset, let me state that there is no right or wrong answer on which strategy to choose. Veteran managers who have been burned by injuries at the running back position (which has the highest rate over QB/WR/TE) can choose to bypass selecting one in favor of loading up depth at wide receiver or tight end instead. The rise of pass-heavy offenses and PPR formats makes this a viable alternative, one of the reasons the “Zero RB” strategy has caught so much traction of late. However (as discussed in my Anchor RB article), neglecting running backs will come at a cost, as the position also has the highest ceiling of any FLEX option.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy

It will ultimately come down to a risk vs. reward scenario and how comfortable the manager is in their ability to draft sleeper/upside options later in drafts. To quote the immortal Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, “If you aren’t first, you’re last.” It is better to go out in a ball of flames due to injuries than finish in the middle of the pack since you weren’t willing to risk taking a chance. Remember, the thrill of the game lies in the potential for triumph.

So, What Exactly is Robust RB?

In simple terms, a Robust RB draft will feature at least three running backs selected within the first five rounds, taking a voluminous approach with the notion that one or two major “booms” will propel you to a championship. Once the initial investment is made at the position, it is disregarded in favor of wide receivers and tight ends to round off the roster instead. The Robust RB best ball strategy is the yin to Zero RB’s yang, by taking multiple shots in the hopes of another Christian McCaffrey-esque season. Having one running back breakout and exceeding projections will place fantasy managers in a good spot to make a deep playoff run. Having several is akin to possessing a Konami cheat code.

When and Why to Implement Robust RB Strategy

If choosing to implement the strategy, it is paramount to be dedicated to the process from the outset rather than shifting to it as a reaction to what the competition is doing. Being fluid and adaptable is still critical, and managers should remember that no blanket tactic wins in all formats, league sizes, and rule structures. There is a reason that so many differing draft strategies have been created within the last decade.

Choosing the Robust RB strategy works best in seasons with deep RB draft classes, where some selections are inheriting the starting role. Their presence will strengthen and bolster a position with a high turnover and short shelf life.

Committee situations have diluted the number of actual “bell-cow” options significantly, so by hoarding away as many running backs with significant roles as possible; Robust RB managers will work on cornering the market on breakout options. Drafting players with considerable upside capable of outperforming their ADP is critical to success – don’t select running backs pigeon-holed into just a short-yardage or passing-down role. Teams such as Detroit, Seattle, or Pittsburgh with a near 50:50 split in backfield touches should be avoided if possible.

More than ever, wide receivers are being pushed up draft boards in favor of their consistency over running backs, coupled with a lower injury rate. Looking at early returns on 2024 ADP rankings, eight of the top eleven players coming off draft boards are wideouts. This shift represents a significant change over the traditional RB-RB-WR start that was commonplace years ago. Robust RB will look to capitalize on and counter that trend.

Robust RB Strategy Fantasy Football Draft Targets

As mentioned earlier, committee situations have limited the number of workhorse RBs in the NFL. If choosing to implement the Robust RB strategy, these are the players who are in line for significant roles with their teams in 2024:

Robust RB: Tier One

Robust RB: Tier Two

Robust RB: Tier Three

Robust RB: Tier Four

Robust RB: Tier Five

The 2024 rookie running back class had plenty of talented options but no true generational talents. Just one player (Jonathan Brooks) was selected in the first two rounds, and every running back drafted in the first three rounds will find themselves amidst a committee situation. Trey Benson, Blake Corum, MarShawn Lloyd, Bucky Irving and Ray Davis have upside, but it would take an injury to the incumbent starter to see the majority of snaps for their respective teams.

Robust RB in Conclusion

Are you willing to risk it for the biscuit? Using the Robust RB strategy isn’t for everyone — it is considered a contrarian play, given the propensity of wide receiver-centric lineups and the track record of injuries at the position. However, cornering the market and addressing the position early will give you a distinct advantage in the chance of a legendary season and championship berth.

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