Wanna Crush Your Dynasty Start-Up in 2020? Easy. Go RB-Heavy. Here's How.
By Daniel Martinho
Fantasy Football Analyst
** summary at bottom
If you've read any of my other articles, you will see that I like to do a couple things in every single article. I provide a summary at the end for those in a hurry, I write about my personal experiences, and I like to set the stage so that you can understand my thinking behind the article. Since the summary is at the end, let's jump right into my thinking behind this article.
The idea for this article came from looking at my past mistakes as a dynasty football manager. When I really started to think about it I realized that I faded the power of running backs in fantasy football way too much. I would always draft wide receiver-heavy, with the mindset that I was going to build a team for the long run since wide receivers last longer than running backs. Wide receivers do have longer life spans than running backs. However, I was using that knowledge in the wrong way. It wasn't until I was chatting with a colleague in the industry that I realized I had the logic all turned around. I sat down and really thought about how I could best capitalize on the fact that wide receivers last longer in the NFL. I finally started to listen to everyone else and realized how deep the wide receiver pool is in the NFL. Also, I was tired of building for the future. I wanted to win now.
That thought was the seed for this article. I wanted to figure out how to best draft running backs in the first five rounds of a dynasty superflex league that would give me a chance to win now. I thought about it for the next couple days and realized that I was going to need to dedicate some time to finding a method that works for me. So I went to the lab and this is what I came up with:
**This is the science behind the article. You can skip this part if you don’t really care about the process and you just want to hear about the results.**
I jumped on the Fantasy Pros Draft Simulator and did 36 simulations all in the span of 24 hours (5/22/20) so that there were no major changes to the rankings of the players. Please keep in mind that their Draft Simulator is just that: a simulation. It uses expert rankings and ADP to draft accordingly. The benefit of this is that I could bust out 36 mock drafts in a single 24-hour period. The one con was that there weren't any human managers drafting against me.
In those 36 mock drafts, I drafted three times each from every draft slot of a 12-team superflex dynasty league. The lineup consisted of 1 QB, 2 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 FLX, and 1 SFLX and used PPR scoring. For each of those 12 slots I used three different strategies:
1. The first time I drafted from a given slot I took five straight RBs.
2. The second time time I drafted from that same exact slot I took four RBs in the first five rounds.
3. And the third and last time I drafted from each given slot I selected three RBs in the first five rounds.
So basically, I started with the 1.01 and drafted five straight RBs and then completed the full draft and categorized the results. Then I started a completely new simulation and drafted from the 1.01 again, this time taking four RBs in the first five rounds. After tabulating those results I again started over at the 1.01, this time only drafting three RBs in the first five rounds. Then I moved on to the 1.02 draft position. My first two picks always consisted of the best running backs available. However, the other picks varied on the best player available depending on which strategy I was using. Once I completed all 36 simulations, I then used the Dynasty 101 Trade Calculator to assign a numerical value to those first five draft picks. I wanted to use a third party so that I was not biased in ranking the teams. What I've written below is what I was able to determine from those results!
** Okay time to pay attention again**
Let's start with the 12 simulations I ran where I selected five running backs in a row. Overall, this strategy gave me the lowest average score for my first five draft picks according to the dynasty 101 calculator. But that was expected since I was passing on higher overall ranked players to pick my 4th and 5th RBs. I did, however, end up with a couple badass groups of RBS. Here are a couple of my favorites:
1. RD 1 E. Elliott | RD 2 J. Jacobs | RD 3 M. Sanders | Rd 4 A. Jones | RD 5 D. Swift
2. RD 1 A. Kamara | RD 2 N. Chubb | RD 3 Edwards-Helaire | RD 4 A. Jones | RD 5 K. Drake
The problem is that this strategy backs you into a corner. There is no way that you could draft a running back in rounds 6-8 without taking a chance on completely ruining your team. The problem that arises when you back yourself into a corner is that your hands are tied when a golden opportunity presents itself.
For instance, in a couple of those simulations, Le'Veon Bell and James Conner were available in the 7th and 8th rounds. No matter what your rankings are for those two, that is an insane value for two backs who have a legit chance to end the season as RB1s, which clearly is league-winning value. If you ultimately decide to pass on that value then you risk it potentially biting you in the ass.
When I averaged the total scores for the 12 simulations I ran where I started the draft with five straight RBs, I had an average score of 8051.16. When you compare that to the strategy of selecting four running backs - which had an average score of 8765.58 - that is a difference of 714 points, which is equivalent to Cam Akers. But that was nothing compared to the value of drafting three running backs in the first five rounds. When I compared the scores between five RBs and three RBs, the difference was equivalent to Kenyon Drake. Those major differences are why I personally will not be starting my 2020 drafts with five straight running backs. Nevertheless, there may be some leagues where it makes sense, so let's see which draft slot had the highest scores when I did draft five straight RBs.
The two highest scores when drafting five straight RBs came out of the 1.06 and the 1.09 draft slots. They were well above average for all 12 simulations when selecting five straight RBs. The 1.06 draft slot scored 8885 points, while the 1.09 tallied 8827 points. Their scores are even comparable to the AVERAGE for the three- and four-RB strategies. However, I will warn you again that even the top score of 8885 points when drafting five straight RBs fell 896 points below the top score when using the three-RB strategy.
Since I keep bringing up how high the score was when selecting three running backs in the first five rounds, let's check out the numbers on those simulations. Using the strategy of drafting three straight RBs actually gave me the top five overall scores. Here is the draft slot and corresponding scoring:
1.05 = 9781 points
1.03 = 9748 points
1.08 = 9548 points
1.02 = 9490 points
1.01 = 9306 points
When using the three-RB strategy, the 1.05 slot produced the highest overall score through five rounds. But just how good were those first five rounds? DAMN GOOD. This is the team that I would consider as close to perfect as possible when using the three-RB strategy:
Rd 1 Zeke | Rd 2 Chubb | RD 3 Sanders | RD 4 Julio Jones | Rd 5 Matt Ryan
One problem with this strategy is that we do not create the running back demand like we see when using the four- or five-RB strategy. Another problem with this team specifically is that it takes a dominant WR like Julio to fall to the 4th round, something that we shouldn't expect to see happen repeatedly.
When I was drafting the above team I was actually supposed to be employing the four-RB strategy, when Julio just fell into my lap. This was one of my first "aha" moments when running these simulations. Do not set your strategy in stone at the beginning of the draft. Do not be afraid to adjust. Be fluid. This "aha" was the first step that led me to one of my recommendations:
Go into your draft with the four-RB strategy in mind. But be ready to adapt on the fly.
If we take a look at the differences between the average scores for all 12 simulations when drafting three RBs versus the average score when drafting 4 RBs, we see that the difference is only 213.33 points. To me, that difference is worth the ability to create more of a RB demand. And the best part is that since you are being fluid, if someone like Julio falls into your lap in the 4th round you can take him and then potentially end up with a highly-ranked team such as the one I mentioned above. Before we jump into the highest average draft slot, let's take a look at the best teams when you end up with four RBs in the first five rounds.
1. 1.02 - 9304 total points:
RD 1 S. Barkley | RD 2 N. Chubb | RD 3 D. Henry | RD 4 K. Drake | RD 5 A. Robinson
2. 1.09 - 9272 total points: RD 1 Zeke | RD 2 J. Mixon | RD 3 A. Jones | Rd 4 A. Ekeler | Rd 5 M. Ryan
These two teams were the 6th and 7th highest-ranked scores out of all the 36 simulations. As mentioned above, the four-RB strategy gives you the ability to create demand and trade later on during the season. Because as we all know, championships aren't won during the draft. They are won by trading. For example, if Austin Ekeler or Kenyan Drake play as well as they did in 2019, they will be worth a lot more than where you drafted them, and you could trade them to a RB-needy team for a WR that went in the 2nd or 3rd round. Remember earlier when I mentioned how Le'Veon Bell and James Conner fell into the 7th and 8th rounds, but I couldn't take advantage because I already had five RBs on my squad? Well, using the four-RB strategy instead means that I can now select at least one of those two, capitalizing on that potential league-winning value.
Now let's focus on two important outcomes: which draft slots had the highest scores when we add together the scores from all three strategies, and which draft slot had the lowest score. After all, what good is mastering the RB-Heavy draft strategy if we never know when to employ it?
The first thing that stood out to me was that the top four had a pattern, in that they were side by side. According to these simulations, the best place to draft RB-Heavy is either with the 1.08, 1.02, 1.09 or 1.01. When looking at all the 1.08 and 1.09 teams, it became evident to me that the simulation may have been very low on Ezekiel Elliott. In the six drafts I did from the 1.08 and 1.09 slots, he unexpectedly fell to me five times. Of course that may not happen in your league, but it's something to keep in mind. One thing that blew me away was that Alvin Kamara, who is closely ranked to Zeke, fell in all six exercises. This brings me to another great point: just because I choose Zeke over Kamara every time doesn't mean that you have to. Many players are interchangeable, and where you draft them will often times depend upon your personal rankings.
Now let's go back to the best draft slot to go RB-Heavy. The 1.01 and 1.02 are spots where I believe you should not consider any other option besides going RB-Heavy in the first five rounds, especially because you are going to end up with Christian McCaffrey or Barkley on your team. I mean, check out these lineups when you go RB-Heavy from the 1.01 and 1.02:
Drafting from the 1.01 and taking four RBs :
RD1 S. Barkley | RD 2 CEH | RD 3 D. Henry | RD 4 M. Ryan | RD 5 K. Drake |
Drafting from the 1.02 and taking four RBs:
RD 1 S. Barkley | RD 2 N. Chubb | RD 3 D. Henry | RD 4 K. Drake | RD 5 A. Robinson
*Keep in mind that based upon ADP, Miles Sanders can usually be swapped out for Henry, and Austin Ekeler/Leonard Fournette can usually be swapped out for Drake, all depending on your preference.
When looking at how low the scores were for the 1.11 and 1.12 draft slots, I recommend considering another strategy, unless a major value falls to you.
Alright, so what about the full team? A fantasy draft is way more than five rounds!
Listen, I realize that trying to determine which was the "best" team out of all the 36 simulations might just end up being a matter of opinion or personal preference. To try to make this assessment less arbitrary, I used the scores assigned to each drafted team by the Fantasy Pros Draft Simulator in order to figure out which were the "best" two teams. Of course, this is not a 100% accurate way to determining the top two teams. I simply just wanted to show you what a full team could look like when employing these strategies. I also wanted to focus on the factor that kick-started this article in the first place: the fact that the WR position in the NFL is incredibly deep.
I ended up with two teams that were awarded a post-draft ranking of 98 out of 100. Here are the full rosters:
The first thing that I noticed about these two dominant teams was that the draft slots were both in the middle of the draft. This was a surprise to me because I've always felt that either the beginning or the end o