Challenge Contests — by Justin Eleff
Not everything you know about fantasy football is wrong. But ...
Posted Aug. 25 at 06:10 AM
In 2006, Ian Allan opened the Running Backs section of our annual magazine with a four-letter abbreviation: RBBC. By now you know that it stands for Running Back By Committee. Back then, Ian agreed that it was getting to be a problem in fantasy football.
This year's Running Backs section opens as follows:
You hear a lot of talk nowadays about how more and more NFL teams are switching to a committee approach at running back. It's just too hard for one back to carry the load, so the smart strategy is to divide the work between multiple backs.
This change in the NFL landscape, the theory goes, could dramatically alter the world of fantasy football -- if the full-time running back has gone the way of the dinosaur, then it no longer makes sense to target that position in the first round.
It all sounds good, except that none of it is true. When you look at the numbers, it's actually the opposite. More and more running backs are reaching the 1,000-yard mark, and the number of 10-touchdown scorers keeps rising.
I did some editing work on this year's magazine. Running Backs was one of the sections I looked at. To be honest, I found that opening disagreeable. No doubt that was partly because I have done my share of talking about how more and more teams have gone to committees; Ian was rejecting a premise I had personally assumed to be true.
But it was more than that. The opening nagged me. I kept coming back to it, kept thinking -- like a bad detective in a worse movie -- something was just not quite right.
I saw a draft of the Running Backs section in May -- which makes three full months that I have been thinking about this, an embarrassing length of time. But gradually I've gotten to where the nagging feeling I had at first is more of a composed thought.
Over the next week -- just in time to help shape your draft, I hope -- I'm going to try to convince you that how you've been thinking about RBBC is not quite right, either. Maybe you'll read what I write and your thinking will shift. Maybe you'll go away thinking I'm a nitwit, and this exercise will only reinforce opinions you already hold.
Either way, I believe we should all be thinking about the following. I believe this will prove to be a valuable use of your time. Here we go.
* * *
If you've found this article at all -- if you've found this website -- you've already taken one more step than those of your leaguemates who'll do the minimum possible preparation for your draft. Everyone looks at the mock drafts at ESPN.com. Not everyone discovers Ian's work. So congratulations. That one step suggests that you want to win your league, not just avoid embarrassment.
So ask yourself: What would winning your league really mean?
Figuring that the typical fantasy league consists of a dozen teams, in most cases it would mean being right more times, in making more decisions, than eleven other people. That's no Herculean task -- not when at least half of the people you meet are drooling idiots -- but it's not the easiest thing in the world either. Eleven other owners make for a lot of variables. Different draft strategies and ownership styles come into play in every league. Different effort levels. Different auto-draft rankings at the different websites.
The most efficient way to beat eleven people at once is to be right about something that they all have wrong.
With that in mind, I direct your attention to the one most widely held belief in fantasy football -- the one thing that owners at all levels of commitment and preparedness can agree on:
In the first round, you take a running back.
Of course there are years when a quarterback or wide receiver looks especially likely to dominate his position and the league, and even in other years not everyone sticks to the script, but the smartest move in the first round is to take a running back. All of your leaguemates believe this. So the very most efficient way to beat them would be if they were wrong.
And this is why what Ian wrote bugged me so much: In my gut, in my 34 years on this planet, I have come to believe that most people are wrong about most things. Being a contrarian usually gets you closer to being right than going with the crowd does. I say again: At least half of the people you meet are drooling idiots. And the fact that the others don't drool doesn't necessarily mean ...
Yet here was Ian, the one fantasy analyst I trust most, the person I think is best at this job, writing that "it no longer makes sense to target that position in the first round ... except that none of it is true." Here was Ian, going with the crowd. In my gut I knew he was wrong. I just couldn't say why.
I did have an easy way to counter part of what he had written. "More and more running backs are reaching the 1,000-yard mark" -- OK, but in the last two seasons, two running backs have reached that mark precisely because their teams used a committee approach. Derrick Ward was a No. 2 back behind Brandon Jacobs in 2008; Jonathan Stewart was a No. 2 (for the most part) while DeAngelo Williams was healthy in 2009. Is it just a coincidence that only five teams in NFL history have produced two 1,000-yard running backs, but now two teams have done it in two years?
Then again, Ward and Stewart are only two guys. Ian wasn't talking about two guys when he wrote that "[i]n the last decade, running backs went over 1,000 yards 177 times. That's 36 more than either the '80s or the '90s."
If Ian was wrong, something else was wrong here. Something bigger. Something -- actually, more than one something. When it finally hit me, I realized I'd been nagged not by one thought but by two.
* * *
My first nagging thought:
RBBC is not a problem we have to contend with in the first round of any draft.
Duh. This seems obvious now, but if Ian can conflate the central concepts -- and, again, I trust Ian's analysis more than anyone else's; I rely more heavily on Fantasy Index Weekly than on any other fantasy resource -- if Ian can move directly from "if the full-time running back has gone the way of the dinosaur" to "it no longer makes sense to target that position in the first round," anyone can.
But think about this.
With very few exceptions, the true committee backfields do not sneak up on us. Heading into the 2010 season you can be absolutely certain that carries will be split in Dallas, Kansas City, New England, New Orleans, Oakland, Washington, and of course by the Giants (with Ahmad Bradshaw in Ward's old role) and Panthers. How many backs on any of those eight teams would you consider taking in the first round of a draft? Williams in Carolina, maybe?
RBBC isn't a first-round problem. It may be a problem that keeps you from taking certain players in the first round, but your top pick isn't suddenly going to fall into a timeshare. In fact, if anything, RBBC might push running backs into the first round, not out of it. Here we are in 2010, and Cedric Benson and Rashard Mendenhall are somehow very attractive players. Who saw that coming 18 months ago?
So even if Ian was right that RBBC is not a growing problem -- that it "has been with us all along," as the Running Backs section eventually concludes -- the fact is, that's largely a separate issue from whether (as the section also concludes) "there are still plenty of good running backs to target in the first and second rounds." The bigger a problem RBBC got to be, the earlier we would have to target running backs -- because fewer and fewer backs would have more than fractional jobs.
In other words, if Ian was right that our RBBC troubles have been overstated, it seems to me that he was exactly wrong to sign off on targeting running backs near the top of a draft. The more players who reach the 1,000-yard mark, and the more 10-touchdown scorers there are, the more sense it makes to wait on picking any of them.
But that was only part of what bothered me.
* * *
My second nagging thought:
What are all of these first-round running backs actually doing for the teams that take them?
This is why you'll want to read next week, too. This is what bugged me most over the last three months -- with good reason. But to get to the bottom of it ...
Look, in order to understand how so many people in so many leagues could be wrong -- eleven-twelfths of all fantasy owners, just not you -- we're going to have to do some work. Knowing that the people you meet are idiots is not the same as proving it. In this case, proof will require that we reframe our conversation.
It may be interesting in an academic sense that there were many more 1,000-yard rushers in the '00s than in the '80s or '90s, but knowing that hardly helps you get ready for this year's draft. Look over the leaderboards from the '80s and '90s and you'll see names like Lynn Cain (9th in rushing yards, 1980) and Mark Higgs (also 9th, 1991) -- names so much less than half-remembered that they might belong to middle relief pitchers, or to Marvin Hagler's sparring partners.
So forget comparing one decade to another; one decade by itself is plenty to chew on. Remember, it was 2006 before Ian wrote his first RBBC opening to a Running Backs section. What happened at the position earlier in the '00s?
That, it turns out, is a very good question.
This under-articulated sense so many of us have that running back is a different position now than it used to be, that even as we continue to take runner after runner in first round after first round, something fundamental has changed -- this is a recent development. No one was talking about RBBC in 1999, let alone 1989. But when you compare only the last few seasons, when people have been talking about it, to the seasons just before them ...
Actually, hold that thought.
Before we get into comparisons, ask yourself exactly what we should be comparing. In this year's magazine Ian wrote that "[m]ore and more running backs are reaching the 1,000-yard mark, and the number of 10-touchdown scorers keeps rising," and concluded partly on that basis that "there are still plenty of good running backs to target in the first and second rounds." But, again, my sense of this is that as more players reach 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, it makes less sense to target any of them early on. You can afford to wait on what will continue to be available. The most important factor in your decision to pick a running back in the first (or second) round should not be how many good backs there are, but how good each one of them is.
That is, we ought to make a different comparison than the one Ian has suggested -- not merely counting the 1,000-yard rushers and 10-touchdown scorers, but gauging the performance of the best ones from recent seasons against the performance of the best ones from previous (but still recent) seasons.
Q: How many running backs are taken in the first round of a typical fantasy draft?
A: Again figuring that the typical league consists of a dozen teams, I'd say more than 6 but fewer than 11. We could call any number in that range our best guess and not be far wrong; I've gone with 10 for today's purposes, but I've done enough math to know that what I'm about to show you also works at 7 and 8 and 9.
Q: Whatever the number of first-round backs, is there a difference in how we might expect them to perform now as opposed to a few years ago -- not in the '80s or '90s, but in the '00s?
A: This is what you've been thinking as RBBC has become a more and more constant topic of conversation. Below are the average fantasy points earned by the top 10 running backs in each year of the last decade -- not the top 10 according to any preseason publication, but the ones who actually finished each season with the highest totals (according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, which uses the standard 1 point per 10 yards rushing or receiving and 6 points per touchdown, and also accounts for the odd passing statistics that running backs occasionally produce):
'00: 273 points
'01: 247 points
'02: 284 points
'03: 287 points
'04: 258 points
'05: 270 points
'06: 277 points
'07: 229 points
'08: 241 points
'09: 245 points
The three worst seasons of the decade -- at least for the best running backs -- were the last three. From 2000 to 2006, the top 10 fantasy backs averaged 271 points per man per year. From 2007 to 2009, they averaged 238. Maybe this is a multiyear aberration, and the position has not actually changed. Or maybe Ian was a year early when he wrote about how it was changing in 2006. Either way, this much is fact: When you owned a top 10 running back over the last three seasons, you could expect him to be about 12 percent less productive than a top 10 back from earlier in the decade.
And that's when you succeeded in finding a top 10 back in the first place.
Bear in mind that looking only at how the top 10 backs of each season performed skews our numbers significantly in the direction of justifying high draft picks. But it isn't easy to get those picks right. Again, I believe Ian is the best analyst in this business. I trust him with my own teams; through the years I've "earned" thousands of dollars by following his advice.
But his top 10 running backs in 2006 (at least as they appeared in the magazine)? In order: Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Tiki Barber, Clinton Portis, Ronnie Brown, Rudi Johnson, Edgerrin James, Steven Jackson and LaMont Jordan.
How they finished among all running backs in that season's fantasy rankings (again according to Pro-Football-Reference.com): 2nd, 1st, 28th, 7th, 36th, 25th, 9th, 20th, 3rd and 55th, respectively.
Players get hurt, team circumstances change, and even the best fantasy analyst isn't perfect. Whether or not you find real meaning in the drop in production of the top running backs over the last three seasons, one thing you know for sure on draft day is that none of the preseason rankings you consult will match the year-end leaderboards.
I know this is a lot to digest. Lately I can't write a single word without writing 2,500 of them. (Except on Twitter; follow me at twitter.com/FantasyIndexJE.) So take the weekend to recover, and then come back fresh for part two.
The briefest of previews:
Remember how I wrote that the most important factor in your decision to pick a running back in the first round should not be how many good backs there are?
Eventually, that does get to be important.
Posted by IAN ALLAN | Aug. 25 at 06:46 AM
I've swapped a few e-mails with Justin on this. I think the whole RBBC has grown out of teams using fullbacks less and less. In the past, teams would have fullbacks who'd run for 400 yards and 4-5 TDs. Think of guys like Tom Rathman, Matt Suhey Rocky Bleier and John L. WIlliams. Now, the fullbacks on the vasty majority are pretty much exclusively blockers. With those ballhandling fullbacks gone, there's about an extra 100 rushing attempts that have to be picked up. It's not physically feasible to ask the starting tailback to absorb those (he's already carrying a full load), so we're seeing the No. 2 tailbacks handling the ball more than in the past. But the amount of work those No. 1 tailbacks are getting, I think, isn't really changing all that much.
Posted by JON COSTA | Aug. 25 at 06:47 AM
This is offically one of the most ridiculous articles I have ever read on this site, and while it is suggested that it will be continued next week, making at least somewhat of an actual point would have been appropriate. A few less cups of coffee before your next article would be recomended...
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 25 at 07:42 AM
Jon: That's the spirit. Either you'll like the next one better, or someone who does could put a few theories to the test in your next draft. I'm not sure we know which theories will prove to be right. I'm not sure we'll know for several seasons yet. But I'll say this much: I've drafted differently the last two years, and it's worked beautifully. More on that next week, as promised. I'll try hard to make at least somewhat of an actual point.
Posted by Jason Spann | Aug. 25 at 08:27 AM
My take on the subject is, with fewer RBs getting the lion's share of the carries on a team, those RBs that are, are even more valuable first round picks than they used to be. Also, I think a better way to look at the top 10 each year is by plotting them on a graph. The affects of RBBC could be seen by the slope of the line getting larger in recent years. The larger the slope, the more valuable the guys are at the top.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 25 at 08:38 AM
Jason: You're thinking along the right lines, but you may be surprised next week.
Posted by Christian Adams | Aug. 25 at 09:13 AM
i would like to know the percentages of successes/failures throughout the years of ian's top 10 at each position. using his preseason sheet, is it more likely to land a top 10 performer at wr/qb than rb? my first instinct says probably, because rbs touch the ball more and absorb more contact so they're more likely to be get hurt. my buddy and i were recently discussing this very topic. we play in a 16-team league and were trying to decide if taking a rb in round one is still a fantasy football "law". we decided that in a larger league, it becomes more important. the main reason is because if you don't take a wr and he busts, it hurts way more than a rb. at least if you take a rb (jacobs last year) your wrs and other rbs (there are more 1000 yarders and 10 plus td scorers) can help carry you. but if you take a wr who is supposed to be great (calvin johnson) and he gives you a 1100 6 td year, great. but those 1100 yards and 6 tds are what a mediocre first round back give you in a bust year. what if your wr goes 850 and 4? then you're sitting there with a bust at wr in round one and your team is then surrounded by later-round rbs. of course, you could get lucky and draft a top 10 performer in later rounds but the odds are more likely you will select a beast in round one. then again, you have to go with your gut. i have pick 8 and am trying to fight the urge to take andre johnson if he's there. this article interested me instantly. it's a tough decision, i can't decide what to do yet. looking forward to the next article.
Posted by IAN ALLAN | Aug. 25 at 09:36 AM
There's no question that the batting average is higher at wide receiver. We know how the guys are who are going to catch 90-plus passes and 10 TDs. You have fewer surprise players at those positions. At running back, you get more guys being elevated into big roles via injury. I'm aware that Miles Austin was an exception last year. There are exceptions. But there's something to be said for selecting big-time receivers first, then filling in the running back position with less-heralded players.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 25 at 09:41 AM
Christian: I don't have easy access to the numbers to back this up, but I'm virtually certain that EVERY analyst's rate of misses is higher at RB than the other positions. Among other things, RBs just take more beatings; they get hurt and worn down more; that's why one fantasy "law" has always been that you stop picking an RB after he turns 30. At the other positions, no such law. So you're right, probably; if you do buck the conventional wisdom and go away from RB in the first round, being wrong about your guy will hurt, a lot. Part of the reason for bucking the conventional wisdom in the first place is the smaller chance of picking a bust. Then again, a bust is a bust is a bust, and the right answer is always simply to avoid picking one. I'd rather own almost any late-round RB than Terrell Davis in 1999 ...
Posted by IAN ALLAN | Aug. 25 at 09:55 AM
That's a pet peeve of mine. That deal about not selecting 30-year-old running backs. Completely bogus. If you look at the numbers, you'll see a ton of good running backs who are 30. It's at 31, in my opinion, where you start getting worried and at 32 where everybody tends to fall over dead. If we had 12 fingers instead of 10, nobody would be suggesting that we stay away from 30-year-old running backs (well, 26-year-old running backs in the adjusted base-12 numbering system).
Posted by JON COSTA | Aug. 25 at 10:02 AM
Justin: How exactly have you "drafted differently the last two years, and it's worked beautifully"?? Be specific. I suppose that is my main issue with the article. I get what direction you are heading, but you do not give specifics about what you are suggesting. Many drafts are this week/weekend. Would be great to hear your SPECIFIC suggested drafting method prior to that. thanks.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 25 at 11:33 AM
Ian: No question, I'll accept 32 instead of 30. But it's still not a rule for QBs and WRs.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 25 at 11:50 AM
Jon: I haven't taken a running back before Round 5. I'm not saying that's the magic round, but it has worked. It's left me with a woeful mix of guys like Matt Forte and Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton in 2008, and Ray Rice and a whole lot of nothing in 2009 (until Fred Jackson emerged), but I've had the strongest teams in most of my leagues by far. We'll have to combine everyone's ideas; Christian is right that you can't afford to miss in the first round on a QB or WR, but that shouldn't be a problem. And Ian is right, I think, that Arian Foster is the one guy who's most attractive among this year's absolute afterthoughts. But the plan can work with other guys, too. Next week's piece explains more of why I think we should go this way, and attempts to explain where the bargains should be at running back. But that's in terms of where they rank, not in terms of who they are. We'll have to have the right guys; you'll have to find an analyst whose rankings you trust; nine years in ten, including 2010, I'm sticking with Ian. But the fact that we have to be a little lucky about getting exactly the right guys is no less true in the first round most years. I mean, you were significantly better off with C.J. than Maurice Jones-Drew in 2009, but few drafts went that way. And you were best off with DeAngelo Williams and Michael Turner in 2008, and no drafts went that way.
Posted by DAVID DIGREGORIO | Aug. 25 at 12:24 PM
Ian's top 10 RB picks from 2006 had a 50% success rate. An article at ESPN compared the top 20 preseason RBs with the end of season top 20 RBs. Only 11 names (55%) were on both lists. Since production is more predictable at the other positions (except K), are you going to tell us to go super cheap at RB to get more expensive and reliable QBs and WRs, and use our picks to acquire emerging RBs as the season progresses? I'm using this strategy in a couple PPR leagues.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 25 at 12:39 PM
David: One worry. This isn't really a challenges column. Sorry; we're working on getting the header changed. In the meantime, in the challenges, no, I think we can afford a mix of RBs at different salaries. Stick with this for now; WRs coming soon: http://www.fantasyindex.com/content_sections/display_entry/2674.
Posted by DAVID DIGREGORIO | Aug. 25 at 01:02 PM
OK. But just playing around with the numbers, I took the cheapest RBs I could justify using (Foster, Hightower, Williams, Spiller, Matthews, and Best). With these RBs I have Manning, Brees and Kolb at QB. I could have Finley and Celek at TE. I could have Buehler, Hartley and Bryant at K. And I could have D Jackson, A Johnson, C Johnson, Moss, Floyd and Nicks at WR. The line up came in at 30,000 even. You would dominate the WR and QB positions, have great line up flexibility, and, just maybe win.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 25 at 02:04 PM
I don't know. You'd be sacrificing rushing yards and rushing average for sure - those are a full 25% of the game - at least until other cheap backs emerged. I mean, I'm not sure I'd have Hightower on a list of backs I could "justify using." But just cutting back a little - out with Brees, in with Rodgers, etc. - would at least let you get Turner in for one of the RBs. I'd say the idea has some merit, just has to be used in moderation. It's also a very good argument for including players you can't afford to start initially on your taxi squad; if C.J. happened to get hurt, so Ringer was a play, having Brees or D.Jackson or whomever already on the roster would pay off.
Posted by CURT GOLDGRABE | Aug. 26 at 12:40 AM
I looked back on my successful seasons vs unsuccessful ones and discovered exactly what Justin and a few others are describing--I was much better (and won my league) when I had two high-quality WR's and a top TE with middle of the road RB's (and even QB's). The guy that won our league last year had the same formula. RBBC makes those guys value players--opening up consistent WR's and TE's as the anchors of my team this year. Sure, Chris Johnson by himself will score as many points as two mediocre RB's, but the cost to get him, and the dropoff in talent from there compromises the rest of my positions. I'm buying in!
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 26 at 01:49 AM
Curt: Naturally it's harder (in terms of temptation as well as everything else) when you draw a top 2 draft slot. Part of what I think I'm observing may come from the very nature of serpentine drafts - contrary to the belief of many, it may simply be best to have a draft slot somewhere in the middle of Round 1, so you never pick at the end of any round. But I can tell you this: Last year a friend of mine drew the top pick in his PPR league. I helped him with the draft; we took Larry Fitzgerald No. 1 overall. This drew mockery from the league, and Fitz didn't have many really huge weeks, but that team still lapped the field in total points.
Posted by JON COSTA | Aug. 26 at 03:41 AM
So Justin, just to confirm prior to my draft tomorrow, your suggestion in a normal 10 man league with a snake draft and i have the 7th overall pick, I should go WR/WR/QB/WRorTE/RB/RB? I am starting to buy into the idea a little, and think i have a farily good spot to try this technique (potentially grabbing a Moss/Megatron type of combo). I see a draft with that strategy landing me a Moss/Megatron/Rivers/Owens/Aadai/R.Williams type of team, versus a Turner/Mendenhall/Smith(car)/Owens/Kolb type of team........
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 26 at 04:45 AM
Jon: Without being too inflexible about it, yes, that's the idea. Stated most simply, because too many teams will take RBs early on, they'll be fighting each other for RBs who keep getting lower in your rankings, while in the first few rounds you'll still be picking from much higher up your QB/WR rankings. Meanwhile you'll have a few RBs targeted, and if they fall to you where they provide good value, you'll take them. I mean, I might well take Turner if he was there at No. 7 - I like him a lot; I have him No. 3 among all RBs. But if Turner were gone (along with C.J. and Peterson), I wouldn't settle for MJ-D. I'd go QB or WR. Maintain the flexibility to grab a RB you think has clearly fallen farther than he should (if that happens at all; most years it won't happen before Round 4), but otherwise I think we're on the same page. Build a core of Moss/Megatron/Rivers/Owens, as you suggest, or of Brees/Austin/Jennings/Gates, or however it works out, and then be sure to grab a few of the lower-down RBs you like best. Either of those first four with Foster or Moreno looks very strong to me. Or maybe Jonathan Stewart falls because of his platoon situation. Or C.J. Spiller does because he's the only exciting Bill. Just have targets, decide where you'd take each one and take him if he's there.
Posted by Christian Adams | Aug. 26 at 06:23 AM
Justin. This is such a great topic. It's something we all battle in our own minds each and every year and will probably continue to be a brain-wrecking decision as long as fantasy football exists. The only thing I know definitively is that RBs touch the ball more than other positions. This is a good/bad thing due to increased opportunities/injuries. QBs obviously touch the ball every play but they don't take the same punishment and generally their successes are not rewarded as handsomely as the skill positions (4 pt TDs compared to 6 pt TDs). How/would you adjust your advice on taking a RB in first as a "must" in a league with 16 teams as opposed to the traditional 12? I believe it becomes even more paramount. I'm picking 8th this season and the 8th overall player is generally Andre Johnson. If everything falls according to plan based on Ian's sheet I'll have a tough time leaving him on the board. However, when I think about selecting my number one RB 24 picks into the draft, leaving Andre (or another WR) for another "sucker" to take in the first round becomes more tempting. One more question - and this is for anyone who would like to contribute to the topic, not just Justin - Our league's MAXIMUM starters are 2 RB while our MINIMUM starters are 3 WR/TE. I've had endless conversations with other fantasy owners whom I trust and respect about this very topic. Most people do still agree that RB in round one is the most logical move, and that the more people that think that way the more important it actually becomes. However, fantasy football is won by taking risks. It's about zigging when everyone else is zagging. That's a rule I've always stood by and it has paid off (figuratively and literally) more than it hasn't. However, I still can't decide if going round one QB/WR is "zagging" or just being stupid. I understand no statistic or quantifiable numbers can provide any of us an "absolute truth" to this endless question. No matter what, we leave the website/magazine/article and are still stuck in the same pickle. But it is definitely worth talking about. One of my arguments when I'm trying to argue pro-first-round-wr is that in our league we have to start 3 while we can only start 2 RB. This argument has gained even more steam since RBBC came into effect and more and more RB are putting up big numbers. Just adding to the mix, seeing what you guys think.
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 26 at 07:01 AM
Christian: My take is roughly as follows, and this should be useful for Jason Spann as well, as he's been asking about 16-team leagues at Twitter: No question, a bigger league adds risk, in that picks are slower to come back around to you. I'm not sold on treating any one approach as always right; instead I focus on the specific players who might make each approach work in a given season. In 2008 I loved Chris Johnson and Matt Forte coming off of the preseason, and I was certain I could get both relatively late. That freed me up to try this early QB/WR approach. Last year I loved Ray Rice just as much. This year I do love a bunch of guys, several of whom I've named in previous comments - so the general approach becomes partly about those guys specifically. I can always adjust if a guy I'm targeting goes before I can take him, but I'll be disappointed. I want Arian Foster and not Cadillac Williams, etc. It seems to me that when first-round RBs are nearly as susceptible to going bust as later-round RBs, it makes sense to wait PROVIDED that I can more or less control which of the later-round running backs I wind up with. But in a 16-team league, especially with a pick at either end of the rounds, that gets much harder. Harder to predict exactly which players will go when, thus harder to control which mix of later-round RBs you wind up with, thus (to the extent that your rankings of the later-round RBs were accurate) harder to make the approach work. Mind you, I would still go this way; I'm increasingly convinced that it's the best approach in most draft leagues, as long as others keep sticking to the first-round script. But it's not for the weak-of-stomach. Ask yourself if you can live with the second tier among your second-tier running backs, so to speak. If not, I guess play it as safe as your first-rounder turns out to be.
Posted by JON COSTA | Aug. 26 at 12:16 PM
your thoughts on 3wr minimum that christian mentioned? does that even further increase the need to draft one in the first?
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 26 at 12:54 PM
Jon: As a general rule, the more players you have to own at any position, the more important that position becomes. Leagues requiring teams to use 2 RBs and 2 WRs basically require those teams to use twice as many NFL starters at RB as at WR. It's not exact, because it's not accurate to say that every NFL team treats exactly 1 RB and exactly 2 WRs as starters, but you see the point. The 24th-best RB is a much worse player to have to use than the 24th-best WR, but the 24th-best RB vs. the 36th-best WR is getting closer. So the more WRs a league adds, the more you want to avoid having the bottom WRs among all the ones being used in the league, and the more you want to take your WRs early. First round isn't essential. I wouldn't say the first round should definitely be used on any one position in any league in any season; these games are take-what-they-give-you as much as anything else. But the more players I had to start at any position, the less inclined I'd be to dawdle before taking my first one. Another point, and it's essential: This year I'm especially confident that the perception of some "top" RBs' value is off by a lot. I think players like Rashard Mendenhall are being drastically overvalued specifically because of their no-committee status, where a number of backs stuck in platoons are really good players. I don't just mean Jonathan Stewart, but also Ahmad Bradshaw, Jamaal Charles, Felix Jones, Pierre Thomas and others. You can roll the dice on any of those guys as mid-rounders with my full blessing - just wait for whichever ones fall a bit - whereas I'd never suggest using a first-round pick on Mendenhall. Maybe I'm wrong about him, but one thing I'm not - ever - is afraid to be wrong.
Posted by JON COSTA | Aug. 27 at 02:02 AM
Justin, i think you have convinced me from the #7th spot of my 10-man league to take a WR in the first two rds, followed by a top tier QB in the 3rd, and then switch over to TE/RB focus. My formula will essentially be two elite WR's, a top 5 QB, and several 2nd tier RB's (the likes of Ronnie Brown, Jonathan Stewart, and Felix Jones. I must admit, this strategy makes me nervous as i would typically go RB/WR/best avail QB.....but if your analysis on holding off on RB's to select the more consistent annual WR and QB performers is correct, then this should pay off nicely. I will say one thing...i will definietly be hearing it from the peanut gallery when i select back to back WR's in my first two rounds!
Posted by JON COSTA | Aug. 27 at 02:06 AM
ps - with the way Rogers looked last night...Im inclined to take him with the 7th pick!! wow!
Posted by JUSTIN ELEFF | Aug. 27 at 05:04 AM
Jon: In that PPR league in which we took Fitz No. 1 overall, we were MOCKED. My favorite line was: "You have played fantasy football before, right?" Have to love that from my perspective, as (a) it's through-and-through absurd, and (b) the guy who asked the question only cemented himself as exactly the kind of drooling idiot who makes the plan work in the first place. We averaged roughly 12 pts. more than he did PER WEEK for the full season in running away with total points. But a couple of notes: 1. Please, please don't lock your thinking up as tight as "I'm going WR/WR/QB in the first three." I want you to maintain the flexibility to go off plan and take a bargain RB if one presents himself. I mean, if Chris Johnson fell to No. 7, you'd have to take him for trade value alone. Won't happen, but let's not be so doctrinaire that we get to the point of saying, "Can't take this obvious bargain; he ruins the plan." 2. Since you ARE likely to feel some remorse as your RB corps gets intuitively uglier, maybe do this: Join at least one other league, and draft on your usual theory there. I don't want to be responsible for killing your whole season if your particular mix of second-tier RBs craps out - and no one approach works every time in every league in every season. So do it my way once and your way once this season; we'll get you more comfortable and refine the approach going forward. So BE FLEXIBLE and HEDGE THE BET. I know I sound like I'm waffling, and I don't mean to; I absolutely do believe in what I've written so far and will continue next week. But these games are as much as anything about having fun by testing your own theories. Don't let my judgment substitute for your enjoyment.
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