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Fantasy Football Advice: Drafting RBs too Early

Fantasy Football Advice: Drafting RBs too Early
By Matt Mills on February 13, 2013

When it comes to fantasy football, there are two keys to having a successful season.  You must be prepared and have done your homework.  Very rarely does someone show up to a serious fantasy football league draft without having at least looked over some position rankings, season projections, etc. and come out on top.  If you play fantasy sports, you've already acknowledged the fact that you have a little bit of nerd in you.  Just own it.  Read as many articles as you can, check out some projections, partake in some mock fantasy drafts.  Do everything you can to be as prepared as possible when your draft day gets here.

Aside from being prepared and doing your homework, the biggest key to experiencing success in fantasy football is the ability to be flexible during your draft.  I can't stress this enough.  This past season, the ability to be flexible when drafting my team has never been more prevalent in personally experiencing a ton of fantasy football success.  I'll get to that in a moment.

The number one question I am asked by my friends when it comes to fantasy football is something along the lines of 'Who are you going to draft first?'  To me, the first thing you have to address when being asked this question is what your feelings are on drafting a quarterback versus a running back with your first pick.  When I first started playing fantasy football, over a decade ago, it was a common belief that it's always best to draft a running back in the first few picks.  I'd be really interested to hear from readers who still think along those lines, exactly why that is.

I am most definitely not one of them, for a number of reasons.  The first hurdle for drafting a running back in the first few picks came about three to five years ago when teams started switching from a feature-back system to a two-back system.  Since then, it's evolved one step further, as now a lot of teams have a running back-by-committee system--relying on three backs to produce for them.  There are a select few teams who still implement a feature-back system...Minnesota, Houston and Tampa Bay are the three teams that stick out. Which is why it's no surprise that Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and second-year starter Doug Martin are atop most people's short list of top running backs in terms of fantasy football early in the 2013 NFL offseason.

The second, and biggest hurdle for drafting a running back in the first few picks came within the last two to three years when the NFL started changing the rules of the game and the things defensive players are allowed to do in the name of "player safety".  By not allowing defensive backs and linebackers to touch a receiver after their first five yards, the NFL has made it nearly impossible to play old-school defense in the NFL (unless you're the Seattle Seahawks).  That, combined that with the fact that you can't even breath on a quarterback without getting a 15-yard penalty, and we are to a point in the NFL where the game is significantly easier for the offense than it is the defense.

All of those things considered, I'm one of the fantasy owners who advocates always taking a top quarterback in your draft over a top running back.  Now, that's not to say that I would suggest drafting someone like Matthew Stafford over Peterson with the ninth pick in your draft.  It's just that with everything being equal, I am always going to target a guy like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning over a top back like All Day or Arian Foster.

Coming in to the 2012 season, I had a specific strategy when it came to my first-round pick.  I wanted a top quarterback, and if it was at all possible, I wanted Tom Brady above everyone else.  I would have been totally fine if I ended up with Drew Brees or even Aaron Rodgers, but I wanted Brady.  I didn't have the first few overall picks in any of my leagues, and luckily for me, Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees were popular picks for owners who found themselves owning the top picks and I was able to land the Golden Boy in more leagues than not.

Remember when I told you that being flexible is a key element in having fantasy success in your draft?  Also, remember when I told you that it's best to just own being a fantasy sports nerd?  Well, here are two examples of practicing what I preach.

This past summer, I moved to San Diego.  I was just starting a new job and wasn't yet accustomed to a new, big city and hadn't met too many people there right off the bat.  Long story short, when fantasy football season rolled around, I was still spending a lot of time in the apartment.  The league invites kept coming, and I found myself interested in playing in more leagues this past season than ever before.  When everything was said and done, I found myself in ten leagues, and was beginning to question just how big of a nerd I really am.  Luckily, things played out quite well for me, and I ended up winning seven of the ten leagues (there's nothing wrong with a little shameless, self-promotion, right?!).  Draft-day flexibility was a huge reason why.

2012 marked Doctor Torch's 26-man roster Dynasty League's inaugural season, and GRANDMA'S BOYS AND GIRLS was sitting with the ninth overall pick in a 10-team draft.  I watched Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster, Drew Brees, Ray Rice, Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson, LeSean McCoy and Cam Newton come off the board before my first pick and I was looking at an extremely tough decision.

I decided to throw my draft strategy out the window, and went with Chicago Bears running back, Matt Forte with the ninth overall pick.  I followed that up by drafting Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson with the twelfth pick.  I know, I know, I just wrote a lengthy article telling you why I think that it's not a wise strategy to target running backs early in your draft, and then I tell you I did just that this past season.  There's a reason for that.

To me, there wasn't going to be a big difference in the production I could get out of the 4th through 10th ranked quarterbacks on my big board.  Keep in mind, before the 2012 season, no one saw the production that rookies Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck were going to give you--at least I didn't.  I decided to wait for a quarterback (in hopes that I could get Peyton Manning in the fifth round; I did) and went with St. Louis Rams running back Stephen Jackson and New England Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd in the third-and-fourth rounds.

Having seen my first four picks from this draft and knowing the seasons they had, you're probably asking yourself why you would listen to any of the fantasy advice I give you.  You'd also probably be pretty shocked to know that I actually won this league's Championship, and be asking yourself how on earth is that possible.

Well, a specific answer to that question would be to tell you that I made an early-season Blockbuster trade, sending Chris Johnson, Peyton Manning, Ryan Williams and Jared Cook packing and getting Dez Bryant, LaMichael James, Jacquizz Rodgers and Kyle Rudolph in return.  Also, turning Randall Cobb in to Cam Newton and drafting RGIII didn't hurt either.

A less specific answer on how I was able to do that was by being very flexible once my initial draft strategy was blown up by the top guys I had targeted being drafted before I was on the clock.

If the reasons I gave earlier in this article about how most teams going to a running back-by-committee system as well as the rule changes to help boost offensive statistics (Oops, my fault, the NFL would like you to believe that those rule changes were to help improve player safety) don't sway your opinion away from drafting running backs early in your draft, maybe these numbers will.

In standard scoring leagues, there were two running backs (Peterson and Martin) among the top 12 fantasy scorers, and only five of the top 20 fantasy scorers were running backs (Peterson, Martin, Foster, Lynch and Morris).  The only wide receiver who was among the top 20 scorers was Calvin Johnson (19th), with 240 points.  Furthermore, after Peterson (329), the highest-scoring fantasy running was Doug Martin with 266.  There were seven quarterbacks who surpassed the 300-point fantasy point mark (Brees, Brady, Rodgers, P. Manning, Newton, Griffin III, Ryan).  Tony Romo finished the year with 298 fantasy points.

The risk of drafting a running back with a top pick far outweighs the reward in today's NFL.

Matt Mills

Matt "Millsy" Mills

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