Welcome to Razzball’s Fantasy Football Preview series, where yours truly will guide you, caress you, perhaps even coddle you through your draft preparations and processes. Mmm, processes. And while none of this may be legal and I’ll end up with multiple restraining orders, rest assured that we’ll all be the better for it. Maybe. We’ll go in depth (that’s what she said) at every position… well, the positions that actually count (I’m looking at you Kickers and DSTs…), going over some analysis, the tiers, and any illuminating observations I might have. Because light bulbs are just the coolest thing. Said everyone from the 1800s. Before you get settled down, please refer to Razzball’s 2017 Fantasy Football Draft Rankings, and specifically for this post, refer to our Running Back Rankings

Strategy

There’s been a lot of clamoring this preseason, at least more than most (the CLAMOR: PART 2), of the dreaded Zero-RB strategy, or what the fancier Grey Poupon crowd is calling: “Contingency-Based Drafting”. There’s so much corporate synergistic lingo there, I just came fantasizing about applied nominal interest and a lowered capital gains tax. Look, I’m not a huge fan of having a strategy that heavily affects such an important position, but to be fair, it’d be hard to ignore the some of the merits… There’s injury risk at the position, to be sure, and the idea of drafting as a contrarian (the Kansas City Shuffle, as I’d refer to it) does have some appeal. With the emergence of half-PPR and PPR leagues into the ether the last five or so years, I’ll admit, there’s a lot to like with this strategy. But I’ll never fully commit to it, and here’s why: supply and demand. Because let’s get thirsty with economics. I just don’t like the depth of running backs compared to wide receivers and the fact that in-season, WRs will always be easier to find on the wire than RBs, especially with the league-wide attrition at the position. In addition, with early-round RBs steadily decreasing in popularity over the years, a counter-Kansas City Shuffle is in play. Poor Kansas City. In the end, I’m not advocating strongly either way, as our recent podcast going over the first two rounds of a generic draft attests, but the optimal draft strategy for this position, and more generally for the entire draft should be: Flexibility, know how to read trends, and take the best player for your team regardless of position whenever possible…

Tier 1: David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell.

There’s honestly not really much to be said here. I view both of these backs to the 1A and 1B of your respective drafts in any and all formats, and will be the first two off the board sans some tom foolery (what did Tom ever do?). Even in dynasty leagues. The very slight edge goes to David Johnson because Le’Veon Bell‘s offseason groin surgery (we’ve all been there… maybe) and current contract dispute that could cost him preseason reps. I’m not particularly concerned about these two things (though we should note that Bell has had some games missed in the regular season and NFL playoffs each of the last three years), and since Johnson has had no issues whatsoever, therein lies the reasoning of ranking Johnson number one for running backs and number one overall.

Tier 2: LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Devonta Freeman, Jordan Howard.

While I’m not as thrilled with this Tier 2 group as I’ve been in past years, there’s still plenty here to be happy about for those of you drafting in the early first round.

There’s a lot of discussion on how good the Bills will be, and more specifically in this case, how good their offense will be, but no matter what, LeSean McCoy will be good. Unless his body parts start exploding, which is entirely possible since I’ve seen it in the movies. For PPR Formats, it should be noted that Buffalo’s new OC (Rick Dennison) has a history of targeting running backs and with Sammy Watkins relegated to the best SEC team in the NFL, I wouldn’t be surprised if McCoy led the Bills in receptions.

I’m sure my ranking of Melvin Gordon will bring back PTSD for those of you who’ve read Razzball for several years and remember the ranking of Ryan Mathews in my top-15 overall. While that was due to my reckless youth and Chargers homerism, we’ve all come so far over the years (Mathews isn’t even ranked this year, baby steps, woooo!) and the Chargers have a new city (or old) city… which actually doesn’t bother me as much as the 12 other fellow Chargers fans in the world. While none of those things has to do with Melvin Gordon the player, I’d like to at least try and say that it has nothing to do with my ranking of him either. Maybe. The simple answer is, I just feel safer with Gordon than Jay Ajayi, Devonta Freeman, and Jordan Howard, but all four are interchangeable to an extent. I get that 2015 still sticks out like a sore thumb, but I like the Chargers new HC (Anthony Lynn) moving to a zone-running scheme for the sole purpose of elevating Gordon’s numbers. Even with a dynamic offense, the team still understands the key to unlocking Philip Rivers passing game is to lead with Gordon, and I think this year’s numbers will reflect that.

Tier 3: DeMarco Murray, Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, Marshawn Lynch, Isaiah Crowell.

Call me crazy, call me sentimental, call me sexy (I know, I know, that’s usually nomenclature reserved for your mother), but I’m expecting Todd Gurley to reemerge. And I’m not sure why. It doesn’t seem that long ago, just two seasons, that Gurely established himself as the young power running back in the NFL. 1,106 yards, 4.8 YPC and 10 touchdowns led a Rams rushing offense into the top-10 in the league, something they hadn’t done since Steven Jackson was in the backfield in 2006. And then 2016 came, and with it 885 yards and just 3.2 YPC. But it wasn’t all on him, no, the receivers didn’t make the plays, I probably could have started at quarterback, and the offensive line was truely offensive. (See what I did there?) Basically, there was nothing you could say about the Rams offense that hadn’t already been said about Donald Trump’s presidency thus far. Look for offensive-minded head coach Sean McVay to make a bit difference here… And while not all of the Rams’ issues have been addressed, along with McVay, their new OC (Matt LaFleur) was part of a Falcons staff that finished with the fifth-best rushing stats in the league last year.

I’m probably higher than most on Marshawn Lynch, but, I mean, it’s Beef Moe. The last game we saw him play was in 2015, and in his case, the time off probably was a good thing. While being on the wrong side of 30 is never a good thing in the NFL, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard being involved should keep Lynch fresh throughout the season, not to mention that the Raiders front-seven is better than anything the Seahawks have put out in recent memory. Basically: he’ll either be washed up and terrible, or amazing because he’ll be running with an actual offensive line for once. I don’t mind taking a chance on him in the third tier.

I know there’s a lot of Isaiah Crowell love out there, and I’m okay with that, love is love. But other than being a hopeless romantic, it should be noted that Crowell had fewer than 30 yards rushing in seven games in 2016. Take away just three (three!) rushes, and his YPC would have dropped by a full yard.

Tier 4: Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, Lamar Miller, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Carlos Hyde, Mark Ingram.

This is probably my least favorite tier of the group. I don’t see a lot of value here… maybe with Mark Ingram, maybe with Carlos Hyde… maybe-maybe, call me? Maybe. Yeah, we’ll just call it the “Maybe Tier” and be done with it. Maybe these backs are interesting, and Ezekiel Elliott carries that statement almost all by himself with his current predicament, and while I’m not opposed to seeing him drafted as a lottery ticket, but the second round (where I’ve seen him picked up the most) seems pretty high. I’m fine with picking him up in the third, but I doubt he’ll fall that far, thus I’m staying away, not by choice mind you.

Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey are intriguing in their own right, but if I’m staying away from the Cincinnati backfield because all three backs (Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, and Mixon) will play, with Hill vulturing his fair share of red zone opportunities, I’m probably passing on the likes of Cook and McCaffrey too.

Tier 5: C.J. Anderson, Ty Montgomery, Spencer Ware, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Gillislee, Tevin Coleman, Terrance West, LeGarrette Blount.

This tier is pretty much what you’d call the “Redundancy Tier” or the “OH SH!T I FORGOT TO DRAFT A RB Tier”, and whichever situation you find yourself in, these backs will probably make you feel nausea if they’re your starters, but quite hungry if they’re part of your bench. I mean, I’m always hungry, but I just assume it’s the opposite of being nauseous, so there. SCIENCE!

Ty Montgomery and Ameer Abdullah (Detroit’s beat reporter projected 1000 yards!), and to a slightly lesser extent, Tevin Coleman and Terrance West are all backs that I’d love to have in some manner or form in PPR formats. C.J. Anderson and LeGarrette Blount seem like the best bench filler you could have at this point in the draft, and while you could get away with them as your RB2, both would probably need some handcuffs (oooh baby), Anderson for health concerns and Blount for some good ole’ ageism. Definitely look to Devontae Booker and Wendell Smallwood (see below) if this is the direction you go…

Tier 6: Bilal Powell, Danny Woodhead, Robert Kelley, Frank Gore, Doug Martin, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Kareem Hunt, Derrick Henry, Eddie Lacy.

Continuing the bench fodder theme, I do like Bilal Powell a lot out of this group. Sans the minor neck injury (keep an eye on it), Matt Forte, Lorenzo Mauldin, and Daniel Williams aren’t exactly healthy either. Last season, he actually finished just three spots behind Forte in standard scoring and tied his career high in receiving yards and touchdowns. He may not be considered the primary starter on the depth chart, but should be for fantasy purposes.

Danny Woodhead always seems to be underrated… right until he goes on the IR, so just keep that in mind when drafting.

Eddie Lacy, Frank Gore, and Adrian Peterson all represent former upper-tier running backs who could do something, but are more likely to eat an entire buffet (Lacy), join AARP (Gore), or not win the father-of-the-year contest (Peterson). But this late, I don’t mind grabbing any of these guys just to see what happens…

Tier 7 and Tier 8+:

With the Eagles backfield consisting of two running backs (LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles) with the combined age of my great-great grandmother (who’s been dead for over 50 years), Wendell Smallwood might be a sleeper to keep an eye on late in your drafts. Though he only totaled 77 carries last season, he provided 4.1 YPC and has already secured a spot on the 53-man roster with Corey Clement headed to the practice squad. Donnel Pumphrey could prove to be an issue and the entire committee is murky at best, but Smallwood is still, at the very least, an intriguing handcuff for Blount owners, and at worst, probably the best inspiration for a fantasy team name since Isaiah Pead roamed the NFL.

 

 

  1. Nick says:
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    Jay ,,just drafted yesterday
    keepers #5 !

    QB : Luck –> Cousins ( + i still can pick Taylor on FA)
    WR : ABrown –> DVadams + Jeffery + Snead (missed T.Hill for 1 pick)
    RB : Gurley + Ingram+ T.Coleman
    TE : reached for Goyle as Tight End and missed Ertz after :(

    Bench / bye weeks :
    RB: Hunt – Prosise – Dk. Johnson – ZQ.Rodgers (starter 1st 3 weeks)
    WR : DVPARKER !! steal of draft – Corey Coleman – Z.Jones

    Def : Cin (easy early Schedule)
    K: Dawson (dome)

    should i pick QB Taylor?
    avb on FA :
    TE : Antonio Gates – Witten – Fleener – JThomas – OJHoward
    RB : LTMurray – Mforte – TWesrt – Perine !
    WR: C. DAVIS – many more but i should be OK ^^

    thanks for your help
    Nick

    • Nick says:
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      @Nick:
      i should be OK at QB with Cousins backing up Luck
      i should be OK at WR : AB – DVAdams – Jeffery -Snead – DVParker
      i’m short at RB: Gurley – Ingram – Coleman
      i’m t-SHORT AT TE: only Doyle
      Def / K : are streamers

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @Nick: I’m okay with Doyle there. I’d hold off on Taylor, I think you have enough there with Cousins if Luck is a no-go. Love the WR and I’m higher on Gurley than most.

  2. Nick says:
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    on bench : i have Fine Young Cannibals … ^^

  3. Dom says:
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    Really liking what Kareem hunt is doing, would you trade Eddie Lacy for Kareem Hunt?

    And should I try to try to upgrade TE position might cost me Pryor or stay still

    And lastly who would you consider my top 3 RBs in order and who to start yearlong

    QB Aaron Rodgers
    RB Mark Ingram
    RB Frank Gore
    WR Jordy Nelson
    WR Dez Bryant
    TE Austin Hooper
    Flex Terrelle Pryor

    Bench
    QB Eli Manning
    RB Danny Woodhead
    RB Robert Turbin
    RB Jamaal Williams
    RB Eddie Lacy
    WR Martavis Bryant

    K Adam Vinateri
    Def Bengals

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @Dom: I’m okay with that, sure. And I’d hold onto Pryor there, even though a TE upgrade would be nice. See if the Hunt deal can net you a small upgrade there maybe?

  4. Brian says:
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    Great points above Jay this is exactly why I want a stud QB this year in my mind there are only 2 ARod and Brady I feel getting one of these gives me the edge to build around these Rbs are crap shots not worth taking give me a stud wr and Brady to build around and LET GO !!!

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @Brian: Thanks man!

  5. Oliver says:
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    My friend, Jay! I am back for my yearly keeper advice. You always do me right. Love ya, man.

    Standard ESPN league. I need to pick two of these guys, in the order that I am thinking:

    Julio Jones
    Zeke Elliott
    Lamar Miller
    Alshon Jeffery
    Tyreek Hill
    Derek Carr

    In the name of full disclosure, the rest of my choices are:
    Philip Rivers, Blount, Inman, Greg Olsen, Maclin, Rishard Matthews, Doug Martin, Taylor Gabriel

    Tell me if I’m wrong in my thinking- Zeke is missing six games this year, but I think I should keep him anyway for future years. I will likely lose him because I have a Cowboy fanatic in my league who will snatch him first chance he gets. Maybe I’m wrong, and I will definitely heed your advice. When I ignore you, I do poorly. haha

    Thanks again, as always!

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @Oliver: Oliver, welcome back! Happy to hear that man!

      Yeah, I like your order there. You should certainly keep Zeke… I could see Miller slip into that slot on occasion, but I wouldn’t.

      • Oliver says:
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        @Jay:
        Could I ask another question? I started thinking about drafting McFadden in Round 9 or 10 to fill in for Zeke. Then I started looking at Son’s list of likely RB busts this year. Having been on the receiving end of too many of those RB busts over my fantasy career, I am intrigued by the Zero RB philosophy.

        If I focus my first rounds on solid WRs (say Doug Baldwin and Brandin Cooks), I could then grab Dalvin Cook, Carlos Hyde, Mixon, or Bilal in later rounds. Then after getting a QB and TE, I would still likely be able to pick up Kareem Hunt, Run DMC, Gillislee, and/or Prosise.

        What do you think? I have the 9th (out of 10 teams) pick, and I am in a keeper league, so the only “Tier 1” RBs that will be available by the time I get around to picking are totally shrouded with doubt- Beast Mode (love him, but too expensive for so much unknown), Lamar Miller (no TDs, man!), Jordan Howard, I think you get my gist.

        What I usually do instead is overpay for a RB, then sit with him for way too long despite him not performing because I paid so much for him. If my 4th round Dalvin Cook ends up becoming Mr Butterfingers like he was in college, I won’t feel so bad about dropping him and moving on. Worst case scenario, I have Zeke coming back in game 7 and I can see how the season is playing out around the league/waiver wire for someone else.

  6. David Niven says:
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    Sir G, good morning bud. Great to be back in FF world after watching my pitching suckass for the past 3 months.

    Keeper q, 200 buck auction budget,standard league settings would you keep Olsen for 15, D Thomas for 24 or Cooks for 26?

    Thanks man, keep up the good work brother.

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @David Niven: Sup! if it were PPR, maybe Olsen for the value, but I think Cooks is the way to go here.

      • David Niven says:
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        @Jay: Your a good man govnah. Thanks for the help and have a great weekend.

  7. Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves says:
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    what about wentz and hilton for OBJ?
    dynasty with 10 rushing yds per point, 20 receiving per point, PPR half.
    QB rodfather
    RB (start 1) howard/ware
    WR (start 2) OBJ/m.thomas/hopkins/thielen/meredith
    TE
    flex (W/R)
    flex (W/TE)
    K
    DEF

    • Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves says:
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      @Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves: from most dynasty rankings wentz (13th) not that far up from rodfather (15th). but OBJ (1st) vs hilton (9th). i used you and some others ranked highest at FP for those numbers.

  8. Scott steelers says:
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    Can’t decide between Perkins rd 9 or Tyreek hill rd 9.
    Half ppr. 12 teams. 2 keepers. Keeping Leveon rd 3 and unfortunately don’t have a pick til rd 4. Gave up pick 1 and 2 last year for Rodgers and Leveon keeper. Ingram, Watkins, Landry, abdullah, Tate, snead, Pete rson types of guys available in the 4th rd for me… thoughts?

      • Scott steelers says:
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        @Jay: did you not even have Perkins ranked here? Can’t find

        • Jay

          Jay says:
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          @Scott steelers: Yeah, for some reason, he’s not in there, I’ll have to update my rankings, but he probably won’t be too high. He may be starting, but I’m ont terribly impressed.

      • Scott steelers says:
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        @Jay: just realized I could keep McFadden there too, rd 9. I would atleast get 6 weeks of production.dont fully trust other guys. Would you?

        • Jay

          Jay says:
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          @Scott steelers: I don’t think he’ll do much, but if he’s starting, there’s a bit of value there. Probably more than Perkins.

  9. Aubrey Plaza's Pillow says:
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    that 20 team dynasty with 5 pts rushing per point, 10 receiving full PPR. RB’s obv worth more but we start less of them
    QB (1) cousins/goff
    RB (1) blount/kelley/perine/c.thompson/sims
    WR (2) benjamin/pryor/doctson/treadwell/gabriel/jj nelson
    TE (1) brate/v.davis
    util (1, obv from scoring it’s optimal to put a RB here)
    DL reed/m.williams

    went looking to trade WR for RB (or possibly even 2 WR for a pretty good RB, but nobody really trades away REALLY good RB in a league like this for good reason) got an offer of benjamin for cj anderson. i know the dynasty rankings all have anderson lower than benjamin but those are for leagues with rushing/receiving yards worth the same. my issue here is blount is old and i was able to lock up pretty much any WAS situation (other than m.jones getting job back), and clearly have a LOT of upsidely likely long term goodness (assuming i hold onto them long enough (bye bye m.lee/agholor)) at WR (docston/williams/treadwell). what you think?

    • Aubrey Plaza's Pillow says:
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      @Aubrey Plaza’s Pillow: if i got anderson sims probably is the drop when reed is back. v.davis is probably still a very smart hold here, as brate’s value could even this year take a major hit if early reports are wrong about oj howard being mostly a blocker this year.

      • Aubrey Plaza's Pillow says:
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        @Aubrey Plaza’s Pillow: the real issue being of course if anderson were to say lose his job entirely.

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @Aubrey Plaza’s Pillow: Yeah, I’m okay with this type of trade, but I’d hate to give up Benjamin in this format. I do like CJA a bit this season, but his long term value is so much in flux. I might bite the bullet… but it is a justifiable trade, for sure.

  10. DiRo says:
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    In a half point PPR league that has 2 keepers(D Johnson and Gronk), I draft 6th and looking at hopefully McCaffery for my first pick and future keeper. However, I really like Mixon, but have the same reservations you do.

    Should I go after those guys or get my first WR for this PPR league and worry about RBs later in the draft?

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @DiRo: I might just go best available since it’s just a 2 keeper league. I could see Johnson and Gronk filling those spots again for at least one more season, so that allows you to not think on the future so much.

  11. OldMilwaukeePounders says:
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    Hey Jay,

    I’m in a 12 team keeper (up to 3, keep forever) who do you like out of this group?

    Evans, Cooks, Jordy, Howard

    I am leaning Evans, Cooks, Howard and trying to trade Jordy for a pick. Thoughts?

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @OldMilwaukeePounders: wow, tough decisions, but I like what you’re thinking. I might try and package Horry and Howard for a top-5 player or the Jordy for a pick.

  12. swaggerjackers says:
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    Thoughts on Demarco this season?

    He’s ranked pretty high and I see him coming up on a number of mocks based on the draft position I have.

    I’m not super excited about the miles he has or Henry and worry this will turn into a timeshare. Draft with confidence or look elsewhere in Tier 3?

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @swaggerjackers: not crazy about him, but I’m really disappointed with Tier 3 in general. I probably like Gurley the best… But everyone makes me nervous.

  13. AJ says:
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    You going to have an excel based war room again this year? If so, when should we expect to see it?

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @AJ: I’m going to be honest, the upkeep may not be worth it at this point. I’ll see what time there is this weekend to update it, but other content is taking priority at the moment.

  14. Gio says:
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    14 team PPR keep 3. Which do you like best?

    A- Keep mcfadden (8th round) draft zeke in round 1

    B- Keep eifert (11th) draft melvin gordon in round 1

    Other keepers are Miller and Cooks

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @Gio: option B if you want to go for it this year, A if you’re thinking long term.

      • Mike says:
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        @Jay:

        Players chosen in Top 3 rounds cannot be kept.

        • Jay

          Jay says:
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          @Mike: Ah, then option B, for sure.

  15. Dirty d says:
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    Pick up to 3 keepers:
    .5 ppr
    12 team league/pick 7th

    Melvin Gordon for a 2nd
    Winston for an 8th
    Cousins for a 9th
    Rob Kelley for an 11th

    Feeling definitely Gordon. But am I crazy to want winston and cousins?

    • Jay

      Jay says:
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      @Dirty d: haha, maybe a little, I’d choose one and keep Kelley. I’m thinking Winston.

      • Dirty d says:
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        @Jay: Winston and Cousins schedules jive pretty well to play matchups. With Kelley im worried about Perine. Also, with up to 3 keepers per team the draft pool is going to be a bit picked through so values on Winston and Cousins go up a tad. But everyone is telling me to just pick one. I might get selfish.

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