What if I told you that the most important part of fantasy sports isn’t the ranking process, but the drafting process? That team construction is more important than where Mike Evans lines up in the queue compared to D.J. Chark? Would you follow me into the boring world of team construction? 

I’m aiming this article at the average fantasy football that knows the game but wants to take that next step forward to improve their results. When entering a draft, you should be prepared to construct your roster in several different ways. However, there are better ways of constructing a roster than others. In a 12-team league, every manager starts with about an 8% chance of victory; by constructing your roster in a successful manner, you can increase your odds of victory upwards to 12%. That doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re talking money leagues, family pride, or being the talk of the socially-distanced work cafeteria, you should take every advantage you can get. 

In this article, I present the Robust RB strategy, which I think is the drafting method that returns the most consistent results. There are a ton of recent articles on Robust RB out there on the internet, but this article will be different by showing you some championship teams sourced from the NFFC. For example, Mike Beers deployed the robust RB strategy and was the winner of the RazzBowl in 2019. Looking at the 2019 Cutline Championships at the NFFC, almost all the winners used a Robust RB strategy. Let’s see what it can do for you!

What is Robust RB?

There’s no official fantasy sports encyclopedia (in fact, things are changing!), so definitions of Robust RB vary. In short, the Robust RB strategy is best described as drafting 2 running backs in the first four rounds or three running backs in the first five rounds. Preferably, you’re drafting two running backs in the first two rounds. Many successful managers draft three running backs in the first four rounds. Comparatively, if you’re drafting an RB in round one followed by three or four receivers/tight ends, that’s a “modified zero RB” strategy. If you’re drafting receivers and tight ends for the first three/four rounds before taking your first RB, that’s the “zero RB” strategy. There is a huge upswell for the “zero RB” strategy, and for more information on that, you can listen to this recent podcast between our own CoachJB, Wes Easley, and Kevin Tompkins. Here’s another podcast between BDon, DT, and Mike Beers that goes over several different types of roster construction, including Zero RB (can you tell we’re excited about drafting?!)

In short, succeeding with a zero RB strategy requires significantly more planning than the Robust RB strategy. For the average fantasy player, you’re best suited by following the advice below to construct your team with a Robust RB strategy.

Here are some examples from championship 2019 teams that illustrate each style (actually, I struggled to find a true Zero RB team that won a championship on NFFC, but the ones below are good enough for illustration):

  Robust RB Robust RB Less Robust RB Modified 0RB “Zero RB”
Round 1 C. McCaffrey M. Thomas D. Hopkins D. McCaffrey M. Thomas
Round 2 D. Cook D. Cook D. Adams T. Hill D. Cook
Round 3 G. Kittle J. Jacobs D. Freeman M. Evans K. Allen
Round 4 D. Henry M. Mack C. Carson K. Golladay S. Diggs
Round 5 K. Golladay A. Jeffrey C. Kupp R. Woods J. Edelman

Combating Scarcity and Maximizing Scoring

Before entering the draft room, it’s essential to know two things: your scoring system, and your roster composition. Almost all leagues are now some form of PPR, so pass-catching running backs are one of the few two-category scorers (rushing points and receiving points); quarterbacks are the other common two-category scorers (passing points and rushing points). This scarcity in scoring type is compounded by the scarcity of player opportunity. The above leagues are 12-team leagues with 1QB/2RB/3WR/1TE/2FLEX roster compositions. By Rudy’s projections, there are 24 running backs who will have at least 50% of their team’s rushing shares, and the number of featured RBs drops precipitously after that. Additionally, of that group, only 5 RBs are expected to get about 15% or more of their team’s passing targets. Meanwhile, there are 53 wide receivers and 8 tight ends expected to get 15% of their team’s targets. Put another way, in a twelve team league, there are enough WR/TE to fill the receiver and FLEX slots with 80+ target receivers. However, only five teams will roster a RB with 230+ attempts and 80+ targets. 

Despite the scarcity, with a nice ranking system (look! Rudy has one right here!), you can easily find the upside options to construct your roster. Here are the 5 running backs that Rudy projects to have 50% of their team’s rushing touches and about 15% of their receiving targets: Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook and Kenyan Drake.  Another 4 RBs are close to those numbers: Ezekiel Elliott, Miles Sanders, Le’Veon Bell, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Now, those of you who have already been drafting and are familiar with ADP can see that from the above list, a few mega-upside combinations are possible: Sanders/Drake/Bell and Cook/Drake/Bell are the most likely scenarios based on ADP. It’s entirely possible to have a CEH/Sanders/Bell option too; drafting this combo would make Twitter giddy with excitement. 

Now, let’s take a look at how you would draft a balanced team based on the Robust RB strategy.

Balance Your Team

I’ve heard one mantra this year from the award-winning drafter Rudy Gamble: draft a balanced team. To draft a balanced Robust RB team, you’ll need to judiciously draft your WR/TE following your running backs. This is where having a good ranking system will help you (look up at the navigation bar for a ton of options here on Razzball). To help visualize building a Robust RB roster, I took the ADP from 2019 and ran simulations of it from multiple draft positions using multiple strategies, including zero RB. Here was the highest-scoring team: a Robust RB from the 1.01 spot. 

   Name  Points Rudy’s 2019 Position Rank Outperform Projections?
1 Saquon Barkley 244.1 RB1 No: injury
2 Leonard Fournette 259.4 RB8 Yes
3 Keenan Allen 261.5 WR7 Yes
4 Kenny Golladay 248 WR21 Yes
5 Deshaun Watson 321 QB2 Right on
6 Tarik Cohen 163.9 RB35 Yes
7 Alshon Jeffery 46 WR26 No: injury
8 Austin Hooper 132 TE10 Yes
9 Sammy Watkins 107.3 WR39 Yes
10 DeSean Jackson 102.4 WR51 No: injury

Across the simulations, most strategies had 3 “misses” in the first ten rounds due to injury. In the above example, we see Saquon Barkley, Alshon Jeffrey, and DeSean Jackson as the misses due to injury. However, even with Barkley missing time at the 1.01 pick, the team fared the best out of the competition. As you can see, the team meets the requirements of 1QB/2RB/3WR/1TE/2FLEX perfectly, with Tarik Cohen or DeSean Jackson as the variable FLEX option. 

To give another perspective, here’s the second best result, which was a draft from the 1.12 spot: 

   Name  Points Rudy’s 2019 Position Rank Outperform Projections?
1 Nick Chubb 255.2 RB7 Right on
2 Dalvin Cook 281.1 RB14 Vastly outperformed
3 Sony Michel 152.6 RB23 Yes
4 Brandin Cooks 90.1 WR13 No: underperformed
5 Mike Williams 161.3 WR23 Yes
6 Austin Ekeler 309 RB33 Vastly outperformed
7 David Njoku 14 TE13 No: injury
8 Curtis Samuel 134 WR27 Yes
9 Kyler Murray 285.3 QB17 Yes
10 Michael Gallup 141 WR49 Yes

In this case, the team went 4 RB in the first 6 rounds, with the mega-hit coming from Ekeler in round 6. Because Ekeler would be slotted in at the FLEX spot weekly, it allowed Chubb and Cook to also run wild every week. Additionally, the team waited on QB and snagged the prospect Kyler Murray, who far outperformed expectations. 

An Ideal Robust RB for 2020?

Remember that your draft strategy should be flexible, and incorporate your league’s scoring and your league’s roster composition. If you are in a league with an alternate scoring system or a superflex league, Robust RB may not be the best option for you. However, for the average fantasy player playing in a PPR league, here are a couple draft starts based on Rudy’s rankings that you might want to pursue (all options run through NFFC ADP to ensure feasibility)

  1.01 1.04 1.07 1.09 1.12
Round 1 C. McCaffrey A. Kamara J. Mixon J. Jacobs A. Jones
Round 2 T. Kelce J. Jones A. Ekeler A. Ekeler N. Chubb
Round 3 M. Gordon J. Taylor J. Taylor L. Fournette D.J. Moore
Round 4 D. Montgomery C. Ridley A. Thielen J. Smith-Schuster L. Bell
Round 5 C. Sutton M. Andrews K. Allen Z. Ertz T. Lockett

Takeaways

Rankings and hype pieces are an excellent way to know who you want to take in the middle and late rounds. When you have an idea of who you want late, that can shape who you take early. For example, if you are certain that Mike Gesicki or Jared Cook will be stars this year, then you don’t need to take Kelce/Kittle/Andrews/Ertz. Instead, you’re working on your Robust RB strategy and taking RB and WR early. And now you know how to build an effective team using this strategy.

I mentioned very little about QB in this article, and that’s for good reason: they tend to get drafted too high, especially Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. In my study of the first and second place finishers in the 2019 Razzbowl, no team rostered Mahomes, and only one team rostered Jackson. The most-rostered quarterbacks among championship teams were Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, and Russel Wilson. It’s certainly fine to aim for a QB around round 5 in a 12-team league, but that QB should have passing AND rushing upside. Razzball is bullish on Kyler Murray this year as the quarterback that will surge upwards in those scoring categories. 

You should always be reading the room, whether it be a live draft or a slow draft. Are you seeing other managers’ strategies? Do you see a manager working on a pair or a stack that you could break? Do you see another manager working on a Zero RB, and can you snipe their RB targets? Always–ALWAYS–build your team first. But! If you can also build your team in a way that it disrupts another manager–“AH, YOU SNIPED ME!”–then do that to the best of your ability. 

Which team do you like above? Drop your thoughts in a comment below, and give me a follow over on Twitter @Everywhereblair.

 

  1. Ap says:
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    There’s a very good chance I’ll be going with this strategy whether I want to, or not. I’m already keeping both Kamara and A. Jones for later round picks. I’d be more than happy to land a top 6 pick and select another RB between CMC and say Cook for example. The only way it gets dicey for me is if I end up with like pick #10, and then probably leaning WR+WR first 2 picks. I had CMC paired with these 2 last year, and lost to Lamar Jackson in our Super Bowl, but this outlines the strategy well and is a great read. Thanks.

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Thanks for the comment! As always, read the room. In the Razzbowl, some notable drafters were taking WR like Michael Thomas at 1.03. That dynamic changes the draft room entirely. If a manager basically announces they are going Zero RB–and they’re trying to do it from the top of the draft–it allows you to grab immense value at the end of the first round. Conversely, if you’ve got 2RB and a late 1st round pick, and you’re watching RB go off the board, then you absolutely grab those receivers. Later options like Devin Singletary, David Montgomery, Cam Akers, and J.K. Dobbins will be available with big upside possibility.

      Cheers and good luck in your leagues!

  2. Homer's got the Runs says:
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    Hi, 1st time commenter here. I am in a 14 team half ppr league and have the 1st overall pick. No brainer pick will be McCaffrey. I have done multiple mocks and I keep getting highest grades when I go RB in two, WR in 3, WR in 4, RB in 5. I leave QB and TE until later and it always gives good grades. Is this a de ent strategy? By later I mean trying for Newton or Ryan at QB and Herndon or Irv Smith at TE.

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      What’s up Homer? Thanks for checking in! Mocking’s a good way to get prep, especially for those 14-team leagues. Scarcity can hit quick in leagues deeper than 12-teamers.

      I do think it’s a decent strategy, and in my industry 14-teamer this year, I went 3 RB to start because I was confident in my WR acquisition-skills.

      Unless you’re getting a top-tier TE like Kittle/Kelce/Ertz, a whole bunch of the remainder TE have more or less the same projections. There’s also a lot of upside TE late in the draft this year: Hayden Hurst and Austin Hooper are on new teams, Blake Jerwin has opportunities now, Chris Herndon is recovered from injury, Jonnu Smith is starting, and Irv Smith should be taking over receiving routes for the Vikings. In short, unless Kelce or Kittle falls to you such that the value can’t be passed up, feel free to take a TE later.

      With QBs, absolutely give Ryan a target. Cam is going fairly late, although higher than where I would draft him. In a 14-teamer, I would make sure to get a consensus top-10 QB, and then 2 upside backups, like Cam and/or Darnold, Bridgewater, Lock, etc. You really don’t want to be caught without a QB this year!

      thanks for checking in!

  3. waffles says:
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    interesting read. i usually try and go robust RB but i suppose where the draft took me yesterday qualifies as modified zero RB. any thoughts on the below?

    QB Kyler Murray (pick 51)
    RB Saquon Barkley (3)
    RB David Montgomery (70)
    WR Julio Jones (22)
    WR DK Metcalf (46)
    TE George Kittle (27)
    Flex Tyler Boyd (75)
    D/ST Chiefs (166)
    K Matt Gay (171)

    B Latavius Murray (94)
    B Preston Williams (99)
    B Alexander Mattison (118)
    B Mecole Hardman (123)
    B Antonio Gibson (142)
    B Damien Harris (147)

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      Sorry, commented as a parent instead of a reply. See below!

  4. everywhereblair

    everywhereblair says:
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    Absolutely fine, especially for the league format. You pulled off the modified zero RB in the right way, getting a workhorse in Montgomery for your second RB.

    You’ll have a lot of upside with the FLEX, but there will be tough weeks as well. You might want to watch the waiver wire for hot WR coming out of the gate. But if the crew stays healthy, the team looks nice to me!

    • waffles says:
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      it’s 12 team PPR forgot to mention. thanks!

      • waffles says:
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        .5 ppr*

        • everywhereblair

          everywhereblair says:
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          If Cook gets a contract or doesn’t hold out (he has ZERO leverage), Mattison’s value plummets. Keep an eye on the WW out of the gate to see if a RB emerges, and don’t be afraid to stream favorable receiver matchups as you go. Good luck!

  5. Water boy says:
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    Howdy man how’s it going ? I’m in a full ppr league league. It’s also a keeper league we can keep max 2 players rounds 1 & 2 dedicated for keepers and round 3 begins snake.

    Here are my options to keep: dalvin cook, tyreek hill, David Johnson, Edelman.

    I originally wanted to keep both cook & hill but I’m having second thoughts here is what I was thinking:

    1.) deal tyreek hill to get mixon

    2.) deal tyreek hill to get josh Jacobs

    3.) deal tyreek hill to get Aaron Jones

    This way I could pair one of Aaron Jones , Jacobs or mixon with my dalvin cook.

    4.) or should I deal my tyreek + Edelman to get mixon + his round 4 or round 5 pick?

    5.) deal dalvin cook?

    Thanks man!

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      What’s up Water Boy? I think you’ve got a couple options, all of them fine.

      The consensus safest option is to stick with Cook and Hill, and then in Round 3 draft somebody like Melvin Gordon or David Montgomery or LeVeon Bell.

      That said, people lose their minds over Tyreek Hill. Last year, Hill finished with the same total points as DK Metcalf and Emmanuel Sanders. In PPR points per game, he finished near Marvin Jones and Emmanuel Sanders. Those scores are, as the French say, Le Peu.

      So, the contrarian move is to trade Hill for Mixon. If the other team will really take Edelman (with 2 keepers, the best they can do is Edelman?), then by all means, get a draft pick for him.

      With Cook and Mixon, you’re probably going to go WR/TE in round 3, because my guess is the top WR will already be kept.

      Ultimately, the choice is yours. Myself, I’m confident in finding late WR value, so I’ve been grabbing running backs with jobs earlier. You might have a different strength/weakness in drafting, so keep that in mind for your choice. Good luck!

  6. JohnRamboJr says:
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    New league and they’ve replaced the Kicker w/ a 3rd WR spot. This means at any point I could start (4) WRs including the Flex spot. It’s a full point ppr league and this new format is screwing up my draft strategy. I tend to lean into RB early and often.
    Thoughts on how you’d handle the first 4 rounds from the 9 spot (12team league)

    Drafting tonight so any help would be greatly appreciated!!

    Thanks in advance,
    JRJ

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      What’s up Rambo Jr? Well, the “bell cow” RB level got a bit thinner today with David Montgomery straining his groin (doing football things!), so that increases the scarcity of RB a little bit more.

      Robust RB is definitely the default model, and drafting at the 9th spot, it’s probably the blueprint for your draft. For me, the 9th pick is too early to commit to any form of zero RB because there are still good running backs on the board: Drake, Sanders, sometimes Mixon and Henry, usually Ekeler. So, I think you go into the draft planning to take 2RBs in the first two rounds. The only exception would be if Michael Thomas is sitting there in the second round, of course!

      In rounds 3 and 4, I tend to go receiver this year. I like the James White/Duke Johnson/Tarik Cohen tier of RBs, so in 3/4 I often grab Thielen/Sutton/Cooper, something along those lines. Usually the top TE are gone by then, and I’m fine with that. If you’re only 2RB/3WR/1FLEX, then I think you get as many receivers as possible. Try and grab Cam Akers or J.K. Dobbins as your RB3 if you follow the above plan.

      Ultimately, just stay cool and know how to ride the waves of the draft, and enjoy it! Always be ready to lead a position run, rather than fall victim to it. The 9th spot is a great position to start these runs.

      Good luck!

      • JohnRamboJr says:
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        Fantastic!!

        Get those warm fuzzy feelings knowing I can still go RB heavy early!

        Thanks again

  7. prestige says:
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    In 10 team keeper league do you prefer:

    Michael Thomas (1st round keeper)
    Ekeler (5th round keeper)
    Kittle (13th round keeper)

    or
    Michael Thomas (1st round keeper)
    Dalvin Cook (1st round keeper)
    Kittle (1st round keeper)

    If I go with Ekeler I will have 1st pick in 2nd round. If I go with Cook I would have last pick of 3rd round as 1st pick of the actual draft.

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      It’s a tough one! I might go with DT’s running back rankings, which have Ekeler ahead of Cook. Cook is probably the safer option, but his agent keeps grumping about his contract with very little leverage. Cook also has missed many games. So, I might go Ekeler there because it gives you an earlier draft pick to grab an extra RB; certainly all the useful RBs will be gone by round three in this kind of league. Good luck!

  8. Tony C says:
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    My starting RBs including Flex are Jacobs, Edwards-Hilaire and Conner. My backup RBs are R. Jones, Lindsay and D. Harris.

    In a full point PPR league would you drop any of my bench RBs for A. Gibson, Edmunds, Mattison, B. Scott, Pollard or TE Gesicki?

    For WRs I start Golladay, T.Y. Hilton and Lockett. Bench WRs are Diontae Johnson, Reagor and Ruggs.

    QBs are Prescott and Big Ben and TE is Kelce.

    • everywhereblair

      everywhereblair says:
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      What’s up Tony? I wouldn’t make any moves, honestly. You’ve got a ton of upside there. If something changes in camp, like we hear about Ruggs struggling, then by all means make a move. But right now, you’ve got a lot of upside. Those bench players may take a few weeks to get adjusted, but once they get going, you’ll have a lot of flexibility in your roster deployment.

      If anything, you can drop Ruggs or Ben to pick up Gibson, and then flip Gibson for something better. People are losing their minds over Gibson right now, but WAS backfield is busy and their offensive line is awful.

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