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|
|5||Deshaun Watson||321||QB2||Right on|
|7||Alshon Jeffery||46||WR26||No: injury|
|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|
|4||Brandin Cooks||90.1||WR13||No: underperformed|
|6||Austin Ekeler||309||RB33||Vastly outperformed|
|7||David Njoku||14||TE13||No: injury|
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)
|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|
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.