Fantasy football draft strategies: Making WR/WR work
Last week in this space, we discussed the exaggerated reports of the demise of drafting running backs in the first two rounds. Every draft will be different, and an owner's draft slot often dictates the strategy, but in general, grabbing backs in Rounds 1 and 2 is my favorite strategy this season. That doesn't mean it's the only strategy, and there is a case to be made for doing the opposite (© Paul Charchian, Fantasy Hall of Famer). Depending on where you are, the number of teams in your league, and how your draft unfolds, you might want to select two wide receivers right off the top. It will put a lot of pressure on you to hit on backs in the middle rounds, but when executed properly, it's a strategy you can ride all the way to a championship.
First, a quick explainer on why this works. Now I don't mean to condescend to anyone, but, on occasion, fantasy owners can lose sight of the most basic facts. For example, receiving yards and touchdowns are scored exactly the same way as rushing yards and touchdowns. Now it's true, last year was a renaissance season for running backs. But did you know that more receivers posted 1,000-yard seasons? It's true. Nineteen receivers topped 1,000 yards, and 10 were north of 1,300. Meanwhile, 16 running backs broke into quadruple digits, and just six reached the 1,300-yard plateau. Yes, most of those backs supplement their yardage totals in the air way more than any of those receivers do on the ground, but the point remains that receivers can go yard-for-yard with their brethren in the backfield. Meanwhile, 10 receivers found the end zone at least 10 times. Only eight running backs can say the same thing. A whopping 21 wide receivers scored at least eight touchdowns. Just 13 running backs got to show off their touchdown dance that many times.
Running backs are more valuable and a better bet overall because their pool is much shallower, as those stats suggest. However, you get to a point early in a draft when you'll be faced with taking a second- or third-tier running back or an elite wide receiver. And that's where going wide receiver/wide receiver makes all the sense in the world. Here's what you need to do to pull it off.
1. Get two of the top six wide receivers. If you're going to get first-round-running-back production from your two receivers, you need them to be two of the very best the game has to offer. Calvin Johnson is in a tier of his own. You could rank the members of the second tier in any order, but most people would say it includes Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and Julio Jones (psst: that's my order). After that, there's a drop-off to the class of Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Andre Johnson, et al. If you are going to make this strategy work, you have to come away with two of those elite players. That means you either need to be picking in the middle of the first round, where Calvin is a cut above the second-tier backs, or the end of the first round, where the still elite-receivers outclass the backs ranked between eight and 12 at the position.
2. Know your middle-round running-back targets. OK, the first two rounds have passed, and you're feeling great. Someone with my rankings who has employed the WR/WR strategy either has a pairing like Calvin and Bryant, or Marshall and Green. Either of those duos is a safe bet for about 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. As you knew would happen, though, the running-back pool has dried up in a hurry. Even if you're picking in the middle of round three, the top 12 or 13 backs are likely off the board. If you're at the back of the round, you're looking at backs ranked in the high teens, at best. In a draft where quarterback values are suppressed, the numbers will be even grislier.
That's why you have to know which backs you'll be targeting in Rounds 3-8. You need at least three backs with these six picks, preferably four. The bottom line is that not all of the backs you draft here will stick. You need to take a volume approach, understanding that you're not going to bat 1.000. If two of your four hit, you should be good. If three hit, you're golden.
Forget about Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster and Jamaal Charles. Get yourself familiar with Reggie Bush. Read up on Le'Veon Bell. Figure out whether or not you believe Ryan Mathews and DeMarco Murray can stay healthy. Study up on the roles for veterans on new teams, like Ahmad Bradshaw and Rashard Mendenhall. According to Mock Draft Central, 18 backs currently have an average draft position between picks 30-96, ranging from Stevan Ridley to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. You need four of them. By the time you wake up on draft day, you should know which ones you want.
3. Embrace the opposite. Of course, there's always the chance running backs are at a premium in your league. The herd can thin out rather quickly, and before you know it guys like Ridley and David Wilson, both of whom make legitimate third-round targets, are off the board before you get a chance to take them. You'll need to be ready for this contingency, as well. And the best way to deal with this is to fully embrace the contrarian's draft.
If backs fly off the board faster than you expected, that can only mean that quarterbacks you didn't count on being available are still there for you. Would you like a Cam Newton or Peyton Manning to go along with your elite receivers? While your leaguemates are jockeying for who has the best duo of running backs, you'll have easily the most lethal air attack in your league. In this scenario, instead of grabbing four backs in Rounds 3-8, you crunch it and make sure to get at least three, and hopefully four, in rounds Rounds 4-8.
In any fantasy league, you have to take what the draft gives you. This road map ensures you'll be ready if your draft leads you down the WR/WR path.