The Case Against Going RB-RB In Rounds 1 and 2

frank-gore-is-a-chuckler

Frank Gore had a good laugh when he found out you drafted him instead of Julio Jones.

What do you look for in rounds 1 and 2 of your draft?  Someone who can take over some weeks and also never singlehandedly lose a week for you?  A player who offers the perfect blend of safety, upside and week-to-week consistency?

I get why some people go RB-RB in rounds 1 and 2, and there are situations where I will do it myself, but I can’t get behind the strategy that you must draft RB-RB in the first two rounds.  Or, as some people are doing, RB-RB-RB in the first three rounds.

The first and most simple reason I don’t agree with following the RB-RB or RB-RB-RB strategy: it robs you of flexibility during your roster construction, which is something you obviously don’t want because winning a draft is all about being able to stay flexible, recognizing opportunities, and being able to pounce on values wherever you spot them.

When you load up on running backs at the beginning of the draft, you’re putting yourself in a position where it’s more likely you’ll be forced to draft for team need rather than best player available.  While it’s true that you’ll end up drafting for team need at some point in the draft, you’re better off if you don’t have to start doing this until later.

With that general bit of draft philosophy out of the way, let’s take a look at some ADP data.  I recommend joining me at this page on fantasyfootballcalculator.com and following along as a supplement to this article.  By the way, if you’re not using fantasyfootballcalculator.com in your draft prep – well, I don’t know what to say to that.

Take a look at the rundown of the first twenty-four picks.  Seventeen of them are running backs!  Maybe you look at this and say to yourself that it’s reason enough that you should go RB-RB.  All the good ones will be off the board, after all.  I look at this and see an opportunity to zag while others are zigging and draft an elite player at another position.

I just don’t have enough confidence in the running backs being taken at the end of the second round.  You see the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew (who actually was just medically cleared, making me feel slightly better about his situation than I was earlier – at the same time, if MJD does show well throughout camp you can bet his ADP will steadily rise as we get closer to the season opener), DeMarco Murray, Frank Gore.

Note that these running backs have good upside and are projected to be the primary ball carriers for their teams.  But they’re not without risk.  In the case of Jones-Drew, you’re looking at an established star with a lot of mileage and a pesky foot injury; not to mention, he works in one of the league’s worst offenses.  Gore: though he works in an excellent run-first offense, we have already seen that Jim Harbaugh is very interested in limiting Gore’s workload, putting a cap on his weekly upside.  DeMarco Murray: tell me what the difference is between him and Darren McFadden?

The point is that I don’t see elite rushers here.  (Except possibly if things break right for Jones-Drew.  But, again, if they do you can bet the price will go up.)  I see guys with every-week RB2 upside and downside that’s less than that.  Upside, safety and consistency?  Not sure.

Now take a look at some of the wide receivers who are being drafted in the same neighborhood: Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas.  (Not to mention, Jimmy Graham).  These are true WR1s.  Each of these players has a legitimate shot at finishing in the top-three of the position.

Do the running backs available during this part of the draft have a shot at finishing among Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Doug Martin?  You never know — anything can happen; but I think the likelihood is not great.

Another reason people prefer running backs early is a perception that they score more points than wide receivers.  It’s true that last year in Yahoo’s standard scoring system, the six highest-scoring non-quarterbacks were running backs: Peterson, Martin, Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Ray Rice.  But after that?  Sixteen of the next highest-scoring non-QBs were wide receivers.  Add it together and a small majority (sixteen of thirty-one) of the highest-scoring non-QBs in the game were wide receivers.

Let’s take a look at the 2011 season.  The top-scoring non-quarterback was Ray Rice, followed by LeSean McCoy, Calvin Johnson, Jones-Drew, Foster.  So, four of the top five were running backs.  After that?  It evens out similarly to how it did in 2012.

I believe that Murray and Gore belong to a third tier of running backs that begins in the end of round 2.  Some alternative players with similar degrees of safety, upside and consistency include Lamar Miller, Darren McFadden, David Wilson, Darren Sproles, Montee Ball, LeVeon Bell and Christopher Ivory.  These are players that can be had as late as rounds 3, 4 and 5.

I guess the big takeaway is this: think about what you’re getting in terms of upside, safety and consistency.  Don’t let your draft fall victim to the round-by-round fluctuations in talent by position.  Can you get similar degrees of each in a running back who is available later?  If the answer is yes as I believe it is, use this as opportunity to draft an elite pass catcher.  As always: take what the room gives you.

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