Now is the time to start thinking about your upcoming fantasy football draft strategy, as rosters begin to take shape across the NFL. One popular strategy is to draft running backs early and often, but as Doug Moore explains, you might be better off taking a WR in the 1st round.
As we approach the start of a new NFL season, so too do we approach fantasy football season as well. To that end, I want to talk about one special rule of fantasy football, one that will help you win your fantasy football leagues this year and secure the top prize: bragging rights, of course (gambling is illegal!). It’s not a written rule of the game, mind you, but for some time it has been a kind of rule nonetheless. In general, I have long been a firm believer in not taking a quarterback in the first round – and I still am – but there is another position that I would recommend staying away from in the first round as well, this one perhaps less expected among fantasy-o-philes. As most reading this well know, if you pick the wrong player in the first round, a spot where you expect them to be the superstar for your team, then it can make your whole season miserable. That’s why, as we get closer to league draft days for the upcoming season, you want to start figuring out not only who to target, but what position to target as well.
Believe it or not: You might want to rethink picking that running back.
Wither the Top Performing Running Back?
Allow me to explain. Thanks to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, I was able to find data on every single running back taken last year at any point in the first round of their mock drafts (using 12 team, standard scoring settings). Those running backs were Adrian Peterson, Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Anderson, Jeremy Hill, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Justin Forsett, and Lamar Miller. Of those running backs, only one of them actually returned 1st round value, i.e.finished in the top 12 for 2015 of all FLEX players (RB, WR, TE), and that was Peterson, who finished with the fifth highest point total in standard scoring fantasy football leagues – and he wasn’t even the highest scoring running back. That would be Devonta Freeman, whose average draft position (ADP) was in the ninth round in FFC’s mock drafts. The next three backs by value were Doug Martin ( ADP of late third round), DeAngelo Williams (ADP in the 11th round), and Todd Gurley (ADP in the fifth round). Heck, for the fun of it, let’s go through the next six running backs as well to round out the top 10. That would be Miller (ADP of late second round), Chris Ivory (ADP of late fourth round), Forte (ADP of early second round), David Johnson (ADP of early 11th round), and Frank Gore (ADP of early third round).
So based on this data, out of the top 12 running backs taken in FFC’s mock drafts, only Peterson, Miller, and Forte finished in the top 10 for the position in 2015. The other seven were drafted anywhere between the early third round and the 11th round – and there, there were two of them! Also, just in general, only three running backs finished in the top 10 in standard leagues of all FLEX players in 2015 … while the rest – and this is important – were wide receivers. In the top 20, there were 12 wide receivers, seven running backs, and one tight end. And of those seven running backs, only two – Peterson and Miller – were drafted in the top 12 in FFC’s mock drafts. So, of those 12 running backs who were drafted anywhere in the first round in FFC’s 12 team, standard scoring mock drafts, only two of them returned top 20 FLEX value, while the other 10 did not.
Wide Receiver Dominance
Let’s shift focus to the wide receivers. Again using fantasyfootballcalculator.com mock draft data, 11 wide receivers were taken in the first round at any point in FFC’s mock drafts for 12 team, standard scoring leagues. Those wide receivers were Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham, Calvin Johnson, Randall Cobb, A.J. Green, Alshon Jeffery, DeAndre Hopkins, and Brandon Marshall. Of these 11 wide receivers, six of them returned 1st round value: Brown, Jones, Marshall, Beckham, Hopkins, and Green. Compare that to the running backs, where only one of the top 12 mocked finished with 1st round value. So, more than half of the wide receivers who were taken at any point in FFC’s 2015 12 team, standard scoring mock drafts, returned 1st round value, meaning 54.5% (six out of eleven) of the 11 wide receivers taken in the first round returned the value expected, i.e. you spent a first-round pick on them and they gave you back top fantasy production as opposed to running backs, where only 8.3% (one out of 12) drafted in the first round actually produced top fantasy production.
The remaining wide receivers who finished in the top 10 in standard scoring for 2015 were Allen Robinson (who was being mocked in the early sixth round of FFC’s mock drafts), Doug Baldwin (who had an undrafted rank in FFC’s mock drafts because of not being picked enough), Eric Decker (who was being mocked in the mid-ninth round of FFC’s mock drafts), and Larry Fitzgerald (who was being mocked in the mid-eighth round of FFC’s mock drafts). While there is some variability of where the remaining top 10 wide receivers were selected, going anywhere from the mid-eighth round to undrafted, there is still a better chance of getting greater production from drafting a wide receiver in the first round based on where others generally select them.
Some of the remaining five wide receivers who were mocked at any point in FFC’s 12 team, standard scoring mock drafts – Bryant, Thomas, Johnson, Cobb, and Jeffery – for the most part put up decent numbers as well, but not top production. Johnson finished as the 11th best wide receiver in standard scoring for 2015 and Thomas finished as the 13th. Of the 11 wide receivers mocked at any point in the 1st round with FFC’s mock drafts, eight of them returned top 15 production at their position; stated differently, if you could pick one of the top 11 wide receivers draft from those mocks at random, you would have a 72.7% chance of that player giving you top 15 production at the position. (Granted, you’d still have to have a sense of who those 11 players are beforehand, but if you don’t have a sense of that, I doubt that you’ve read this far anyway.) For running backs, of the 12 selected at any point of FFC’s mock drafts, only three – Peterson, Miller, and Forte – returned top 15 production at the position, meaning only a 25% chance of getting top 15 production in the first round if you were to select one of what are perceived to be the top backs at random.
As you can see from the data, there was a much better chance of recouping value for your pick by selecting a wide receiver in the first round than any other position in 2015. Another last bit of information to keep in mind: Of the top 20 running backs in 2015 (standard scoring), only 12 played all 16 games, while eight did not. Adding up and averaging out all of the games played (300 combined), that comes out to 15 games on average per running back. For wide receivers, however, of the top 20, 14 played all 16 games. When adding up and averaging out all of the games played (312 games), it came to 15.6 games on average. So durability and ability to stay on the field is another factor to keep in mind when draft day comes. To take the safer and more productive route for this upcoming fantasy football season, go with the wide receiver position in the first round. And good luck!