While fantasy football often comes down to ”picking the right players” (ask anyone who had Christian McCaffrey, Lamar Jackson, and Austin Ekeler on their teams last year), it is best to go into every draft with a strategy.
The strategy that we want to pursue is where we prioritize big-time wide receivers over running backs with questionable fantasy value.
This is a great distinction to bring with you into your drafts. We can say ”It is unwise to select running backs from rounds three through five because historically speaking, those running backs have out-sized bust rates” while also acknowledging that some players (such as James Conner, for example) can still be valuable at a historically tough spot.
Running back is the most important position in fantasy football, but avoiding the bad picks is just as important as nailing the good picks.
As the NFL has become an increasingly pass-heavy league with more and more split backfields, true workhorse RBs are the most valuable resource in fantasy.
You should select these players who are projected to score league-winning amounts of points when they are available.
The mistake that drafters have been making is putting the second-tier of running backs, all of whom have significant issues (lack of passing down work, real competition in their own backfield, injury/health concerns, or performance problems) ahead of proven difference-making WRs and TEs. This of course leaves them vulnerable to the vagaries of fragility.
This is our primary guiding light as we draft in 2020. Do not take running backs who won’t catch passes over long-term proven studs such as Mike Evans or Julio Jones. Don’t select Leonard Fournette when you can take D.J Moore.
One of our top targets at RB is the Los Angeles Rams’ Cam Akers. Coach Sean McVay has hinted that Akers, John Kelly, Malcolm Brown, and Darrell Henderson will see significant snaps in 2020.
The Rams used a second-round pick on Akers after spending a second-round pick on Henderson and then playing him behind Brown as a rookie.
The Rams spent a premium pick on Akers, who is one of the best RB prospects we have seen over the past several years. Akers was far and away the most dominant rusher in his backfield at Florida State, totaling 87% of the team’s RB production in his junior season.
Boston Scott is another example of a true sleeper at the running back position that should be part of our ”Modified Zero RB” builds.
Of all the amazing ”Zero RB” targets (Tony Pollard, Chase Edmonds, Darrynton Evans, Antonio Gibson, DeAndre Washington), Scott is the one who wears the crown in 2020.
He has the best combination of standalone and contingent value. Every day that passes that Philadelphia doesn’t acquire a veteran running back, Scott gains value.
Given that the Eagles’ receiving group struggled last season, there is a possibility of at least 70 targets sitting there for Scott in a role that seems to favor him near the goal line.
One of the players we should be avoiding the most is Fournette.
The new offensive coordinator in Jacksonville is Jay Gruden. Gruden prompted the team to sign the oft-injured Chris Thompson, a player who is much more a natural fit for third downs and pass-catching than Fournette is. From 2015-18, spanning four seasons, Thompson lead the Gruden-coached Washington team in backfield targets despite never attempting more than 68 rushes. In fact, Gruden has never had a lead running back tally more than 26 targets.
Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson and Todd Gurley are other examples of running backs that we don’t want on our fantasy team at their current cost in fantasy drafts.
If you still do not buy that you should avoid running backs in the early-to-mid rounds of your drafts, this is the simplest way to explain it: if the Saints’ Mike Thomas misses three games, Emmanuel Sanders doesn’t become the best WR in fantasy football.
If Ezekiel Elliott misses time, Tony Pollard might be the favorite to lead the NFL in fantasy points while Elliott is sidelined. It is as simple as that; your waiver wire dollars are going to be better spot on replacement RBs than WRs and the injury fill-in RBs are going to be a more stable source of points than injury fill-in WRs.
The more quality wide receivers you have and the more backup/complementary value running backs you have, the better your roster will be able to stand up to the stress tests of the eventful and crazy 2020 NFL.
This column was provided to The Associated Press by SportsGrid Inc., www.sportsgrid.com