Fantasy Football Strategy: Avoiding the Running Back Dead Zone

Stay away from the middle-tier running backs, aka the 'RB Dead Zone.'

Before we begin, it is important to note, not every strategy holds true every single draft. Players fall all the time, and a best player available strategy is sometimes the best based on what is falling to you. We have all heard of the “Zero RB” approach, the advice to “Wait on a QB,” and of course, draft your K and DST last. However, the depth at several positions this year is allowing us to venture into new avenues.

If you are within the top 5 picks, I think your hands are tied (in a good way). If you went into the season not knowing your draft order and telling yourself “I’m going RB first two rounds 100%” and then get pick #3, sorry dude but don’t try to be a hero, take Antonio Brown (or Julio Jones/Odell Beckham Jr., we can be friends with these choices as well). Conversely, after the first five picks, it starts to get very interesting and allows different strategies to come out of the woodwork. Sure, everyone wants David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell, but the sad reality is, only two teams can lay their claim to one of these guys. The rest of us need to decide what’s in our best interest. One strategy we will dive into is the Middle Round RB approach, and therefore, focus on getting your WR’s locked up first, even though the position is so deep.

The safest position up top this year is quite an easy argument. Taking a look at the Top 9 WR’s (and some could make a case for the Top 11), you can feel pretty safe calling one of these your WR1, and with the last few members of this group reaching an ADP of the late 2nd/early 3rd round, this should be quite manageable.

Looking at what is available after the first round, it becomes apparent that the round three WR’s are very comparable to the round two RB’s. The upside of Jay Ajayi (late round 1/early round 2 ADP) is questionably the same as that of Amari Cooper (early round 3 ADP). So we go back to what we said in the beginning, sure it is fine to take a top tier RB in round one, but once the second round starts, focusing on locking up one or more of those Top 11 WR’s shouldn’t be brushed aside. It is the safest move. If you are against a Zero-RB approach, perhaps use that first round pick on a RB, so the next two rounds you are not inclined to take a RB because…

Rounds 2-4 are a RUNNING BACK DEAD ZONE!

This is where there is seemingly value at every position EXCEPT running back. There is too much risk. Guys like Leonard Fournette, Lamar MillerTodd Gurley,Ty Montgomery, Spencer Ware, Mike Gillislee, Mark Ingram, and more. This group of RB’s is filled with question marks, whether it is troubled offences, crowded backfields, time-shares, or rookie incumbents. It’s simply too early to take RB’s in rounds 2-4 that have as many question marks surrounding them as the next set of back to come off the board. The middle rounds are the last time to get your hands on competent runners or those in great situations, and these should not be wasted on receivers due to the late round depth at the position. Although it is usually an accepted strategy to wait on QB, it would even be acceptable to choose a top tier one if any are left out of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or perhaps a little reach on Andrew Luck who is falling due to injury (Aaron Rodgers will be gone, move on).

For now, forget about the QB possibility. See the following combos to get a better feel for the area of the draft we are in.

4th round RB, 5th round WR:

Mike Gillislee and Emmanuel Sanders OR Mark Ingram and Stefon Diggs OR CJ Anderson and Willie Snead

or instead…

4th round WR, 5th round RB:

Keenan Allen and Paul Perkins OR Alshon Jeffrey and Ameer Abdullah OR Sammy Watkins and Derrick Henry

The point we are trying to make here is that the drop-off in talent after 4th round for WR’s in comparison to the drop-off after the 4th round RB’s is much greater. It can also be argued that there are some RB’s in the 5th and beyond that have extremely high ceilings. Guys like Paul Perkins, Doug Martin (suspended first 3 games, reach a round early on Jaquizz Rodgers or draft a 3 week filler – there are tons!), or even later round RB’s such as Jamaal Williams and Rob Kelley who may claim the lead role in high powered offences.

Now, you can get creative, but it will be evident you have a bit of a question mark at your RB2. Big deal, go get another one the next round! There are still very capable runners available here such as Bilal Powell, Danny Woodhead/Terrance West, and Doug Martin as mentioned before. It is a great situation to be in to not have to worry about WR and focus on RB depth. Besides, the depth at WR later and even near the end of drafts will supplant that of RB’s. In a few rounds, you can start looking at guys like Tyrell Williams, Jeremy Maclin, Corey Coleman, and rookies that are grabbing lots of spotlight such as Zay Jones and Kenny Golladay.

So lock up one (or two if you can) of the Top 11 WR’s, because the risk up top for the RB’s not inside the Top 5 or 6 is not warranted when comparing to the safe floors and high ceilings of this deep near-elite WR grouping! Worry about your RB2 later, you will have acquired enough depth at the position to find your diamond in the rough.