BALLSTON SPA, NY – There were a lot of ways I could have went with this week’s column… The Baby Bombers have made a surge of late and sit well within the AL Wild Card hunt, all of the storylines in the NFL – i.e. Tony Romo, Colin Kaepernick and, for once, not the Buffalo Bills – and Travers Day at Saratoga Race Course.
However, with the NFL regular season quickly approaching, I decided to go a different route. I wanted to discuss Fantasy Football, and more importantly, Fantasy Football strategy.
Last week myself and my fellow Saratogian sportswriter James Costanzo discussed fantasy football strategies for a column in our paper. We did a 10-team mock draft together. He used a wide receiver-heavy draft strategy, while I focused on running backs.
So this week, I’m using my column to delve into that running back-heavy draft strategy because I believe it is the best way to go. Without dragging my introduction on much longer, here’s the latest Ebs’ One Big Thing!
Before I get too deep into this, I want you to all understand that I’m not some Fantasy Football Schmuck. Out of the four leagues I played in last season, I won two of them. Fifty percent isn’t half bad.
Now, I understand my running back-first approach isn’t the norm these days. Most people will tell you to take a wide receiver, especially Antonio Brown, Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr. if you have the first three picks. While I agree with the first three picks, though you could make an argument for Todd Gurley in there, I differ from the norm the rest of the way.
Look, I get it. Running backs aren’t as flashy as they used to be. I understand there’s the David Johnsons, Tim Hightowers, Charcandrick Wests, Thomas Rawlses and Buck Allens that can come in Week 10 and save your fantasy football season. So running backs will be there in free agency.
However, would you rather have a reliable running back like Adrian Peterson, who continues to defy the odds, or DeAndre Hopkins, who has a guy that’s only started 10 games throwing to him? There are guys like Hopkins and Dez Bryant that have questions and are projected as first-round selections.
Don’t listen to what fantasy pundits are trying to tell you — that running backs are a dying breed. They’re wrong. Running backs are the key to fantasy glory and success on the gridiron. Last year my two championship teams housed the likes of Peterson, Matt Forte, Jonathan Stewart and Darren McFadden. All four were viable options that I could count on week in and week out.
With that being said, I used what brought me success 50-percent of the time last year during the mock draft I participated in last week. I leaned heavy at the running back position. In fact, I used my first three picks to draft running backs.
With the fifth pick I selected Peterson and then took Le’Veon Bell in the second round (16th overall). In the third round, I selected Stewart.
Sure Peterson is now 31 years old and is in the age group that all running backs dread, but he’s still a bell cow for the Minnesota Vikings. And honestly, let’s face it, the guy is a freak. Peterson totaled 10-plus points in 11 games last season and scored a touchdown in seven of his final nine games. That’s exactly what you want from your top pick.
While I understand there is skepticism in taking Bell at all, let alone in the second round, you have the pull the trigger.
Aside from a running back-first philosophy, I’m all about taking risks.
Not only did I draft a suspended Bell, but I selected a suspended Tom Brady and took an injured Jimmy Graham late, took a chance on the Bills defense — hey, what can I say, I trust Sexy Rexy — and was prepared to take Josh Gordon in the 10th round before he was taken three picks ahead of me. If you’re going to draft with risk, you have to be confident in the other players on your team. Have backup plans for when said risks are unable or if they don’t pan out.
After drafting Brady in the eighth round, at that point he’s a steal, I took Tyrod Taylor with my very next pick. Not only is Taylor a flourishing star, but he finished in the top-10 for fantasy quarterbacks last season in points per game average. And ideally, I’m taking Taylor with the hoe that he’s a top-5 fantasy quarterback and I can trade Brady for a top wide receiver, where my weaknesses lay. With Graham, I selected also San Diego Chargers veteran Antonio Gates earlier on, which allowed me to take the risk.
Don’t be afraid to draft Bell. If you can handcuff the electric running back with fellow Pittsburgh Steeler DeAngelo Williams, like I did, you’ll be golden. Even though he was a backup much of the season last year, Williams had nine 10-plus-point games, including four 20-point performances.
One more caveat with Bell: If you find yourself drafting eighth or later int he first round, take Bell. After drafting Bell, use guys like Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy in the second round and Stewart or Mark Ingram in the third. You’ll be setting yourself up to have the best running back stable in the league. HINT: LeSean McCoy is going to be a top-10 fantasy player this season.
Now back to the running back-heavy draft strategy. After taking a running back with you first three, or two picks, make sure you use your next two selections for wide receivers. Don’t worry if you have guys like Indianapolis Colts’ T.Y. Hilton and Kansas City’s Jeremy Maclin as your top two wide receivers. Your running backs will carry the load.
Lastly, never ever, and I mean never ever, draft a quarterback and tight end early. Guys like Taylor and even Carson Palmer are going a little later this year. It’s just not worth it to use a fourth-round pick on Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton. And don’t even think about taking a tight end not named Rob Gronkowski before Round 6. You can take fliers on guys later on.
So to recap, because I understand that this was long and many of you may have skipped to the bottom: Draft reliable running backs early – guys like Peterson, Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot and McCoy – and then use picks four and five on wide receivers. Don’t be afraid to take risks, because you’d rather take a chance on Josh Gordon than the No. 3 wide receiver on the New Orleans Saints. Draft guys with a high ceiling versus a high floor.
P.S. Rest in peace Big Al. While we never met, I know how much you meant to those close to you and those at this website. You will be missed.