Our Baby’s All Grown Up
When my wife and I decided to take the plunge1 we felt much pressure to have a big wedding the “right” way, and endlessly cry while paying off a ridiculous amount of debt incurred along the way. We had money saved up but not enough to pay for the wedding and a down payment on a house. All of our friends were having large weddings, and it seemed like the thing to do. Naturally we did the opposite and used the money to get our first home and start a family. In came the kiddos, and my wife and I have long said goodbye to sanity.
In a way we zigged when everyone else was zagging and made the equitable decision. This was equitable in a monetary sense only; we now have a ridiculously loud and action packed family consisting of clamoring, dirty underwear, public streaking, and more clamoring. Who said there isn’t life coaching hidden in fantasy football? We make equitable decisions every day in both reality and fantasy.
I recently participated in the Sportable MFL10 draft featuring great and diverse minds of the fantasy community. You can find the draft, the picks, and the writers’ analysis here. It’s likely to serve as a good benchmark for many of your leagues. This was a best ball draft, so keep that in mind. You can learn more about this format here.
Having a pick outside the top 5, it was very easy for me not to be tempted by a first round running back. Full disclosure: running backs as a “conservative” play early on scares the crap out of me. 50% of RB1s the previous year won’t be RB1s the following year. With the evolution of the NFL passing game, I believe going running back heavy early is quickly becoming a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In addition to performance turn-over, there’s a high likelihood of a running back falling victim to injury, and I want to protect early round picks as much as possible.
You’re likely already familiar with Shawn Siegle’s Zero RB Antifragility thesis, and this strategy takes away early running back risk by removing it from the denominator all together. A big part of this draft day approach is largely built from “upside down” drafting, maximizing point potential everywhere else while majority of your league is chasing running backs.
The argument can be made that it’s better to draft the runner early. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, the overall ADP of the top 12 runners in 2013 was round 4, pick 1. For the receivers, the overall ADP of the top 12 receivers was 5.1. ADP says if you want to draft the top runners you have to take them earlier, and you can land receivers a round later as many hit the scene as mid round values and perform at a high level.
My problem with this is: out of the 16 running backs taken in the top 2 rounds last year, only 7 of them managed to finish the year top 16 at the position. Meanwhile, there were only 5 WRs drafted in the top 24, and 4 returned. To add to this, 13 of the 24 top fantasy point scorers overall last year were receivers. I get that there’s scarcity at RB, but ignoring the position early does not mean you won’t find production you need from the position later to pair with your high caliber receiver trio.
All the Damn Planning
If you went receiver strong early on last year, there’s a better chance that the guys you took in the top 3 rounds performed to expectation. Because you went heavy on receivers, you likely threw your mom’s best spaghetti at the wall of running backs in the mid and late rounds and landed a Knowshon Moreno, Fred Jackson, or Zac Stacy; or maybe a Danny Woodhead, LeVeon Bell, or Pierre Thomas.
Knowing that running backs come with volatility year over year, it makes sense to absorb this volatility in the mid-to-late rounds and hit on 2 or 3. The top backs are going to score a couple points a game more than the top receivers, but again the odds say that you have a 50% chance of picking the wrong guys. I hate being wrong, but the reality is we’re going to be wrong – a lot. Drafting receivers early is the conservative play. While you concede a couple points a week per player vs RB (if the RB you would have selected hit), there’s a better chance the receivers you pick will perform, stay on the field, and give you the points you’re expecting.
Many owners draft running backs heavily in the early rounds because they’re expecting one or two to either not make it or go down along the way. If this is the case, just flip the script: take the safe points at receiver, and start firing bullets at running backs later in the draft.
While drafting receivers early is an equitable decision, it’s time to pop the question regarding another addition to the Zero RB family and say “I do” to an early round elite quarterback as a life partner for Zero RB.2 We know the quarterback position is deep, so deep.3 Waiting on running back serves a dual purpose: it limits early round volatility, and it opens the door to beating up on your competition.
In the last 6 seasons, here’s the average points per game difference between QB2, RB2, and WR2 vs the 12th best players respectively. I didn’t use the QB1, RB1, and WR1 as it was typical for these players to run away with the position and skew the results.
QB 2 vs QB12 – 5.91 pts/ game
RB 2 vs RB 12 – 5.71 pts/ game
WR 2 vs WR12 – 4.02 pts/ game
While it isn’t substantial, getting the top of a position tier provides a bit of a point per game edge vs your league mates. Waiting on quarterback is often the way to go in traditional formats as you can get QB1 production late while bulking up at other positions. Having said that, if you’re already waiting on RB in antifragility fashion, it now becomes a question of whether or not you want to sacrifice one of your early round WR selections for an early quarterback. This now brings the question of volatility back to the forefront. The top RB selections have less chance to realize draft position vs the top WR selections vs the top QB selections.
Tying The Knot
Over the last six years if you drafted the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers you had a 2/3 chance of that pick performing to expectation. Only a couple injuries and a couple dips to top 5 vs top 3 kept this from 100%. Moreover, there was a good chance your quarterback became that QB1 outlier that blew the roof off the house.
While there’s less volatility at WR vs RB, there’s even less volatility at QB vs WR. In 2013, 25% of each WR tier didn’t perform to expectation mostly due to injury with a few performance turds.4. I’m not saying you should go out of your way and reach for an early quarterback. What I am saying is that we’re now at a point in which waiting on quarterback has become common knowledge to the point of creating value early on. If you’re looking at any of the top 3 QBs in the 3rd or 4th round, it’s not at all unreasonable to consider pulling the trigger on an elite early quarterback and give yourself an edge at both WR and QB. Starting in round 5 or 6, start plucking your running backs and land that top tier TE along the way.
Here’s an example of what this looks like. Projection models have a difficult time agreeing with Zero RB teams because they can’t project the volatility of RBs in the NFL. In hindsight, I would have taken even more high upside RBs, but I wanted a couple value veteran types that are getting drafted very late yet are likely to give me early points as I wait for the high upside guys to get their turn. In a traditional redraft, remember that the waiver wire is also available to help snag another diamond for your partner’s engagement ring.
This strategy can be very frightening in the early rounds. You’re watching all of the running back options fly off the board, and you start to question whether or not you’re ready to spend the rest of your season with this strategy. Is this strategy the one for me? Will I let her down while letting myself down along the way? Am I in over my head?
I didn’t even sow my royal oats…
Your palms may sweat, your knees may buckle, and your hand may shake while getting that ring on your partner’s finger. Don’t start running to the back of the church.
Zero RB Antifragility and early round quarterbacks were meant to be.