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RB-Heavy Will Kill Your Best Ball Team, But There Is An Early Round Perfect for RBs

In Lesson 7 of the Best Ball Workshop, we learned that RB-heavy teams have very poor win rates. In fact, if you start RBx4 or select RBs in four of the first five rounds, then your chances of winning drop to approximately one in 20. Far from being fueled exclusively by the RB apocalypse of 2015, RBx4 had it’s worst year in 2018, winning less than 2.5% of the time. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, as we learned in Lesson 1 that the seven worst win rates in the top four rounds came from the RB position.

On the other hand, 2018 continued the emergence of the uber-backs. Six backs averaged 22 or more points, and five of them were selected in the first round.1 It can be difficult to square these two trends, and that dissonance provides an exploitable opportunity in roster construction. Today we’ll use the fantastic Roster Construction Explorer to locate the early RB plays that set your team on the path to victory and contrast them with the critical mistakes that will destroy your win rate.

When To Target an RB Early

Let’s assume for a moment that we’re not going to use Zero RB. If we want to draft an RB early, where do we go?

RB1 Selected in Round 1 (2015-2018)

Drafting your RB1 in the first round has given you a slightly above average win rate over the last four seasons, and that number jumps when you select enough WRs.2

We can contrast this with selecting our first RB in Round 2.

RB1 Selected in Round 2 (2015-2018)

Although the average score is lower,3 the overall win rates are very similar. Before we assume these were roughly equivalent approaches, however, we should test the implications of the Round 1 selection. Because selecting our RB1 in Round 2 guarantees that we only have a single RB in the first two rounds, we want to also specifically compare the results of RB/WR and WR/RB to make sure RB/RB constructions aren’t hurting drafters.

RB1 Selected in Round 1 with WR in Round 2

Our win rates and average scores both jump in this formulation, improving our argument for grabbing the elite backs in Round 1 as opposed to waiting.4

We might also wonder about the impact if we remove older campaigns. 2015 and 2016 were each unrepresentative seasons that fall outside general fantasy trends.5 With the pace of player turnover in the NFL, those seasons are also less reflective of the players and ADP we’ll see in 2019.

2015-2018 2017-2018
RB/WR 9.1 9.1
WR/RB 8.8 8.8
RB/RB 8.5 8.6

Focusing solely on the most recent two seasons gives us almost identical results, in large part because the big swings between 2015 and 2016 effectively balanced each other out.6

Drafting an RB in one of the first two rounds is a clear-cut approach. And while I recommend grabbing one of the stars in Round 1, the WR/RB construction is the only one that has returned at least a league-average win rate in three of the four seasons.7

What Should You Do Next? Why Does RB-Heavy Have Such Terrible Results?

RB-heavy formulations return such poor results because drafting an RB in the third or fourth round is standing in the path of a dragon.

2015-2018
Round 3 Round 4
RB1 7.3 7.3
RB2 7.4 7.9
RB3 6.1 7.1
RB4 5.0

Those numbers are bad, but it’s tempting to think of them as mere fossils from the bizarre 2015 season. Things are getting better for RBs, right?

2017-2018
Round 3 Round 4
RB1 5.5 5.8
RB2 6.6 7.1
RB3 5.4 6.2
RB4 3.6

Perhaps not.

As I demonstrated in Lesson 7, RBs have been overdrafted for a long time. Zero RB was starting to make a dent in that heading into the 2016 season. Then it was all over. Receiver scoring dropped. RBs stayed healthy. Young stars emerged at the position. Those were all very real developments, and avoiding an overreaction was impossible.8 With RB ADP again out of control, chasing RB points in Rounds 3 and Round 4 became a virtual death sentence for best ball squads. Last season, more than half of the RBs selected in those rounds had win rates below 5.0%.

There are also secondary reasons to avoid RBs in those rounds, reasons that go beyond the underperformance of individual players. Chasing RBs in this range doesn’t allow you to follow the dominant TE tactics for best ball. And from an overall roster construction perspective, it’s problematic to be overweight on a position that doesn’t require as many starters.9

More Shocks in RB: Part 3

In Part 3 of our look at RB roster construction, we’ll dive a little bit deeper into the interplay between the RB and WR positions. As you can infer from today’s lesson, excellent results flow from the 1-Elite-RB approach that has been championed by many within the fantasy community.

We also find that while drafting an RB in Round 1 works well, it hasn’t been the best round to select your RB1 in the post-2016 ADP landscape.

I’ll leave you with this teaser for the next lesson.10

RB1 Selected in Rounds 5-8 from 2017-2018

Catch up on the previous lessons and turn your best ball drafts into a money machine.

Lesson 1: Owners Are Taking the Wrong Lesson from 2018 Player Win Rates
Lesson 2: Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz Want You to Stop Giving Away This Big TE Advantage
Lesson 3: QB Is More Important Than You Realize and Easy to Exploit
Lesson 4: Best Ball Owners Are Abandoning the Dominant Defense Approach in Record Numbers
Lesson 5: You Really Can Ride These Simple ‘Onesie’ Tactics to a Best Ball Title
Lesson 6: Deploy These 8 Players to Execute Our Tactical Plan So Far
Lesson 7: Zero RB or RB-Heavy? Shocking Results from the Roster Construction Explorer

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  1. Christian McCaffrey was selected early in the second and led all players with a 27.4% win rate.  (back)
  2. 7-WR and 8-WR constructions are above 9.0%.  (back)
  3. Average score is influenced by how popular an approach was in higher-scoring versus lower-scoring seasons.  (back)
  4. When we eliminate the drafts where owners selected a QB or TE in Round 1, the win rate jumps to 8.8% for those who select their RB1 in Round 2.  (back)
  5. There’s more discussion of this in Lesson 7.  (back)
  6. This would not be true if we included WR/WR, as that construction owned a 14.4% win rate in 2015 but hasn’t been effective in the last three seasons. At least it hasn’t been effective until you make it into a Zero RB construction as we’ll see shortly.  (back)
  7. In addition to the higher overall win rate, you might prefer the RB/WR construction because it was better in two of the most recent three seasons, and because Le’Veon Bell’s 2018 absence – a development that isn’t related to positional value – artificially deflated what might have been even a much higher win rate last year.  (back)
  8. After all, it had taken years for the demonstrated success of WR-heavy squads to fix broken ADPs.  (back)
  9. This is especially true when it’s also the position where changes in starter health or volume immediately create breakout players in later rounds. This is one of the reasons why RB underperformance is worst in the early rounds, while RB overperformance is highest in the late-middle rounds.  (back)
  10. From the evidence in this article, you can already explain why the rounds with the best win rate for your RB1 might not represent the best place to actually select your RB1.  (back)
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