DeMarco Murray, The Poker Metaphor, and Why You Should Start RB-RB-RB in 2013


Recently Ryan Gilmore penned an excellent article on Chris Ivory and the RB-RB-RB strategy. Unfortunately for Ivory owners, he’s fallen well out of the first four rounds due to injuries and a New York offense that looks even worse than everyone expected. If you still like Ivory, he’s become a great argument for the upside-down approach.

On twitter the other day, @Bryan_Fontaine, @SigmundBloom, and I were having a semi-tongue in cheek discussion about whether you should start the FBG Players Championship with a TE-TE-TE approach. (FBG is very TE-heavy and has a double flex, so the strategy isn’t that far fetched.) Later, the veritable Ross Miles responded with this:

The more I draft, the more I feel like strategy should be approached like a poker game. You need to be able to change gears at times, react to opponents, and have a good grasp of a multitude of strategies.

— Ross Miles (@PFF_RossMiles) August 16, 2013

I agree with Ross, and it’s an argument made very persuasively in a radical football book called Game Plan. Poker might still be too restrictive. Fantasy football is even more multi-dimensional, and I once saw a study suggesting it was even more skill-based (in terms of skill v. luck).

On the other hand, having a particular strategy in mind is almost imperative. You should be ready to move off of your preferred approach if, and only if, mistakes by other drafters offer you ridiculous value propositions. When you participate in enough drafts, you quickly discover most participants are following a meandering BPA strategy that leaves their squad without an identity at the draft’s conclusion.

The first thing to do when you play a new league is to find the exploitable inefficiency in the lineup and scoring rules. Many formats now have a lineup structure that allows or even requires starting a third RB.

In any formats where the number of running back and wide receiver starters is equal, you must start the 2013 season RB-RB-RB. In many other formats, you should start RB-RB-RB.

Let’s follow the reasoning all the way through.

The Case for a RB in Round 1

Round 1 is pretty obvious, but it’s worth making the point that the depth in picks 6-12 makes the strategy work. Right now the players going at the end of the first round are Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris. T-Rich, or Cerberus as I like to call him, was the poster boy for my column on why RB-RB is back. His RotoViz projection trails only Doug Martin. Alfred Morris is even safer and appears poised for a secondary breakout. He finished No. 4 when I projected the field using the RB Custom Cheat Sheet app and has an excellent chance of leading the league in rushing touchdowns. He remains one of the Most Undervalued Players.

The Case for a RB in Round 2

I outline the argument for passing on exciting players like Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas in favor of runners in Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson Think You Should Go RB in Round 2. We’ll get to the receivers in a second. Let’s take a look at the runners.

At the top of the second round you have Matt Forte and Steven Jackson, which is a dream scenario if you pick at the turn. Barring injury, Forte should catch 80 passes this season and end up as a clear cut RB1. Steven Jackson should also see his receptions rise and his scoring opportunities skyrocket. If not for real concerns about age and lateral ability, S-Jax would be an easy first round pick.

In the middle of the second round you have Chris Johnson and Reggie Bush. Despite being frustrating to watch, Johnson is far better before contact than Adrian Peterson. Since yards before contact are repeatable – perhaps more repeatable than yards after – you’re getting a huge discount when plucking CJ in the second round. Matthew Stafford throws a pretty deep ball, but he also checks down frequently. Bush is a candidate for 90 receptions, which would make him the fantasy MVP.

The Case for a RB in Round 3

I began the offseason explaining why DeMarco Murray’s presence deep in the second round made RB-RB a necessity. He’s now fallen into the mid-third and represents one of the better steals in fantasy football history. We’re in a little bit of a down cycle for Lamar Miller, which means it’s time to refresh with Ryan Rouillard’s detailed look at his breakout potential. He leads the second tier in my RB Sim Lab projections.

Recommended Lineup

If you play in the National Fantasy Football Championship where you can request a specific draft slot via KDS, then you could easily end up with the No. 9 overall pick. Since the NFFC also has Third Round Reversal, you ought to be able to start Trent Richardson-Chris Johnson-DeMarco Murray.  There are plenty of other formats where a similar start is possible.

What does this do to the rest of your lineup?

QB: Late Round QB is the only way to play 2013. Almost the entire QB1 tier represents a trap that will crush your roster.

TE: I argued in the TE Feature for the PFF Draft Guide that you should either select Jimmy Graham or wait until the double digit rounds. If you employ RB-RB-RB, exciting late round sleepers await.

WR: Here are the players available to build your wide receiver depth if you start RB-RB-RB.

Round 4 – Vincent Jackson, Danny Amendola, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe

Round 5 – Reggie Wayne, Torrey Smith, Jordy Nelson

Round 6 – Antonio Brown, Eric Decker

Round 7 – James Jones, T.Y. Hilton, Cecil Shorts

Round 8 – Stevie Johnson, Josh Gordon, Miles Austin, Greg Jennings

Meanwhile the running back value in those rounds pales by comparison.

Of course, there are still plenty of formats where RB-RB-RB is sub-optimal. In a parallel column, I’ll look at the RB-RB-RB approach and identify the types of formats where it works and why.

Shawn Siegele is the creator of the contrarian sports website Money in the Banana Stand and Lead Writer for Pro Football Focus Fantasy.

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