If RB/RB/RB Is For Winners, Then RB/RB/RB/RB/RB Is For Dominators: A Thought Experiment in War

Photo: Mark Runyon | Football Schedule

Photo: Mark Runyon | Football Schedule

A couple nights ago I was using the most awesome fantasy tool on the internet, RotoViz’s Snake Draft Planner, in order to prepare for the redraft league I’ve been doing for not quite a decade with my high school friends.

Since it started years ago we’ve carried on lots of weird quirky rules longer than we should’ve (such as the system of keeping players, which I won’t get into), and it’s a 10-team league, but all of the guys in it play in multiple leagues, they’ve all been playing for years, we talk a lot of shit to each other during the draft and throughout the season—and the same f-ing guy has won the league for the last 3 years. It’s painful. Last year, in the two-week matchup to see who would be the first broseph with 3 league championships (I won 2 of the 3 first seasons), I lost by the exact margin of Lawrence Tynes’ s sucky Week 15-16 point total (2 pts) and Matt Prater’s (21 pts)—and Tynes had been the best kicker in the league up to that time. Whatever.

In short, it’s a full-out war. I’m not looking to win. I’m looking to dominate. I wanna make this dojo mine. I wanna walk into the draft saying, “I’m gonna rip the eyes out of year head and piss in your dead skull,” and walk out saying, “Zed’s dead, baby, Zed’s dead.”

With that in mind, I decided I would employ these RotoViz approved techniques in my draft, and so I played with the app with these points in mind:

1) I was going to draft my QB(s) late. That meant I was going to ascribe to Frank DuPont’s current thinking on QBs. I was going to consider James Goldstein’s QBBC strategy and build my strategy around 1 or 2 of 14 QBs. I had decided that the late-round QB strategy just keeps looking better and better, and I felt that I knew which QBs to avoid to make the strategy work, which QBs would be traps, and which QBs provide a high margin of safety.Specifically, I had decided that Andy Dalton was a great sleeper, that Sam Bradford could throw a lot of TDs, that Jay Cutler could have a big year, that Matt Schaub is a top-10 NFL QB, that Ben Roethlisburger is a stealth star, that Norv and Chud could make Brandon Weeden a usable QB, and that the hydra strategy is not insane, primarily because Geno Smith’s real name is “Drewson Lucking”—and he’s going to beat out Mark Sanchez eventually. And I had used RotoViz’s QB Similarity App and QB Cheat Sheet. I was informed. Yes, I was going to draft a QB late. That was the first decision. I wasn’t going to draft a QB any earlier than Round 10.

2) I was going to draft my TE(s) late. I know that Gronk and Graham are awesome and Gonzo and Witten are safe, but I felt that the depth of the position meant that I should look for a sleeper or two to select near the end of the draft. Jordan Cameron and Rob Housler would be players to consider. Or maybe Ed Dickson? The athletic Julius Thomas? The last man standing, Ladarius Green? And, maybe if they slipped far enough, the opportune Vernon Davis, the still-young Jermichael Finley, or maybe even the old-but-still-alive Antonio Gates? More realistically, I would probably try to target young guys like Zach Sudfeld or Joe Fauria, particularly Sudfeld, who’s become a favorite RotoViz sleeper. And I had availed myself of RotoViz’s TE Similarity App. With all the depth at the position, I decided I would wait. QB and TE would be the last positions I would fill.

3) I was going to draft WRs in the middle rounds, since valuable guys like Vincent Jackson and Marques Colston can be drafted after Round 2. The middle rounds are where you can draft “The Stevie Johnson All-Stars,” such as Dwayne Bowe, Pierre Garcon, and Torrey Smith. The future slot machine Steve Smith goes in that range. Cecil Shorts is a bargain in the middle rounds. Opportunity knocks for Antonio Brown in the middle rounds. Golden Tate is available late. Denarius Moore could be available in the middle rounds, as could perennial sleeper Lance Moore. And drafting WRs in the middle rounds would enable me to draft guys like second-year speedsters Chris Givens and T.Y. Hilton, which would be great, since I really like HiltonI like him a lot. And maybe if my league mates were crazy I could draft someone like Andre Johnson. Maybe I’d still be able to acquire a few of the top 40 WRs. In the middle and late rounds I’d be able to draft young athletic WRs like Michael Floyd and Rueben Randle—and even Stephen Hill, if I wanted—and I’d also know which WRs to avoid, like Kendall Wright. And I had explored RotoViz’s wealth of WR apps: The WR Similarity App, WR Cheat Sheet, QB/WR Efficiency App, WR NFL Stat Filter, WR Career Graphs, and (of course) the ADP Arbitrage App. As you can see, a large part of RotoViz’s value proposition is the attention we pay to undervalued mid-round WRs whose production (just less than that of the early-round studs) is available at a steep discount. I decided that, if I could, I would exploit this market inefficiency by drafting as many of the valuable mid-round WRs as possible—a decision that led me pretty directly to the next point.

4) I was going to go RB/RB and probably RB/RB/RB. After all, since I wanted to fill QB and TE in the late rounds and WRs in the middle rounds, I pretty much had to get my RBs with my first few picks. Knowing that my first-round keeper would be either the optimal Ray Rice or the beastly Alfred Morris (I must keep one and only one player), I decided that RB/RB might enable me to take someone like Chris Johnson in Round 2 (I have the 9th pick of the round). Or maybe I’d be able to get Steven Jackson in Round 2, or maybe Reggie Bush, either of whom could be the 2013 fantasy MVP. And if I went RB/RB/RB I’d be able to acquire someone like Chris Ivory in Round 3 (I have the 2nd pick of that round). Having never gone RB/RB/RB before, I nevertheless realized that the RB3 strategy is viable this year and the preferred option across a variety of formats. I was certain that going RB/RB/RB would allow me to roster 3 of the top 20 RBs. Maybe I’d have to take one of the top RBs ranked 21-50, someone like David Wilson, the most important man in the world. At least I had FD’s most recent thoughts on current RBs to guide me. Based on what I’d seen on RotoViz’s RB Similarity App, RB Cheat Sheet, and RB Sim Score Lab, I knew that I wanted lots of early-round RBs and not many of the mid- and late-round RBs. As a result, I knew I’d probably be going RB/RB/RB.

5) And finally I was going to target a few select players, if they’d fit into the strategies outlined above.

Now, here are the specifications:

  • 18 rounds (but we use a kicker and D/ST), so really just 16 rounds.
  • We start 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB/WR/TE, 1 D/ST, 1 K.
  • 1 pt/25 PaYds, 6 pts/PaTd, no PPR, no bonuses.
  • 10 teams, slightly improved draft position through trades, but think of me as holding the 2nd overall pick for the purposes of snake position.

OK, I played with the app for hours, and after blacklisting lots of players and pre-selecting others, I realized this—I liked the way my team looked if I did the craziest thing I’ve heard of: Going RB/RB/RB/RB/RB.

Lots of possibilities exist, but in going RB5 I got a team that looked like this:

Picking from the 2 spot in a 10 team league:

Optimized Team

Round Overall Conf. Based ADP Player POS Proj. Pts
1 2 6 Ray Rice RB 224.6
2 19 22 Frank Gore RB 183.23
3 22 24 DeMarco Murray RB 186.43
4 39 46 Christopher Ivory RB 156.61
5 42 58 Daryl Richardson RB 118.3
6 59 63 James Jones WR 140.18
7 62 74 Cecil Shorts WR 141.21
8 79 81 Steve Johnson WR 135.91
9 82 86 Mike Williams WR 133.83
10 99 99 Chris Givens WR 106.25
11 102 109 Michael Floyd WR 115.93
12 119 119 Kenbrell Thompkins WR 53.15
13 122 139 Sam Bradford QB 234.04
14 139 150 E.J. Manuel QB 174.81
15 142 200 Ladarius Green TE 15.11
16 159 200 Zach Sudfeld TE 38.58

Note that Alfred Morris could be substituted in for Ray Rice, and WRs like Sidney Rice, Alshon Jeffery, Rueben Randle, Brandon LaFell, and Greg Little are all available if you prefer them to some of the listed WRs or if you want to draft only 1 QB or TE. Also note that other QBs are available late in the draft. If you prefer Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, or even Philip Rivers, Brandon Weeden, or Geno Smith, you can draft them instead of Bradford and/or Manuel. Of if you prefer other TEs, Martellus Bennett, Brandon Pettigrew, and Fred Davis are also available late.

In general, I believe that, at least in 10-team leagues, RB5 is a viable strategy. It allows you to be as aggressive as balls in going for all the RBs you want in the first five rounds. After that, you spend the rest of the draft picking up all the value picks that your league mates don’t want, and you have five starting RBs. If one of them gets injured, fine. If you want to swing a trade later, you’re dealing from a position of strength. No forcing yourself to hope that this is the year Mark Ingram and Jonathan Stewart don’t suck. You simply draft the RBs that you want as soon as you can, and then you don’t worry about RB for the rest of the draft (unless you want to). Go RB5, and then draft everything else you need. At that point, you’re set at RB.

And I like the way that my other position groups turned out. I might be in the minority, but I think that James Jones will do a pretty good impersonation of a WR1 this year—he plays with the best QB in the league, he led the league in TDs last year, the Packers often use 3 WRs, and the other two starting WRs are currently battling injuries . . . am I missing something???  And even if you don’t like James Jones, you have to like the value depth of Cecil Jones, Steve Johnson, Mike Williams, Chris Givens, Michael Floyd, and Kenbrell Thompkins. To quote Randy Moss, that’s “straight cash, homey.”

And I like the late-round QBs available after the 12th  round: Out of Bradford, Manuel, Cutler, Rivers, Weeden, and the Smiths, at least one of those guys can satisfy you, right? And Ladarius and Sudfeld I love in the last rounds. But if you want to spring early for a TE (like Gonzo in Round 6), fine. Take a TE early, and then just substitute on the backend someone like LaFell or Little for James Jones. That works too.

What I like, though, about drafting all RBs, and then WRs, and then QBs and TEs, is that you allow yourself to take advantage of all the positional mistakes your league mates make. By banging RB early, you give yourself the chance of drafting in Round 6 a WR who should’ve been drafted in Rounds 4 or 5 (maybe Marques Colston, Eric Decker, or Danny Amendola). And then by pounding WRs in the middle rounds, you give yourself a chance of drafting a QB in Round 13 a guy who should’ve been drafted in Rounds 10-12 (maybe Andy Dalton or Ben Roethlisburger). And then by filling all of your other needs first you give yourself the chance of taking in the final rounds a TE who should’ve gone earlier—maybe Kyle Rudolph or Greg Olsen or Fred Davis: whoever it is, you may have the chance to grab him, if you want him.

So I think RB/RB/RB/RB/RB works in 10-team leagues—but can it work in 12-team leagues? Using the exact same specifications, but substituting instead a 12-team league and drafting from the 5 spot, I had these results:

Picking from the 5 spot in a 12 team league:

Optimized Team

Round Overall Conf. Based ADP Player POS Proj. Pts
1 5 6 Ray Rice RB 224.6
2 20 24 DeMarco Murray RB 186.43
3 29 32 David Wilson RB 178.99
4 44 46 Christopher Ivory RB 156.61
5 53 58 Daryl Richardson RB 118.3
6 68 74 Cecil Shorts WR 141.21
7 77 81 Steve Johnson WR 135.91
8 92 92 Lance Moore WR 129.25
9 101 109 Michael Floyd WR 115.93
10 116 119 Kenbrell Thompkins WR 53.15
11 125 139 Sam Bradford QB 234.04
12 140 143 Alex Smith QB 227.75
13 149 200 Greg Little WR 98.22
14 164 200 Rod Streater WR 94.55
15 173 200 Ladarius Green TE 15.11
16 188 200 Zach Sudfeld TE 38.58

I may be crazy, but I still think this looks pretty good. Certainly the WR position is tighter, but it’s always going to be tighter in a 12-team league. And if you wanted you could draft only one TE and instead get another WR like Mohamed Sanu, Brandon LaFell, Jarrett Boykin, or Aldrick Robinson. If you wanted to draft only 1 QB you could add another WR, someone like Brian Hartline or Malcom Floyd. And remember that other players are also available in these ranges. If you want Brandon Weeden instead of one of these QBs, go for it.

But even the roster above I believe is viable as it is. The RB group is utterly dominant for a 12-team league, the late-round QB strategy has secured 2 strong sleepers, 2 young high-upside TEs can be streamed, and a WR group of Cecil Shorts, Steve Johnson, Lance Moore, Michael Floyd, Kenbrell Thompkins, Greg Little, and Rod Streater is better than you think, since all of those guys have legitimate chances of being top-36 WRs in 2013. In other words, all of those guys have a chance of being startable players for your team. And if 3 or 4 of those guys submitted high-end WR2 seasons, that could be good enough when joined with your dominant RBs, stable QBs, and better-than-expected TEs.

Most importantly, I believe that this strategy gives you depth at both the RB and WR positions. If one of your RBs is injured, you are sufficiently covered by another RB who is a starting-caliber player. And if you want to trade later in the season then you can deal from a position of strength. And you also have underrated depth at WR, as all of these receivers have potential to start and are thus all tradable commodities.

I’m not saying that RB/RB/RB/RB/RB is definitely the way to go in 2013, but it’s an option you may want to consider, since RB5 forces you truly to test the boundaries of the late-round QB, late-round TE, and mid-round WR strategies, to see how far one can go in the name of value. Essentially, RB5 is the fantasy Rubicon. You are forced into seeking value at all the other positions for the rest of the draft, and if you have trouble sticking to RB/RB/RB and mid-round WR and late-round QB after you’ve decided that’s what you want to do, then maybe this is the option for, since it forces your drafting priorities for all the following rounds.

I don’t know yet in how many of my leagues I’ll use this strategy—but for the leagues I totally want to dominate RB5 is the technique I’ll use. Either I’ll win big time or my WRs, QBs, and TEs will render me as dead as Zed. Either way, I’m gonna walk out of the draft with everybody saying, “You got the touch, you got the power.” And in this league that’s almost as good as winning a championship.

Or maybe I’m just crazy.

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By Matthew Freedman | @MattFtheOracle | Archive

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