The RB-RB approach, dissected

If you found yourself in your league’s championship matchup last season, there’s a good chance you got there despite your running backs, rather than because of them. It was just one of those seasons where most owners found themselves banking on their receivers and quarterbacks rather than on their injury-prone or lackluster RBs. In short, it wasn’t a good season for the vaunted “take RBs in rounds 1 and 2, always” drafting mantra.

Is it time to reevaluate the RB-RB approach? The subject has been broached by several bloggers and columnists this off-season. Here I’ll provide a summary of their opinions, as well as my own take. Will we reach a consensus of sorts?

Tom Kessunich advocates picking a WR in the 2nd round this year if you’ve got one of the first nine picks in a twelve-team draft – unless Reggie Bush is available.

Zoneblitz sounds ready to eschew the RB-RB strategy for good:

Let fantasy drafts come to you. It’s no longer taboo to grab a top quarterback – Tom Brady or Peyton Manning – or the top ranked wide receiver in the latter half of round one. Paul Charchian, founder of the Web site, has long espoused a strategy he calls “Doing the opposite” and ever since I started being more purposeful in my own scouting and rankings I’ve had much more fantasy football success.

House of Steel, host of TheScoreBoards, is still solidly in the RB-RB camp:

I have noticed the position has lost its value and lacquer last season, but as I will always say, it will remain the biggest position to draft in the first two rounds of any league.

Matthew Wilson of KFFL continues to advocate an approach they call “stud running back theory” (SRBT), which always entails taking RBs in the first two rounds (at least):

Selecting running backs with their first three picks before considering players at other positions adds depth as well as trade bait down the road.

Why stockpile running backs early and ignore players at other positions? Dominant running backs are scarce.

Another KFFL writer, Bryce McRae, recommends the SRBT system with some reservations. However, the example exception he uses is a completely implausible one (is Brady going to drop to late in the 2nd round in any league this year?):

The first rule, and arguably the most important, is to always get the best value for your pick. A lot of owners will go with the stud running back theory, meaning they will take two running backs in the first two rounds regardless of draft position. However, if a player such as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady falls to you late in the second round, seriously consider picking him up. What you will want to do is calculate the drop-off in value to the next-best option, and if it is greater than the next-best option at another position, you should address the position that has the larger drop-off. So if it comes down to two players, say Brady and New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, check to see what the next-best options are and when you think they will likely go. Then choose the better option.

Out of those five opinions, we get two who have decidedly turned against the RB-RB approach, two who still advocate it, and one who… thinks Tom Brady’s going to fall to the end of the second round, is therefore certifiably insane and does not count. I guess it’s even.

For me, 2007 changed nothing. Last season was like the poker night where you simply don’t get any cards. You go home that night cursing the dealer, but also full of doubt about the way you play poker – even if, on average, you tend to do better than your friends. The most disastrous decision you can make at that point is to scrap everything you know about playing poker and decide to start fresh with a new strategy.

Did anything change about the way football is played in the NFL last season to make running backs less valuable in fantasy football? The answer is obviously no. The RB-RB strategy was a winner for years before last season because it relies on a simple principle: The scarcest commodity in fantasy football is a reliable running back, and in most leagues, you need to start two of them every week. Owners who scrimp on running backs in the draft are the ones scrambling to find a five-point (at best) RB2 plug-in on the waiver wire every week.

Does this mean I’ll always draft RB-RB, regardless of the situation? Of course not. It pays to go against the grain when you’re drafting, so if I’m in a league where all the other owners are hardcore RB-RB drafters, I’ll probably take a stud WR or QB, especially if I have a late pick in the 2nd round and all the good RB options are gone. But in most leagues, that won’t be the case, and due to the high value I assign to the RB position on my personal cheat sheets, odds are pretty good that I’ll be taking RBs in the first two rounds, and possibly in the third as well.