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Fantasy Football Draft: Going Against the Running Back Grain in a PPR Draft

Image (1) calvin-johnson-391x213-20100205-300x163.jpg for post 117722Two weeks ago, I posted my Top 150, as well as all my rankings at various positions. Obviously, even though that listing was current then, you need to be up on the latest injuries and depth chart news to know how it will affect positioning (see Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Daryl Richardson, for example).

Today, I participated in a 12-team PPR league with a variety of smart people associated with USA Today Sports and its various properties, so I thought I would share strategy from an actual draft, how it went right and wrong. I have also heard everyone say you MUST go running back early and that this is deep everywhere blah blah blah (things said every year I have played fantasy). I don’t do that. Especially in a full PPR league, with a mandatory must start 3 WR requirement.

So I went into the draft with the strategy of taking Calvin Johnson with the 5th pick overall, if he was there, otherwise going best available running back (because my top 5 would otherwise be running backs). Here’s how the team turned out.

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Let’s go through it. The first reaction, of course, is people will say I am weak at running back. Maybe. I like to say that points are points, and it does not matter how you score them.

What if, rather than looking at RB vs. WR, we simply look at “STUD PLAYER” (whatever position he might play) and compared them, and then separately compared the remaining Running Backs and Wide Receivers on the roster. Remember, points count however they are scored, and in this league, with 2 starting RB’s, 3 starting WR’s and a flex player, you have some flexibility. Consider my team as Calvin going against the other teams’ stud running back, Brandon Marshall matching up with others’ top wide receiver, and David Wilson squaring off against others’ RB 2’s. Then extrapolate it, so that Richardson and Ivory platoon to go against other flexes, and Moore and Givens go against other WR 3’s (and Nicks against the WR 2’s).

It is at this point that we must remember where Calvin Johnson ranks when compared against running backs in a PPR league. Last year, he was 2nd only behind Adrian Peterson. Two years ago, he was 2nd only behind Ray Rice. He is 28, still in his prime, and a reasonably safe bet to be very good. He is #1 over the last two years combined.

Now, to the nuts and bolts of the draft, because that is what drove the philosophy. Things didn’t always go perfectly, though I am satisfied with the execution.

In round two, I was prepared to take Jimmy Graham, lock up TE in a mandatory start league, and free up the reserve spots for other positions. He went the pick directly in front of me. I settled for Brandon Marshall, who outscored all RB’s except Adrian Peterson in PPR last year as well.

In round three, I got my target David Wilson, a guy I came in targeting at that pick to execute this strategy, and then next was targeting Lamar Miller. Miller looked like he would get to me, until taken directly before the pick in the fourth round. I had a big dropoff in my projections after Miller at RB, so I did not force a pick there. Instead, I went Jason Witten. That was not only based on a value based view, but also a more total strategy view. If I got Miller, I was probably going committee at tight end. With Witten, who has a very late bye week and I can just slot into a starting spot each week, the strategy instead shifted to going multiple upside guys late at running back or receiver, with the extra roster spot not needed for another tight end.

My major regret was not getting Shane Vereen. I went Richardson in the 7th as my first “flex” committee back for my second running back spot. He has emerged through training camp and solidified his hold on replacing Steven Jackson, so I bumped him up my rankings. I took him just ahead of Vereen even though I had them projected equally now, hoping that the latter would make it around to me again. Vereen went off the board, so I had to settle for Ivory, who was the last “starting” running back available (other than the muddled Pittsburgh situation.) I believe Vereen can be a PPR machine this year and that will be the one I regret. I hope that Richardson performs well enough to make me not do so.

Other than that, I went upside with Chris Givens and solid production that always seems to go unnoticed in Lance Moore to round out easily the best receiving group. E.J. Manuel was the pick at QB2 once several of them started flying off way too soon for my liking. Manuel is the ideal cheap QB2, especially in a league like this with only 4 points per passing TD. He is all but assured of starting now unless injured, I don’t need him to start week 1 so don’t care if he is questionable, and his rushing output should match him up with the non-elite pocket passers.

The final part of the strategy was getting the trio of Helu, Brown, and Michael. All three are the second backs in offenses that should produce Top 10 rushing numbers. We will have to see how the splits go, but all could be flex options in a pinch against a bad rush defense. Further, all would instantly be Top 12 starts if the starter in front of them missed any games with an injury. Brown and Michael are explosive, and Helu would be a PPR machine in the Washington offense if Morris misses a game. Three lottery tickets, but if any of them hit for a stretch, the team is loaded.

 

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