The mantra of draft season 2013 was to take running backs early and often. Well, that didn’t go so well. First round running back busts were the ruin of many Fantasy teams in 2013. Wide receivers, on the other hand, gave us less frustration and a lot more breakout performers. Players like Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Antonio Brown and Keenan Allen all outperformed their projections and annual draft positions. There were running backs like Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Gio Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, Joique Bell and Andre Ellington that have Fantasy owners excited about 2014, but none are locks as first-rounders.
What strategies should owners use for 2014? Do you change direction from 2013, when running backs were drafted early, but wide receivers more consistently outperformed expectations, or do you stick to the tried and true method of selecting or keeping running backs, even though the top of the draft was littered with season-killing disappointments? Wide receiver was so deep this year. Should you draft them early or use your keeper spots on them? This week, Brandon C. Williams and Chris Mitchell will debate the strategies of drafting or keeping running backs versus wide receivers in preparation for the 2014 season.
POINT by Brandon C. Williams
Eleven running backs crossed the 1,000-yard mark this season, with the Lions’ Reggie Bush (974 yards), rookie Zac Stacy of the Rams (958) and Chris Johnson of the (for now) Titans falling just short of the barrier.
So why are you panicking about the “dearth” of running backs in Fantasy Football?
Sure, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller sunk many a Fantasy franchise in 2013, yet times (and backs) change on a yearly basis. Out goes those five, in comes Stacy, Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell and Gio Bernard to fill in their stead.
This season was dominated by QBs and WRs, so know that those positions will be well-stocked and overvalued next season. Everyone will seek Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Nick Foles early, just the same as wideouts like Calvin Johnson, Keenan Allen and Dez Bryant will be among the top 25 players taken off of most boards. Lay back and go against the grain. It is still safe to draft RBs early.
With 14 backs either at or approaching 1,000 yards, that should guarantee every owner in standard 10-and-12-team leagues at least one of them. That’s not adding the factor of at least one of the previously mentioned busts rebounding (the smart money would be Martin, with Spiller a close second) or the emergence of a rookie back or two stepping up. Let’s toss in the fact that Johnson and Raiders RB Darren McFadden will be in new uniforms, along with Ben Tate of the Texans, who will find a starting role once free agency begins.
I’m for drafting running backs in 2014; if the situation presents itself, grab two early and know the depth at QB goes about 15-18 deep. Say you grab Matt Forte late in the first round and follow up with Bell. In the third round, you’re still looking at quality under center with a Russell Wilson or a Colin Kaepernick. If you want a wideout, a Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown or Pierre Garcon would likely be there. That’s two running backs and either an up and coming QB or a consistent receiver who will be frequently targeted.
Running backs have lost some luster Fantasy wise, but make no mistake about it: they are still the foundation of a championship squad. Receivers are too inconsistent and heavily dependent on their QB, and vice versa. A solid RB can offset either. Keep that in mind come next August.
COUNTERPOINT by Chris Mitchell
When Fantasy owners think back to this season they will refer to it as the great running back implosion of 2013. Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice, Doug Martin and Trent Richardson- All first round picks, all gigantic disappointments, all season killers. In Fantasy Football more than any other Fantasy sport, the first two rounds of drafts make or break a team. It is almost impossible to draft and scour the waiver wire well enough to overcome significant misses in the first two rounds.
Running backs sank owners in 2013 and they have put Fantasy owners in a position to sink them again in 2014 – if you let them. A few running backs have emerged this year, but few have made themselves surefire first round picks or outstanding keepers. Combine that outlook with the significant risk of drafting those disappointing 2013 running backs again in 2014 and Fantasy owners are in a real bind. That is why you need to design your 2014 keeper lists and draft strategies around the wide receivers that emerged as elite Fantasy performers.
There is a misconception that wide receiver is deep. There are a lot of good wide receivers, this is true, but there are a scarce few that you absolutely know will produce every single week. Going into 2013 there were maybe five. (Megatron, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall). When you look at wide receivers from that perspective, the position is actually thin. Other than an elite few wide receivers, owners get a great performance one week and they get shut down or shut out the next and that is extremely difficult to deal with in head to head formats. 2013’s list of elite, reliable wide receivers grew, while tight ends and running backs shrank. Alshon Jeffery, Josh Gordon, DeSean Jackson, Demaryius Thomas, and Antonio Brown have all made compelling arguments for elite status while Keenan Allen and Pierre Garcon made cases for being strong second-tier options.
In the first two rounds of drafts the golden rule is that you want reliable producers, but the second rule of Fantasy drafting is always to get values. Rule #1 is a necessity. Rule #2 is a philosophy to live by. You don’t want to pay for upside or risk. You want to pay the cost based on conservative expectations of a player’s season and then hope you get a windfall when a player exceeds expectations. That’s how you win leagues and going into 2014, the value and the reliability is at the wide receiver position, not at running back.
By targeting wide receivers in the first two rounds whenever prudent and then going back for running backs in the next few rounds you are getting value across the board. By drafting running backs in the late second or third and fourth rounds, you avoid paying for risk and then set yourself up to get good value at wide receiver again in the fifth and sixth rounds.
This draft and keeper strategy maximizes value and minimizes risk, something there is too much of at the running back position going into 2014. 2013 was the year of the wide receiver, but 2014 is where you will benefit most from knowing it.
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