Unpopular Strategy: No Running Backs
The running back position in fantasy football is viewed as the most important position for your fantasy roster. Most avid fantasy competitors would argue taking a running back (RB) in your first 2-3 rounds is the best way to win your league championship. Almost any other year, I would agree with that statement but like everything else in this crazy world, 2020 is different.
This strategy is better for a dynasty league than a redraft league and only if this is PPR (Points Per Reception). If this is a standard scoring league, I do not recommend this strategy. Luckily, PPR is far more popular than standard scoring. Wide Receivers (WR) typically have longer careers than a running back. Keep that in mind, when doing your dynasty start up if you plan to keep your running backs for years to come. Early running backs also cause your team trouble if they get injured, if you don’t grab their handcuff. A handcuff is a backup who is most likely to start if the starter goes down. For example, if you draft Ezekiel Elliot, RB DAL, you’re probably going to have to cough up a 10th or 11th round pick for Tony Pollard, RB DAL.
Since this is an unpopular strategy for most people, this actually works out in your favor. You will probably see a running back run in the first few rounds before you see a big wide receiver run. The top value I have achieved in the offseason was drafting Davante Adams at 2.07. Pictured below is an earlier no running backs draft I did in March. As you can see, rankings and ADP (Average Draft Position) have changed since then. Not pictured on the same roster is Ronald Jones, RB TB, drafted at 13.12 and Brandin Cooks, WR HOU, drafted at 12.1.
The no running back strategy is not a literal term. The goal, however, is to find the best late round running backs, while boasting a top wide receiver unit in your league.
Here are some of the best late round running back values still attainable if you wait until the 5th round or later, in a 12-man league, based on current Sleeper ADP, as of July 5, 2020:
David Montgomery, RB CHI, ADP: 57 (Pick 5.09)
James Conner, RB PIT, ADP: 71 (Pick 6.11)
David Johnson, RB HOU, ADP: 90 (Pick 7.06)
Raheem Mostert, RB SF, ADP: 113 (Pick 9.05)
Ronald Jones, RB TB, ADP: 131 (Pick 10.11)
James White, RB NE, ADP: 145 (Pick 12.01)
Damien Williams, RB KC, ADP: 158 (Pick 13.02)
In May 2020, Conner, the lead back for the Pittsburgh Steelers was referred to as a “featured back” by Mike Tomlin, HC PIT. Historically, Tomlin has always been in favor of a featured back approach. Although Conner has a history of injury a late 6th round pick is a great value for the upside Conner provides. In the 10 games he played, all but one without Ben Roethlisberger, QB PIT, he was able to muster up 7 games of double digit fantasy points, including a game worth 30.9 points. Conner also excels as a pass-catching back, which boosts his floor in PPR leagues.
My second example of late round running backs being of great value is Damien Williams of the Kansas City Chiefs going for an average pick of 158. There has been no indication of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB KC, taking over as the immediate starter for 2020. Therefore, Williams has a chance to emerge as a consistent back on the high-scoring Kansas City offense. In week 15 and 16 of 2019, after overcoming a rib injury, Williams re-emerged as the clear-cut back for Kansas City with a combined 49.6 points over the last two weeks. In the Super Bowl, the biggest game in all of football, Williams made a case for MVP when he went off for 107 rushing yards including a touchdown and four catches to add an additional 29 yards and a second touchdown. Although the Super Bowl isn’t fantasy relevant, don’t think for a second they’d rely on Williams that heavily if he wasn’t going to be a part of the team’s plans the following year.
Lastly, all of the veterans running backs listed above with rookie counterparts are all established backs for their team. Due to the COVID pandemic, this offseason isn’t going to provide the same opportunity for rookies to overtake veterans. The NFL already announced a shortened preseason and no minicamps in person. This will surely affect how rookies learn the playbook and schemes for their respective teams. It can be done, but without in-person training, expect coaches to feel more comfortable sending out veteran backs more often than rookies to start the year.
If you are able to grab top wide receivers in the first four or five rounds and grab two or three running backs from the list above, you should be feeling great. Assuming you drafted from the 7 position or later, picking up Michael Thomas, WR NO, or Davante Adams can prove to be great value at this spot. There is a good chance running backs are going to fly off the board in the first couple rounds, so landing Deandre Hopkins, WR ARI, Tyreek Hill, WR KC or Chris Godwin, WR TB, is a real possibility. Having a duo of any of those five wide receivers will instantly make your wide receiver corps the best in the league.
2020 is so deep at wide receiver, you could easily quadruple up on them for your first four rounds. My favorite wide receiver targets in the third and fourth round have been:
Kenny Golladay, WR DET, ADP: 25 (Pick 3.01)
Julio Jones, WR ATL, ADP: 29 (Pick 3.05)
Calvin Ridley, WR ATL, ADP: 34 (Pick 3.10)
DK Metcalf, WR SEA, ADP: 35 (Pick 3.11)
Cooper Kupp, WR LAR, ADP: 37 (Pick 4.01)
Keenan Allen, WR LAC, ADP: 41 (Pick 4.05)
Golladay, the top wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, posted his second consecutive 1,000+ receiving yard season. At the top of the third round, he provides tremendous upside in a PPR league. In 2019, despite injuries to star quarterback Matthew Stafford, QB DET, Golladay had 65 receptions of his 116 targets to put up an impressive 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns. That was the seventh most yards in the entire league. That’s a greater number than yards put up by Amari Cooper, WR DAL, DeAndre Hopkins, WR ARI and Mike Evans, WR TB. When the third round comes back to you, think about smashing the draft button on Golladay if he is available. Also, did I mention he’s only 26 years old?
My second example from my list is Calvin Ridley. Ridley has emerged as the clear number two wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. Ridley has some slight injury history from an abdominal strain in late 2019 but that shouldn’t deter you from him whatsoever. In the 13 games the dynamic 25 year old receiver played last year, he had 93 targets to get him 63 receptions, 866 yards and 7 touchdowns. Many analysts have Ridley emerging as a breakout candidate in 2020. Austin Hooper, TE CLE, played for the Falcons last year but was signed by the Cleveland Browns and left behind 97 vacated targets. Expect the workload for Ridley to go up in 2020 with some additional looks by stud quarterback Matt Ryan, QB ATL.
In a full PPR league, having four quality wide receivers is a great strategy for racking up points. Don’t follow the running back run if you’re already on the back end of it. Instead, use the “best player available” method and you’ll see that there are some great values at wide receiver. At the end of the draft, you are going to be very pleased, if you can grab those late round running backs to match your top wide receiver core. Get ready for high scores and massive points per reception!