Don’t let the title of this article fool you, it is not about Robert Griffin III, or a strategy for picking your third running back (boring!). It does, however, discuss the benefits of using your first three picks on running backs this year. That’s right, three, in a row, each on a running back. Just making sure we are clear.
As the NFL seemingly continues to become more and more of a passing league, it seems counter-intuitive to put so much of your early resources into the running back position. I would argue that this is precisely
why you want to come out of the tunnel and load up on starting running backs. There are far too many good wide receivers and quarterbacks available in the later rounds to waste your early picks on them. The viable running back pool dries up quickly after the third round.
Let’s look at the running back side to get started. I am continually shocked at the quality of guys you can end up with (including wide receivers, quarterback and tight end) by employing this strategy. From a top-3 draft position, you may draft the likes of:
Even at the back end of the first round (8-10), you can still end up with strength at this position:
The middle rounds fill out very nicely as well. Having this kind of strength at running back sets you up nicely for the rest of the draft and gives you numerous in-season roster options. You will have the necessary depth should one of your stud running backs go down with an injury. You will also have valuable trade bait should you need to strengthen one of your other offensive positions. Furthermore, you will be setup nicely for your playoff run as the cold weather brings the running game to the forefront. I’ve always felt I can go to the waiver wire on a weekly basis and pick up a serviceable wide receiver or quarterback. However, if you have ever gotten stuck in the unenviable position of filling a running back spot off the waiver wire, you know the futility of this task.
Now let’s fill in the rest of the team. The pass-happiness of the league and the emergence of several promising rookie quarterbacks last season means there are great quarterback options available in Rounds 4-6. Picture your team with three of the running backs above and one of these signal callers behind center: Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo or Andrew Luck. Also, the RB3 strategy may well turn into the RGIII strategy, as Robert Griffin III will also be available in these rounds. The overall distance from the top tier guys in this group has narrowed greatly as more and more guys are throwing for 4,000-plus yards and racking up huge touchdown numbers. Wait to pick your quarterback and you will be greatly rewarded! Now, on to the wide receivers.
The gap from the top tier guys (Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green) to the second and third tier guys is certainly noticeable. That is, before you factor in the price it’s going to cost you to get one of these guys (a first- or second-rounder). A decision to grab one of these studs early will lead to a tough decision later as you try to grab your RB2 or RB3. Don’t get stuck guessing who will get the carries in an unsettled backfield (Arizona, St. Louis, Green Bay, Carolina), or have to hope for an injury or a goal line dive to make your guy playable. You will have plenty of opportunity to pick up these types of backs later as you fill in depth.
You have a stacked backfield and a good starting quarterback; let’s look at the type of wide receivers available in the later rounds. A core of 4-5 guys will give you plenty of options at this point. (Remember, you will be starting three running backs so you are essentially looking for one or two starters here). Some of the groupings available here are:
This should give you plenty of options to get a productive starter or two out of this group, although you will likely spend a little more time each week looking at wide receiver matchups. Personally, I would much rather have to choose between several good wide receivers to start than a bunch of running backs who may get a series or two of carries. The real benefit of this approach it that it gives you numerous options to build a highly competitive team. Waiting an extra round to pick your quarterback may give you a good tight end or a higher-ranked WR1, depending on what you prefer.
From here, continue to fill in depth at all positions and you should have a great draft. For the most part, I have left tight end out of this discussion, as I feel that a serviceable tight end will be available whenever you are ready to grab one. You will have the flexibility to grab a second tier guy after you have picked your running backs if you decide, again highlighting the versatility of this strategy.
As the dreaded running back by committee continues to take hold around the league, the number of starting running backs in good situations is becoming very limited. Factoring in the several situations where three or four guys are fighting for the starting role complicates the matter even more. Don’t get stuck sifting through the scrap heap of leftover running backs hoping to find gold. Grab three running backs early and you’ll have great options to get your wide receivers and a quarterback later. You won’t be sorry.