If you’ve been playing fantasy football for a long time, you know that picking towards the top was the most desirable place to be as that’s where the most elite running backs could be found.
But, we’re winding down this decade with widely variant strategies on fantasy team composition, and picking near the top of the order isn’t always the best place to be. Below, let’s examine picking near the top, middle and end of the first round and what that means for your draft strategy moving forward.
Building a Team from 1.01 – 1.04
The “stud” running backs aren’t what they used to be as coaches work so hard these days not to overuse elite ball carriers. Still, if you’re picking 1.01-1.04 in a redraft league this season, it’s hard to justify anything but a running back selection as four players really stand out at the position, both in points per reception (PPR) and non-PPR formats.
Assuming then that you select either Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey, you’ve got your cornerstone in place heading into Rounds 2 and 3. Those two picks depend quite a bit on how many starters you are allowed at each position. For example, if your starting lineup requirements demand one quarterback, 1-2 running backs, three wide receivers and one tight end; getting a pair of wide receivers at the 2-3 turn represents the best value given that the position is deep all the way to WR12.
There will still be quality running backs at the 4-5 turn that can be scooped up as the primary complement to your stud. An exception to this would be leagues in which flex options allow for a third starting running back. In that case, a running back with upside might be worth a look. If you love either Zach Ertz or George Kittle at tight end, you could conceivably also look at filling that position early, but down the road it will cost you depth at the running back or wide receiver position. So, taking all this into consideration, here’s how a draft might shake out from the 1.01 – 1.04 positions:
I didn’t include a Round 5 projection here as I think you begin to look at best player available in all scenarios. The “Ideal” path opens up all sorts of options for your fifth-round pick, while the “RB-Heavy” path likely forces you into a wide receiver selection. The “TE” path makes the selection of a second running back almost imperative in Round 5 so you don’t get stuck with an undesirable pick as your RB2 (Derrius Guice, Jordan Howard in a new situation). Remember, when you own a “sure thing” barring injury, it’s best to be conservative moving forward the next few selections. And, quarterback can definitely wait.
Building a Team from 1.05 – 1.08
Ah, the dreaded middle. The top tier running backs are gone and the guys remaining at that position all have question marks. Will Melvin Gordon hold out into the regular season? Will Le’Veon Bell resemble his old self after sitting out a full year? How will David Johnson fare with a rookie quarterback? Is James Conner talented enough to be taken with a Top 8 pick?
Like anyone else, I can spit out predictions left and right on these guys, but the fact of the matter is that no one knows who will emerge the most productive from that batch of uncertainty. What is known is that wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams and Julio Jones form the top-tier at their position and making one of them the foundation of your team might be better than trying to choose between a host of mystery options at running back.
Pay attention to everything you can soak up about this group of running backs between now and your draft date. Ultimately, if you don’t feel comfortable pulling the trigger on one, wait a round and look again in Round 2. Remember, running back is deep enough this year to find quality starters all the way through Round 5.
The other dilemma has to do with Travis Kelce. Tyreek Hill’s return is good news for Kelce as he now won’t face double teams all the time. Taking Kelce in Round 2 means you’ll be taking your first running back or wide receiver no sooner than Round 3. Is Kelce worth it?
The Kelce Path
1.07 – WR DeAndre Hopkins, Houston, or RB Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
2.06 – TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City * Kelce could go much higher than this but you can substitute Zach Ertz here if Kelce is gone.
3.06 – First RB or WR, depending on first pick
4.06 – WR Brandin Cooks, Los Angeles Rams, or RB Josh Jacobs, Oakland
In the latter scenario, taking your first wide receiver at 3.07 could prove costly as there is a significant expected drop in production from receivers Adam Thielen/Amari Cooper/Keenan Allen to what resides behind them. If all of those wide receivers have already been selected (chances are they all will have been), you’ll be picking from wide receivers who should be fourth round picks, not third. So, if you opt for the running back gamble at 1.07, don’t grab Kelce with the follow-up pick. You’ll lose too much at wide receiver to make it worth it. However, a grab of Hopkins then Kelce still allows for a solid running back choice in the third round.
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid of building your team from a top tier wide receiver upward if you are a “middle” drafter.