Patrick Daugherty: What’s your early-draft strategy this season?
I typically try to adhere to “best player available,” but have always skewed toward RB-RB. Usually I think the “best players available” are running backs, for better or worse. With there being little clarity after LeSean McCoy/Jamaal Charles/Adrian Peterson, however, it is not an approach I feel married to for 2014.
More than ever, I’m willing to take the Jimmy Graham/Calvin Johnson/Demaryius Thomas plunge. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel squeamish, but so does the idea of investing a high first-rounder in Marshawn Lynch or DeMarco Murray. The situation is even more dire in the 12-14 range. If you’re insistent on going running back, you’re looking at making someone like Le’Veon Bell or Arian Foster a first- or early second-round pick. It’s an approach ripe with risk.
The fear is eased a bit by knowing I can probably get Andre Ellington in the third round. So what’s your approach?
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Adam Levitan: Most of us will agree that the top-five picks are very safe -- and they're all running backs (McCoy, Charles, Peterson, Forte, Lacy). It starts to get very interesting later.
I don't think much separates the top-four receivers (Calvin, Demaryius, Dez, Julio). I also think A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson and Brandon Marshall are extremely safe in that next tier. I'm perfectly fine going WR-WR to start, or pairing Jimmy Graham with one of those wideouts.
The depth in those first two wideout tiers also gives us flexibility at the back of the first round. We can take a Jimmy Graham or DeMarco Murray, and be confident that we're going to get a stud WR in Round 2.
I know Evan has talked about a TE-TE strategy with Graham and Gronk. I see the merit, but am shying away due to 1) Fears about Gronk's health and 2) Really liking some of the later tight ends. Maybe I'm too high on Jordan Reed, Dennis Pitta and Zach Ertz, but I'm very willing to go to war with one of them weekly and can get them in Round 9.
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Chet Gresham: I'm in the same boat with Pat. I'm usually old school RB-RB as default unless a WR/TE holds too much value in the second round, but this year after the top 3 and depending on format, Forte, Lacy, Murray, Ball, I'm usually going with Graham or a top WR. And if it's PPR with 3+ WR slots and a flex TE, I'll dip even earlier. I really like the value of wide receivers 10-25 and feel like cases can be made for most of them to be top 15, so I'll still try to get a RB in the first two rounds since I can grab one or two of those mid-tier receivers. And I always, no matter what happened in the earlier rounds, always load up on flier running backs toward the end. A top and mid-tier wide receiver will have a good chance of staying healthy and holding value all season, while running backs are always getting hit by big fat guys who can bench three of the running backs they are tackling. So running backs are usually lottery tickets that you can cash in at some point in the season, even if it's just for a few games.
Raymond Summerlin: I never go into a draft with a specific strategy like RB-RB, WR-TE, etc. I always take the best player available in the early rounds, and then fill in the holes later in the draft.
This season that best player approach has often led to more of a zero running back roster construction. There are so many good values at the wide receiver and tight end positions early in drafts that it is not unusual for me to wait until as late as the fourth round to draft my first running back. It is certainly a nerve-inducing strategy, but with players like Joique Bell (late fifth ADP), Lamar Miller (sixth), Bernard Pierce (eighth), Terrance West (eighth) and Jeremy Hill (ninth) going so late, I feel comfortable I can find someone to plug into my second running back spot on a weekly basis.
Mike Clay: I've been very flexible this year. I like my teams the most when I land a good tailback early, but I feel like, especially in PPR, you can find nice values in the third through fifth rounds (Think Ellington, Vereen, Spiller). I try to avoid Jimmy Graham only because I kick myself when a handful of mid-to-back-end TE1s are sitting there in the middle rounds. I was all over Rob Gronkowski when the reports were positive, but now that he seems questionable (at best) for Week 1, I'm more likely to wait until the third round before pouncing. I still love the guy, but it's not inconceivable that he misses five or six games. That seems unlikely, but we need to be ready for the possibility.
At the end of the day, I'm taking the best guy on the board, but I do secretly hope it’s a running back twice during the first three rounds. I absolutely love the depth and upside of wideouts in the middle rounds, and I like my teams when I go with backs early and fill out my second and third wide receiver slots with a committee made up of five or six guys with WR2 upside. Oh, and when Tom Brady can be had as late as the 10th round of some formats, there's never a good reason to take a quarterback early.
Levitan: I don't know the answer to this, but I'll ask anyway. Is there any chance this zero-RB trend is a result of recency bias? As in, it would have worked perfectly last year, so we should all do it this year!!
To be clear, when I say zero-RB I am referring to none in the first three or four rounds.
Daugherty: Adam, I think you might be on to something, because it really doesn't seem like a strategy that would work with any sort of regularity, save for maybe in full-PPR, three-receiver leagues. Last year was a Halley's Comet at running back. There was a staggering amount of high-end busts. Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, Stevan Ridley, just to name a few. Running back is always a high-miss position, but it's hard to believe the carnage will be quite as complete this season.
That being said, with so much high-end receiver depth, there's never been a better year to go RB-WR, or WR-RB. Antonio Brown is literally the No. 9 receiver. He was second in the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards last season. That's how much depth there is.
Clay: I agree, Pat. There are 10 wide receivers I really like. After that, there are tons of guys with high-end WR2 upside. A tier of 20 or so guys I'd be content with in my No. 2 and 3 slots. So, if the Top 10 are gone, I'm happy to explore other options, including running back and maybe even Gronkowski.
Daugherty: Absolutely. The receiver depth is almost unlike anything I've ever seen. Quarterback is still the position to wait on, but with so many wideout options, I'm a little less hesitant to take a big early gamble on a running back that could end up flaming out.
Summerlin: I think zero-RB's popularity is a reaction to last season, but I am not sure it is an overreaction. In 2012 C.J. Spiller and Alfred Morris came out of the super late rounds to be top-ten options, and in 2011 Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bush and Darren Sproles did the same thing. There will always be backs that emerge from the late rounds or off the wire, though identifying those backs preseason is very difficult.
My leanings towards zero-RB this season is more to do with value than any draft strategy. I feel much more comfortable taking Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson or Alshon Jeffery than I do taking Le'Veon Bell, Arian Foster or Giovani Bernard. Depending on where I am drafting, that could mean I do not get a running back until the third or fourth round.
Clay: I've tested my projections vs. MFL10 ADP a bit and pretty much every scenario works out about the same. Starting off with a pair of stud wideouts and following up with a pair of good PPR backs before waiting until after the sixth round at quarterback/tight end seems to work out the best. But, like I said, it's almost the same as strategies that include going running back in the first, Jimmy Graham in the first, or zero-RB. It really depends on how you tier each position. The best advice I could give is to not overthink it — take the highest guy on your board.
Nick Mensio: I never really go into a draft saying "Okay, I need to get a RB in the first round," but I've found myself at or near the top of a lot of my drafts so far this season, and I've come away with RB-RB-RB, particularly Forte-Lynch-Stacy in many of them. Then I like to grab Jordan Cameron in the 4th. I'd like to try out the zero-RB strategy/phenomenon and start WR-WR-WR at some point, but it simply hasn't shaken out that way for me. Typically in the past I liked to wait on WR and grab a couple RBs early, but I'm not a huge fan of the mid-round WRs this year outside of a handful of them. I really like the RB2/3 group this year and would ideally like to take advantage of it by starting with TD-scoring pass catchers.
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