Drafting First in Your Fantasy League? Your Best Bet Is Still a Running Back

Tom Van WyheContributor IIJune 20, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01:  Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs for a touchdown during the NFL game against  the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I have two rules for drafting first overall in a fantasy football league:

Rule 1: Always draft the top running back on your board.

Rule 2: See Rule 1.

“But Tom,” you say, “Aaron Rodgers scored 487 points in 2011. And his VBD was 215! Ray Rice, the top runner, only scored 303 points and had a 154 VBD!”

Those are very astute judgments, anonymous reader, and may I commend you for knowing your VBD, or “Value Based Drafting,” a fantasy football statistic popularized by Joe Bryant in the 1990s that marginally measures position players against their baseline peers.

I agree, more people should know about that.

But I digress. Even though Aaron Rodgers could be justified as the best quarterback in 2012 based on his VBD or pure scoring, fantasy football psychology and the relative consistency of quarterbacks tells me you would have been better off drafting Ray Rice.

Concerning the consistency, it’s always easier to project a quarterback than a running back. Barring injury, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees and Cam Newton will finish in the top six in fantasy football points this season. But it’s much more difficult to draft a predictable running back after the top five or 10 are off the board.

Trent Richardson or Marshawn Lynch? Matt Forte or Steven Jackson?

Yet only three or four of the aforementioned quarterbacks will be drafted in the first two rounds, which brings us to the pop fantasy football psychology I’m about to bestow.

Fantasy football players have been conditioned to draft a running back in the first round. In most 12-team leagues, only the top three, maybe four, quarterbacks will be drafted in the first two rounds. If you check Fantasy Football Calculator today, you’ll see that Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton, respectively the No. 4 and No. 5 fantasy quarterbacks in 2012, are being drafted Nos. 24 and 22 overall, respectively. Stafford threw 41 touchdown passes last season and will likely be available at the end of the second round, based on mocks.

Old draft habits die hard.

And when you read about fantasy football theories, including VBD, it’s critical to remember that you need to draft according to the flow of the draft and the predictability of players. Never ignore the fact that most of your fellow drafters will use the same strategy they used last season and the season prior and the season before that. In the end, a fantasy draft is grossly predictable for two rounds.

For example, if you’re in a 12-team league, two to three quarterbacks and wide receivers will come off the board, 15 or so running backs and, for the first time this season, a tight end or two.

Check back on this article after your draft. I guarantee this is accurate.

That means in your league, drafting a Ray Rice or Arian Foster first overall is the best option. In fact, I wouldn’t draft Rodgers until the fourth or fifth overall pick, depending on how highly you value Calvin Johnson.

If you do take a top-tier back first, when your second-round (No. 24 overall) pick rolls around, you can nab a quarterback the likes of Stafford or Newton. And I’d take either of those gunslingers any day over someone along the lines of Steven Jackson or Fred Jackson, both of whom might be considered the best backs around if Aaron Rodgers were your first overall pick.

Add to the fact you can still draft either Jackson with the wraparound (No. 25 overall) pick or a top receiver like Wes Welker or Greg Jennings, and you can see how your team is shaping up.

Bottom line: Even though the strict numbers suggest you’d be better off drafting a quarterback with the top overall pick, your best option is still a running back, in spite of recent history. You can thank your fellow fantasy drafters for that.