Running backs no longer dominate the top of draft boards in fantasy football as they did for most of the past decade. That doesn't mean players at the position won't have a significant impact on which teams capture championships during the 2016 season.
In fact, the fantasy owners who are best able to find value in the backfield during the middle rounds are going to own a sizable advantage over the competition. That's because the sheer unpredictably of the position leaves the door open for some major steals.
Let's check out some useful tools heading into the busiest part of drafting season, including a mock draft of the opening round and some various outlets' rankings. That's followed by some tips to help build a successful roster, with an emphasis on the aforementioned running backs.
First-Round Mock Draft
|2016 Fantasy Football: Round 1 Mock|
|3||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||NYG|
Cheat Sheet Options
|ESPN||Fantasy Pros||USA Today||STATS|
|CBS Sports||The MMQB||NFL.com||Yahoo Sports|
|Fox Sports||FF Today||Sporting News||Scout|
Drafting Strategy Tips
Beat The Running Back Wave
As the fantasy outlook changes, pushing more wide receivers into the first round and creating a more balanced draft overall, the way to attack running backs changes. Now the focus becomes beating the run on RBs to prevent getting stuck without any reliable reserves.
It appears that starts around pick No. 75. Nearly half the selections between that spot and pick No. 100 are running backs, according to ESPN's tracker of average draft position. So in a 12-team league, things start to trend toward bulking up the backfield in Round 6.
In turn, it's likely wise to grab a rusher in the fifth round, after laying the foundation of your team in the first four. Then, when a majority of the league is grabbing those mid-level backs, flip your attention to grabbing great value at the other positions.
Grabbing a handcuff is one thing that's generally overrated in fantasy, though. It's hard to know exactly how the backfield work will be dished out if a starter goes down. Matt Harmon of NFL.com used the Kansas City Chiefs' situation from last year as a perfect example:
Short-sighted fantasy managers might cite the Chiefs backfield as a situation where handcuffs worked out. However, neither Charcandrick West or Spencer Ware was on the radar at draft time last season. Knile Davis, on the other hand, was a 10th-round pick. That's a perfect example of the kind of whiff that often comes out of chasing potential handcuffs.
It's rare for a No. 2 running back to merely step right into the same role the starter filled. The depth chart usually gets shaken up with multiple players helping to fill the void. So don't pass up good value just to get the backup for your top rusher.
Focus On RB And WR Depth
The most important word in fantasy is value. Star power rarely dictates who wins championships unless one of the first-round studs goes absolutely bonkers during the playoffs, carrying all of his fantasy owners to the title. Instead, it usually comes down to who can find the most reliable contributors.
This year there's plenty of late value available at both quarterback and tight end. At QB, Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco can be solid backups. The same can be said for Jason Witten, Charles Clay and Jordan Cameron at TE.
So at those two positions you can identify the sleeper you like most and wait. Things are a lot more volatile at running back and wide receiver. That makes grabbing some extra depth pieces, perhaps better described as lottery tickets, at those spots more important.
Don't be afraid to take a chance on a player with a defined niche role, either. PFF Fantasy Football noted it's possible for those type of assets to carry fantasy worth, though it's a limited group:
Remember, it's unlikely a backup tight end will make much of an impact and your backup quarterback won't start much unless your starter gets hurt, which would damage your chances anyway. A successful flier on an extra running back or wideout could pay off big in the long run, though.
Don't Draft A Kicker Before The Final Round
Although this tip is common sense for most fantasy veterans, it's still probably the biggest mistake for newer team managers. Too many people still take a kicker in the middle rounds to fill out their starting lineup before drafting a bench. Don't do that.
The reason is simple: the advantage of owning a top kicker is minimal. The difference between Stephen Gostkowski (the No. 1 kicker) and Mike Nugent (the No. 12 kicker) was less than three points per game, per ESPN. Take out Gostkowski and make it Graham Gano (the No. 2 kicker) and it's less than two PPG.
Grabbing Gostkowski is fine if it's the penultimate round and he's still on the board. But that's really the only exception to the rule, especially since the scoring is so variable and you're likely to drop your kicker for a new one when his bye week arrives anyway.
4for4 Football provided further context about the lack of edge gained by trying to chase kicker points:
Another tactic for leagues where there are cheap or free moves is simply changing your kicker on a weekly basis based on matchups. But the bottom line remains the same, don't waste a valuable pick on the position when there are so many other needs to fill.