The early-round RB versus WR debate is raging within the fantasy football community. I'm going to outline some statistics that suggest a trend is developing in favor of wide receiver. The statistics will also suggest that wide receivers are more reliable 1st and 2nd round picks. Regardless, once the draft starts you must remain flexible and ready to deploy various draft strategies. So should I draft a wide receiver or running back in the first or second round of the fantasy football draft? Let's try to figure this out together and come up with a game plan that will work in most situations.
Starting with the end in mind, I'd like to examine a recent draft conducted by a group of fantasy aficionados. As fate would have it, the draft was very WR heavy in the early rounds. While I'm not one to jump on the zero running back strategy, I do like WR in the first two rounds this year. Some of these guys gorged themselves with wide receiver which opened up some extremely favorable picks at running back deep into the middle rounds. Take a look at the fifth position, here Eisenberg went with back to back WR. This is pretty much where I stand in 2016. I don't agree with his conservative pick (Anquan Boldin) in round 12. Yes, Boldin's floor is established, but at his age the ceiling is low; draft for ceiling, not for floor.
Looking at the Numbers
Old school guys are accustomed to consistent production from the likes of Adrian Peterson, Ladainian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes and Maurice Jones Drew. With the exception of Peterson, these guys are done and their era of football is gone. You don't want to chase points either! Recent fantasy point leaders have averaged a decline around 50-60 points the following year, according to Michael Fabiano. In 2015, of the first 10 running backs selected, only two finished in the top 10 as a fantasy point producer. Let's look at the numbers since 2010 and see if a trend exist. Stats published by Mike Clay, ESPN.
|Where Top 10 RBs In ADP Finished, Since 2010|
|Season||Top 10||Top 20|
And now let's compare to wide receiver.
|Where Top-10 WRs In ADP Finished, Since 2010|
|Season||Top 10||Top 20|
Listen, I'm no schmuck, I realize this sample isn't large enough to come to a conclusion. Keeping in mind that the game is constantly changing, it's difficult to draw an absolute conclusion from historical NFL data. But I can see where the early round wide receiver versus running back debate stems from, look at the 2015 numbers. The debate was centered around the early round quarterback back in 2014 and 2015. Now entering 2016 we have an abundance of promising quarterbacks and the debate has shifted to wide receiver. When you're trying to out perform your opponents it's wise to try and identify trends. The trend is certainly pointing toward wide receiver heavy drafting being the best option.
More Proof in Favor of Wide Receivers
Brendan Cole outlined the top wide receivers entering their 3rd year. Last year this list of wide receivers became household names in fantasy football. It's probably the largest crop of household name 3rd year wide receivers I have ever seen. Average draft position is telling us another story, that not everyone has caught on. Based on ADP the first two rounds are pretty much evenly split between WR and RB.
|First two rounds based on 2016 ADP.|
|Position||Round 1||Round 2|
Two of the five running backs being selected in the first round come with pretty big question marks. Bell is coming off a significant injury and will miss four games due to suspension. Elliott is a rookie and it's s hard for me to risk my first pick on him, Robert Mays explains both sides. When I'm drafting I'll most certainly pass up on both of these backs in favor of a wide receiver. Furthermore, if you draft RB in the early rounds your WR core will suffer, forcing RB into your flex. Also, you'll be so worried about your first round RB failing that you'll draft RB contingency plans in the later rounds. Top this off with the fact that most wide receivers outscore running backs at similar ADP and you've completely demolished your team's upside and total point production.
Mid Round Running Back Targets
Now that I've convinced you to draft wide receiver over running back, at least in the early rounds, which running backs do you draft in the mid to late rounds? Here are some excellent options accompanied by their current ADP. Draft a couple of these players in the mid rounds. Follow up with some high upside players in the later rounds. This will give you solid RB production on the cheap and allows you to draft the strongest most reliable players in the early rounds.
Caveats To Keep In Mind
Drafting wide receiver early and often could leave you short on quality RB depth, this is where your waiver wire prowess comes in. The waiver wire will help fill that void so you can make it through the grueling NFL season. Our members get personal waiver wire notifications via our personal agent tool. I send most waiver wire notification during the first 5 weeks of the season. This is when the platoon questions start to iron out and new workhorse running backs emerge. Signup for our world-class (according to me) draft guide and in-season support because we truly can help you dominate your league.