This article is part of our DRAFT NFL series.
EDIT: Sorry but I originally failed to note that the following was done in 12-team drafts -- I can't speak to the strategy of other league sizes in DRAFT's NFL best ball format at the moment.
This is the third update on my misadventures through the new year of best ball NFL leagues on DRAFT.com, where I'm already signed up for five $3 leagues, with three of them fully concluded as of this writing. The ADP lessons that might be available at the moment are tenuous – the NFL Draft in about one month will throw off all bets, especially once we know which rookie running backs are playing where – so attack now if any of the described trends strike you as exploitable. It might not apply in a few weeks.
The following thoughts are pretty much just based on my own intuition, so I don't mean to oversell the value of my own dumb suspicions. For now, though, the blueprint for me is pretty clear:
1. Make a pointed effort to get at least one top-12 running back, but fade the running backs that tend to go in rounds four through eight. This isn't to say you definitely have to spend a first or even second-round pick on a running back – you can get guys like Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook later than that, and I think they'll both suffice. The top is stacked, but the middle doesn't exist. Because of talent limitations or workload uncertainty, I think most of the band-aid runners that get targeted in the middle rounds are only marginally more likely to produce than a number of candidates, largely rookies, who you can get in the nearly double-digit rounds.
It's not that these later options like Ronald Jones (103.9 ADP), Rashaad Penny (113.1), Royce Freeman (173.7), etc. are strong bets to outproduce the likes of Jay Ajayi (46.1), Chris Thompson (71.1), C.J. Anderson (77.4), Jamaal Williams (77.5), Marlon Mack (85.7), and Rex Burkhead (94.5), but the possibility is likely enough at their drastically reduced prices that the comparison isn't even a contest for me. Point blank: Thompson, Anderson, Williams, and Mack cannot compete with the talent of Jones, Penny, or Freeman. What happens if they end up on the same team?
With that said, I think it's a bad idea to fade RB entirely. The top of the position is quite strong, and I think it will be difficult to compete without a share or two in that range, where the runners have both talent and opportunity accounted for. I consider the following runners sufficient for this: Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Kareem Hunt, Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette, Jordan Howard, DeVonta Freeman, and Dalvin Cook. If you can't get one of those guys, my next favorite options at the moment are Kenyan Drake, and Jerick McKinnon. LeSean McCoy and Melvin Gordon scare me for injury reasons, but if they play 16 games they should easily do the trick.
I lose interest when we get to players like Ajayi, Christian McCaffrey, Carlos Hyde, Lamar Miller, and Dion Lewis, at least at their current prices. The guys right on the fringe for me are Derrius Guice, Alex Collins, and Chris Carson, but I'm much more likely to end up with those three than I am the previously mentioned fades.
For what it's worth, my favorite late-round guys at running back at the moment are probably Devontae Booker (145.7), Peyton Barber (148.8), LeGarrette Blount (193.3), James Conner (206.6), T.J. Yeldon (208.8), and Chris Ivory (213.7), in no particular order.
2. It's a year of almost entirely dual-threat quarterbacks for me. Wait on QB if possible, but make an exception if Russell Wilson (35.9), Deshaun Watson (35.9), or Cam Newton (51.9) fall far enough. I've seen all three fall toward the sixth round, and I'm sure as hell taking one of them before I would Lamar Miller or Chris Thompson. There's injury risk with running quarterbacks, but it's easy to find good QB depth, and in the meantime you know you have a starting QB with the sort of week-to-week upside capable of almost single-handedly earning you a winning week when they have their biggest games.
Whereas I'm not specifically targeting Wilson, Watson, or Newton, I definitely am gunning specifically for Marcus Mariota (112.7), Pat Mahomes (128.2), and Mitchell Trubisky (160.4). All three are dangerous runners, and all three have plenty of surrounding talent. In the cases of Mariota and Trubisky, we have strong reason to believe their offenses will feature high tempos, granting them unique opportunities for counting stats. When you factor in the probability that those numbers are largely accumulated on the ground, I think you have the Moneyball angle at quarterback clearly illustrated. I'd love to go into 2018 with those three as my quarterbacks, and probably even at a round or two earlier than you can get them at the moment.
3. Follow a similar strategy at TE as at RB. If you can get one of Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, or Zach Ertz in the late second, mid-third round, go ahead and do it. Especially if it deprives you the temptation of taking a Carlos Hyde-type instead. Jimmy Graham (63.7) is right on the borderline for me – love the team fit, but a tad concerned about the price given his durability issues the last three years. I like Greg Olsen (51.2), Evan Engram (53.9), and Hunter Henry (72.4) as players, but their price tag has generally been a bit high for me so far. I have very little interest in tight ends like Delanie Walker (71.8), Kyle Rudolph (77.6), and Jack Doyle (88.0), for varying reasons.
My most consistent targets at tight end have been bargain guys. I love Luke Willson's fit (216.9) on a Detroit team with basically zero target competition at tight end. I like Trey Burton (171.0) in a Matt Nagy offense I expect to operate at maximum speed. I think Ricky Seals-Jones (203.8) is an obvious go-to backup option at TE on an Arizona offense quietly bereft of pass-catching options with Jaron and John Brown no longer on the roster. George Kittle (131.8) hasn't ended up on any of my teams yet, but I've been a fan of him for years and love his potential in the Garoppolo offense. Even guys like Adam Shaheen (194.3) and Jaylen Samuels (214.4) are very interesting to me in the final round. He's a complete unknown at the moment, but I firmly believe Samuels is worth buying in the last round as a player who could play NFL running back with tight end classification in fantasy.
Opening Day is right around the corner for MLB, and I plan to dive into DRAFT's baseball offerings about as soon as possible. I don't know whether I'll delve far enough into it to write responsibly on the subject by next week, but expect to see the NFL best ball articles dwindle a bit with MLB's arrival. Both will be a running series, however, even if on some indefinite basis.