Starting WR-WR-RB: A Draft Strategy

Do you know where to go after starting your draft WR-WR-RB? Fantasy football expert Larry Gold points you in the right direction with some draft strategies for optimal roster construction.

(Editor's intro: You shouldn't enter a draft with predetermined strategy, but there are only so many ways a draft can begin. One of the common outcomes is you start by drafting two WRs and one RB in the first three rounds. This piece wants to solve the riddle of how to construct a great team from that opening template.

There are many ways to skin-a-cat, but depending on your draft slot, WR-WR-RB may be the optimal strategy that brings home the fantasy gold.

So many components go into pulling off a solid draft. First you need a little help. Average Draft Positions are public knowledge, so chances are, those drafting in front or back of you (depending on the round) are targeting the same short list of players; especially in the early portion of the draft. If you are fortunate enough to land most of your wish list, you are off to a good start. However, there is more work to be done. Being able to bob-n-weave through a draft requires paying attention to the needs of teams surrounding you, taking calculated gambles and, of course, being flexible and open to opportunities as they unfold.

Before entering an online draft room or conference room that you and your buddies rented out, it is crucial to understand starting lineup and overall roster requirements. Your player preference should be different if you are competing in Fantasy Football World Championship (FFWC) leagues that require starting 2RB, 3WR, 1TE and 2 Flex vs. more traditional formats that are less demanding with only 1 Flex start required. Not only is depth more important in the FFWC leagues, but affords more creativity in roster configuration.

With that flexibility comes a wide range of options as the draft begins to unfold. In the former example, such as in a Rotobowl, you have more control of the proportionate ratio of wide receivers to running backs to tight ends. Being able to adapt on-the-fly is handy as you may encounter situations where the value on the board dictates a roster framework that is vastly different than what you are comfortable. Accept this as being okay. There are many ways to build a team with championship possibilities.

Now before you run wild with that last statement, please don't go drafting two quarterbacks in the early rounds or a defense before you fill out a starting core and depth to go with it. Nothing says last place more than regular goose-eggs out of your flex spots.

With the caveat being that ADP will adjust during training camp as injuries mount and positional battles become more defined, there are some trends developing that you can use to your advantage if you are aware of them. You will have a significant edge on your competition if you enter the draft room armed with the knowledge of an expectation on how the rounds will shake out. It is better to be proactive while your opponents are reactive to how the draft is unfolding.

In the leagues I've drafted, mocked or reviewed, some consistent tiers are becoming apparent that can help you maximize the value at each position. In particular, there are two specific rounds that I like to call running back and tight end rounds. We'll come back to that in a moment but first let's take a look at how we want our roster to look after eight rounds.

As we addressed above, depth and flexibility at the core is everything in the FFWC contests. You can bank on weeks where it will be necessary to start five wide receivers. Whether it is because of bye weeks, injury casualties or player preference it will be your roster reality more than one time during the season Once you absorb that, it is easier to hash out roster construction options.

In a perfect world, you would like to have your core filled out through eight rounds. That means three great receivers, two bell-cow or high-volume receiving running-backs, quarterback, tight end and one flex addressed. Given the expectation that we will need to start five receivers some weeks, the ideal early flex selection should be a wide receiver; meaning our model start should be 1-2-4-1.

Let's make an assumption you are drafting in the back half of the first round (picks 7 to 12). 2013 fantasy MVP Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte are long gone. There is a significant drop off in safety of all the other backs being considered in the first two rounds. Second-year blossoming stars like Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball and Giovani Bernard are all worthy of being first-round studs for years to come, but are they safer options than the premier receivers in the league? No way.
Wide receivers will be king this year. Those looking to accumulate as many bell-cow running backs at the expense of other positions will struggle at wide-receiver. Let's face it, the running back position is most prone to injury. A look back at last year tells a tale of five running back busts in the first round. Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Ray Rice and C.J. Spiller were all wasted picks as injuries destroyed their season. Trent Richardson was healthy but struggled to pick up a new system.

If you draft a RB heavy team in the early rounds, you are a running back injury away from being thin at both positions that make up your core roster. If your argument is that wide receivers are just as susceptible to injuries as running backs, then consider the high volume of running back by committee situations unfolding in camp. Timeshares can easily shift with a few ill-timed fumbles or when a back-up breaks off a big play. Receivers may be inconsistent game to game, but their job security and snap-counts will remain relatively constant.

So back to our preferred model through eight rounds. Per FFToobox's preseason rankings, there is a tier break after the first eight wide receivers. If you are selecting in the 7 to 12 range, you can kick off your draft with two of these studs. Our remaining eight round target model is now far more manageable as we need only two more receivers.

Given that round four is loaded with wide receivers that can make the leap to tier 1 (Michael Floyd, T.Y. Hilton, Cordarrelle Patterson, Percy Harvin), but there's a falloff after the top-25, it is best to address running back in rounds three and five. Running backs like Shane Vereen and C.J. Spiller tend to be available after the tier one receivers but before the tier two receivers can be considered value. The same can be said for Ryan Mathews, Trent Richardson, Chris Johnson types in round five that are fair value at their current ADP relative to the tier-three receivers that follow.

This sets up for maximum flexibility in Rounds 6 to 8 to grab a tier-two tight end, another receiver and still be part of the tier-two quarterback run. The quarterback and tight end chase happens fast once it starts so be ready to pounce. If you take comfort in grabbing a tier-one QB or TE, then by all means, grab you guy earlier. Just remember that the downside will be less depth at the flex positions. That is, of course, unless you successfully draft a depth play turned breakout in the second half of the draft. That foresight is the ultimate bailout for an early round gone wrong.

With your core established, it is important to build depth. Unless you have an injury prone QB, it is best to wait on your backup until you have locked up more running backs and receivers. Unless there is an unforeseen run on quarterbacks and tight ends, you should be able to land serviceable backups in Rounds 12 to 14.

As your draft winds down, keep plugging away at more receivers and running backs. It will be slim-pickings for everyone. Make an effort to mix and match veterans with young players low on their team's depth-chart but are only an injury away from some playing time. Injuries and bye weeks can break even the strongest of rosters so be sure to always have a few reserves ready to plug and play.

What is your strategy in the early rounds this year? Let us know at the SCOUT FANTASY PREMIUM forum!

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