Fantasy Football Strategy

In our discussions of fantasy football strategy so far, I've mentioned a number of different philosophies, including the time-worn tactic of drafting two running backs in the 1st and 2nd round of drafting. Most of the fantasy football community came into this hobby during the RB-RB Age, and it was such a mantra for so many years, drafting ball carriers high still has an allure for many owners. But in a changing NFL, is drafting RBs high still the formula for fantasy dominance?

In this article, we'll discuss how NFL rules changes have changed fantasy football in the last 5 or so years, and how changing fantasy football league rules also have affected how people draft in 2010. Finally, we'll discuss the platoon running back system that most NFL coaches employ these days, along with the dreaded running back by committee strategy that some teams use.

Before we go too far, I want to address one topic I've discussed in length on this website to date. Having the best running back corps in your league is, in my opinion, still the best way to construct a championship contender. But let's state that collecting the best runners is not the same as drafting RB-RB, because of the dwindling number of unquestionably elite runners who handle most of the ball-carrying duties for their NFL team. But before we delve into the subtleties of what's the best strategy for drafting running backs, let's look at some recent changes in NFL rules that throw light on this discussion.

2004 NFL Passing Rules Changes

The key matchup of the 2003-2004 NFL Season, at least from the perspective of fantasy football, came on January 18, 2004, when the Indianapolis Colts visited the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts for the AFC Championship Game. The Colts came into the title game having scored 79 combined points in their two previous AFC playoff games that year, with Peyton Manning (fresh off his first NFL MVP Award) posting 681 yards passing for 8 touchdowns in those two games. Despite 51 degrees weather (relatively good for Massachusetts that time of year), the New England Patriots shut down the Colts, holding them to 14 points on the day. Peyton Manning had 237 yards and 1 touchdown, but also threw 4 interceptions and was sacked 4 times, once for a safety, and Manning posted the third lowest passer rating of his illustrious career (35.3).

After the game, Colts players complained that the NFL referees assigned to the game didn't call passing game penalties properly: on calls of defensive holding, illegal contact and pass interference. The sports media tended to agree and, ultimately, so did the NFL. In the offseason, the National Football League commissioner's office instructed the NFL refs to strictly enforce the passing fouls, like they were written in the books.

Before the 2004 NFL season, the rules stated that any contact more than 5 yards down the field (from the line of scrimmage) would be a penalty on the defender. In practice, incidental contact was not called, and players were allowed to place a hand on receivers, as long as they didn't go so far as redirecting the opponent, or hampering them. This left a gray area that smart defenders exploited, so the strict enforcement stipulated that any contact would be penalized. After 2004, NFL defensive backs were seriously handicapped in their ability to defend the pass.

NFL Passing Records Fall

This set the stage for Peyton Manning's record-breaking 2004 NFL Season. Manning passed for 4,557 and 49 touchdowns, surpassing Dan Marino's 1984 total of 48 - a seemingly impossible hurdle. For the season, Peyton Manning posted a record 121.1 passer rating, which was a record, and he obviously collected his second straight NFL MVP Award. Peyton Manning was also the MVP in every fantasy football league around the country, rewarding every owner who made the traditional knucklehead move of drafting Peyton Manning in the 1st or 2nd round. Peyton Manning's record year marked a tectonic shift in fantasy football.

All those passing totals didn't just help the quarterback: NFL wide receivers were putting up bigger numbers than ever before. A few of the elite guys became much more consistent that elite receivers in the past, outside of a couple of Jerry Rice campaigns. A few put up years that met or surpassed running back numbers, which was somewhat unheard of in those days. The pinnacle of this new potency in the NFL passing game came in the 2007 NFL Season, when Tom Brady posted 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns and a 117.2 passer rating. Randy Moss, who was Tom Brady's favorite big play target, compiled 1,493 yards and an NFL record 23 touchdowns. The twin record "50/23" appeared on ballcaps and t-shirts, and the Patriots went 18-0 on way to their dramatic showdown with the New York Giants in that year's Superbowl.

While no one has broken the Tom Brady and Randy Moss touchdown records in the two fantasy seasons since, NFL scoring and NFL passing remains at all-time levels. It's somewhat like the steroid years in Major League Baseball, where new game conditions led to most of the long-standing records to be broken - sometimes multiple times in a few short years.

NFL Rules and Fantasy Football

This had a huge effect on the fantasy football world. Suddenly, stocking up on running backs wasn't the end-all, be-all that it was before in fantasy drafts. Teams that continued to draft RB-RB saw themselves getting clobbered by those teams that grabbed the Manning/Harrison or Brady/Moss combos. What was a bonehead, self-defeating move five years before, suddenly looked like fantasy genius.

But there's more to evolving fantasy football strategies than NFL rules enforcement changes. Other, subtler shifts were happening in NFL locker rooms and fantasy football leagues that would change how fantasy football was played and won.

Platoon Running Backs

Even as late as the 1990s, most NFL teams had a workhorse running back, even if they didn't have a franchise running back. Certainly, there weren't enough elite guys to go around so that everyone had a Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith or Terrell Davis, but most NFL coaches thought that a lead running back added stability to an offense, and these guys generally got better as the game wore on and defenses wore down.

People talked about "running back by committee" or RBBC a lot in the 1990s fantasy football scene, but there wasn't nearly as much talk about platoon runners. The RBBC philosophy certain coaches employed tended to be a more extreme form of the platoon backfield, and usually occurred when a team had no clear #1 running back. NFL teams didn't have a main man, so they went with a collection of pretenders, as if they were hoping one would step forward and prove something. At least opponents didn't know what was coming at them from play-to-play.

The running back position has evolved since then, though. More and more NFL coaches have decided that it's better to have a platoon of runners, instead of one go-to guy at the RB position.

Why Do NFL Coaches Uses Multiple Backs?

The game has gotten faster, and therefore more violent. As linebackers and safeties became better athletes who could run faster, the collisions have become more violent. People used to talk about the evolving game where linebackers made it hard to run sweeps, because they were now fast enough to run sideline-to-sideline. But that same speed also means that collisions are going to involve more force of impact and cause more injuries: it's basic physics.

Because franchise running backs could be expected to carry the ball 20-25 times a game, these players were more likely to get injured. It was more than just the threat of a random knee injury, though that remained a big dangers. Running backs had to worry about more concussions, more high ankle sprains and more "contusions".

Toll on Running Backs

More than that, NFL coaches and front offices realized all these collisions took a greater toll on their running backs - their careers were literally shorter. 29 is ancient for an NFL running back, who has been through 7-8 NFL campaigns and therefore taken upwards of 2,500 NFL collisions. Emmitt Smith used to say that playing NFL running back was like being in 20 to 25 car crashes per week, and now the car crashes were becoming more violent.

To cut down on that wear and tear and preserve a running back's body, more NFL coaches began to platoon runners. This didn't mean an RBBC with 3 or 4 guys filling different roles: 1st/2nd down runner, 3rd down back, goal line back, change-of-pace back. Now the platoon running back situation often (but not always) involved two semi-starters, who split carries roughly 50/50, often in the 60/40 range. It became standard to say you needed more than one runner in the NFL, and it was increasingly true. These days, you go into the NFL season wondering about platoon situations in many NFL cities.

  • Carolina Panthers - DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart
  • Dallas Cowboys - Marion Barber and Felix Jones
  • New York Jets - Shonn Greene and Ladainian Tomlinson
  • Kansas City Chiefs - Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones
  • Chicago Bears - Matt Forte and Chester Taylor
  • New Orleans Saints - Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush
  • New York Giants - Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw
  • Miami Dolphins - Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams

The list goes on and on. All of these involve running backs who will go in the 4th round or higher, and a good number of these platoons involve a player who is likely to go in the 1st or 2nd round of fantasy football drafts.

So what does this do for fantasy football drafting?

While wide receivers have become more consistent or more high-scoring, many NFL starting running backs have become less consistent or potentially lower scoring. In a platoon situation like in Carolina, you can start DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart any given week as a legitimate starter. There will be weeks when both are good fantasy football starters.

But there are also going to be more weeks where one wolves touchdowns from the other, giving a hit to the other runner's stats for a week. Or maybe one of the two is really hot that week, so the coach decides to go with the hot hand and sit the other one for long stretches. Or when Williams or Stewart is hurt and gimpy, the coach decides mid-game to lean on the healthy of the two.

The potential for huge fantasy scores are there, but the consistent and dependable stats are less likely than a time when one guys was the clear starter and workhorse for his team. I chose the best of the platoon situations, since Williams and Stewart seem to have defied the odds and becoming Top 15 NFL running back picks in 2010. How much less consistent are the other options on the list above?

Injury Situations and Handcuffs

On top of these considerations, fantasy football owners figured out about the same time as NFL head coaches that runners get hurt a lot. Just about every fantasy owner who's been playing for 10 to 15 years or more has had a season go down in flames, when his star running backs got injured, either for a month or a season. That's why it became so trendy at a point to draft handcuff running backs, because you didn't want one injury to leave you with no good option to start at RB. The backup running back might not be as good, but at least he was the guy and you would have a starter, until your star player returned.

The wide receiver position didn't have these same concerns. Sure, wide receivers get injured (Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith the First) and sometimes are gone for a season (Wes Welker), but this happens a lot less than it does with running backs. They just don't get as often and, when they do, it's usually by defensive backs, and not linebackers. And since there are 64 NFL starting receivers (and 5-10 good 3rd receivers), you can replace an injured receiver and expect reasonable production a lot easier, than if you miss out on the new starting RB on your injured player's team.

In the end, if you draft a WR-centered team, you don't have to fill the bench up with handcuff players. Instead, you can use some of those picks to take shots on talented backup runners and solid 2nd receivers around the league.

Point for Receptions League

Besides the NFL rules changes, another major rules change gave WRs a boost in certain fantasy leagues.

Sometime in the decade of the 2000s, one fantasy football league rule became trendy, irrespective of trends in the NFL. Fantasy leagues began experimenting with offering a point for each reception in their scoring rules, and many league found they like this change.

The point-per-reception rule is meant to increase the viability of wide receivers and tight ends in fantasy leagues and fantasy drafts. Giving points for receptions means that both positions have the potential for even bigger days, if they catch a lot of passes to go along with their TDs and yards. Unlike before the ppr leagues, you'll see elite receivers finishing in the Top 10 of the fantasy league point totals for the season.

Points for receptions also changed how some running backs were drafted (see Brian Westbrook), but the major change was to put elite wide receivers more on a par with elite running backs. In a PPR-league, you can draft the 10th-best running back at the 10th spot in the draft, or you can draft the best wide receiver, who, by the way, probably had better numbers last year than 4 or 5 of the RBs just drafted ahead of him.

Wide Receiver Fantasy Football Strategy

So there's a whole list of reasons to consider ditching the RB-RB drafting philosophy. Here's the short list.

  • NFL Passing Rules
  • Platoon Running Back Situations
  • Injury Prone RB Position
  • Fewer Handcuff Picks
  • Points for Receptions

Essentially, fantasy football running backs are less consistent than before, while fantasy football wide receivers are more consistent than before. Those two ideas met at an intersection in fantasy football history, and fantasy football evolved.

So why do people still draft running backs almost exclusively in the Top 5 picks, if not the Top 10 (as before)?

Why Do Fantasy Football Owners Draft RBs so High?

If you get one of the Top 2 or 3 running backs any given season, you have a major advantage over all other teams in your league - except the other teams with Top 3 RBs. According to final stats in one fantasy league I was in last year, using a common scoring systems, the #1 RB (Chris Johnson) finished with 406 fantasy points, while the #1 WR (Andre Johnson) finished with 326 fantasy points. Despite the risks involved, it still pays to have the best running back.

That's another thought: the fact that "every down backs" are so rare these days in the NFL makes those backs all-the-more valuable. If you have the chance to collect a #1 runner who gets just about every touch, every RB screen pass, and every goal line carry, you have something special. It's a lot rarer than finding a productive #1 NFL wide receiver, so you take your shot at the very top of a fantasy football draft, hoping to nail down one of these spots.

It's only when you get out of this select group of players, 5 to 10 spots into the draft, that drafting a wide receiver becomes a tempting proposition. Even then, people's considerations weigh into the decision. Maybe you think Stephen Jackson is due for an injury, or you don't want to depend on the Rams. Maybe you think Michael Turner doesn't collect enough receptions, or you think '08 was a fluke. Maybe you think DeAngelo Williams is going to give way to Jonathan Stewart as the season goes on, or his injuries at the end of the year scared you. Whatever the case, people are going to start thinking about Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson at some point early in their local draft.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategies

With all of that taken into account, let's discuss which fantasy football strategies work best in the draft. Let it be said that two factors, player evaluation and team construction, are all-important in fantasy football, so if you can add valuable players in the early round, that is most important. But once you add those valuable players in the early rounds, roster construction becomes key, because you then want to make up for whatever deficiencies your first few draft picks left you with. That is, you aren't going to win the league with those first 2-3 picks, but you can lose the league if those picks bomb. Once you have a good foundation, though, you must build on the foundation, because most fantasy football champions are solid from top to bottom of the starting lineup.

RB-RB Fantasy Football Strategy

The running back/running back strategy has given way somewhat to a hybrid philosophy in the past five years, and that's because the dinosaurs who drafted RB/RB exclusively lost enough leagues that they started changing their ideas. When you're drafting in the bottom half of the 1st round, you have to hit on two running back picks from a picked-over RB position. In other words, you need big luck to succeed.

Let me given an example: A friend of mine ("The Big White Mint") played in a crazy league full of rookies last year, and he was sitting there with the 12th and 13th picks. Somehow, Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton fell to those picks, and he was elated to take the two of them, assuming he was going to have to go RB-WR or WR-WR at those spots. The Chris Johnson pick was as good as it gets, and meant he was going to be a major contender all year, if he could fill in the rest of the starting lineup.

The Steve Slaton selection was less than stellar. Slaton got decent receiving stats over the first part of the 2009 season, but was otherwise a disappointment. By the mid-point of the season and on, Steve Slaton was a useless fantasy football piece.

Can't Miss Running Backs

So my friend took a shot at two seemingly can't-miss runners. One was the best in the league, and the other was a disaster. That's the dilemma facing the fantasy owner drafting that low: you can find great breakout running backs down at that position, but these players were picked over for a reason, so finding two is a great deal less likely. That goes double for leagues where most of the owners are traditional and draft RBs in the 1st round. If that's the case, your chances of hitting on two RB studs plummet.

There's also the case of buying insurance for top round running backs. Most of the time, you'll end up drafting receivers, a quarterback and a tight end before you come back to address the running back position, especially in leagues you can only start two RBs. But that means your 3rd runner is likely to be a marginal player in the Laurence Maroney and Clinton Portis range. If that's the case, you're staring fantasy oblivion in the face, if either of your high-round RBs get injured. So you have to buy fantasy insurance: the handcuff running back.

The "handcuff running back" is the backup to your starting runner, whom you want to handcuff to the starter, to make sure you have a healthy RB to start every week. Let me give an example of why you draft a handcuff running back.

Handcuff Running Back Example: Let's say you drafted Frank Gore. You aren't too thrilled that Gore has an injury history, so you want to grab his backup runner. You end up collecting Glen Coffee in the 12th round or beyond, so even if Frank Gore goes out hurt, you have a backup RB.

Others might prefer to draft a more talented backup or a 2nd string runner with more "upside" as their potential replacement for Gore. Imagine that someone decides to select Donald Brown of the Indianapolis Colts, because they think Joseph Addai is bound to get injured, and the Colts didn't draft Brown to sit on the bench forever. He thinks there's a good chance he can grab Donald Brown in the 7th or 8th round, sit on him a few weeks, and eventually have a big part of the Colts running game.

But if Frank Gore gets hurt in the meantime, and Joseph Addai continues as the Colts' starter, you suddenly have huge problems at running back. You might have to start Donald Brown, hoping he gets on the field and gets a touchdown. But if you added Glen Coffee to the end of your bench, you know you always have a starting running back to start every week (except byes), which is a great deal better than a hope.

Frank Gore's Backup

I chose Frank Gore to underscore the problem with drafting handcuffs, though. The Niners drafted Anthony Dixon, a 6-ft, 233 lb running back out of Mississippi State, in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Some people are drafting Anthony Dixon as the real backup for Frank Gore, if he should get injured in 2010.

Logic would tell you that the 2nd year Glen Coffee, the 6-ft, 209 lb running back out of Alabama, would be the starter. Coffee was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and he has a year of experience under his belt. But NFL coaches are strange birds, so there's never any telling who they start, once Gore is out and the coaches job is on the line. Fantasy football owners aren't mind-readers, even if there are those of us who collect every bit of camp news possible, but mistakes are made every year of assuming who the 2nd runner is on an NFL team, when the team needs a new starter.

So you might draft Glenn Coffee late, only to find that Anthony Dixon was Plan B all along - or that Coffee got in Mike Singletary's doghouse 2 weeks before the Gore injury. What's worse, if enough people think Anthony Dixon is going to be the starter, there's also the chance that some rival team stashes Anthony Dixon on their bench in the last round of your draft, so if you're wrong, it's too late to rectify the situation in free agency.

Often, teams would prefer to drive WRs high, avoid this situation, and draft enough running back prospects that the odds play in their favor they'll have someone to start each week. That's what this next strategy is.

WR-WR Fantasy Football Strategy

This used to be fantasy football madness. Somebody would come to the draft and select wide receivers high, seemingly forgetting that running backs dominated leagues. You would walk out of the draft thinking, "So and so is going to have a really long year." These days, the strategy isn't nearly as mad.

Fantasy owners want difference makers and fantasy studs on their roster. For many, drafting Knowshon Moreno and LeSean McCoy in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2010 draft is a give-up, because they have no idea how good these guys are going to be, but they're pretty sure they'll be at a big disadvantage to those teams with Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson in the lineup. And since those teams are going to be drafting a couple of more players before the Knowshon/Lesean team gets another pick, they're likely to have a lesser receiving corps, too.

Knowing that Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are proven fantasy football studs, they decide to grab two of the best receivers and worry about the running back position in the 3rd and 4th. While their selections might have more question marks than Moreno and McCoy, the owner decides they aren't going to have too many more questions marks. In fact, the team owner might think he can pick up a couple of "steady guys" in the Pierre Thomas/Matt Forte mold, and have a much more competitive team. Or maybe the same owner thinks that Jahvid Best or CJ Spiller are going to fall, and one of them is going to be the rookie of the year.

Whatever the case, the double wide receiver strategy has caught on in the past few years, and it's a legitimate strategy.

How to Draft WR/WR in Fantasy Football

If you do go this route, do not take a cavalier attitude towards the running backs. Now that you have your stud wideouts, you need to focus on drafting potential running back starters - and drafting a lot of them. Where this strategy gets crazy is if you turn around and draft either a quarterback or a tight end in the 3rd or 4th round, deciding that runners are a waste anyway.

While I have seen people win leagues without drafting RBs high, I have never seen a team win a league without some big contribution at the RB position. Even in leagues where you only have to start 1 running back, that title team is going to have someone come in and contribute at that position.

Since your picks are less likely to work out, the later you draft, you need to increase your odds by having plenty of options. Besides the mid-talent starters you can get in the 3rd and 4th rounds, there are lots of high upside backup ball carriers that can be found in the middle rounds. I'm not saying you should ignore that 3rd receiver or draft a late QB starter, but you want to put priority on the running back position at some point in your draft. Refusing to devote picks to the RB position is a sure recipe for fantasy disaster.

If you go WR-WR, I would say a good strategy is to have at least 4 runners on your roster after your 10th pick. Don't draft wide receivers and then decide to splurge on Tony Romo in the 3rd, Jason Witten in the 5th, the New York Jets Defense in the 6th round, and Garrett Hartley in the 8th round. You might as well just donate your entry fee to charity.

I guess you could still add four RBs in that scenario, but drafting RBs in the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th isn't exactly putting a priority on the position. Also, you end up skimping on the receiver position anyway, since you have two guys and probably no good option as your 2nd runner or Offensive Flex Position. The running backs and wide receivers are the premium positions in fantasy football, so you should keep that in mind always.

RB-WR Fantasy Football Strategy

The most popular fantasy football draft strategy these days is the hybrid philosophy: drafting a running back and a wide receiver in the 1st/2nd round. This lets you split the difference, covering your bases at running back, while also grabbing one of the premium wide receivers.

Using the RB-WR strategy means you should be solid across the board, but not dominant at any one position. You won't be waiting until the late 3rd to take your first runner, meaning your #1 guy is likely to be someone with major upside. If you have targeted a player whom you think could be this year's breakout, there's even a chance you're drafting a player who'll be a Top 5 pick next year. Since receivers tend to be more consistent from year to year, you should have a solid option to start your receiving corps, too.

Employing the 1 running back and 1 wide receiver strategy in the 1st two rounds also means you're drafting your 2nd runner in the 3rd round likely, while drafting your 2nd receiver in the traditional 4th round. If you can find guys with high upside, the team you're constructing looks a lot steadier.

The RB-WR fantasy football draft philosophy is the one I recommend these days, if you want to build a solid fantasy team. Be opportunistic and flexible, though, if (like the "White Mint") the draft goes in a different direction and players slide to you.

RB-QB Fantasy Football Strategy

The one I'm least enamoured of is drafting a quarterback in the top two rounds. While Aaron Rodgers might have been #1 in your league's scoring system last year, that doesn't mean he's the right player to select going into 2010. There is a lot of volatility in the final totals for quarterbacks (Peyton Manning notwithstanding), mainly because injuries can affect a quarterback on many levels.

First, the QB can get hurt. Aaron Rodgers took a lot of shots last year, because his offensive line sucked. It was amazing he took that pounding and did what he did stats-wise. Consider me impressed, but also consider me concerned about his long-term health.

Remember that Tom Brady got hit the 2nd-most of all NFL quarterbacks in the combined 2006 and 2007 seasons, because the Patriots didn't have much of a running game and Josh McDaniels had Brady dropping back on every play. So when Tom Brady got knocked out for the season in the 1st quarter of the 1st game of 2008, it should have been no surprise. Tom Brady was due for an injury, according to the hit stats he was racking up.

Fantasy Quarterbacks and Injuries

Second, injuries along the lineup can hurt a quarterback. This can be said of any position, but the quarterback and the offense are so synonymous, it goes double for them. This is why I'm so impressed with Aaron Rodgers, because he took an indifferent running game for much of the season, and an offensive line that let him get murdered some games, and turned it into fantasy football brilliance. With Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley to throw to, he put up numbers to rival or exceed Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.

But the fact is, the year before, players like Jay Cutler were drafted in the 10-12th rounds, and Kurt Warner was often drafted much later. You can find good, standout quarterbacks much lower, and their chances of topping the league aren't that much less. Why draft Aaron Rodgers in the 2nd round, when you could draft Philip Rivers in the 4th or 5th? Consider that Matt Schaub went in the 6th or 7th round of most drafts in 2009, and he was plenty good to win a lot of leagues.

You can find great quarterback production later - it's as simple as that. You're a lot less likely to find 1st round production drafting a RB or WR in the 6th round, than you are drafting a QB in that same round. Remember that Aaron Rodgers was drafted around the 8th round in most formats two seasons ago, usually as a backup fantasy quarterback. Don't fall into the trap of drafting your passer in the 2nd round, because you're giving your opponents a big advantage - even if your player is brilliant.

What If Your Fantasy QB Doesn't Make a Difference?

Drafting the #1 quarterback overall doesn't make that big of a difference in the overall wins and losses in fantasy football. The drop-off from the 1st spot to the 10th spot isn't that great, when you start looking at the pecking order.

Below is a list of the Top 10 Quarterbacks in 2009, using the same standard scoring rules I used earlier. I've also included Donovan McNabb, who was ranked 13th overall due to the 2+ games he missed early in the year, but who ended up as the 10th overall, if you go by points per game.

  1. Aaron Rodgers - 420 - 26.2
  2. Drew Brees - 395 - 26.3
  3. Matt Schaub - 378 - 23.6
  4. Peyton Manning - 376 - 23.5
  5. Brett Favre - 364 - 22.8
  6. Tom Brady - 359 - 22.4
  7. Tony Romo - 358 - 22.4
  8. Ben Roethlisberger - 351 - 23.4
  9. Philip Rivers - 344 - 21.5
  10. Jay Cutler - 333 - 20.8

Donovan McNabb - 299 - 21.4 (13th Overall, 10th APG)

Even if you project Aaron Rodgers' or Drew Brees' having the same numbers he had last year, the separation between Rodgers and Cutler is only 5.4 points per game, or 5.5 between Cutler and Brees (who didn't play Week 17). If you place McNabb in the mix, then the different drops to 4.8 and 4.9 points a game. So having the #10 quarterback in 2009 only cost you about 5 points per game.

Now let's look at the same drop-off for the running back position. Chris Johnson was the #1 RB in fantasy football by far, while Thomas Jones came in as the #10 RB (shockingly).

Chris Johnson - 406 - 25.4 ppg
Thomas Jones - 236 - 14.8 ppg

The difference in the #1 and #10 guy was a stunning 10.6 points per game. Even if you look at the drop-off accoring to ppg and add Deangelo Williams (209, 16.1) into the mix, that pushes Steven Jackson (236, 15.7) down to the #10 spot, and the drop-off is still 9.7 points per game.

So let's say I give you Aaron Rodgers and Steven Jackson, while I take Chris Johnson and Donovan McNabb. You'll end up with 41.9 points per game between those two guys, while I end up with 46.8 points per game. More time than not, I beat you.

Andre Johnson - 326 - 20.4 ppg (1st)
Desean Jackson - 268 - 17.9 ppg (10th)
Donald Driver - 214 - 13.4 ppg (20th)

Let's go ahead and look at the receivers, while we're at it. You'll notice the drop-off from 1 to 10 is less for WRs is even less than it is for QBs - only 2.5 points per game. That doesn't take into account that most teams end up starting twice the number of receivers than quarterbacks, and sometimes three times that amount.

Taking that into account, let's assume that you wait on receivers and end up drafting players like Donald Driver, instead of Desean Jackson. In that case, the dropoff between the best starting receiver and one of the low-end starting receivers (in a 10-team or 12-team league) is 7 points per game - somewhere between the figures for quarterbacks and running backs.

So between the three positions, the difference in drop-off between the best at the position and one of the lower scoring starters is running back, then wide receiver, then quarterback. For the sake of argument, if you want to see what the difference is between the #1 and #10 tight ends in 2009, look at Dallas Clark (289, 18.1) and Greg Olsen (171, 10.7). The ppg is 7.4 - right in line with wide receivers.

Quarterback Production is Easier to Replace

The fact is: quarterbacks just aren't as important in fantasy football as the other positions. Sure, it's great to have the best QB, but their stellar stats aren't that much more impressive than the stats of the other leaders at their positions. Keep in mind that Kurt Warner and Eli Manning also posted 20 points per game in this scoring system, while Matthew Stafford put up 19 points per game, with limited overall stats, due to injury.

If you can get a quarterback in the Top 12, you can compete. Since the #12 quarterback drafted is likely to be drafted sometime in the 6th to 8th round in many drafts, you might as well wait. Certainly don't spend a 1st or 2nd rounder on the position of signal caller. My one suggestion is to draft several quarterbacks (at least 2, maybe 3) in the middle rounds, if you wait a while to draft a QB.

In the end, teams that draft a quarterback in the 1st couple of rounds are limiting themselves (or their odds) at other positions, in exchange for an advantage that isn't all that great. Remember that the 12th overall runner is going in the 2nd round, while the 12th receiver is likely a late-3rd or early 4th rounder. If you view draft pick allocation as maximizing the value of a pick in regards to points, you seriously traded down in point values by drafting that quarterback high. That's why drafting last year's #1 point total in the 2nd round isn't always (or ever) a good idea. Quarterbacks score a lot of points in fantasy football, which actually lowers their relative value, because you can find others scoring almost the same.

Strategizing Fantasy Football Picks

Fantasy football strategy can be as complicated as you want it to be. The truth is, you need to collect quality players, so you can win at fantasy football by selecting any position at the top of the draft, if you collect talented players at the other positions later in the draft. Choosing draft strategies is about maximizing the value of your picks, giving yourself the best odds of hitting big on the largest number of positions. You need a solid team across the board, so avoiding platoon running backs in the high rounds, refusing to draft quarterbacks in the 1st or 2nd rounds, and otherwise drafting the best player available is the best fantasy football strategy you can have. In the end, you'll need a little bit of luck, but choosing the right fantasy football plan helps to weight the odds in your favor, so you're the one most likely to have the best luck.

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