While there are probably an infinite amount of micro strategies we can employ in our fantasy football and best ball drafts, there are a few main roster constructions that drive the majority of strategy in terms of how we structure our teams.
It’s important for us to understand the pros, cons and nuances of all these different strategies. Everyone is going to have their personal favorites, but as drafters we need to be adaptable. There will be draft rooms that we get into where different strategies end up more optimal based on how the board breaks and our opponents are drafting. Any one of these strategies can win, as long as you structure them in a way that sets them up for success, so we need to have the knowledge to be able to do so.
Running back is just 1 of 4 positions, but we as an industry have an unhealthy obsession with the position, so we have decided to name each of the 4 core structures around how they handle the RB position.
These 4 structures are:
The strategy that centers around heavier early investment than the rest in the running back position is Robust RB.
What is Robust RB?
I know people want hyper specific and rigid definitions of these roster constructions, but I don’t think that’s super helpful. What is helpful is to understand the overall theme and goal of each of these strategies. In a Robust RB build, you are attacking the running back position heavily at the beginning of drafts with your early picks. Exactly how many early round RBs does that mean is up for debate. I would generally say something like 3 in the first 5 rounds, but that’s a very fluid definition. Hopefully you get the overall idea here.
The point is that strategy attacks the RB position with a lot of early draft capital to secure strong producers at the position. We know running back points are important, so the goal is to lock up a few top options at the position and ride those players. If using my framework above of 3 RBs in the 1st 5 rounds, you’re probably only selecting one more total RB for a total of 4. You could also introduce a little more fragility by sticking with just the 3 RBs.
You invested a lot of early draft capital in the position, so in turn you don’t want to invest a large quantity of picks/roster spots on the position. You use those the quantity of picks to target the other positions. That quantity at the other positions (often typically wide receiver) is necessary in order to make up for the lack of super elite talent you have at the position due to the fact that you used those top picks on running backs.
Benefits of Robust RB
Particularly in Best Ball, the ability to “bank” strong running back scores with minimal investment in terms of quantity of roster spots can be absolutely huge. We know that over the course of the season, the RB position can be extremely chaotic and fragile. However, we also know that the true “league winners” with elite upside at the RB position basically always come from the top 2-3 rounds of fantasy drafts with very, very few exceptions.
In Best Ball, we also don’t need the stone cold nuts to win at RB. There is an inherent benefit to simply racking up good scores at the position every week. When that happens, you’re never losing points to your opponents, and if you used a Robust RB structure, you now have used a larger quantity of picks on the other positions, which allow you to either gain other edges (say with an elite QB or elite TE) or make up for your lack of quality with quantity (typically the case at WR).
Lastly, despite the fragility of running backs, Robust RB is set up to capitalize when it breaks your way for the best fantasy RB assets. In half point PPR especially (like on Underdog Fantasy), if you were able to land Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler and someone like David Montgomery in the first 5 rounds of your draft, you were set up extremely well. You had 2 elite backs, a 3rd very strong back, and you can use all 3 of their scores in any given week.
Risks of Robust RB
Robust RB is probably the most fragile way to build a fantasy football team. Simply put, running backs have massive bust rates. Not only do they themselves get hurt more frequently than other positions, but they’re extremely dependent upon their situation to drive their value. You need a certain level of volume, which can come and go depending upon coaching, game flow, etc. You need a certain level of efficiency, which typically requires a certain level of talent, but maybe more importantly requires a certain level of offensive success.
We also know that outside of the 1 to 3 RBs that emerge as “elite” each year, RB scores are pretty replaceable for a cheaper cost week in and week out. That adds to the fragility because a large amount of the time you are overspending on RBs that are not gaining you any real advantage on a weekly basis over cheaper RBs, especially later in the year.
Saquon Barkley is an explosive and talented football player, but he’s been a colossal bust in fantasy because his offensive situation has been as bad as any player in the league with horrible coaching, horrible QB play and a dreadful offensive line. On top of that, he has suffered a myriad of injuries.
Finally, you are going to be sacrificing quality at other positions. Your hope is to make up for that in quantity, but in reality you’re really only drafting 1-2 more of these other positions than your opponents. You do have a large quantity, but not by an incredibly substantial margin. And similar to the elite RBs, the elite QBs, WRs and TEs are where the legendary upside comes from at those groups as well, but without as much of the fragility.
All in all, investing your most important draft assets into the most fragile position is a pretty straightforward way to sink a team. However, Robust builds have a unique path to monster upside when things do click, which is precisely what makes them viable in tournaments.