2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Picking No. 11 in a non-PPR draft means you should consider a modified zero-RB strategy
Zero-running back may be dead, but Heath Cummings says you should consider a variation of the strategy if you're picking at the very back of the draft.
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Editor's note: Our latest non-PPR pick-by-pick series was done in June and is a three-man draft with Heath Cummings, Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard, with each one selecting four teams in this 12-team mock. The goal of this series is to show you positions to draft in these spots as much as the players selected, so take that into account when viewing each team.
There seems to be some consensus the zero-RB was killed in 2017. The argument goes something like teams are throwing the ball to their running backs more, spreading the ball around more, and leaning on committees at running back more. For that reason, you have to draft one of the truly elite running backs in the first two rounds because they're the most valuable assets in Fantasy.
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While I'm generally opposed to starting or killing strategies based on the prior year, I do think there's some merit to saying zero-RB makes less sense now. But you still don't have to take a running back in the first two rounds, or even the first three.
One of the big reasons why is the shift we've seen in ADP. Before my pick at No. 11 there had been seven running backs taken and three receivers. That meant Julio Jones, a top-three pick in the past, was available to me at 11. Dave Richard took two more running backs at the turn and A.J. Green was there in the second round. I'm going to take Jones over Melvin Gordon, and Green over Dalvin Cook all preseason long. And I'm not going to stop taking receivers there.
Here's my team from No. 11 overall:
- 1.11 Julio Jones, WR, ATL
- 2.2 A.J. Green, WR, CIN
- 3.11 Demaryius Thomas, WR, DEN
- 4.2 Rashaad Penny, RB, SEA
- 5.11 Rex Burkhead, RB, NE
- 6.2 Dion Lewis, RB, TEN
- 7.11 Kyle Rudolph, TE, MIN
- 8.2 Isaiah Crowell, RB, NYJ
- 9.11 Kelvin Benjamin, WR, BUF
- 10.2 Kirk Cousins, QB, MIN
- 11.11 Bilal Powell, RB, NYJ
- 12.2 Tyrell Williams, WR, LAC
- 13.11 Matt Bryant, K, ATL
- 14.2 Lions DST
The most controversial pick may have been the next one, selecting Thomas in the third round when I still didn't have a running back. My justification? I expect Thomas to be a borderline No. 1 receiver this season, and 19 running backs were already off the board. The same argument that tells you you should take a running back with your first two picks will also tell you Thomas is more valuable than the running backs left at the end of the third round. But that was as long as I was willing to go ignoring running backs.
In the fourth round I selected Rashaad Penny, the second-most likely rookie to turn into a three-down back. I'm not 100 percent sold Penny will hold off all of the competition in Seattle, but Pete Carroll sure talks like he wants him to. I followed the Penny pick up with Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis at the next turn. I expect Burkhead to be the lead back in New England for at least a portion of the season, and he's my favorite Patriot running back regardless of format.
Lewis will share the load with Derrick Henry, but should make a fine No. 3 running back. Finally, I finished off my running back depth with Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. I fully expect Crowell to run with that job and far outperform his ADP, but Powell provides cheap insurance in case he doesn't.
The end result? This team has the best receiving corps in the league, solid starting options at quarterback and tight end, and a deep cast of running backs with top-20 upside. A lot would have to go wrong for this team to run out of startable running backs, but there's probably not a top-12 back unless everything goes right for Penny.
Favorite pick: Kelvin Benjamin
It's probably weird to select another receiver as my favorite pick, but the value on Benjamin this year is just phenomenal. We're talking about a guy who is a No. 1 receiver for his team, has two seasons with at least 940 yards and seven scores, and is available at the end of the ninth round. You don't find red zone receivers with 100 targets guaranteed this late in the draft. Don't hold 2017 against him, I expect Benjamin will be a solid No. 3 receiver, but no one should be surprised if he finishes inside the top-25 at the position.
Pick I might regret: Kyle Rudolph
Taking Rudolph at the end of the seventh round is fine in a vacuum. I'm extremely comfortable with him as my only tight end and believe he has room for growth with Kirk Cousins as his quarterback. But taking him where I did was the difference between having Carlos Hyde as my fourth running back and Isaiah Crowell. I'm not sure there's much difference between the most likely outcome for the two, but Hyde has worlds more upside, and that's important when you don't take a running back with your first three picks.
Player who could make or break my team: Julio Jones
As I wrote about at the top, getting Jones with the 11th overall pick feels like a coup. He could absolutely be one of the most valuable assets in Fantasy, regardless of position. But there's also some risk that his recurring foot injury costs him time or his incredibly bad touchdown luck from 2017 turns out to be more than luck.
Jones has never been elite at reaching the end zone, but he generally does enough to make it a moot point at this cost. I expect seven or eight, but recognize four or five is possible. On the other hand, so is a season where he scores 12 times and leads receivers in all categories.
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