Exploring Best Ball Strategy for DRAFT: RB and WR - Footballguys

A tour through the running back and wide receiver spots across 135 DRAFT best ball rosters

As training camp looms and standard fantasy leagues prepare to draft, best ball football on DRAFT has been on its game for months. Many of us have been participating in DRAFTs as far back as March - and some have put together a wide portfolio of teams. Our James Brimacombe, for example, has already drafted more than 550 rosters, and he's not planning to stop anytime soon.

I've completed 135 DRAFTs myself, and like Brimacombe (and many others), I've kept close track of my picks. Through a simple Excel spreadsheet - it took less than five minutes to create - I'm able to keep a constant tally of my player exposures throughout DRAFT season. The benefits of keeping count like this are two-fold. For one, it allows you to track your draft patterns throughout the offseason. Along the way, I've been able to take quick looks over my exposures (and their ADPs) to examine which strategies I've wound up using most and least. For example, if I note that I'm exceptionally low on shares of top-tier tight ends, I know that, for diversity's sake, I'd probably better get my nose into the Rob Gronkowski/Travis Kelce game.

More importantly, it aids you in diversifying your portfolio. We all like the guys we like and hate the ones we hate, but our projections and expectations are usually (somewhat) wrong. Even rock-solid fantasy analysts and players will whiff badly on more than a few prospects; shrewd drafters are more concerned with the degree to which they were wrong. It's perfectly reasonable to want no part of Marquise Goodwin, but if you refuse outright to draft him at all, no matter the value, then you've got a decent chance of missing out on a big year. Goodwin and the 49ers, after all, don't care one bit about your projections.

For those drafting a bevy of best ball rosters, "love" and "hate" simply aren't enough. We need to keep our shares spread to some degree across the entire draft board. Melvin Gordon III is a no-brainer as a first-round pick, sure, but what if he's lost to a long-term injury or suspension? There's always a non-zero chance that last year's numbers were fluky; what if he merely under-performs well below his draft cost? No DRAFTer wants to be left holding the bag, with 80% of his or her first-round picks weighed down by Gordon.

With that in mind, here's how my 135-roster portfolio shakes out thus far. I've listed my exposure rate (what percentage of my rosters contains the player), as well as his ADP as of July 25. I've also included a scatter chart to help you visualize the ADP ranges where I've focused my picks.

Running Back

Running Back
Exp%
ADP
Running Back
Exp%
ADP
Running Back
Exp%
ADP
T. Gurley 14.8% 1.01 L. Miller 7.4% 5.03 J. White 1.5% 11.11
L. Bell 8.1% 1.02 R. Freeman 16.3% 5.04 L. Murray 1.5% 12.06
E. Elliott 11.1% 1.03 R. Jones 8.9% 5.06 C. Carson 2.2% 12.09
D. Johnson 8.1% 1.04 D. Lewis 7.4% 5.06 T. Riddick 3.7% 13.08
A. Kamara 10.4% 1.06 T. Coleman 6.7% 6.04 M. Breida 13.3% 13.10
S. Barkley 5.9% 1.07 R. Burkhead 10.4% 6.05 B. Powell 5.9% 14.01
K. Hunt 10.4% 1.10 M. Lynch 9.6% 6.09 L. Blount 5.9% 14.02
M. Gordon 10.4% 1.10 T. Cohen 7.4% 7.01 D. Martin 8.9% 14.11
L. Fournette 6.7% 1.11 K. Johnson 6.7% 7.02 P. Barber 25.2% 14.11
D. Cook 13.3% 2.01 M. Mack 6.7% 7.05 J. Wilkins 9.6% 15.06
D. Freeman 5.2% 2.06 J. Williams 9.6% 7.07 C. Ivory 1.5% 15.11
C. McCaffrey 12.6% 2.07 C. Hyde 3.0% 8.01 F. Gore 0.7% 16.05
J. McKinnon 12.6% 2.08 I. Crowell 15.6% 8.03 A. Ekeler 14.1% 16.05
J. Mixon 8.1% 3.01 C. Thompson 5.2% 8.06 T. Yeldon 18.5% 17.01
J. Howard 10.4% 3.03 C. Anderson 13.3% 8.09 K. Ballage 11.9% 17.01
L. McCoy 8.1% 3.04 D. Johnson 11.9% 9.01 J. Allen 1.5% 17.05
D. Guice 12.6% 3.09 N. Chubb 16.3% 9.03 D. Murray 0.7% 17.05
R. Penny 5.9% 4.02 A. Jones 8.9% 9.06 S. Perine 3.0% 18.07
K. Drake 7.4% 4.02 T. Montgomery 8.1% 9.11 C. Grant 3.0% 18.09
A. Collins 14.1% 4.02 G. Bernard 5.2% 10.09 J. Hill 0.7% 18.11
D. Henry 9.6% 4.05 D. Foreman 12.6% 11.01 W. Gallman 1.5% 18.11
S. Michel 7.4% 4.06 C. Clement 8.1% 11.03 A. Abdullah 0.7% 18.11
J. Ajayi 13.3% 4.09 D. Booker 10.4% 11.07 C. Edmonds 0.7% 18.11
M. Ingram 5.2% 4.10 N. Hines 2.2% 11.07 D. Henderson 7.4% 19.01

Here's where we see the first scatter with lots of early exposure. Receiver-dominant drafting took flight after wild 2014-15 seasons, which saw Antonio Brown and Julio Jones wreck the curve for everyone. Since then, the 130-reception seasons have vanished, and it again makes much more sense to chase ball-hogging workhorses. Running backs are my preferred start in nearly any best ball draft; the ceilings are simply much higher in a typical year than those of wide receivers, and the gap in bust rate (percentage to deliver less-than-RB2 or -WR2 value) between the positions has been greatly overstated. Over the past two years, RB1s by ADP (the top 12 drafted) have registered as "hits" - landing within 12 spots of their draft slots - in 16 of 24 cases (67%), compared to 13 of 24 drafted WR1s (54%). By and large, workhorse running backs are back on top. They're busting less often, and in 2016 and 2017, the final RB6 outscored the WR6 by and 19 points (point-per-reception) both times.

Of course, success in that arena only comes from picking the right running backs. That's why I'm diversified so heavily at the top, with no more than 15% exposure to any early-round runner. The idea here is to pursue strategy over projections and outlooks, to put my faith into the running back position and let the rigors of the season sort things out. I know I'd rather build with running backs, but since I'm not tied unreasonably to any of them, I'm (theoretically) left open to capitalize decently on whichever ones hold value.

Notes

  • At the top, I'm definitely in on Dalvin Cook, who I think boasts the same claim to a Round 1 pick as several of the guys going well ahead of him. I've prioritized drafting him whenever he tumbles into the middle of the second round - which doesn't happen anymore, thanks largely to LeSean McCoy's issues - and occasionally chasing him into 1.11 or 1.12. Still, his value is maximized early in the second. Walking away from Round 2 with, say, Kareem Hunt and Cook is fried gold.
  • I feel a few of these early guys are overvalued, so I've got only a few obligatory shares of Saquon Barkley (a rookie behind a shaky line) and Leonard Fournette (a fairly average-looking runner with chronic ankle woes). I don't want to be left without them if they outdo my expectations, but I'm almost always spending those picks on workhorses both young and proven - specifically Gordon and Hunt.
  • The third and fourth tiers are indeed messy, but Jay Ajayi represents a screaming bargain. He'll be maddening to own in season-long leagues, but best ball DRAFTers can sit tight until Round 5 and just profit from his big weeks with LeGarrette Blount out of the picture. From the same range, it's probably safe to avoid Derrius Guice at his skyrocketing ADP. I stocked up on fourth- and fifth-round shares before he was drafted as a lead back in Washington; DRAFTers are no longer letting him slip, and much of his value as a two-down rookie has evaporated. It makes more sense to wait one or two rounds for Alex Collins - or two rounds for Ajayi.
  • Back in March and April, I decided to play The Equity Game with two of my favorite mid-round prospects, Royce Freeman and D'Onta Foreman, and thus far I'm batting .500. I liked both their 2018 outlooks but anticipated big news within the coming months - that Freeman would be drafted onto an NFL team with a big backfield hole, and that Foreman's recovery would help to usher Lamar Miller out of the Texans' plans. The plan worked for Freeman: he was, of course, drafted by a Broncos team that lacked intriguing talent, and his ADP has gone through the roof since then. That's given me a lot of equity in those early picks, since I now (a) have a ton of cheap shares in a young, talented starter, and (b) don't ever have to chase him into Round 5 with the rest of the DRAFT community. The Foreman side has yet to materialize. He's still a candidate to lose six games to the PUP list, and his ADP is actually slipping markedly. Camp and preseason will tell the tale of his recovery and what to expect, but it's looking as though I'm stuck with gobs of Foreman from slightly above current cost. It stings, but I stand behind the methodology.
  • It's criminal that Peyton Barber is so unwanted. I'm definitely overweight on him, but he fits so well as an RB5 in Round 14 or 15 that it's often irresistible. Ronald Jones II is definitely the more talented Tampa Bay back, but DRAFTers have to pay RB2/3 cost for him, as though he's already been coronated as a 250-touch guy. Barber has been a stable presence for this offense for parts of the last two seasons, and barring a camp signing, he boasts a floor around 175 carries and a few touchdown opportunities. That's too much production to be available so late.
  • T.J. Yeldon is another late pick I've chosen to saturate myself with. I don't yet trust Fournette's ankle/foot, which has troubled him since college, and I didn't see him as a transcendent runner as a rookie; I expect some degree of touchdown regression coming, too. And Yeldon has quietly developed into a dependable, even dynamic, change-of-pace guy. Last year he caught 3.1 passes a game alongside Fournette, and even a scaled-back version of that looks great as a handcuff, or even as a standalone RB6 pick.

Wide Receiver

Wide Receiver
Exp%
ADP
Wide Receiver
Exp%
ADP
Wide Receiver
Exp%
ADP
A. Brown 9.6% 1.06 W. Fuller 13.3% 6.11 D. Jackson 3.0% 13.05
D. Hopkins 5.9% 1.09 M. Goodwin 0.7% 7.04 G. Allison 9.6% 13.10
O. Beckham Jr. 7.4% 1.12 J. Edelman 11.1% 7.07 M. Bryant 1.5% 14.03
J. Jones 3.7% 2.01 E. Sanders 5.9% 7.09 M. Gallup 13.3% 14.05
M. Thomas 7.4% 2.04 R. Woods 6.7% 7.11 M. Sanu 1.5% 14.07
K. Allen 3.7% 2.05 D. Funchess 8.9% 7.12 T. Williams 5.9% 14.09
D. Adams 8.1% 2.08 J. Crowder 17.8% 8.04 A. Miller 4.4% 15.01
A.J. Green 13.3% 2.09 P. Garcon 11.9% 8.05 D. Westbrook 7.4% 15.08
M. Evans 9.6% 3.01 R. Cobb 14.1% 8.06 C. Godwin 8.9% 15.09
D. Baldwin 10.4% 3.02 C. Kupp 11.1% 8.07 C. Kirk 10.4% 15.11
A. Thielen 11.1% 3.07 D. Parker 5.2% 8.10 M. Wallace 4.4% 16.06
T. Hill 5.9% 3.07 R. Anderson 9.6% 9.03 K. Cole 10.4% 16.07
T.Y. Hilton 9.6% 3.08 N. Agholor 7.4% 9.08 D. Amendola 10.4% 16.09
S. Diggs 8.1% 3.10 S. Shepard 2.2% 9.09 J. Washington 3.7% 17.01
L. Fitzgerald 11.1% 4.02 A. Hurns 3.7% 9.11 D. Moncrief 4.4% 17.03
J. Gordon 9.6% 4.05 J. Nelson 15.6% 10.02 Q. Enunwa 0.7% 17.11
A. Cooper 9.6% 4.06 K. Stills 4.4% 10.03 T. Pryor 0.7% 18.03
J. Smith-Schuster 17.0% 4.07 K. Benjamin 4.4% 10.11 T. Austin 19.3% 18.05
D. Thomas 7.4% 4.12 R. Matthews 1.5% 11.01 C. Sutton 5.2% 18.07
A. Robinson 4.4% 4.12 D. Bryant 3.7% 11.05 T. Taylor 7.4% 18.07
B. Cooks 9.6% 5.02 K. Golladay 17.0% 11.07 D. Pettis 1.5% 18.09
A. Jeffery 6.7% 5.04 D.J. Moore 8.9% 11.10 J. Kearse 1.5% 18.09
M. Jones 10.4% 5.06 C. Ridley 3.7% 11.12 W. Snead 10.4% 18.10
G. Tate 12.6% 5.09 M. Lee 8.1% 11.12 T. Smith 2.2% 18.11
S. Watkins 4.4% 6.01 J. Doctson 5.9% 12.03 C. Samuel 2.2% 18.11
C. Hogan 5.9% 6.01 T. Lockett 18.5% 12.08 E. Decker 1.5% 18.11
M. Crabtree 14.1% 6.06 M. Williams 3.7% 12.12 C. Rogers 7.4% 18.11
J. Landry 14.1% 6.09 C. Meredith 1.5% 13.01
C. Davis 5.2% 6.10 P. Richardson 3.7% 13.05

I don't see a ton of separation among the top names. Rather, I'm usually targeting running backs in the premium rounds and building a receiving corps between Rounds 5 and 10. There's a lot of value there in guys perceived as less upside-driven but with realistic paths to 80 receptions (think Jamison Crowder, Cooper Kupp, Pierre Garcon).

Notes

  • I'm all the way in on JuJu Smith-Schuster, as you can see. Find out why here.
  • As always, I've made it a point to ensure I have a few shares of virtually everyone, even the prospects I don't love. I'm not expecting much these days from DeVante Parker, for instance, but I certainly won't be caught entirely without him. Still, a few flawed or risky guys have just come so expensively that I haven't prioritized them at all. Goodwin has no track record to speak of, but requires a Round 6 or 7 investment; there are similar ceilings but much more palatable floors available there and later.
    • I feel great about the equity I got from my late-round receiver shares. In drafting gobs of these rosters over the entire offseason, it's always nice (and helpful) to draw ADP value by targeting guys at different times. I detailed this a bit last week, discussing my experiments with Royce Freeman and D'Onta Foreman. But there's a lot more volume among late-round wideouts, and so a lot more opportunities to play the equity game. And most of the Round 12-18 guys I'm heavy on above came to me much more cheaply when I drafted them than they are now.
    • I'm highly concentrated with Tyler Lockett shares, as he boasts the best volume outlook of his career and was consistently available in Round 13-15 just a month or so ago.
    • The same goes for Tyrell Williams. I entered draft season wanting a lot of him, and while I stopped targeting him awhile ago for diversification purposes, I'm glad all of my shares came over the last three or four rounds of those drafts. Behind Keenan Allen, and fighting with only Mike Williams for position, Tyrell Williams has a real path to sporadic WR3 production. And I got in on that much cheaper than most have.
    • My love for Kenny Golladay is a deep-rooted one; I'm anticipating big things - at some point - for the size/speed specimen who's been called "freakish" and "dominant" by his teammates and beating shutdown cornerback Darius Slay for jump balls in camp. He's now going solidly in Rounds 11 and 12, and while I've indeed chased him there from time to time, most of my exposure comes from March and April DRAFTs. Back then, he was often falling into Round 14, and I made sure to scoop him up whenever he did. Golladay is a weekly WR2/3 guy at his absolute ceiling (with an injury above him) and a sporadic, bestball WR2 type at his floor. In my eyes, he's a better upside play in this ADP range than the likes of D.J. Moore and (of late) Cameron Meredith.
    • The Jacksonville receivers follow little real pattern in terms of ADP. Marqise Lee, the presumptive No. 1, will always come off the board before Round 12 is up, but the rest of the pack tends to fall. As a result, DRAFTers can get nice value in targeting Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, and Donte Moncrief. I'm not a huge fan of Lee, who's frequently banged up and lacks both downfield and touchdown sizzle. But I'm always interested in chasing whichever complementary guy falls into Round 16 or later. Usually, one or all can be had from there.
    • Michael Gallup and Chris Godwin have been wild cards throughout DRAFT season, vacillating from Rounds 12 and 13 in one draft to 15 and 16 in the next. I like both, but prefer Gallup, who has No. 1 traits and a real path to that kind of workload. Godwin is a ceiling play for sure, a downfield terror who produced well in limited rookie opportunity. But he's in a crowded offense, one with quarterbacking question marks, and he'll likely need a few breaks to provide big value. He's ideally targeted in Round 15 or so.
    • I can't quit Willie Snead IV, who's going at the absolute endpoints of most DRAFTs. The same goes for Tavon Austin, who's been talked up mightily by the Cowboys coaches thus far and has a real path to, say, 50 rushes, 40 receptions, and the occasional kick-return score. That's a great best ball outlook for the final round.