Fantasy Football is all about gaining an advantage over your opponent and about securing week-to-week consistency from your players, especially in season long head-to-head leagues. Over the years I have employed a running back strategy I like to call 2-2-1, which helps you do just that.
With the NFL moving to more of a passing league and with many fantasy leagues favoring a points per reception (PPR) format, scoring from the wide receiver position is becoming more prevalent and there are also many more viable wide receiver options to choose from. In 2014, the total number of touchdowns scored was actually very similar to 2013, but there were 3 more passing touchdowns last season compared to 2013 and 50 more passing touchdowns compared to 2012. There were also 30 less rushing touchdowns last season compared to 2013 and 21 less compared to 2012.
That is not to say that you should neglect the running back position. Quite the opposite; it is essential to have a sound strategy to ensure you will be secure at the position throughout the season while spending valuable draft picks on other positions. In fact, making sure to have proper week-to-week scoring from the running back position is paramount.
The strategy is simple in execution although slightly more nuanced in theory: draft two (2) running backs, from two (2) different teams, plus one (1) more bye week/flex running back as a utility back for your team.
An example of this is drafting Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls (2), Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis (2) and then a guy like Devonta Freeman (1). By doing this you are essentially locking down the running back position for your team for the whole year, and can then focus all your other picks on wide receivers, tight ends, quarterback and even defense.
So instead of drafting five, six or seven random backs, lock down two backfields and one more running back. But it has to be the right backfields and right running back. What you are looking for in the 2 back slots, are running backs that are heavily involved in the offense on a week-to-week basis, and then in the event of injury, a clear handcuff that can take over without diminishing the position’s value for you.
An example of a great 2 combo is Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Lacy is a feature back that will get the ball a ton and will be a steady option every week to get you points. If injured, Starks would come in and not skip a beat, and you are not likely to see much decreased scoring from this running back slot in this scenario. The beauty of this combo is also that Starks can be had for almost next to nothing. Probably not a dollar or two in auction drafts and no higher than an 14th round selection in snake drafts.
In the 1 slot, you are looking for a running back that can act as your bye week replacement, flex or spot starter for the season and not cost you too much. A great example of this is LeGarrette Blount. You probably don’t want to have to rely on him every week as your main starter, but he is more than serviceable week-to-week, especially during bye weeks or as a flex start when needed. What makes him a 1 is also the lack of a clear handcuff that would take over and produce at the same level in the event of injury.
Some may think of this as simply handcuffing your running backs, but as I mentioned, it is more nuanced than that. Take Matt Forte for example. He does not make a great 1 or 2 because he doesn’t have a clear/proven handcuff that can just step in without any decrease in value and he is also an expensive player to select as a 1. I would probably lean towards drafting a player like Lynch or Lacy, with a clear late round handcuff, over a player like Forte. If Forte goes down, your season may very well go down with it. We saw this happen with Adrian Peterson owners last year. The lack of a great handcuff doomed many teams. You want to make sure you get value out of your first round draft pick, for anyone that drafted Peterson, that wasn’t possible.
Digger deeper, Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are an interesting case study that provides a good nuanced example. In most leagues, this would not be a great 2 selection because of the high cost associated with procuring both running backs. Preferably with your 2 selection, you are drafting a running back with a high pick and only using a later round pick on the handcuff. The viability of this combo depends on Bernard's ADP, which right now has actually fallen to the 6th round, making it not an ideal, but viable since Bernard can actually act as your 1 as well.
Once again, the goal of this strategy is to rely on just five running backs total, that’s it. Now in deep leagues, such as the FFPC, I’m not saying you shouldn’t grab any other running backs late in the draft or if they are clearly the best option at that point in the draft, but what I am saying is that it really shouldn’t be necessary for your team to succeed in the current fantasy football climate. Rather spend those late round picks on upside wide receivers, defenses, quarterbacks and tight ends since there is no reason to draft any additional running backs.
Additionally, all of this is not to say ignore the waiver wire during the season. You should always be looking to upgrade and tweak your lineup. For instance if you drafted Shane Vereen as your 1 last season in a PPR league and he just wasn’t getting it done, don’t hold on to him, try and upgrade him. Guys like C.J. Anderson and Isaiah Crowell were often waiver wire gems.
During the season your 1 can also easily become a 2, and don’t hesitate to grab that backup. For example, if Chris Ivory is your 1 and Stevan Ridley gains health and really starts to come on, drop a bench player that is doing nothing and grab Ridley. Additionally, a handcuff can always change as the season progresses, so you need to pay attention throughout the season to changing situations. If you also do happen to pick up a great player on the waiver wire, such as C.J. Anderson last year, you may want to drop a weaker handcuff and instead grab his handcuff. This strategy should remain fluid throughout the season. Lastly, if you have a shallow bench it can sometimes become difficult to hold onto handcuffs. But that is the beauty of this strategy; since you only need to use five roster spots on the running back position, even in leagues with just 15 player spots, this is a viable strategy.
Here is a list of some great 2 combos and 1 players. Since we are still four weeks out from the start of the season, this list may very well change as the pre-season progresses. These are also not listed in any particular order; the spot where you draft the players depends on how agressive you want to be at the running back position. If you go running back in the first two rounds, snatching up your 2's, you could easily be grabbing your 1 in the 4th round, and that is fine. Often times though, you can wait on your 1 all the way into round 8 where guys like Danny Woodhead, Ryan Mathews and Isaiah Crowell are bing drafted. Just rememeber, as I mentioned earlier, make sure to follow closely if your handcuffs change during the season and swap them out. By doing so, you will insure you don't have to spend big FAAB money once your guy goes down.
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