By: Mason Dodd (Twitter: @buildthedynasty)
Rewind to April 2016, Dynasty players everywhere just witnessed the worst year for RBs in the past decade. With only 1 RB averaging over 20 points a game (Minimum 6 games played) the position lost many owners their leagues. While the owners who drafted Eddie Lacy and Jeremy Hill at the top of their startup drafts were losing, the people who took 4 WRs before they even thought about touching a RB were winning. This down year for RBs caused the Zero-RB strategy to explode across Dynasty and Redraft leagues during the summer of 2016. By August 2016 there were only 8 RBs going in the top 50 picks of startup drafts based on DLF ADP. Everyone was on board with zero RB and the players who implemented the strategy all thought they were destined to win their leagues. The future was bright for Zero-RB then David Johnson happened. Then Ezekiel Elliot happened. Then Le’Veon Bell happened. Any Dynasty owner with one of these three top guys was ecstatic because these elite RBs won them the championship and all the Zero-RB owners, who selected Allen Robinson or DeAndre Hopkins now have early picks for 2017. Now with 18 RBs going in the first 50 picks of startup drafts, we are faced with question of… “Who should we be targeting with first-round picks in startup drafts?” One of these top 3 RBs or a top tier WR?
To decide who to choose with your first round start up pick, we need to look at the long-term value of the position. To do this I have tracked the top 12 RBs and WRs picked based on DLF ADP starting from August 2014 to now. By looking at who is picked in the top 12 WRs and RBs in 6 month intervals, it is easy to see the turnover rate in the top players at these two positions. For example: the top 5 WRs in August 2014 were AJ Green, Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and Julio Jones. The top 5 WRs in 2015 February ADP were Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, AJ Green, and Demaryius Thomas. Not to mention, who really expected Megatron to walk away from the game when he did? There were three WRs who maintained their top 5 status, and therefore retained their value. Using this exercise, we can see the long term consistent value of the two positions relative to each other. The average number of WRs who maintain their top 12 status at the position every 6 months is 9.4. So, if you select a top 12 WR in your startup draft there is a 78.33% chance that the WR will still be valued as a top 12 WR in 6 months. The average number of RBs who maintain their top 12 status at the position during the same interval of time is 7.2, so there is a 60% chance that they keep that value in 6 months.
This statistic alone easily proves that you should take a WR with AT LEAST your first two picks in your startup drafts, if long term value is something you value. Even if you’re part of the Dynasty community that uses a ‘2-3 year window’ this data only went through August 2014. That’s less than three years ago and most of the RBs who were selected at the beginning of startup drafts throughout the last 2 and a half years have already lost the majority of their value. Most of the WRs who were drafted in the top of startup drafts back in 2014 still have a lot of their value today. There are only 2 receivers from the top 12 in 2014 who are being drafted outside the top 100 today, and those two are Calvin Johnson and josh Gordon. If you look at the same thing with RBs you’ll see that there are 6 RBs who have drastically lost pretty much all of their value. Those running backs are Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Adrian Peterson, CJ Spiller, Matt Forte, Shane Vereen and Zac Stacy. This shows how WRs value tends to last years while RBs can lose the majority of their value in months.
Congrats if you selected Ezekiel Elliot, David Johnson, or Le’Veon Bell last year in the 2nd or 3rd round of a startup draft and won your league. Now that all the other owners are drooling over your stud running back its time to trade him because his value is through the roof. In a recent poll on twitter on who owners would rather have between Odell Beckham and Ezekiel Elliot, 32% of owners said that they would rather have Zeke. Between Julio Jones and David Johnson 78% of people would rather have David Johnson. In a poll between Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown 45% of owners said they would rather have Bell. If you have one of these RBs I would go send an offer for one of these top tier receivers ASAP. Imagine trading Alfred Morris after he had a rookie season which included 1600 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns for AJ Green. Get some return on these players when their value is peaked, for one of those top receivers who have safer long term value.
There is no doubt that owning one of these bell-cow, 20 touches per game, workhouse backs is an absolutely inevitable advantage. The simple fact of the matter is that WRs last longer. Getting targeted 12 times a game on a good week, getting tackled by smaller-statured CBs and DBs, and having a later age of decline, WRs simply last longer than RBs. One of the most informative and eye-opening articles I’ve found at Pro Football Focus goes into depth on the history of age in the NFL. Age Of Decline Be sure to do your research on the WR position before investing an early round pick on a RB, no matter how appealing guys like Bell and Johnson are.