A 16-team draft is worlds different from a 12-teamer. If you have Pick 5 and wait until the fifth round for your first running back in a 12-teamer, you’re starting your ball-carriers with … Derrius Guice, or Marshawn Lynch, or Sony Michel. It’s not Le’Veon Bell, but assuming you’ve bulked up on upper-tier receivers, you can make a run with those guys.
In a 16-teamer, though, if you wait until the fifth round, you’re starting with … Marlon Mack, or Royce Freeman, or Jamaal Williams.
Zero-RB isn’t really en vogue in 2018 as it was a few years ago, but in a 16-team league, it’s just about impossible. There are strategies that emerge, to be sure, but waiting on a crucial position just can’t be one of them.
The PFF Fantasy team gathered for a 16-team slow mock. To fill out the ranks, also participating were:
Otherwise, the draft’s structure pretty normal. Below, we’ll look at the notable strategies that emerged.
The first round
|1||Mike Castiglione||Le'Veon Bell||RB||PIT|
|2||Jeff Ratcliffe||Todd Gurley||RB||LAR|
|3||Tyler Buecher||David Johnson||RB||ARZ|
|4||Scott Spratt||Ezekiel Elliott||RB||DAL|
|5||Dan Clasgens||Alvin Kamara||RB||NO|
|6||Nathan Jahnke||Saquon Barkley||RB||NYG|
|7||Mike Tagliere||Antonio Brown||WR||PIT|
|8||Curtis Patrick||Kareem Hunt||RB||KC|
|9||Walton Spurlin||DeAndre Hopkins||WR||HOU|
|10||Michael Moore||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||NYG|
|11||Tyler Loechner||Michael Thomas||WR||NO|
|12||Scott Barrett||Julio Jones||WR||ATL|
|13||Mike Clay||Dalvin Cook||RB||MIN|
|14||Danile Kelley||Keenan Allen||WR||LAC|
|15||Dan Schneier||Melvin Gordon||RB||LAC|
|16||Pat Thorman||Leonard Fournette||RB||JAX|
That’s six running backs off the board before Brown was picked and 10 of 16 first-round picks in total. Running back put up more fantasy points at the top end last year, but obviously bottomed out much earlier, with each team offering one, maybe two fantasy running backs but three and sometimes even four relevant receivers.
The (quasi-)zero-RB rosters
Two teams went WR-WR to start the draft, meaning no running back until pick 42 (for Michael Moore) or 46 (for me). There was one other roster that waited on running back, but we’ll get to it. Here’s how those rosters ended up:
|Michael Moore roster||Daniel Kelley roster|
|QB||Philip Rivers||LAC||10.07||QB||Drew Brees||NO||7.14|
|QB||Matt Ryan||ATL||11.10||RB||Lamar Miller||HOU||3.14|
|RB||Derrick Henry||TEN||3.10||RB||Royce Freeman||DEN||4.03|
|RB||C.J. Anderson||CAR||5.10||RB||Kerryon Johnson||DET||5.14|
|RB||Matt Breida||SF||8.07||RB||Tarik Cohen||CHI||6.03|
|RB||Austin Ekeler||LAC||12.07||RB||Kalen Ballage||MIA||13.14|
|RB||Chris Ivory||BUF||14.07||WR||Keenan Allen||LAC||1.14|
|WR||Odell Beckham Jr.||NYG||1.10||WR||Mike Evans||TB||2.03|
|WR||Davante Adams||GB||2.07||WR||Sterling Shepard||NYG||8.03|
|WR||Jamison Crowder||WAS||6.07||WR||D.J. Moore||CAR||9.14|
|WR||Nelson Agholor||PHI||7.10||WR||Willie Snead||BAL||12.03|
|WR||Keelan Cole||JAX||15.10||WR||Amara Darboh||SEA||14.03|
|TE||Evan Engram||NYG||4.07||TE||Vance McDonald||PIT||10.03|
|TE||Cameron Brate||TB||9.10||TE||Jared Cook||OAK||11.14|
|K||Matt Prater||DET||16.07||K||Robbie Gould||SF||16.03|
I asked Moore about his roster. He said it wasn’t an intentional strategy to go WR-WR early, but couldn’t pass up the value of Adams that deep in the second round. As for filling out his backs after missing the big names he readily admitted he could struggle with depth, but likes Henry and Anderson more than most and thought the value worked out. Overall, he loaded up on receiver and tight end and let the running backs play out with hope.
For my roster, choosing to go WR-WR early led to a domino effect — I felt like I had to load up on mid-round upside plays in Freeman, Johnson, and Cohen after getting Miller in the third. Waiting until the eighth to take a third receiver meant I needed to get more receiver depth, which is why I went Snead and Darboh late instead of a backup quarterback (12 of 16 teams had a backup). And all of that meant I waited on tight end — McDonald and Cook would be a great best-ball duo, in my opinion.
The lesson of going light on backs early in a 16-teamer is that it separates you from ADP for a big chunk of the draft, as you have to scramble to make your roster make sense after missing out on the top tier.
The TE-heavy roster
The other team that eschewed running backs early really went out on a limb, with Tyler Loechner going TE-heavy and not taking a ball-carrier until the fourth round (54th overall):
|Tyler Loechner roster|
For me, this was a noble exercise — control the tight end market and dominate the position — but ultimately not one that should catch fire in 16-teamers. There’s no roster in this 16-teamer with a wider range of potential outcomes than this one — Goff and Keenum both took massive leaps forward in 2017 and could slide back in 2018, Collins and Chubb both head up full backfields, meaning they could find themselves out of a job with any struggles, and as overblown as Gronkowski’s injury risk might be, it does still exist, and if he misses significant time, this team just doesn’t have the depth to overcome it.
Loechner more or less agreed, saying “The final product wasn't as bad as I feared it could have been — but I'm not sure this is a strategy I would ultimately deploy in a real draft. Monopolizing the tight end position in a 16-team league does have some intrinsic value,.. but I was left really thin at the running back position. … There's a little too much risk associated with this roster for my liking.”
The RB-heavy rosters
Three teams went with three running backs in their first four picks. Coincidentally, it was all three of our ringers:
|Nathan Jahnke roster||Mike Tagliere roster||Mike Clay roster|
|QB||Andrew Luck||IND||8.11||QB||Russell Wilson||SEA||6.10||QB||Patrick Mahomes||KC||10.04|
|QB||Jimmy Garoppolo||SF||9.06||RB||Joe Mixon||CIN||2.10||QB||Alex Smith||WAS||11.13|
|RB||Saquon Barkley||NYG||1.06||RB||Sony Michel||NE||3.07||RB||Dalvin Cook||MIN||1.13|
|RB||Rashaad Penny||SEA||3.06||RB||Dion Lewis||TEN||4.10||RB||Jay Ajayi||PHI||3.13|
|RB||Duke Johnson||CLV||4.11||RB||Doug Martin||OAK||9.07||RB||Ronald Jones||TB||4.04|
|RB||D'Onta Foreman||HOU||7.06||RB||Spencer Ware||KC||13.07||RB||Giovani Bernard||CIN||8.04|
|RB||Charles Sims||TB||16.11||WR||Antonio Brown||PIT||1.07||RB||Jonathan Stewart||NYG||15.13|
|WR||Tyreek Hill||KC||2.11||WR||Corey Davis||TEN||5.07||WR||A.J. Green||CIN||2.04|
|WR||Pierre Garcon||SF||5.06||WR||Marquise Goodwin||SF||7.07||WR||Emmanuel Sanders||DEN||5.13|
|WR||Randall Cobb||GB||6.11||WR||Mohamed Sanu||ATL||10.10||WR||Devin Funchess||CAR||6.04|
|WR||Mike Wallace||PHI||10.11||WR||Allen Hurns||DAL||11.07||WR||DeSean Jackson||TB||7.13|
|WR||Quincy Enunwa||NYJ||14.11||WR||Geronimo Allison||GB||12.10||WR||Jordan Matthews||NE||13.13|
|TE||Benjamin Watson||NO||11.06||TE||O.J. Howard||TB||8.10||TE||Charles Clay||BUF||9.13|
|TE||Vernon Davis||WAS||12.11||TE||Hayden Hurst||BAL||14.10||TE||Mike Gesicki||MIA||12.04|
|K||Wil Lutz||NO||15.06||K||Jake Elliott||PHI||16.10||K||Chris Boswell||PIT||16.04|
All three of the drafters said their early-RB strategy was a mix of intentional (“I always try to land at least two RBs through three rounds,” Tagliere said; “I knew they’d dry up quickly,” per Clay) and the way the draft went. And ultimately, with them able to take players like Goodwin (who neared 1,000 yards in 2017) and Jackson after a player like Burkhead, who has upside but could struggle to see the field, or Crowell in a PPR, the value ended up making sense for them.
The light-RB approach
Curtis Patrick definitely didn’t go zero-RB in the draft. He spent his first two picks on the position … and then only took one more the rest of the way.
|Curtis Patrick roster|
If Hunt and McKinnon are healthy and productive for 2018, there’s plenty of reason to like this roster, especially with enough wild cards at the receiver position to ensure plenty of upside. If Hunt and/or McKinnon gets hurt, though, this could become a disaster in a hurry, with Booker not even guaranteed anything more than a backup role.
I asked Patrick about his entire approach — not just avoiding depth at RB but going defense and kicker earlier than most. He talked about his desire against streaming at one-starter positions (QB, TE, K, DST) in 16-team leagues, where the waiver wire is so much shallower than we’re used to. There’s a tradeoff that has to be made in a league this deep, and he chose to go into the season with a potentially too-light running back group, confident in his ability to either play the wire over the season and find one there or finagle a trade.
All told, RB strategy was the key to this 16-teamer. Wait too long on them, and you might love your receivers, but you could be scrambling to make a logical roster make sense the rest of the way. Take them too early, and you have a strong top tier, but you might end up hurting for depth.