For those of you that spend a lot of time mock drafting during the offseason, you may be noticing that a large handful of people are taking three running backs in a row before they even consider another position. The strategy of loading up on running backs early and often is a common one. The number of managers in your draft applying the RB/RB/RB strategy may not may not be as high as it was years ago, but there will always be managers that are looking to overcome the perception that running back is a thin position. As running backs begin falling off your draft board, you may find yourself swept up with the herd.
But what about wide receivers? The NFL has progressively become more of a passing league as of late, and many conclude that wide receivers are deeper than ever as a result. I won't argue that there is some great value late in your draft at the wide receiver position, but I don't believe that the depth at wide receiver gives you a pass to draft your starters deep into your draft. Of course, smart fantasy football managers have adopted the strategy of tier-based drafting; they are taking the best available player within a group of players they believe will finish the season with similar point totals. I'm a big fan of grouping my players into tiers, but my suggestion for 2013 will be a bit more direct and simple for those that aren't looking to speculate on players based on grouped value.
For those that can't fathom taking anything but running backs in the first two rounds, my strategy can still offer some manageable compromise. My wide receiver strategy will require patience and a bit of discipline, but it has offered great results over the past few years. It may seem overly simplistic, but it can be effective. It all comes down to what rounds you should target your WR1, WR2, and WR3. Here is my recommendation:
Where: Rounds 1-3
Remember when I mentioned the discipline needed to adopt this strategy? It begins in the first three rounds. Whether it's RB/RB/WR, RB/WR/RB, and so on; you have flexibility here, but allowing your WR1 to fall into the fourth round is not an option if you are to embrace this strategy. Every league and be different, of course, but taking a wide receiver in the first three rounds is generally a very important step in laying the foundation for your roster. It's important to have your anchor at wide receiver. I'd be bold enough to point out that taking a wide receiver in the first three rounds is the most important step of this strategy. If you only consider a fraction of my advice, I would hope that this is the piece you take with you. One exception to this rule would be taking tight end Jimmy Graham in the first three rounds. Consider Graham your WR1 in this scenario if he falls to you at the right spot.
Some of you may be inclined to take a quarterback in the first three rounds. Your competitors will love to talk about how deep the wide receiver position is, but quarterback is arguably deeper. I'm not opposed to anyone grabbing an elite quarterback (Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, etc) in the first three rounds, but at least consider a wide receiver in those first three rounds even if you do take a quarterback. If you take a QB, I'm simply asking that you don't blindly place an obligation on yourself for a second running back. Weigh the value.
Your patience may be tested here. You'll begin to consider your quarterback at some point. You may even be interested in a top five tight end. If you've already drafted two running backs, you have the ability to draft your flex position here. While I typically draft my flex and quarterback in these rounds, I'm always taking a wide receiver here. Flexibility is more of an option at this stage; you could push into the seventh round before taking your WR2, but once again the general concept is the grab support for your WR1. It's at this point in the draft that I ask you to consider your leagues over the past several years. Think about your league champion in 2011 or 2012. Did they take the wide receiver position seriously in the first six rounds? Odds are that they did. There will always be exceptions, but most fantasy managers that found themselves in contention for a championship had a strong group of wide receivers that they assembled primarily in the draft. I tend to not allow my WR2 to be waiting for me beyond round six, and neither should you.
Where: Rounds 7-9 (or later)
That's right. I'm giving you the most flexibility I'll give you by giving you the option to take a full step beyond the rounds I recommend taking your WR3. Value could fall beyond round nine, but with players like Miles Austin, Cecil Shorts, Anquan Boldin, or James Jones rarely falling past the ninth round, there are a lot of strong WR3 options to be had before they begin to dwindle as you get into double-digit rounds. If you're pushing your WR3 pick beyond the ninth round, it would be in your best interest to draft heavily on wide receivers on the tail end of your draft. You may be shuffling your options during the first few weeks of the season, so prepare accordingly.
Once again, every league is different. Running backs could move off the board slower, leaving you with some great value even in the early rounds (all the more reason to grab a great WR1 while you still can). Quarterbacks could surprisingly fly off the board in the first five rounds. While the possibilities are numerous, the hope is that most people know the tendencies of a league they've been involved with over the past few years. If you're in a new league, this strategy could be even more important as your find a structure in your approach to a league full of surprises. Running backs are rightfully a hot commodity every season, and 2013 is no exception. The hope is that you are able to assemble a strong starting lineup for the first week of the season, and you can do it without four running backs in the first five rounds. If you can't commit to this strategy, at least keep it in mind as you draft your players.