Last season I won three of my five fantasy leagues and made the playoffs in the other two. I'm not saying this to brag. The reality is my fantasy leagues may not be as competitive as your fantasy leagues. Then again, maybe mine are more competitive. It's all relative. I tell you this because that was the first season I've won a championship since I started fantasy football four years ago... and I won three. Aside from immersing myself into fantasy football research, I attribute much of my success to a few key components. First, I start mad mocking in March when the NFL's Free Agency opens up for my redraft leagues. Second, in my keeper league I start pushing trades early and often to maximize my roster. Third, and arguably most importantly, I applied the "zero-sum running back" strategy in drafts. I want to go on record as saying that I only support this strategy in PPR leagues. Standard leagues it doesn't make as much sense to me.
The concept behind a zero-sum RB strategy is that you spend your more valuable picks in a snake draft, or higher amounts of dollars in an auction draft, on elite wide receivers (or in rare cases the Gronks or Lucks). Later in the draft you then take several fliers on value RBs with upside and breakout potential. This strategy is effective because it minimizes the risk of your top picks busting, or not living up to their ADP. In fact, WRs tend to have a 15% less bust rate than RBs. I don't know about you but 15% sounds like quite an edge to me. Think about this. How many of you have been burned by a first round RB not living up to their ADP? Names like T-Rich, Spiller, Montee Ball, and even the t-100 Adrian Peterson cyborg can make former owners throw up in their mouth a little. Have you ever heard of a WR handcuff? Me either. I hate the idea of having to spend a first round pick on an elite RB only to have to drop a 11th round pick later on their handcuff. What a waste. Instead, you spend your top three picks on Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, and Alshon Jeffery. Then, you start drafting for value and upside for RBs, TEs, and QBs. In leagues last year I was able to draft Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, and Julio Jones while acquiring late draft, waiver, or trade value in the likes of Matt Ryan, Mark Ingram, Jeremy Hill, Emmanuel Sanders, C.J. Anderson, and Justin Forsett. This is the construct of zero-sum RB drafting. Prioritize elite talent such as WRs, then value draft on your other skill positions.
If you decide to roll this strat, then I'm proud of you. Way to get out of your comfort zone and try something dynamic and risky. I'm a firm believer that in fantasy football you have to risk big to win big! You can read about some value QBs you can acquire at shockingly cheap costs in my last article about value QBs with upside. This article provides value RBs with upside for PPR leagues. You don't have to be using the zero-sum RB strategy though to find value in these RBs.
1) C.J. Spiller: One of my friends on Facebook, who is a Saints fan, posted a status that said "Brees is about the only name I recognize anymore on the Saints' roster." It's widely noted that Sean Payton, one of the best offensive minded coaches in the league, is transitioning his team to focus more on the run game and short-to-intermediate pass scheme. This is largely attributed to Drew Brees' age and decline. Also consider the losses of Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas, Travaris Cadet, and Kenny Stills who accounted for an astounding 25% or 314 of Brees' targets last season. Where are all those targets going? At least partially to Spiller. Additionally, let's not forget that while playing for the Saints in 2011, Darren Sproles finished with an insane 86 receptions with nine combined TDs and 1313 combined yards. In 2012 he finished with 75 receptions with eight combined TDs and 911 combined yards. Then, in 2013 Pierre Thomas took over as the primary passing back for the Saints and finished with a 77-5-1062 stat line. Finally, Coach Payton is on record as saying that Spiller is a cross between Sproles and Thomas, essentially the best of both worlds. Ladies and gents, Spiller is going to have a monster PPR season. I know, I know, "He can't stay healthy!" That's what they said about DeMarco Murray last season. How did that work out for you who drafted him? Or worst yet, how did that work out for those of you who faced him in the playoffs? At Spiller's current fourth round value, I'll be drafting him in every PPR league that I can. Spiller burned me two seasons ago. It's time for redemption.
My 2015 PPR projections: 1,300 combined yards, 7-9 TDs, and 80 receptions isn't out of the realm of possibility. In 12-team redraft leagues I'm snagging him in round four or after if he is still available. I'm snatching him up in dynasty leagues too. In auction leagues I'm paying around $25 for him assuming a $200 budget. Draft him with swagger!
2) Frank Gore: I don't want any part of the Colts' WR core, with the possible exception of Andre Johnson if the value is there. There are just too many mouths to feed. I'd also draft Andrew Luck if he falls to the second round. One of the other primary reasons I don't want any Colts' WRs is because of Frank Gore. Like Beast Mode, opponents of Frank Gore have been saying that he's "too old" and "will be a bust". In fact, that was me last season. I said it about both Gore and Marshawn Lynch. I'm eating crow now. Do not doubt the propensity for the Colts' offense to checkdown to their running backs. Last season, between the three primary Colts' RBs of Bradshaw, Richardson, and Herron there were a total of 86 receptions. 86. I don't see Gore being taken out of the game unless to be spelled. He is a three down back with excellent hands. At 33 years old, they didn't sign him on to use him in a committee. They will feature him. He's already receiving incredible amounts of praise from Andrew Luck and the coaching staff. Gore will do four things this season: 1) catch passes 2) score TDs 3) rush hard 4) win you a championship.
My 2015 PPR projections: 1,400 combined yards, 8-10 TDs, and 60 receptions should be delivered. In 12-team redraft leagues I'm snagging him in round four or after if he is still available. I'm snatching him up in dynasty leagues too. In auction leagues I'm paying around $25 for him assuming a $200 budget. Draft him with swagger!
3) Jonathan Stewart: Adios, DeAngelo Williams. Last season after Stewart's return he averaged an impressive 5.3 YPC. The Panther's brass have indicated their plans is to make Stewart a workhorse. I'm in. This season Stewart has nothing but upside as long as he can stay healthy. I understand that's a big "if". It's like I said earlier though, DeMarco Murray had the same criticism last season. Also consider that when it comes to drafting value with upside, risk is a factor. Although Carolina isn't known for making their RBs PPR monsters, they haven't really had the opportunity to have a consistent RB like Stewart catching passes out of the backfield. Over the last couple seasons their RBs total a collective average of 60ish catches. Stewart has sticky hands too. Tolbert and Cam might poach some TDs here and there but Tolbert was used very sparingly last season after he came back from his injury and it was even rumored that he might be cut in the offseason. It appears that the Panthers are all-in this season on Stewart. His upside is undeniable.
My 2015 PPR projections: 1,200 combined yards, 9-11 TDs, and 45 receptions for this glass cannon. In 12-team redraft leagues I'm snagging him in round five or after if he is still available. I'm snatching him up in dynasty leagues too because he is still relatively young and with minor wear and tear. In auction leagues I'm paying around $20 for him assuming a $200 budget. Draft him with swagger!
4) Giovani Bernard: Thunder and lightning. A potent combination. Without thunder, lightning is still dangerous. Without lightning, thunder is still scary. There are a few RB tandems in the NFL that I feel comfortable giving this title to and Gio and Jeremy Hill top it. While Hill is a great pass catcher in his own right, Gio is the true PPR benefactor. There is no question that Hill will be a TD machine this season. I can see him spiking 12-15 at least. It's not going to be sloppy seconds for Gio though. Between his combined yards, receptions, and TD total this season he will be a great value in PPR leagues. Lest ye not forget that last season he was being touted as a round 2, possibly round 1 PPR pick. Hill may have changed that, but at Gio's current 5th-6th round ADP that's just folly. I will snatch up every share of Gio I can at that kind of value. Even with injuries last season he had 43 receptions, 7 TDs, and 1029 combined yards. Yes, please. During his previous rookie season when competing with the sloth Law-firm his stat line was 56-8-1209. The same is completely conceivable this season. Ride the lightning!
My 2015 PPR projections: 1,100 combined yards, 6-8 TDs, and 55 receptions for this part of the equation. In 12-team redraft leagues I'm snagging him in round five or after if he is still available. I'm snatching him up in dynasty leagues too because he hasn't even begun to reach his potential. If Hill goes down, you are in the money. In auction leagues I'm paying around $20 for him assuming a $200 budget. Draft him with swagger!
5) Danny Woodhead: 76-8-1034. Recognize those digits? That's not Sir-Mix-A-Lots preference on his ladies' measurables. That's Woodhead's stat line from two seasons ago when he played a his first, full season with the Chargers. Recall, last season he went down in the first game of the season to not return. Oh, how quickly we forget. At his current ridiculous 9th round ADP I am bargain shopping like Grandma. You want value? Woodhead is the incarnation of it this season. Don't forget that in his tenure with the Patriots he was a pass-catching behemoth. He might look like David, but when it comes to PPR leagues he is Goliath.
My 2015 PPR projections: 1,000 combined yards, 5-7 TDs, and 65 receptions is a lowball for this under-rated sensation. In 12-team redraft leagues I'm snagging him in round seven or after if he is still available. I'm snatching him up in dynasty leagues too in case Melvin Gordon goes down. In auction leagues I'm paying around $15 for him assuming a $200 budget. Draft him with swagger!
Other value PPR RBs to consider: C.J. Anderson, Justin Forsett, Andre Ellington, Ameer Abdullah, Darren McFadden, and Duke Johnson.
Remember fellow fantasy football addicts, "Don't just draft... draft with swagger!"
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