Connect with us


Draft Strategy for Ambiguous Backfields

draft strategy

Today, I will provide a draft strategy that capitalizes on the ADP value we found in ambiguous backfields.

In the first article of this series, I discussed conventional wisdom and how it applies to ambiguous backfields. In the second article in this series, I proved that the conventional wisdom telling fantasy drafters to completely avoid ambiguous backfields is statistically unsupported because drafters can gain a significant edge by finding a successful running back in ambiguous backfields resulting from lowered ADP. Indeed, my historical research indicates that the chances of finding a running back who beats his ADP in an ambiguous backfield are over 75%.

Similarly, when fantasy analysts aren’t telling you to avoid ambiguous backfields, they are usually telling you to draft the “cheapest” running back of the group being drafted, but without any real guidance. The logic behind this conventional wisdom argues that if you are going to take a shot at an ambiguous backfield, do so using low-risk, low-round draft choices so that if you are wrong, the mistake doesn’t hurt as much. Today, I’ll test this theory, provide guidance applying this theory, and develop a draft strategy for ambiguous backfields exploiting common draft tendencies reflected in ADP.

First, I’ll decide whether drafting the “cheapest” running back in an ambiguous backfield actually generated positive results. So, here again, are the 2017/2018 charts I produced from the second article, with the “cheapest” running back in bold.

Player – 2017 ADP RB Rank Points-per-game Rank Success or Failure
Terrance West (BAL) 36 81 Failure
Danny Woodhead (BAL) 26 60 Failure
Javorious Allen (BAL) 65 30 Success
Joe Mixon (CIN) 20 34 Failure
Jeremy Hill (CIN) 51 102 Failure
Giovani Bernard (CIN) 61 27 Success
C.J. Anderson (DEN) 23 28 Failure
Jamaal Charles (DEN) 47 85 Failure
Ameer Abdullah (DET) 24 45 Failure
Theo Riddick (DET) 33 37 Failure
Frank Gore (IND) 35 29 Success
Marlon Mack (IND) 53 59 Failure
Mark Ingram (NO) 25 8 Success
Alvin Kamara (NO) 52 4 Success
Mike Gillislee (NE) 27 58 Failure
James White (NE) 42 38 Failure
Rex Burkhead (NE) 44 18 Success
Dion Lewis (NE) 58 20 Success
LeGarrette Blount (PHI) 37 65 Failure
Darren Sproles (PHI) 46 74 Failure
Wendell Smallwood (PHI) 54 77 Failure
Thomas Rawls (SEA) 39 99 Failure
Eddie Lacy (SEA) 43 102 Failure
C.J. Prosise (SEA) 49 93 Failure
Chris Carson (SEA) 55 33 Success
Rob Kelley (WAS) 28 71 Failure
Samaje Perine (WAS) 48 50 Failure
Chris Thompson (WAS) 68 11 Success


Player -2018 ADP RB Rank Points-per-game Rank Success or Failure
Duke Johnson (CLE) 39 37 Failure
Carlos Hyde (CLE) 25 68 Failure
Nick Chubb (CLE) 49 25 Success
Kerryon Johnson (DET) 28 18 Success
LeGarrette Blount (DET) 54 82 Failure
Theo Riddick (DET) 58 50 Failure
Aaron Jones (GB) 41 17 Success
Jamaal Williams (GB) 27 64 Failure
Ty Montgomery (GB) 51 81 Failure
Marlon Mack (IND) 40 14 Success
Jordan Wilkins (IND) 53 86 Failure
Nyheim Hines (IND) 61 40 Failure
Sony Michel (NE) 35 36 Failure
Rex Burkhead (NE) 29 74 Failure
James White (NE) 42 10 Success
Isaiah Crowell (NYJ) 38 35 Success
Bilal Powell (NYJ) 44 48 Failure
Jay Ajayi (PHI) 23 34 Failure
Corey Clement (PHI) 50 60 Failure
Chris Carson (SEA) 30 16 Success
Rashad Penny (SEA) 37 83 Failure
Alfred Morris (SF) 45 73 Failure
Matt Breida (SF) 48 30 Success
Peyton Barber (TB) 31 43 Failure
Ronald Jones (TB) 43 103 Failure
Chris Thompson (WAS) 32 44 Failure
Adrian Peterson (WAS) 34 29 Success

Over the last two years, the “cheaper” or “cheapest” running back in an ambiguous backfield was a success, as we previously defined, eight out of 21 times, or 38% of the time. However, by removing the backfields that failed to generate any successful back, the “cheaper” or “cheapest” running back succeeded 8/16 times or 50%. Amazingly, the cheapest back in an ambiguous backfield beats ADP more often than the most “expensive” back (28% for most expensive, 38% for cheapest). It appears that conventional wisdom prevails!

So what does this mean for your draft strategy? Essentially, if you can effectively eliminate the complete failure backfields (stayed tuned for part 4!), 2019 fantasy drafters should have a 50% chance of finding a usable, ADP-beating running back from an ambiguous backfield simply by drafting the cheapest target. Better yet, by drafting two “cheapest” backs from ambiguous backfields, drafters should have a 75% chance of drafting at least one usable back and a 25% chance of drafting two usable, ADP-beating backs. I will take those odds any day of the week.

Therefore, I suggest that you apply the following draft strategy regarding ambiguous backfields for 2019 to give yourself that 75% chance of finding at least one usable, valuable running back from an ambiguous backfield:

  1. Eliminate the backfields that you view as a complete failure. For example, if you are convinced that Philadelphia will fail to live up to expectations for the third year in a row, add all the Eagles running backs to your DO NOT DRAFT list. Note: Part 4 of this series will help identify the backfields to avoid, and which backfields to target.
  2. After removing the backfield duds, target 2-4 backfields, not players, and draft the cheapest running back from one of those backfields. By identifying an NFL team, rather than an individual player, you will avoid falling in love with one player or being distractedly disappointed when another team selects that player. This also allows flexibility, as not every fantasy draft will follow ADP closely or observe ADP’s hierarchy per backfield. For example, right now, Matt Breida is the “cheapest” running back being taken from the 49ers. However, if someone takes Brieda before Jerrick McKinnon, draft McKinnon or another a running back from a different ambiguous backfield. This strategy is an NFL team-based process.
  3. Identify a range of draft rounds where you are comfortable taking the cheapest player in a backfield. Consult ADP to develop this range, and make the range relatively narrow (e.g. three rounds for flexibility). By identifying a range of rounds, you again avoid losing the low-ADP value. Of course, read the room, and understand that if all running backs are being drafted higher than ADP, adjust your range. Alternatively, you can identify a range of positional values where you are comfortable taking a running back (e.g. I will take Breida at RB45-55), however, I would recommend against this strategy as it might lock you into a position at a certain pick. Remember, if there is significant value at other positions, take it and wait to apply this strategy later.
  4. Draft the cheapest player in a targeted backfield in a round where you are comfortable. If multiple running backs in ambiguous backfields you like are still on the board, wait or pick the cheapest one from a different backfield in a round where you are applying this strategy.
  5. Do steps 2-4 twice. Odds are, one of the two players drafted using this strategy is going to turn out to be a solid fantasy contributor for your team at low cost.

Now you might be asking yourself, isn’t this just the “Zero-RB” strategy with fancy new numbers supporting its validity? Not really. I am not advocating that you ignore or forego the workhorse running backs usually taken in the early rounds. In fact, I think you absolutely should try to land one or more of those running backs because they offer such a significant edge. But apply this strategy later on and only for ambiguous backfields. This strategy is best applied later in your draft when most of the highest-ranked running backs are stuck in ambiguous backfields. Note: this strategy still works well if you are going Zero-RB, and Anti-fragility supports its application.

The reason this strategy is so unique is that it takes the subjectivity out of drafting running backs from difficult to predict situations. This strategy ignores “coach-speak” and doesn’t care about depth chart predictions. It also encourages targeting NFL team backfields, which are far easier to predict than individual running back roles on each team. This strategy also provides the added benefit of giving options rather than one individual player to target. The process I’ve identified has incredible odds for fantasy football and doesn’t require you to pick a favorite player. Just identify NFL teams you view as having strong running games from the list of ADP-determined ambiguous backfields and take a stab at the lowest ADP player in that backfield (and do it at least twice!).

Now that we have a strategy, we have just one final article that will identify the backfields to avoid and target. In the last article of the series, I will identify my favorite backfields from the list we compiled in the first article, and give you a list of backfields to target in the late rounds of your draft. Knowing a strong set of backfields, you will be ready to implement this strategy and leave your fellow drafters in the dust. Stay tuned!

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Redraft