Fantasy football draft season is in full swing, and many of you have drafts coming up Labor Day weekend. One “trend” I’ve noticed this season is more and more fantasy football team owners using their first-round draft picks on QBs, with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and even Peyton Manning often being taken by owners wanting to lock in top-tier production from their quarterback spot. Does it make sense to do this? Does the time-honored adage “always take a RB in the first round” still hold? Let’s take a closer look.
There are 2 commonly-used arguments to justify taking a QB in the first round:
- “Taking a running back in the first round no longer makes sense - there are just too many Running Back By Committee (RBBC) situations now, so there are a number of good running backs with the potential to outplay their draft position still left in the middle rounds.”
- “The top quarterbacks score a lot more points under my league’s scoring system than the top running backs and wide receivers, so it makes sense to take a quarterback first.”
Let’s take a closer look at both these arguments.
In response to the first argument, it’s undoubtedly true that the trend in the NFL over the past few seasons has seen teams moving away from the single workhorse RB approach and going with the RBBC approach instead. If we define the “single workhorse RB approach” to include all teams for which the lead rusher is projected to gain at least 65%-70% of his team’s rushing yards, then by my count there are 13 teams using the RBBC approach heading into the 2010 season, which is up from 10 teams heading into the 2009 season.
That said, the basic economic principle of supply and demand suggests that when the supply of a desirable commodity (in our case the workhorse running back) goes down, the corresponding demand for that desirable commodity should increase, not decrease. Thus, it would appear that drafting QBs earlier in response to the decrease in supply of workhorse RBs is exactly the opposite of what should occur.
The second argument is a bit trickier to deal with. First, let me bring up the idea of “position scarcity”. Unfortunately, this term is overused and abused in fantasy circles. To me position scarcity can be defined as the relative drop-off in fantasy value between the top-rated options and the mediocre options at each position.
If you accept this definition of position scarcity, then if you make a list of players’ projected 2010 fantasy points in descending order by position (using your league’s particular scoring system, of course), you’ll almost certainly find that there’s a greater decrease in fantasy values between top-rated and mid-level RBs (or top-rated and mid-level WRs) than there is between top-rated and mid-level QBs. This will be the case even though the increasing use of RBBCs has increased the fantasy values of mid-tier RBs relative to what they were just a year or two ago.
If that’s the case, the opportunity cost (i.e. - the value of the option you don’t choose when you make a decision) is greater for passing on a RB (or WR) in the first round of a draft than it is for passing on a QB. In other words, even though QBs generally score more fantasy points than RBs and WRs under many fantasy scoring systems, your fantasy team will be better off overall at the end of your draft if you start out by taking a RB (or a WR) than if you grab one of the top names at QB.
A quick caveat - in order to make this analysis complete, we would need to look at not only supply/demand and position scarcity, but also the relative consistency in actual vs. expected fantasy values among the top options across the different positions. That consistency, of course, will depend on the particulars of your league’s scoring system, but based on the analysis I’ve done, generally speaking the slightly greater consistency among top QBs vs. top RBs and top WRs is not enough to overcome the supply/demand and position scarcity issues.
So, unless your league has “highly unusual” roster requirements (e.g. - start 2 QBs and 1 RB) or point values (e.g. - 6 points for a passing TD, but only 3 points for a rushing or receiving TD), your fantasy team will still better off at the end of your draft if you take a top-tier RB (or WR) with your first round pick than it will be if you use that same pick on a top-tier QB.
Wishing everyone a great holiday weekend and good luck in your upcoming drafts!
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