Doing it Differently: The Upside Down Draft

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Doing it Differently: The Upside Down Draft

Doing It Differently: The Upside Down Draft

It is the most anticipated and exciting time for any fantasy footballer, the draft. We spend countless hours scouring stats, depth charts, rankings, injury reports, doing mock drafts and monitoring team beat writer social media goings on in hopes of putting our draft boards together. For years, most have followed the standard running back early and often formula, going running back-running back with the first 2 picks. However, just as the NFL is a constantly evolving entity and teams are looking for advantages via different approaches (New England always seems to be at the forefront of NFL progressivism); fantasy owners too must be adjusting to the ever changing landscape. Acknowledging the fluidity of the NFL (and for our sake, fantasy football) and what it takes to be successful is the most important trait an owner can have. Many strategies exist and not one is fool-proof, but for those outside of the top 3 picks, the upside down strategy is one to consider and may give the owner who uses it an advantage against many league opponents.

Know Your Role:

Draft position is important. Two things to weigh heavily when building your board: 1) your own draft position and 2) the average draft position of each player to garner an idea of where those players will be drafted. While there are no sure things in fantasy football, consensus (and history) dictates Arian Foster, Lesean McCoy and Ray Rice are as close to sure things as an owner can get in 2012. Not flash in the pans, years of elite performance, young, versatile and the focal points of their respective offenses; owners drafting in the top 3 should not hesitate. The upside down strategy is not recommended for those in the top 3, at least not as recommended.

The Fallacy of the RB-RB Strategy:

There is no arguing the importance of having productive running backs on your roster. Two who produce at a high clip will almost always lead to a deep playoff run (in standard league settings: QB-2RBs-3WRs-TE). However, like the league itself, the shelf life of RBs is viciously short and the turnover shockingly high. In the past 2 seasons, of the top 12 scorers at the end of season in 2010, only 6 returned to the top 12 in 2011. Only 1 returned to the top 12 the past 3 seasons. Some would argue turnover is not just a RB issue, but a league issue. However, blindly tossing RBs against the wall with early picks and hoping your 2 stick is a dangerous leap of faith. Too many owners (because of fear of deviation from the norm or league-mates' snickers) have dug themselves in, leaving the progressive owner a nice lot to choose from at WR, TE and/or QB. The league is moving on from 1 RB centric offenses, it is time for the fantasy footballer to do so as well.


Be calm. It is draft day, RBs are flying off the board and your first instinct is to get yours too; just be calm. Remember of the top 12 scorers last season at running back, half will be replaced by the very guys you are waiting to pick. Fantasy footballers are always looking for value and waiting on running backs will more often than not provide tremendous value. An upside down drafter (targeting everything but running backs early) should look to get a top 6 QB (worst case), 3 top 15 WRs and a top 6 TE. The time for RBs will come, but owners should not begin looking until round 5. However, it is worth noting at this point (given the ultimate goal of value based drafting) that if a 1st round graded RB slips to the 3rd, by all means take him. Ultimately, owners are striving for value with each pick, thus no strategy should trump that. No strategy is devoid of risk and upside down drafting is certainly not removed from that, but owners are looking to maximize each pick while minimizing risk. Ideally, owners receive low RB1 production from a RB2 (based on draft position) and low RB2 production from a collection of RB3s and even the occasional RB4. While upside downers should be prepared for mediocrity at the RB position, they should also be welcome to the idea that it is a very real possibility they strike an Arian Foster type in the middle rounds. Having an advantage at 3 of 4 relevant positions versus nearly every team in the league provides an owner with flexibility to monitor the waiver scene (or perhaps entertain trade offers from RB heavy teams to better the running back position on their own team if the RB situation proves to be dire). Again, just like every other strategy, risk exists; focusing on value regardless of position helps to minimize the risks and affords the oft minority upside downer a larger value pool from which to fish from.


Using ADP (average draft position) as a guide and drafting from the 8 position in a standard (QB, 2RB, 3 WR, 1 TE) 12-team league, I mocked what an upside downer can expect his/her team to look like.

1.08: Larry Fitzgerald @LarryFitzgerald (WR 2)

2.05: Tom Brady (QB 3)

3.08: Brandon Marshall @BMarshall (WR 15)

4.05: Steve Smith @89SteveSmith (WR 13)

5.08: Fred Jackson @Fred22Jackson (RB 17)

6.05: Antonio Gates (TE 6)

7.08: BenJarvus Green-Ellis @TheLawFirmBJGE (RB 22)

8.05: Peyton Hillis @thepeytonhillis (RB 39)

9.08: Ronnie Hillman (RB NA)

10.05: Ryan Williams (RB 45)

11.08: Lance Moore (WR 46)

12.05: Toby Gerhart (RB 40)

13.08: Randy Moss (WR 60)

As expected, I was able to secure a top 3 QB, 3 WRs in the top 15 and a top 6 TE. While I do not love my RB2 in Green-Ellis, I do like his situation in Cincinnati. While my back up RBs look pretty scary (scary as in bad), I like the potential for both Hillis and Gerhart. If there is any hiccup in Peterson's or Charles' rehab, both (Gerhart and Hillis) have proven to be viable 3 down backs who will provide RB2 production with RB1 ceiling. I love this team and would expect this talent combination in a 12-team league to be one of the leaders throughout the season.

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    1 Comment

    Good stuff. I have the same strategy in mind for drafts this season and dubbed it the Al Davis "Just win baby!" strategy. If I'm outside the top 3 picks(I'm on board with the Foster, Rice, McCoy theory) I am going for purely proven point scoring players regardless of position. The running back list this year becomes very subjective after a lot of rankings having MJ Drew at #4. From #5-around #15 or so can almost be mixed and matched and after that anything is possible with the remaining backs. Give me an elite QB, top 5 or 6 tight end and then top level WR scorers and I'll cobble together some respectable running backs with high(let's face it, unkown) upside and work the waiver wire or trade market to upgrade the RBs. The team you have as an example is a very good one and I'd be happy to start the season with it.

    Posted by:
    Walton Spurlin 05/21/12 02:23 PM

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