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Fantasy football 2016 draft strategy: Alex Gelhar


Fantasy draft season is one of my favorite times of the year.

For one, it signals the return of football, and who doesn't love that? But it also allows us to execute on everything we've been researching and preparing for since the Super Bowl ended back in February. It's time to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, and ideally in a league with close friends and family, or coworkers you can't wait to trash talk every Monday morning around the coffee machine.

My draft strategy will likely morph a bit more as I continue to finish research over the coming months, but based on the "running back death" that hit the fantasy world in 2015, I believe we have a unique chance to zig when a large portion of the fantasy community is zagging. "Running back death" is just my nickname for how numerous elite and mid-tier running backs suffered injuries or other types of ailments/off-field issues that led to a massive decline in overall fantasy scoring among rushers. Take a look at the chart to the right (or below on mobile). Last year was historically off pace over the last 10 -- and even five years -- given the bad luck that befell countless fantasy studs.


Because of this, wide receivers are climbing up draft boards and overall ranking lists, with more wideouts than ever creeping into the first round. Case in point, in our NFL Fantasy LIVE league from last year, two wide receivers went in the first round (Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant), while four went in the first 10 picks in our first staff mock draft this offseason (Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins).

Because of this, and the growing crop of valuable fantasy wide receivers (twice as many 200-plus point scorers from 2011-2015 vs. 2006-2010, almost three more 150-plus scorers on average in that span as well), I'm still very much on board with taking an elite running back (or two) early. I'm not saying pass on the likes of Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham Jr., but rather than reach on another wide receiver later at the top of your draft because of #trendz, don't be afraid to abide by the old philosophy and grab a running back whose touch total is (almost) guaranteed to be at an elite level. Guys like Lamar Miller, Ezekiel Elliott, Devonta Freeman, Doug Martin and even Eddie Lacy look to have locked-in, top-tier workloads. Pairing one of them with a top-six wide receiver is a recipe for success.

I'm going to target a rusher or two in my first three rounds in the vast majority of drafts, because of what I mentioned above, and that I feel the second tier of wide receivers is filled with high-floor options. In mocks so far, I've been able to round out my wide receiving corps with the likes of Doug Baldwin, Michael Floyd, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin and Golden Tate in the middle rounds. All of those wideouts should offer solid WR2/3 production, and have the potential to push even higher. I feel better with them at wide receiver than I do firing from the hip on running backs in committees, or relying on the production of pass-catching backs as a starting asset in my lineup.

In the later rounds don't be afraid to shoot your shot. This is a common refrain among our analysts here at NFL Fantasy, but go get your guys. If you believe in a player and are going to be actively rooting for him, make sure to draft him. One of those guys for me will be Kenneth Dixon this year. I love his talent and fit with the Ravens, and I'll be more than happy to sink a late-round pick to get him and wait patiently for him to (hopefully) earn a lion's share of the touches in Baltimore.

And while Adam Rank might be taking a kicker in Round 5 (something he's not recommending you do, by the way), I'd advise against taking one and a defense until the last few rounds. There are always good kickers and defenses to stream on the waiver wire, so don't waste a mid-round pick getting one of the "elite" ones. Use that pick on a player with the potential to put up elite production at a more valuable position (like Markus Wheaton, Ameer Abdullah, C.J. Prosise or Tavon Austin).

Lastly, don't forget to have fun. This is a game about a game after all, and while yes, there can be high stakes in more devoted leagues, don't take this too seriously. Don't trash players on social media if they fail you, and don't trash analysts who whiff on a pick. Players don't always have control of what happens (and are human after all). Likewise, predicting a sport like football isn't a science, and we as analysts don't have all the answers. So take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember why you're drafting in the first place -- because it's so much gosh (expletive) fun.

All right, rant over. Good luck in all of your drafts this fall, have fun, and go get your guys. Until next time ...

Why wait? CLICK HERE to get your 2016 NFL Fantasy season started.

-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar