In the fantasy market, there are all kinds of formats. For example, a fantasy owner needs to start two running backs, three wide receivers, and one, possibly, two flex players in the 12-team high-stakes market. The added length to the starting lineup requires fantasy owners to be creative when building their roster. In addition, it puts a premium on depth at the wide receiver position.
As we worked through the final fantasy points for the top 24 wide receivers and top 48 wide receivers over the previous four seasons, it is pretty easy to see most teams will start wide receivers at the first flex position. So here’s a look at the RB3 and WR4 scores over the last four years just for comparison for the first flex position:
Top 12 flex scorers (2017 to 2020)
Last year 39 wide receivers outscored the top RB3 option (Chase Edmonds – 168.30 fantasy points), and 53 wideouts had more points than the top TE2 option (Jimmy Graham – 143.60).
In most PPR leagues, the best team structure is to start two running backs and four wide receivers with an occasional running back or tight end delivering enough value throughout the season to be starter worthy at a flex position.
The first flex position comes from a mixture of running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, with each fantasy owner finding short-term options at different times of the year due to injuries.
In 2020, seven wide receivers finished as the top plays at the first flex position with a high of 181.65 fantasy points and a low of 162.80 fantasy points. The previous year, the eight running backs and four running backs filled the FLEX1 bucket.
Flex 13 to 24 scorers (2017 to 2020)
The goal for a fantasy owner is to find a flex two option that will average over 10 fantasy points per week while making sure his top two running backs average close to 30 fantasy points per week. In 2020, the top options to start at the second flex position came from wide receivers (9) and running backs (3).
When reviewing the data in this series of articles, some fantasy owners may conclude that I’m making the case to be running back strong in the early rounds of the draft. However, the history in the high-stakes fantasy market shows that a fantasy owner winning an overall championship will need two strong running backs plus a third serviceable option. Draft position dictates each team-building opportunity.
The change in draft flow from year to year forces fantasy owners to make different decisions each season. The success, strength, and depth of the running back and wide receiver positions dictate game-planning the following season.
In 2021, running backs caught the eye of fantasy owners over the first three rounds of drafts despite the wide receiver position offering the better production in PPR leagues last year. The change in decision-making may be a pitfall as a wise drafter may find edges at wideout while other owners roster boring or underachieving options at running back.
The challenge this draft season is to secure two running backs over the first four rounds of drafts. With many backs coming off the board early, the running back inventory looks questionable from rounds five to eight. In contrast, the wide receiver position looks more rewarding in this area.
If a fantasy owner zigs to build a wide receiver strong roster early, he gains strength in two areas if his players perform up to expectations. First, the fantasy point edge at wideout creates a possibly early lead over the first few slots on your roster. Second, a wide receiver strong team should have fewer lineup decisions in many weeks. To finish this type of game plan, a fantasy owner then needs to hit on at least one RB2 later in the draft. By owning multiple outs at running back, a fantasy owner will need to negotiate the early weeks of the season until they find a secure starting option.
Three-down backs with high scoring ability offer an edge in value in the fantasy market, but there are limited options each season.
If a fantasy owner decides to draft three running backs early, he needs to make sure he doesn’t end up with three players with league-average value at running back. Their lead running back has to deliver a separator score, and their second option has to beat the second group of WR2s.
A team that selects an elite running back with value on every down plus touchdowns has a definite edge to the start of their team in most fantasy seasons. This season, fantasy drafts will be front-loaded at running backs, allowing the top picks to gain strength at WR1 and WR2 on the 2/3 turn.
The team drafting an elite wide receiver in the middle of Round 1 will need to decide the best path to land the highest upside RB/WR combinations over the next three or so rounds. The wide receiver options in 2021 will have a wide range of values and opinions by drafters, so a fantasy owner will need to be quick in his decision-making when on the clock.
The front of the draft sets up so many outs on the 2/3 and 4/5 turns where value plays a big part in team building.
Either way, a fantasy owner with two flex positions will be required to load up at the wide receiver position during the draft. Even with depth at wideout, a team can’t win an overall championship without finding a way to build a solid base of running backs. The running back position will be full of ups and downs with a minefield of risk due to the higher volume of injuries, but the overall talent at the running back position continues to improve heading into 2021 while fantasy owners wait for the next wave of elite wide receivers and improvement in the backend running back inventory.
The first cut of the 2021 NFL Rankings & Projections should give some insight into this draft season's potential values and targets.
More Fantasy Football:
- 2021 Fantasy Team Outlooks
- 2021 NFL Projections & Rankings
- Injury Reaction: Michael Thomas Out Indefinitely
- Fantasy Case Against Kyle Pitts
- Fantasy Case Against Ja'Marr Chase
Senior analyst Shawn Childs is a multi-sport, high-stakes fantasy legend with lifetime earnings in the high six-figures. He has been providing in-depth, analytical break downs for years all while helping his subscribers to countless titles and winnings across season-long & DFS. A inaugural inductee of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn can teach you how to prep like a champ!