The Gut Check No. 274 – Upside Down From The 12-Spot


Clayton Gray is 23-3 when he hasn't drafted a RB before round 5. Helllooo Demayrius. Photo by Jeffery Beall.

Clayton Gray is 23-3 when he hasn’t drafted a RB before round 5. Helllooo Demaryius. Photo by Jeffery Beall.

Are you Down With . . .

The other night, Footballguys’ Manager Clayton Gray emailed me his satirical paean to Naughty By Nature and the Upside Down Strategy with a link to the team he drafted in the 2013 Huddle Experts’ League.

Gray, who won the league in 2012, told me he is 23-3 the past two years and hasn’t drafted a running back before the fifth round.

Early round running backs are like pacifiers to some fantasy owners. But the illusion of playing it safe rarely creates exceptional results. There’s only one winner in fantasy football, and I know owners – whether they know it or not – who draft like their primary goal is to make the playoffs. In fact, I’d argue most of us do.

The primary motivation is to build a team good enough to earn a playoff spot. Then as the playoffs get closer, focus on refining that roster to contend for a championship. I think the underlying thought is to make the playoffs so you don’t look like a bad fantasy football player.

And that’s playing it safe.

Football fans who play fantasy football absorb the same mentality that NFL teams have: you’re great if you win a championship; you’re very good if you go to the championship; you’re good if you make the playoffs; and you’re not good if you miss the playoffs.

It doesn’t help that most fantasy leagues award money for making the playoffs or scoring the most points. This is an incentive to be good, but not great; play it safe, but don’t go for greatness; and win, but only if you don’t have to risk losing big.

It’s not a popular line of thought, but there’s truth in those words.

In a year where the pervading thought is to take running backs early, acquire a stud tight end, and wait on quarterbacks and wide receivers, the radical approach is to acquire the best non-runners for your starting lineup and use the middle and late rounds to acquire a block of runners for your roster. The fundamental reason for this approach’s efficacy is the short career span, high rate of injury, and fairly high turnover within the top-12 and top-24 rankings of running backs from one year to the next. I call this the Upside Down Draft Strategy. You can find details here.

Most of you already get the gist of this strategy. You’re here to find out which middle and late-round runners I’m touting for your drafts this month. I’m writing three articles to profile these backs within the context of walking you through multiple Upside Down Draft plans – the first one at the early turn (1st overall pick); the second with a middle pick (6th spot); and the final strategy at the turn (12th spot) – so you can see how it all fits together.

I think this strategy is best-suited for the following league formats:

  • PPR leagues with lineups of 1QB/2RBs/3WR/1TE.
  • PPR leagues with lineups as above, but with a flex at RB, WR, or TE.
  • Premium PPR leagues with 1.5 points for TE and a flex at RB, WR, or TE.
  • Non-PPR leagues with 1QB/2RB/4WR/1TE and a flex at RB, WR, or TE.

Gray’s team has Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, and Julio Jones and got these three receivers drafting from the 1.02 spot. Today we’re looking at options from the opposite turn.

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