Rethinking Draft Philosophy: Risk is King (RiK)

– By Alex Murphy

*Note: this strategy applies to all league types but player comparisons are made assuming it’s a standard 12 team league.

Royce Freeman is a high risk/high reward player that fits perfectly into the Risk is King strategy in round 3 of drafts.
Royce Freeman is a high risk/high reward player that fits perfectly into the Risk is King strategy in round 3 of drafts.


In a TED Talk video I watched recently, a statistician brought up a very interesting point about horse racing that I think can be applied in a more general sense to fantasy football drafting. The example situation he created was a horse race with three horses in it:

The first horse always ran at an average speed.

The second horse ran very fast half of the time and very slow half of the time.

The third horse ran sort of fast half of the time and sort of slow half of the time.

The presenter of the video asked the audience which horse had the best chance to win any given race. While the answer may be obvious to some, there were only a couple of people who spoke up confidently in the full TED Talk auditorium.

The answer, as it turns out, is the second horse. The second horse has a 50% chance of winning a race and the other two horses each have a 25% chance. Even though the second horse has the best shot of being last place due to its all or nothing nature, it also has the best chance of being first, winning half the time. This is despite the other two horses being more consistent and reliable in any given race.

The drafting theory I’m going to talk about hinges on the concept of drafting with the “all or nothing” mentality and urges players to do something that they typically hate to do in a draft – walk away with a team that could be the worst in their fantasy league. Thankfully, the reward if it pays off is winning a championship with an all-star roster.

The All-Risk Team

Many of the players who are involved enough to read this article will spend a good part of their fantasy careers fielding a team that is in the top half of their leagues but is rarely the BEST team. These players do their research, draft intelligently, and will consistently make playoffs but struggle to win it all. While making the playoffs is nice, the point is still to get first place. These are the first horse and third horse type players. What we’re going to do here is draft only players that have tremendous risk associated with them (within reason) and have awesome upside, while still doing our research. We are going to take on the persona of the second horse.

The fantasy football community uses the term “boom or bust” as a negative description for certain types of football players. The most common example from recent years is Julio Jones, a player who can give you 200 yards and a TD any given game but is also a good bet to give you 40 yards instead. We want to take a Julio Jones type of risk across our entire roster. The hope is that at least half of those players “boom” for you this season, not on a weekly basis but based on them over-performing where they were drafted. If they do, you’re looking at a starting roster that’s mostly full of players vastly outperforming their ADP.

Risk is King Draft Example

Picking 4th overall in a 12 team league:

1st round – Ezekiel Elliot (RB) the only safe bet but poses some risk with a weakened offensive line

2nd round – Tyreek Hill (WR) a risk with the change at QB and the addition of Watkins but has top 5 WR upside

3rd round – Royce Freeman (RB) rookie RB taken over proven commodities, unknown upside

4th round – Chris Hogan (WR) injury history, could lose a lot of targets when Edelman comes back, sky high upside

5th round – Alshon Jeffery (WR) gambling on him returning sooner than later and at a high level

6th round – Chris Carson (RB) betting on him holding the RB2 job all season over 1st round pick Rashaad Penny

7th round – Trey Burton (TE) picked over proven commodities like Walker and Rudolph

8th round – Peyton Barber (RB) playing the upside game assuming he holds the job and can carry his preseason play over to the regular season

9th round – Aaron Jones (RB) gambling that he takes over the lead role from Williams when he returns from suspension as the more efficient runner

10th round – DJ Moore (WR) the hope is Moore has a breakout rookie season as the first WR to go in the 2018 draft

11th round – Keelan Cole (WR) expecting him to take over the #1 duties and for Bortles to supply us with a breakout WR

12th round – Matt Breida (RB) taking a shot on Breida earning workhorse duties instead of a split with Morris who is being drafted higher

13th round – Jordan Wilkins (RB) similar concept to Breida

14th round – Mitch Trubisky (QB) betting on Matt Nagy’s offense to propult him into fantasy relevance. Can stream if it fails

15th round – DEFENSE

16th round – KICKER

This strategy means drafting a player like Royce Freeman in the third round over a proven commodity like Jay Ajayi. Freeman is an unknown quantity as a rookie but has shown a ton of promise in the preseason running behind a good line. He could be a disappointing RB3 but on the flip side he has mid-range RB1 upside. We just don’t know yet. What we do know (to some extent) is what Ajayi is. He’s a solid runner that is mediocre in the passing game running behind a very good offensive line. The consensus is that he will be a good RB2. We are looking for upside at all costs, so we go with Freeman.

Chris Hogan in the mid-to-late 4th round is another example of this and is a player that we’ve spoken about before. There are a bunch of more proven, consistent WRs around him in the draft including Demaryius Thomas and Golden Tate. Hogan was a top-7 WR before he injured his shoulder last season and has all the upside in a depleted Patriots WR corps to do it again. There are a ton of things that could go wrong for him (injury history, potential decline of Brady, Edelman eventually returning) but he is a perfect high risk and high reward pick.

As a final example, in the middle rounds you draft a guy like Trey Burton at tight end over a proven TE1 like Delanie Walker even if both of them are still on the board. Walker is what he is, a solid mid-range TE1. What we’re looking for is someone who can blow the lid off the TE position. Burton has that opportunity in the Travis Kelce role on a Matt Nagy-led offense but he can just as well be a TE2 when all is said and done. The risk is there but the upside is even greater.

In Summary

The “Risk is King” strategy is meant to be a philosophical approach to drafting. The goal is to take on a roster full of incredibly high-risk, high-reward players with the hope that half of them or more return major value. While there’s a good chance that you can walk away with the worst team in your league, there’s also a good chance that you walk away with the best one. Are you willing to risk it all to have an elite lineup come week one?

Post your “Risk is King” drafts in the comments and they could end up on the next Fantasy Backups podcast episode!

Hear more drafting strategies from The Fantasy Backups in our latest podcast episode – The One with the Other Alex (NFC North and AFC North Breakdown). Check it out here!

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