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Draft Strategy

The Ultimate Fantasy Football Draft Strategy Guide

By Matt Schauf 11:41pm EDT 8/15/13

We've shared with you a bunch of recaps from various drafts in which we took part.  You've probably checked out the "Perfect Draft" for your league.  (If not, we have more on the way.)

We thought it'd be a good idea to distill all of that practice into a single, comprehensive set of strategy tips for your draft.  (Click here for the auction edition.)

Go ahead and put this action list into practice in mock drafts to test it out before dominating your league mates in the real thing.

QB

We've long preached waiting on this position, and we're still putting that into practice.  Tony Romo's leaving the board as the 11th fantasy QB on average -- which is quite silly considering he's never finished a healthy season ranked lower than 9th.

Romo's the key argument in favor of waiting this year.  He's your initial target -- probably in Round 7.  But even if you miss out on him, you'll likely find Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin available instead.  The top 12 is strong this year, and waiting to get 1 of the last few starters allows you to load up on RBs and WRs.

All that said, the rest of the fantasy world finally realized after last season that it doesn't need to chase a QB in the 1st 2 rounds.  FF Calculator had 4 QBs going in the 1st round on average in 2012 drafts, with another in Round 2 and a 6th late in Round 3.

This year, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees sit at the end of Round 2 in ADP, with #3 Peyton Manning at the end of Round 3.

If you get off to a good start in your draft and then see a strong QB value sitting there, don't pass on him just to follow the "rule."  Rodgers and Brees make plenty of sense when they linger into Round 4.  Cam Newton looks fine from Round 5 on.  Peyton Manning, too.  And we're not scared to take Matt Ryan or Matthew Stafford in the 6th if the other skill players feel like reaches.

Always follow the value.

Don't let a run make you reach.

If you're going to wait on a QB, you have to be patient.  When 3 or more leave the board in close succession, don't panic and automatically snatch up the next passer on your list.  If the value sits at RB or WR, then take it.

As mentioned above, the 12th QB off the board in your league will still be a quality starter.  And if 1 or 2 of your league mates get in the way by drafting a backup QB way too early, don't sweat it.  Eli Manning and Jay Cutler carry top 10 upside.  Andy Dalton could also work as your #1 QB, albeit with a strong #2 for platoon purposes.

Wait on a backup.

No matter who your starting QB is this season, you don't need to rush to find a backup.  They're all over the place.

Cutler, whom we view as a fringe starting option, is going 17th among QBs on average so far.  Sam Bradford, our #16 QB, is leaving the board 21st.

Alex Smith is a terrific option to wait on, especially if you drafted a trustworthy weekly starter.  Smith improved his efficiency over the past 2 seasons and now brings upside into HC Andy Reid's passer-friendly system.  We rank him 18th at the position -- middle of QB2 range.  FF Calculator drafters are taking him 23rd on average.  (We also like Carson Palmer: 19th in our rankings, 18th in ADP.)

RB

You should try to get 2 of them early -- ideally within the 1st 3 rounds.

Notice we didn't say that you "need" to do this.  It's rarely a good idea to focus solely on a particular position in a given round, because it can lead you to overlook better value elsewhere.

But the RB value looks quite good within the 1st 3 rounds ... and not so good right after that.  The 1st 3 rounds are seeing 23 RBs leave the board on average.  The last 5 in that group for standard drafts: Lamar Miller, Darren McFadden, Le'Veon Bell, David Wilson and Darren Sproles.  PPR drafts find 4 of those the same, with Frank Gore taking Sproles' place.

That's a good group of runners. You have known upside in McFadden, steady production in Gore and Sproles and young lead backs with breakout potential in the other 3.  The 1st 5 outside Round 3 bring more issues.

Both formats find Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy and Chris Ivory heading the list of ADP in Round 4 or later.  Ryan Mathews and Ahmad Bradshaw follow in standard, with Shane Vereen and Mathews rounding out the PPR 5.

Is there upside in that group?  Of course.  Any of those 6 players could deliver a fantasy-starter level season.  But Ball will share the backfield with Ronnie Hillman, who has run ahead of him so far.  Lacy and Ivory have displayed more of the injury issues that have troubled them in the past.  Mathews and Bradshaw look even riskier on the health front.  And it's tough to know whether we can expect consistent production from Vereen.

You could find an upside #2 in that group (with insurance) should you draft just 1 RB over the 1st 3 rounds.  You could even contend with 1 of these guys starting.  But our experience so far in 2013 says you'll be a lot comfier after the draft if you secure a pair of top backs among your 1st 3 picks.

If you have just 1 RB after 3 rounds, grab 2 more in the Round 4-6 range.

Like we said, just because 2 RBs within the 1st 3 rounds is a good idea doesn't mean you need to make it happen.  You could build a winning team on Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham and some 3rd-round RB. Matt Forte and a pair of top 10 WRs could work, too.

The problem with the next group of RBs, though, is that it's short on sure things.  (That, of course, is why these guys aren't going in the 1st 3 rounds.)  Counter that uncertainty by betting on a couple of them.

We like Ball, Lacy, Ivory, Vereen, Mathews and Giovani Bernard in this range.  Get 2 of those guys in rounds 4-6 and you'll likely come away with at least 1 fantasy starter -- perhaps even a flex player for much of the season.  Bernard, in particular, has become a favorite upside pick around DS headquarters.


Draft Pierre Thomas.

No matter when you drafted your 1st 2 or 3 RBs, add Thomas to the stable.  He's the position's most underrated value.

As we pointed out in our Sleepers article, the disparity between Thomas' history and current ADP simply doesn't make sense -- even after he's climbed from 48th to 44th on the ADP list.

We project Thomas 34th among RBs in standard scoring, and he climbs in PPR.  If the Saints finally use him as much as they should (which would be a lot), he carries upside well beyond that.

Thomas makes for a solid RB3 and a stellar RB4.

WR

Try to get 1 of our top 9 players at the position.

Across formats, that group includes (in some order): Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb and Andre Johnson.

That's a studly list of wideouts and a fairly safe group of fantasy prospects.  Barring injury, it's tough to imagine any of those players letting you down.

Their ADPs range from Megatron's 1.06 (PPR) to Andre Johnson's 3.10.  That means you can pick 1 and still get 2 RBs within the 1st 3 rounds.

Draft Danny Amendola, especially in PPR.

Thanks, DS.  I already read that article.  Cool, now it's time to put that into action.

At the end of 2006, Wes Welker was a 25-year-old Dolphin coming off a 67-687-1 year with just the lone TD through 3 pro seasons.  Then Miami traded him to the Patriots and he caught a league-leading 112 balls in 2007 while finishing among the top 11 fantasy WRs across formats.

Amendola arrives to a New England squad with fewer proven receiving options than Welker joined and has quickly built a strong rapport with Tom Brady.  A healthy Amendola could easily crack 100 receptions this season.

Others have apparently come around to his upside while dropping their durability concerns, pushing Amendola's ADP into late Round 4.  You certainly shouldn't let him get out of that round.  And he might even make sense late in Round 3 of your PPR draft.

Otherwise, let value dictate when you take your #2 WR.

If you miss out on Amendola in Round 4, don't respond by automatically grabbing the next wideout on your list.  Hakeem Nicks, Jordy Nelson, Torrey Smith and Antonio Brown all sit Round 5 in ADP and all make sense as your #2 fantasy receiver.

We're also high on Dwayne Bowe, though, who's going in the 4th.  And Marques Colston has proved reliable.  The point: There are options.  Don't pass on a RB you like in the 4th because you think you need the next WR.

WR3 options abound from Round 7 through at least Round 9.

Know why you can feel good about drafting an upside RB3 in Round 5?  Because there will be a strong #3 WR available for you anywhere in this range.  Our favorite targets so far have been Mike Williams (8.07 ADP) and Lance Moore (9.02).

Knowing you can get that kind of player so late opens up your options earlier.  Want to take Jimmy Graham?  Go for it.  You'll have time to fill out your RBs and WRs. Can't stand to let that upside RB keep slipping, even though you don't need another guy there?  Snatch him up.  Want to secure your preferred QB ahead of a position run?  Do so with confidence.

And it's not just Williams and Moore who present value in that area.  Among the 11 WRs we project from 26th through 36th (standard scoring), 8 carry ADPs in Round 7 or later.  Seven of those guys can be had after the middle of Round 7 on average.

Even beyond that group, Michael Floyd (10.06 ADP), Josh Gordon (8.12) and Golden Tate (9.01) could deliver strong value in your WR3 spot.  All 3 present upside beyond where we project them.  Gordon, in particular, would sit higher right now if not for the 2-game suspension.  Average out his total fantasy points over 14 games, and he sits comfortably inside starter range.

TE

Jimmy Graham is a difference-maker.

The most valuable thing your MVP Board will do is compare relative value across positions.  Odds are that if you've set up a board with a TE starting slot at all, you've seen Graham pop up among the top 10 players.  Even if you build a board with TEs counted as WRs, he'll display in WR1 territory.

That's because the guy is a beast.  We project Graham 37 points ahead of any other TE (standard scoring).  That's 2.3 points per game over a full season.  And #2 Rob Gronkowski's total even looks tenuous until he returns from that back surgery.

Calvin Johnson holds the next largest advantage among top players at other offensive positions, and his edge is almost a full point per game smaller than Graham's.  Johnson still shows up earlier on MVP boards most of the time, because you likely start more WRs than TEs.  But Graham's enormous advantage over his position will be huge for your team every week.

That's why he's well worth a look near the 1-2 turn in your draft.  You probably won't be able to pick Graham and get 2 RBs in the 1st 3 rounds and draft a top 9 WR.  But you certainly can combine any 2 of these strategic points.  And there's nothing wrong with Danny Amendola (or even Dwayne Bowe) in Round 4 as your top wideout -- especially combined with 2 good backs and Graham-tastic.

You can also win with a top 12 RB, Graham, a top 9 WR and a 4th-round RB leading your team.  Just remember, it's all about following the value.


Start considering Gronk in Round 5.

Speaking of value, what do you do with a fantasy stud who could be ready for the regular-season opener ... or start the year on the PUP and miss 6 games?

The answer: Begin thinking about him in Round 5.

A healthy Gronk would sit right next to Graham on the board in both TE and overall rankings.  He'd be a strong value near the top of Round 2.  And he could well deliver such value on a weekly basis whenever he recovers from his June back surgery.  We just don't know when that will be.

Come Round 5, though, you might be looking at a drop-off in WR candidates.  Your favorite upside RB might leave the board just before your pick.  And it might still be a little early to take your QB.  That makes Gronkowski a chance worth taking in some cases.

Full disclosure: We're still not drafting him often here.  We've gotten quite cozy lately with the idea of Bernard as a RB3 in this round.  And several of us like drafting Jordy Nelson as a #2 WR at this stage.  (He was Round 3 worthy before the knee surgery.)

But Gronk starts making sense here, especially because the position's depth will make it easy to find a fill-in late in your draft in case he's not ready to start the year.

Barring Graham or Gronk, wait until Round 9 or so for your starter.

First off, we'll concede that Vernon Davis or Jason Witten could certainly present value earlier.  Both are going mid-to-late Round 5 on average in standard leagues, which means they'll make it into Round 6 plenty of times.  We wouldn't fault you grabbing either guy at that stage.

Davis and Witten both carry 4.12 ADPs in PPR formats as of this writing, though.  And Round 4 strikes us as a bit early.

We like both players -- Davis for upside, Witten for his safety -- but the position's depth means you shouldn't reach for either.  We rank Jared Cook and Jermichael Finley top 9 across formats.  Finley's going at 8.08 on average in PPR leagues, while Cook sits at 9.01.  Each player also combines ability and favorable situation into upside beyond our projections.  Greg Olsen also sits just behind them in our rankings ... and on the ADP board.

And if you happen to miss out on those guys, Martellus Bennett looks good and is coming off the board 13th at the position.  Plus, Brandon Pettigrew is going absurdly late.  Even unexciting options such as Owen Daniels and Antonio Gates present starter value near (or after) Round 10.

Draft a #2 TE in the double-digit rounds.

We wouldn't normally favor the idea of a 2nd TE too heavily.  In many years, it can waste a roster spot on 1 of fantasy's most fungible positions.  But there's so much upside in the late-round options this year, that you should pick one.

Bennett, Pettigrew, Fred Davis, Rob Housler -- they all rank among our top 15 TEs, and they're all going mid-Round 11 or later on average.  Throw in upside guys such as Tyler Eifert and Coby Fleener, and even lottery-ticket types such as Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce.

But why spend the roster spot if you have an every-week starter?  Plenty of these guys can turn into a regular flex option in your PPR league.  Next time you're drafting, try ignoring the position labels in those late rounds and compare the fantasy-point totals between, say, Housler and the WRs you're eyeing at the same time.

This impressive group also makes it easier to take a chance on Gronkowski or wait to draft a lower-end starting option.

K

Wait.

Come on.  It's a friggin' kicker.  You need 1, but you don't need any 1 in particular.

D/ST

Wait.

The length of your wait matters slightly less at this position than kicker.  If you're within, say, the final 4 rounds of an 18- to 20-round draft, don't love the skill-position options and see a D that you like, go ahead and draft it.  But the position is too volatile and luck-driven to chase early.

The only 6 D/STs that show up in 2012's ADP list on FF Calculator finished the season ranked 8th (San Fran), 15th (Baltimore), 29th (Philadelphia), 17th (Giants), 13th (Jets) and 24th (Bills).

Go ahead and laugh at the dude who drafts Seattle this year (current ADP a silly 8.12).

IDPs

J.J. Watt and Luke Kuechly are worth the reach.

Actually, it's not a reach if you're plucking good value from the board.  Watt did unnatural things on the football field last year, and he did them with torn ligaments in his left elbow.  The guy is a beast, and he's worth drafting earlier than you'll probably feel comfortable drafting him -- depending, of course, on your league setup.

If your league requires any DL slots, then Watt is the defensive version of Jimmy Graham.  Draft him as such -- a round or 2 earlier than your league mates normally start looking at IDPs. If you don't have any history to go on, we're talking the Round 5 area.

Kuechly, meanwhile, is Calvin Johnson to Watt's Graham.  The rest of the LBs are closer to him than the linemen are to Watt, but there's still a sizable gap.  In our site projections, the 18 fantasy points that separate Kuechly from #2 Lavonte David equal the difference between David and #17 Wesley Woodyard.

If you're league doesn't require linemen -- and doesn't lean on sacks -- then Kuechly should be the 1st IDP off your board.  Like Watt, he belongs a couple of rounds ahead of where folks normally start looking at defenders.  I had no qualms with taking him at 5.04 in a recent draft, even with only 1 RB on the roster to that point.

Know your scoring system.

This tip might seem a little silly, but many fantasy players shrug at the defensive side and just take the next LB up when they need to draft an IDP.  Fantasy scoring varies quite a bit more on the defensive side than it does for offensive players, though.  Recognizing these variations and drafting to fit them will put you ahead of a surprising number of people in your league.

Draft Chandler Jones.

This, of course, depends on your league including at least 1 -- and ideally more -- DL slots.  No one else ranks the 2nd-year Patriot as high as we do this year.  That means you'll be able to draft him at relative value.  And the upside is immense, as you can read in detail on his profile page.  In short, Jones should deliver tackles, sacks and useful numbers in other categories.

Draft Bruce Carter.

Another guy we rank well ahead of where everyone else has him.  This one's a bit more surprising than Jones, though.  The consensus through much of the offseason has been that DC Monte Kiffin's scheme sets Carter up to become a star.  Draft him that way for your IDP squad.

You might be surprised at how long he'll stay available.  It's actually quite possible to get someone such as Lavonte David, D'Qwell Jackson or Bobby Wagner as your #2 behind Kuechly and then draft Carter as your #3.  Know of any other position where you have a chance to draft 3 top 10 players?

Wait on DBs.

They're volatile, and the position is deep.  We project Matt Elam 17th among DBs, for example, but he's quite capable of scoring like a DB1 right away.  And William Moore -- a DS darling from last season -- will stay on the board much longer than he should.  T.J. Ward's another.  And so on.

And they all follow consensus #1 Morgan Burnett.  We have no problem with going to get him as the 1st DB off the board.  This has to be the easiest position to draft in all of fantasy football.

If your league requires a DT, get Nick Fairley.

If your league mates know what they're doing, Bengals DT Geno Atkins will go fairly early.  He dominates this position Watt style.  But Fairley is the best bet to challenge Atkins in 2013.

Fairley has had a rough start to his career, thanks primarily to injuries and marijuana arrests.  But he's apparently refocused, and the talent has never been in question.  Fairley tallied 11.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss in his final college season.  Lining up next to Ndamukong Suh should only help Fairley find mismatches.

Most IDP folks will draft Suh ahead of his teammate, but we see more stat upside in Fairley.

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