For fantasy football owners, it doesn’t get more important than the initial draft.
It is crucial, then, for owners to approach the draft like a typical Sunday for their team—not everything will go according to plan. Like coaches themselves, opponents will have plans of their own and reshape how things turn out.
But owners can still approach a draft with a baseline strategy. The waiver wire and trades function as safety nets if something goes wrong, but only to a certain extent. Understanding a foundational approach and having access to details like cheat sheets and mocks during a live draft puts owners at an advantage.
Here is a look at one sampling of a baseline strategy owners can lean on, using scoring and information from Yahoo 12-team standard leagues.
One can tell from the above running backs are the quarterbacks of fantasy football.
That’s a tad confusing, so look at it this way—the NFL prioritizes quarterbacks almost over everything else in large part because of scarcity. Few potential franchise players come out each year, which explains guys like Blake Bortles coming off the board in the top 10.
If the NFL has a quarterback problem, fantasy football has a running back problem. True workhorses are over and new-era workhorses—guys who see north of 300 touches thanks to a combination of air and ground work—are few and far between after David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell.
Loading up on running back over the first two rounds isn’t the only viable path to fantasy success. But as 4for4’s Chris Raybon (via Sports Illustrated) explained, running back early is about plotting a path of success through the rest of the draft: “But to really master fantasy drafting, you also need to take a bottom-up approach, where you let your early-round decisions be informed by what kind of value will be available in the middle and late rounds.”
Per the average draft position (ADP) charts, 12 backs come off the board over the first two rounds of 12-team drafts. The first three backs selected after the second round are Isaiah Crowell, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook.
Meaning, if owners neglect running back, the first options available are a Cleveland Browns running back and two rookies.
Which isn’t to suggest an Ezekiel Elliott or Jordan Howard won’t happen again. But it is best to get at least one notable running back out of the way early, especially when the separation between the middle-of-the-pack receivers is so small.
With the bigger emphasis on passing over the years, wideouts have emerged as the steadiest fantasy position of all. A whopping 25 wideouts hit the 1,000-yard mark a year ago and 15 scored eight or more touchdowns.
Target hogs like an Antonio Brown or Mike Evans will always remain a priority and flirt with the 300-point mark, but we’re talking a position where Rishard Matthews reeled in nine touchdowns a year ago and sits with an 11.06 ADP going into drafts this year.
Readers will notice this hasn’t addressed quarterbacks much. But the NFL’s most important position simply isn’t in fantasy football. The better owners do at skill positions over the first few rounds of a draft, the less important quarterback becomes. Given how easy it is to project a quarterback’s performance each week, streaming the position and picking the best matchup is a simple process—and one made even easier over the years thanks to the emergence of daily fantasy football.
Remember, 19 quarterbacks threw at least 20 touchdowns a year ago and 13 hit 25 or more. The bottom of the latter list was Kirk Cousins, who carries an ADP of 8.03. Cousins and a later option like say, Sam Bradford (14.06), doesn’t sound so bad when recalling Bradford threw 20 scores.
Tight end is as simple as targets and usage after transcendent talents like Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert. Both are injury risks, but owners can use a cheat code of sorts by prioritizing their drafted quarterback’s real-life tight ends in the late rounds. Even if a tight end only grabs one pass during a week, if that pass is a touchdown in the redzone, owners score double.
Other points of emphasis range from don’t worry too much about bye weeks and prioritizing predictable players with high usage rates in the later rounds. The waiver wire exists for a reason and steady production off the bench can help weather the bye-week storms.
Again, owners need to be ready for any and all angles as a draft unfolds. Runs on positions and other random occurrences can happen when 12 owners get together. A baseline understanding and flexibility to alter the approach within the confines of the understanding will put an owner ahead.
Then all they have to do is make the right weekly lineup decisions, peruse the waiver wire well and outmaneuver others in trades. No pressure.
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