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“Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you’ll be surprised how successful you can be. Most people don’t have a plan. That’s why it’s easy to beat most folks.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant, football coach, University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide.
We have arrived at the prime of fantasy football draft season, a heady time when we are thinking about how the draft will unfold, who we are going to target, and how we are going to make our championship team come together in real time pitted against a group of live minds. Preparation is important, but never to the point of rigidity. There will be unexpected picks ahead of you that cause a player you never considered to fall to your pick. You will see key players in your draft plan sniped a pick or two before you are on the clock. You need to be prepared, but you also have to be flexible. The best way to do that is to understand the alternatives for filling each starting slot on your team. When you make a pick, you are affecting the decision matrix for your later picks. Sometimes the answer isn’t who you like better among your early targets when you are on the clock in the early rounds, but who you like better later at the positions you are neglecting when you make a pick. If you feel comfortable about later options, it’s easy to kick a position down the road a few rounds. If you are staring at your last viable option to fill a starting spot, it’s probably better to avoid the pain of figuring out what to do later.
First, as always, know your scoring and lineups. If you only start two wide receivers and running backs with no flex positions, then tight end and quarterback become more important. If you can start seven WR/RB, then quarterback and tight end are less important. Know which players/positions are helped and hurt by whether your league is nonPPR, .5 PPR, PPR, or tight end premium (1.5 PPR for tight ends). Know which quarterbacks are helped and hurt by bonuses for long scores or 300-yard games and whether your league gives more than 4 points for a passing score or 1 point for every 25 passing yards. Look at the average points per game at each position sorted in descending order and note which positions have the smallest and largest spans between #1 and the last starter based on league size times starting requirements to know where getting an elite option is most important (VBD drafting!) You get the point. Know the landscape before you get dropped in to conquer it.
Next, create a list of players that are your guys. Evan Silva gave a great recommendation on my show recently to make a clear top 25 and draft from that in the first two rounds, then let the positions of who you end up determine the strategy for the rest of your draft. Using ADP, you can have a reasonable expectation of who will be there in which rounds, and you can start to piece together a plan that will give your lineup balance and upside and create possibilities for improvement on your bench. You should also have clarity on which players you value so much less than the hive mind that you can just cross them off of your list. Understand the if/then logic of your choices and how they ripple through the later rounds. Then clear your mind, get in the moment, and draft!
As always, fantasy football is a diversion, an escape where we get to call the shots. Do it your way and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with getting lost in a puzzle and forgetting the pressures of everyday life.
QB: There are lots of potential right answers at quarterback this year. Everything from taking one of the top three quarterbacks to not taking any of the top 10 can result in gains over draft capital invested that help propel your team to the playoffs. Make sure to take your favorite quarterback outside of the top 10-12, even if you took an early quarterback.
RB: You might be able to find a startable RB2 in the fifth round or later, but make sure to take your RB1 in the first four rounds. As always, your bench should be full of passing down backs in PPR leagues and backups with big upside if the starter goes down.
WR: This position is deep enough to break ties against it in early rounds, but unlike last year, the trend of getting deeper every year has ended. There’s a concentration of higher ceilings in the top 10 wide receivers that makes taking one in the first or second round more viable this year. There are fewer attractive second half of your draft options than there have been in recent years, and the hive mind is onto the 8th-10th round options enough that you will likely only get one of them. Make sure to take at least two wide receivers in the 4th-7th rounds.
TE: The answer is Kyle Pitts. Well, actually, the answer is taking a top 6 tight end other than George Kittle. Kelce in the late first, Waller in the late second, Pitts in the fourth, or Hockenson/Andrews in the fifth. Know your favorite upside tight ends later if you miss out on a top-six option (Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett for me). Take your favorite tight end outside of the top 12, even if you took Kelce. The late-round options at running back and wide receiver are not compelling enough to forego the potential tactical advantage of having one of the few late hits at tight end *and* an elite option.
K: Take one with your last pick that’s established in a good offense.
DEF: Take one with your next-to-last pick that has a good Week 1 matchup.
Remember in 2019 when Lamar Jackson was a league winner that you could draft in the 10th round or later? That made everyone look for 2020’s Lamar Jackson last year. The hive mind settled on Kyler Murray, and his ADP was pushed up to the fifth/sixth round. Did that mean that you should fade Murray since everyone else already got the memo this time around? Nope. Murray was the #1 fantasy quarterback until he hurt his shoulder in Week 11, and he was a good option again by Week 15. Yes, Justin Herbert was a savior off of the waiver wire early, but we can’t expect a Herbert every year. In fact, that will probably help Trey Lance and Justin Fields get drafted in every league, even if they aren’t Week 1 starters.
Again, knowing your scoring system is key here. In leagues with distance touchdown and 300+ yard game bonuses, or more than four points per pass touchdown, or efficiency scoring that takes points away for incompletions and awards points for completions, players like Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Matthew Stafford are closer to the top five, if not making it a top nine, allowing you to wait longer. In more typical leagues with four-point pass touchdowns and a point per 25 passing yards, the quarterback with a running dimension remains king.
Target: Kyler Murray
I get it. A late-round quarterback is attractive because you can get 15-20 points off of the waiver wire. That was a more compelling argument when the top quarterbacks were in the 24-25 point per game range. Enter quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Patrick Mahomes II, who can score 30 points a game on average in typical scoring systems, and the game has changed. A 10 point per game advantage is the largest that any player at any position will give you over replacement value except Christian McCaffrey, who is the runaway #1 overall pick. The object of fantasy football is to score more points than your opponent, and it sure seems like getting an elite fantasy quarterback is the shortest line between A and B to achieve that result. Who is the best target if you want the best? Kyler Murray. If he avoids injury this year and improves with his first real offseason in the NFL and the additions of A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, and Rodney Hudson, he should be the #1 fantasy quarterback.
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