"The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tent show whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a muddled field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning."
- Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
20 Rounds of Value is not a medicine-show cure-all sold in tents set up on the mudded fields of social media. While it may deliver you a champion straight away, 20 Rounds of Value is a plan for building a foundation for a PPR winner.
Fantasy championships are like a tabletop, and the draft, lineup management, the waiver wire, and trades are the four legs that can support it. Depending on your resources, expertise, and environment, you can build a winner with one well-placed leg or use all four.
As long as the legs are sturdy enough to hold the weight of your trophy and even enough that it doesn't slide off the tabletop, you're good to go. Hell, I bet some of your best meals have been eaten on a wobbly table that needed a wad of coasters shoved under a leg to even things out.
If not, you haven't lived enough life.
20 Rounds of Value's goal is to identify the right players — players you can likely reach for a round or two early, and by year's end, you'll look back at your draft and discover you still got them at a value relative to their production. Likely, half of these players won't work out. However, if 5-7 of these options deliver, you'll have the foundation for a winner that you can supplement with solid team management.
Reaching is considered a bad word in fantasy, but my fantasy drafting style is more like the Tyler Durden Fight Club School of Drafting Guidelines as opposed to the Martha Stewarts of Rate My Team and the rest of the industry. Even if Martha warns the public that ole Tyler's methods don't match the consensus preseason views, she's often facing him in the playoffs as the lower seed to his point-scoring powerhouse.
It's because Marthas play the odds to get the right players and presume you don't have the skill to pick them. However, you know Ty works in a movie theater and grinds the film (he'd share an example of his work, but that scene available on YouTube might force the Martha's to banish him if he linked to it).
If you're looking for tiers filled with options, I'll provide that later this month. If you're seeking a quick-and-dirty way to draft without a ton of brainpower and emotional drama, 20 Rounds of Value is your speed.
If you find the desire to ask me "What About" questions, this plan isn't for you, or you need to quell your neurosis and take the plunge. If players aren't shared here, then they aren't a part of the plan. If you found yourself in a jacked-up draft where none of the players mentioned in a specific round are available, you can either reach a bit more with a player from a later round or of course, deviate temporarily from the plan. I'd advise going with a player later on the list unless a clearly better option has fallen inexplicably down boards.
The number in parenthesis next to each player is his current ADP as of July 26.
Round 1: Ezekiel Elliott (7)
Elliott represents the collective psychology of the average football fan and fantasy analyst. They know in theory that the offensive line is a massive part of making the run game work, but they have no idea in practice how to give it the appropriate weight.
They're continually overrating and underrating — usually underrating — running backs based on their production and overreaching metrics that don't adequately contextualize the runner's skill relative to the skill of the line. Elliott has been a victim of this traveling medicine show for years.
He's still young, healthy, and as skilled of a decision-maker and mover as there is in the NFL. The Cowboys offensive line and quarterback are once again healthy. With this loaded offensive unit that includes an excellent receiving corps, Elliott is not only a great bet for extensive green-zone work (inside the opponent's five), but he's also going to face boxes that can't load up to stop him.
The first round is the only round with the 20 Rounds of Value plan where deviating from the plan is ok. Again, I'm trying to keep this simple for you, which means limiting your choices and giving you a player in Elliott who could easily return to top-three production this year. However, if you believe any of the first 9-10 players by ADP represent safer and/or greater value, be my guest.
Round 2: Antonio Gibson (19) / A.J. Brown (26)
If you want to go strong to the hole running back early or take Hill or Kelce first, Gibson makes sense on so many levels. Most running backs aren't instinctive but skilled options who've learned to execute at the speed of instinct. Last year, Gibson operated far more on instinct than most NFL prospects could ever get away with and succeed.
Gibson performed well without consistent quarterback play and without as well-rounded of a receiving corps as we're expecting to see this year. With Ryan Fitzpatrick, Curtis Samuel, and a talented defense that's one year wiser, Gibson is a safe pick as a back with a fantasy RB2 baseline and elite RB1 upside due to his receiving prowess.
If you look at the rest of this list and decide that there's enough running back depth available with this plan and feel a greater need for a receiver, Brown is the choice. Based on my projections, Brown could wind up the WR2 or WR3 in your lineups based on the upside of the other targets that 20 Rounds of Value recommends.
Still, Brown is a safe and productive early-round player due to the likelihood of consistent target volume that could increase this year due to more match-up advantages that Julio Jones will create. There's also the big-play upside that Brown has delivered despite playing through injuries last year. Brown is a more versatile option than we've seen in Tennessee, and this looks like the year where the Titans will showcase it.
Round 3: A.J. Brown (26) / J.K. Dobbins (29) / Mike Evans (42)
Brown's big-play upside on the outside should gain in efficiency with Jones and open doors for him to deliver in the slot as a high-volume target. Brown also faces the Jaguars and Texans defenses four times during the year, which is hard to beat in scheduling. Unless Jones proves that Matt Ryan was a far bigger issue contributing to Jones' red-zone production than we have seen, Brown may have as much red-zone upside as Elliott and Gibson.
If you've rolled with Elliott and Gibson, Brown or Evans is probably the best call for the third round. Evans has been a top-12 receiver for the past three years — a rare display of fantasy consistency at this high level for the position — and did it despite playing hurt for much of the year.
Evans' targets, yardage, and receptions may have declined last year, but they are still at 2017's levels as a safe, fantasy-WR2 for most years. This is if you expect a massive regression from 13 touchdowns in 2020. A slight-to-moderate regression makes sense with the weapons Tampa has, but expecting fewer than 7 touchdowns flies against his career average, the nature of his game, and his skills that have not declined on film.
The 20 Rounds of Value Plan has a significant investment in a stack of the Tampa Bay passing game. Evans is going at a significant discount relative to his talent and recent years as a top-10 fantasy receiver.
If you rolled with receivers (Kelce is essentially a receiver) early, Dobbins isn't seen as a shark move when asking most high-stakes industry sharks for their opinions. They fear the presence of Gus Edwards as a proven limiter of Dobbins' upside even when acknowledging Dobbins' talents.
Those who fear the Edwards Factor have Dobbins projected with less than 200 carries. Still, Ingram was the No.8 fantasy back in 2019 with 202 rushing attempts and 26 receptions, thanks to 15 touchdowns from scrimmage.
Edwards is a good player who cracked the top 40 backs in fantasy in PPR scoring last year despite only earning 18 more touches than he did in 2019. The real difference in Edwards' production was scoring. He tripled his average output of rushing touchdowns from two to six.
If you exclude those four touchdowns, Edwards drops to 45th, and if Dobbins earned them, his totals would have jumped from 28th to 21st. This shift in workload is something you can expect to see in Baltimore this year. Dobbins is a do-it-all back whose draft capital and film indicate he'll be expected to take on the primary role in the offense similar to Ingram's top-10 upside at the position from 2019 and not as an equal partner to the powerful but less versatile Edwards.
Jackson's work as a rusher scares off many drafters, but that's a misdirected form of analysis that underrates the value of efficiency that Jackson and this Ravens offense afford its runners. As long as Dobbins is the guy in the backfield the way Ingram was in 2019, betting on a 2021 campaign with double-digit touchdowns and greater efficiency on a touch-by-touch basis isn't as outlandish as feared.
Dobbins is valued as a fantasy RB3 that the experts fear is at his ceiling but is actually valued at his absolute floor.
Round 4: Tom Brady (69) / Mike Evans (42) / Chris Godwin (49) Alternatives: Dak Prescott (43) / Aaron Rodgers (65) / Tyler Lockett (53)
Accept it now, you're taking Tom Brady, and you're taking him early. He had one of the quietest 40-touchdown campaigns in memory while dealing with a knee injury, injured receivers he wasn't familiar with, and significant ignorance of the playbook for the first half of the year.
This year should bring health, rapport, ingrained knowledge, and more great weapons. This has Peyton Manning Year Two in Denver written all over it. I rarely suggest shooting for the bull's eye in drafts, but I'm all-in on the Buccaneers threatening season-long records with its passing game.
Be bold, trust the film, and be okay with potential failure when shooting for the epic.
If you're drafting in the back half of your serpentine draft, this is the recommended place to pull the trigger so you ensure that you're getting Brady. If you're drafting in the first half, you can opt for Evans or Godwin.
Godwin is actually the better receiver on film if you factor in a high level of versatility. As such, it makes sense that Godwin would be the player with whom Brady didn't have as strong of a rapport due to the playbook because Godwin at his best is the player who will be used in different alignments more often than Evans. It requires excellent knowledge of the playbook to exploit that flexibility.
Brady now has the familiarity. Although Godwin was the No.31 PPR option last year, he was 15th between Weeks 10-17 — the period of time where Brady showed more knowledge of the playbook. It's also important to know that during this span, Evans was 10th and Antonio Brown 18th.
The too many mouths to feed analysis needs to return to the fully-functional chef's kitchen and look in the fully-stocked refrigerator and cupboard. Or, the analysts need to acknowledge that they need cooking lessons.
If you're in a league with a person you suspect is employing this strategy, this is the round you'll likely know for sure. There's a good chance Dak Prescott or Aaron Rodgers will likely be available here.
Neither will likely give you Brady's record-breaking upside, but they have the skills, surrounding talent, and scheme to earn top-five production. The late-round quarterback thing works, but all your fantasy players who think they are smart will be doing it, so you're fishing from the same hole as them. It's like waiting until the end to bid on players during an auction and five smart fantasy GMs are doing the same thing. You're often better off fishing where they aren't.
If you think you can wait for another round to land Brady, and Evans (and/or Godwin) is off the board, Lockett's current ADP value as WR21 is excellent. Despite lower efficiencies per touch last year, Lockett was the No.8 receiver in PPR formats. Yes, Lockett was the No.20 option from Weeks 10-17, but defenses exploiting Seattle's lack of offensive efficiency led to coaching and scheme changes for 2021.
Lockett's consistent fantasy production at or on the cusp of WR1 value at his position in 12-team leagues is valuable when considering his versatility as an open-field runner, route runner, and deep threat. Seattle will run more 11 personnel this year, and the hope is that rookie speedster DWayne Eskridge will allow the Seahawks to feature Lockett with greater versatility and efficiency than what they could do in 2020.
Lockett's presence helped D.K. Metcalf more last year than Metcalf helped Lockett. Eskridge will do more to help Lockett. Even if none of this plays out, Lockett's floor is likely solid WR2 value, and that's enough for the roster you're building.
Round 5: Tom Brady (69)
See above. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Round 6: Ja'Marr Chase (61) / Odell Beckham Jr (73) / Raheem Mostert 75 / Trey Sermon 88
Ja'Marr Chase and Odell Beckham Jr are similar players. Beckham is safer because of the caliber of the Browns' offense and an offseason where he and Baker Mayfield have developed greater rapport than in the past.
However, the 20 Rounds of Value plan has afforded you enough receiver talent to take a chance on Chase's upside, which is higher than Beckham's this year due to the likelihood of the Bengals defense forcing the offense to throw the ball more.
If you believe that you need more shots at running back talent due to the high turnover at the position, choosing one (or both) of the top options in the 49ers' ground game — arguably one of the three best rushing attacks in the NFL when assessing the versatility of the scheme, the caliber of the line, and the skill of the backs — is a great value at this point of the draft.
Throw in the likelihood of Trey Lance as the starter by November, and his legs will open up the ground game even more — think Baltimore — if Kyle Shanahan implements designed runs for the quarterback, which I think he's wise enough to do.
Understand that it's unlikely that you'll get both Raheem Mostert and Trey Sermon because it's human nature in fantasy leagues that when you pick one, there's a fantasy GM valuing the other more. They see the first player off the board as the cue for them to take their favorite within the next round.
Sermon is the upside play here due to draft capital, contract, and skills. However, Mostert is an excellent runner for this system when healthy and is the starter at the end of his contract.
I'd go with Sermon here if you only think you can get one of them because if you take Sermon, the fantasy GM with a desire to prove a point to you that you made a mistake will have the ego-filled desire to take Mostert within a handful of picks after your selection. You have a better shot of going with Mostert first and following up with Sermon if you want both.
I normally wouldn't advise getting the starter and his backup this early with back-to-back picks. Still, I am experienced enough to remember taking Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson back-to-back in a competitive writer's league when Kansas City had the best run-blocking unit in football, and that paid off handsomely. The 49ers have a similar dynamic here, and we're not worrying about reaching.
Round 7: Tyler Boyd (91) / Michael Carter (93)
The Bengals have the skill-player talent to support three top-24 fantasy receivers at the position, but the support of the offensive line is the biggest potential obstacle. It's an important point and a good reason to be pragmatic about which receivers your choose. While Chase has the most upside and greatest versatility of the three receivers, Boyd is the player with the highest floor. Getting a solid fantasy WR3 this late with WR2 upside in PPR formats is a bargain — even if you might be reaching 10-15 picks.
Carter is the best receiving back in this draft class. While I trust that my buddy Cecil Lammey saw issues with Carter's blocking at the Senior Bowl, I studied 10 games in-depth of this prospect, and it's safe to say that he'll be used as a receiver far more often than a blocker.
Carter has flaws with maintaining a balanced stance as a blocker, but his upside with diagnosing common NFL pressure packages and handling larger defenders was also apparent on film. The key is not overextending his frame into the contact. When he does this, he fails. When he's more mindful, he even handled defensive tackles.
Still, Carter will earn targets without having to block if given the two-minute or four-minute roles in the passing offense where the scheme's design is to spread the field and deliver quick passes in space. If he doesn't earn the long down-and-distance work, that's not as big of a deal because the aim is to throw 15-20 yards downfield and have a back who can block to support these throws.
Carter is the most talented runner on the Jets and gives you Ekeler-like PPR upside within the top 24 to 36 options at the position this year. That could prove a better value than investing in the talented Javonte Williams, who will likely more split time with Melvin Gordon III than his investors will want to see.
Round 8: Michael Carter (93) / Darrell Henderson (101) / Robert Tonyan Jr (103)
If you opted for the safe choice of Boyd, Carter is still here for the taking. So is Darrell Henderson, and as you can read here, he's a safe bet for starter value in leagues that flex runners. Even if Henderson has to welcome a new veteran into the fold, it's unlikely that veteran will be an every-down starter and featured option like Todd Gurley was in the past.
Tonyan's value likely rises with Aaron Rodgers officially back in Green Bay for one more year. Tonyan's red-zone work and skill with contested catches have more upside than even last year's breakout indicates. However, if you can take advantage of the potential lag in value change that can occur, you might get him one round later. If not, Tonyan's value might increase another round.
I prefer one of the two running backs, but Tonyan will be one of the last ones still available if you want a safer bet at tight end.
Round 9: Robert Tonyan Jr (103) / Antonio Brown (106) / Tyler Higbee (114)
Higbee had an injury-plagued year in 2020, and it's doubtful that rookie Jacob Harris is A) that much of an athletic wunderkind and B) a legitimate tight end of value this year. Stafford has worked well with tight ends in the past — some whose skills didn't merit the production Stafford fed them (see section on Higbee in link). Higbee should be much closer to the player he was at the end of 2019 than in 2020.
Brown was the No.18 fantasy PPR option at his position for the final seven weeks of the 2020 season. He has complied with the terms of his probation, and that includes a mental health component. While an older receiver, he's very much in the Isaac Bruce-Derrick Mason mold of a player who can get deep and still run great routes. The fact that Tom Brady has lobbied hard for Brown for the past two years is enough for me when combined with the production earned late in 2020 to support the move.
Remember, 20 Rounds of Value is banking on a big year for the Buccaneers. If you drafted three of Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas during their record-breaking year, you likely won your league. If you drafted four, you likely dominated.
Round 10: Jamaal Williams (122) / Gus Edwards (124) / Tony Pollard (127)
Jamaal Williams is a superior blocker and an equal red zone and receiving talent to D'Andre Swift. Williams has a great shot at fantasy RB3 value and a better chance at RB2 value at Swift's expense than credited.
I may not believe Edwards will earn a split, but you can afford to take him in the 10th round to have an insurance policy for Dobbins. If it doesn't work, you're not banking on every pick to hit. Dropping a 10th-round running back on a waiver-wire expedition isn't painful.
I prefer Pollard to Edwards if solely looking for a handcuff with a strong ceiling. If you bake-in contributor value weekly, Edwards gets the edge. Decide what's most important to you and prioritize from there.
Round 11: Tony Pollard (127) / Marvin Jones Jr (134) / Justin Fields (140)
If you can grab Williams in the 10th and want a pure handcuff with great upside, Pollard is the go-to option. Marvin Jones Jr is a consummate professional, and you can hear Matt Harmon wax poetic about him on my podcast this week. Jones still has WR1 upside in fantasy, especially in an offense likely to face a lot of garbage-time this year. Realistically, that ceiling is a low-end WR2 value, but the fact that WR1 possibility is legit makes his 11th-round grade a beautiful thing.
Justin Fields is a bet on rush-aided fantasy excellence down the stretch. Nothing like having trade bait around Weeks 6-8 to fuel your stretch run.
Round 12: Justin Fields (140) / Tua Tagovailoa (141) / Ryan Fitzpatrick (149) / Trey Lance (152)
You might get Fields here, but I wouldn't sweat him with your 11th or 12th pick if it doesn't happen. Tagovailoa's value should remain steady (and depressed) this month because fans and media ignored the fact that he was rehabbing a difficult injury and didn't know the playbook last year.
Tom Brady didn't know his new playbook either, but he has 20 years on Tagovailoa in that department. Miami's staff also put Tagovailo in the lineup despite the Dolphins being in contention, which rubbed veterans the wrong way.
Still, Tagovailoa had enough promising moments on film that are indicative of second-year growth.
Fitzpatrick is the safest choice and has a similar upside as a young Tagovailoa, at least this year. Lance offers as much upside as Fields and in an offense with better design and execution.
Round 13: Baltimore Ravens 145 / Cleveland Browns 172
Both teams have attacking defenses with aggressive coverage potential. They also get eight games against the weakened offensive lines of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Detroit, Chicago, Denver, and Indianapolis are also on their schedules, and these units have mistake-prone passers. Because both teams run the ball well and have explosive potential in the passing game, they can play with leads and attack with the defense.
Take one of these units on the early end, select a team defense, and then play the Rent-A-Defense game with Sigmund Bloom during the year when you have a bye-week.
Note: After Round 13, there's a wide enough variability with ADP that if you can acquire some of these players mentioned early in later rounds, go for it. Just do what you normally do: marry your needs with your talent assessments and upside with the remaining players on the list to determine how to proceed.
Round 14: Adam Trautman (166) / Jared Cook (167) / Emmanuel Sanders (182)
Tight ends are good garbage-time targets when defenses play softer over the middle. Trautman could lead this team in receptions by the team Michael Thomas returns from his injury.
Cook may be older, but he is still a vertical threat in an offense that wants to run the ball like the Saints and use play-action concepts similar to what Cook has been used to for the past two years. His age keeps his value depressed. He might be the safest pick of the tight ends mentioned after Tonyan.
I wrote about Sanders extensively before training camp, explaining why his fit with the Bills offense is a clear upgrade to John Brown despite Brown being a talented player. It also reveals why Sanders' recent production declines don't offer quality context for his current level of play that remains high.
If you already have a tight end, Sanders is a clear choice unless any of the players listed above are available, and you want more depth at those positions.
Round 15: Rondale Moore (191) / Malcolm Brown (246)
Give Moore 2-3 big plays in the preseason and a strong camp and his ADP likely leaps 4-6 rounds in August. Still, if you can land Moore at current value (the late 15th), he's a nice stab at big-play upside and target volume.
If you need a seventh or eighth runner, Brown is the most underrated running back in fantasy drafts this year, and it's about to manifest in training camp. He's already getting attention from Dolphins beat reporters who will sway fantasy analysts and fans into thinking that Brown might force a timeshare with the much-hyped Myles Gaskin.
Brown has a shot to be the lead back that few are considering and at a price outside the 20th round of drafts. That will change as the preseason unfolds, so you can begin thinking about Brown anytime after the 14th round and feel justified with the selection.
Round 16: Jason Sanders (193) / Ryan Succop (205) / Malcolm Brown (246)
Young passers typically struggle in the red zone, even promising ones. Sanders offers a solid baseline of value if Miami's offense breaks out. If not, he was the No.3 fantasy kicker last year. Succop is a solid choice even if Tampa Bay won't stall out as often as other teams.
Round 17: Malcolm Brown (246) / Tyrell Williams (221) / Rhamondre Stevenson (225)
Williams could lead the Lions in receiving yards this year. Stevenson has the well-rounded skills of an every-down back who can become the Patriots' finisher and even a passing-down staple due to his potential with pass protection if he acclimates fast. It's a crowded backfield, but Stevenson is a better talent than advertised.
Round 18. Bryan Edwards (240) / Mark Ingram II (240)
Edwards had one of the best camps of the Raiders offensive players last year but got hurt and faded fast during the regular season. He has a shot of leading Las Vegas wide receivers in receptions and yardage. Ingram is still good enough to start for a team if needed. If the Rams backs fail to stand out in training camp, Ingram could be a target for the Rams.
Round 19. Keelan Cole (302) / O.J. Howard (266) / Quintez Cephus (296)
Cole is projected to start for the Jets and at the very least serve as a frequent contributor in three-receiver sets. He has big-play and chain-moving upside outside and in the slot. Howard has never been a favorite of mine, but I recognize his immense upside when healthy. It can't hurt to take a shot on a career year finally happening when this draft plan's targeted investments are rooted in the Buccaneers' offense.
Cephus might be the most skilled receiver on the Lions. If he earns a Keenan Allen type of roll for an offense that could resemble the Chargers more than Saints, Cephus could shine.
Round 20. Whoever is left from Rounds 15-19 or a Kicker
Whatever you need.
Again, the 20 Rounds of Value plan isn't designed to create an immediate champion. No strategy can claim this with a straight face. However, it can provide you the foundation for prolific scoring and the potential for a stockpile of depth at receiver and/or running back depth that you can use to acquire future needs.
It also targets players whose potential values are higher than the industry curve but still offer a ceiling even higher than the perceived "reach."