Footballguys coined the Perfect Draft article series way back in 2002 when co-founder David Dodds started the series. We featured detailed stat projections and the principles of my Value-Based Drafting system Footballguys was built upon.
Over the years, it's become one of our cornerstone strategy features, delivering a clear plan for crushing your draft. Our stated goal at Footballguys is to help our customers win more at fantasy football, and the Perfect Draft series is a big part of how we do that.
Way back in 2002, David identified two key principles for a Perfect Draft:
1. All Players Have Value
Most of life can be referenced in The Godfather movie. In this case, it's keeping it business, not personal. This means: don't love or hate players. Don't get emotionally attached. Your goal for a Perfect Draft is to draft players who'll significantly outperform their draft position.
I don't believe in "Do Not Draft" lists. I do believe in "I won't draft him at his current Average Draft Position, so I probably won't be getting him" lists like our buddy Matt Waldman put together here.
2. Understand Your Competition In The Draft Room
Whether it's players for your draft or a new car or Top Shot NFT, if you want to find a good deal on something, you first have to understand the "market price" of the thing. The "going rate" that most people agree something is worth. To find good deals in your fantasy draft, you must first understand your competitors' value of a player. In an Auction Draft, this is easy to see. In a regular draft, the "cost" of a player is their draft position.
You'll have the Perfect Draft when you select players who are more valuable than the "cost" of the spot where you draft them. You need to know how you value a player and how the other GMs in your league value a player. We provide this crucial information for you with our Average Draft Position Data.
I'll add four more.
3. Understand Your Scoring System And Your League
This one is the biggest thing I see fantasy GMs miss. It’s the foundation of my Value-Based Drafting system. Your scoring system matters. A LOT. Your starting lineup requirements matter. A LOT. The number of teams in your league matters. A LOT. You're reading a specific article written for a 12 Team PPR league with a specific scoring system and starting lineup requirement. We’ll say more below, but in this league, you can very likely wait on a quarterback as they're less valuable. But that’s not all leagues. If you’re in a 14-team superflex league, quarterbacks are insanely valuable. Because the situation is different.
It’s why I put little stock in blanket strategies advocating for shunning a position. Zero-RB or Zero-WR blanket strategies are better for gathering clicks than they are winning leagues. You have to know more about your league’s scoring system, starting lineups, and number of teams to understand the value. Fortunately, we’ll do all that for you with our Custom Cheatsheets or our Draft Dominator if you want maximum flexibility. We’ll do the work for you.
Author David Allen writes about a concept called "Mind Like Water." He uses the example of how the water in a pond reacts appropriately to whatever rock you throw into it. If you throw a big rock into the pond, the water accepts the big rock and essentially says, "Nice. Big rock". If you throw a pebble into the water, the water accepts the pebble and says, "Nice. Pebble". The point is whatever you present to the water, it accepts and responds appropriately. In this case, the water is flexible.
This is how you should approach your draft. If you go in fixated on drafting two running backs in the first two rounds or avoiding running backs in the first two rounds or never taking a player over 30 years old or any host of inflexible rules you place on yourself, you won't have the Perfect Draft. Be flexible.
It's the adage of letting the game come to you. You need clear valuations of players. And you need a plan of how things may unfold based on what your league mates will do, and then you let the draft come to you. Respond appropriately as it unfolds.
Seneca said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
Stephen Leacock once observed: "I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
Both these quotes apply to your fantasy draft. Your draft is no different than anything else important you do. The more prepared you are, the better you're likely to perform.
Think about it. Study the players. Tweak the values. And most importantly, think about how it will unfold. This is where mock drafting can be invaluable. Our Custom Cheatsheets offers the ability to quickly do a mock draft. And our Draft Dominator offers even more sophisticated mock drafting capability.
In a draft setting with a short timer for each pick, there's little time to think. You need to have already thought. And execute based on the values you've already determined.
The very fact you're reading this article right now tells me you're on the right track with this one. Stay with it.
6. Get Your Guys And Have Fun
Regardless of the entry fee, almost all of us play fantasy football because it's fun. We think we know more about picking players than the other folks. Building and managing a team is fun. It's the foundation of our hobby. So have fun.
If you're a Bears fan and you hate Aaron Rodgers, as every Bears fan should, and seeing him do well hurts your soul, you don't have to draft him. Even if he's there at a bargain. You can draft him. You can make the case you probably should draft him. But don't remove the fun from the value equation. You don't have to draft him.
The other way I see this play is fantasy GMs who are afraid to get their guy because someone will claim they "reached." Forget about what people say. (Another area where fantasy football is like life) You're drafting players for you. So go get your guys.
Now, of course, there's a balance. Let's say you, like me, love Kyle Pitts. When I wrote this, Pitts is going late in the 4th round of 12 team drafts. If you're picking at the top of the 4th and you love Pitts, get your guy. Few things are as sad as the GM in your draft who makes their pick and sounds like it's killing them. Draft players you're glad to have. It's way more fun.
You'll see plenty we love below as our Clayton Gray breaks down the pockets of value that will help you win.
Pull up a chair. Settle in. You got this.
Let's Have the Perfect Draft
This Perfect Draft is based on a 12-team league that starts the following players:
- 1 quarterback
- 2 running backs
- 3 wide receivers
- 1 tight end
- 1 flex (RB, WR, or TE)
- 1 kicker
- 1 defense
The league scoring is as follows:
- Passing TD = 4 points
- Passing Yard = 0.04 points
- Turnover = -1 point
- Rushing/Receiving TD = 6 points
- Rushing/Receiving Yard = 0.1 points
And in an 18-round draft, this will be your average roster construction:
- 2 quarterbacks
- 6-7 running backs
- 6-7 wide receivers
- 1-2 tight ends
- 1 kicker
- 1 defense
Building Your Core, The Top 60
Below are the top-60 players based on the above scoring system. These 60 players will be your focus for your first five picks and form the core of your team. Using the Draft Dominator will give you a Top 60 that is completely custom to your league. That custom ranking is highly recommended.
|30||QB01||Patrick Mahomes II||KC/12||2.09|
Your First 5 Picks
In general, you should take the best player available on that list for your first five picks. But use good judgment when making your selections. Remember, all these points apply to just this league.
- Notice how running back heavy the Top 12 is. It is wise to come out of the first two rounds with at least one running back.
- Don't draft all wide receivers, for example, with your first five picks. While those players may have been the best value at each of your picks, it's tough to have the Perfect Draft when you start with five players at the same position group. Remember, your starting lineup in this league only allows for four to be started each week.
- Mind the ADP when you pick. If the top two players on the board have ADPs of 5.12 and 3.07 (in that order) and your next pick is 4.04, the 5.12 player will probably be available at your next pick. So you could gain more value by taking the 3.07 player now and then target the 5.12 player next.
- But don't push those ADP edges too hard. If the top two players on the board have ADPs of 5.12 and 3.07 (in that order) and your next pick is 5.10, the 5.12 player might not be available at your next pick. It would be best to go ahead and take the 5.12 player now.
- It's probably not best to take multiple tight ends in these first five selections. In normal PPR leagues, it's hard to get good flex value from a tight end. Plus, unless they are elite producers, they generally aren't valuable trade pieces.
- Avoid the quarterback position in this league. While you can have the Perfect Draft while taking a quarterback early, you'll almost always like your team more if you don't.
- Don't mind the bye weeks. There is plenty of time later in the draft to fix any bye-week issues.
Assessing Your Core
After your first five picks, your focus moves to rounding out your team based on need. This is a key point in roster-building:
The players you select the rest of the way are completely determined by the players you already selected.
Here are three specific questions you need to answer:
- How many running backs do you have? According to ADP, after five rounds, the average team will have 2.25 running backs. If you are above this number, you won't need to target the position soon. If you are below this number, you'll need to go back to running backs in the next few rounds -- maybe multiple times.
- How many quarterbacks and tight ends do you have? According to ADP, the average team will now have 0.3 quarterbacks and 0.5 tight ends. If you don't have players at these positions, there's no need to worry. There will be value for you throughout the draft. If you do have one, you can comfortably avoid taking more at that position for a while. If you have multiple at either position, you most likely should be done there.
- How do your bye weeks look so far? In a perfect world, you'll have no overlap. But overlap happens, and it can be dealt with. If you already have three or more players with the same bye week, you may need to actively avoid that week unless a player is just too good of a value to pass up. You can also target players with a weaker opponent for that week. The Draft Dominator will do this for you automatically.
Sample Starting Roster
Here's a possible start from the 1.03 spot in Round 1
- 1.03, Pick 3 - RB Derrick Henry, Ten/13
- 2.10, Pick 22 - RB J.K. Dobbins, Bal/8
- 3.03, Pick 27 - RB Chris Carson, Sea/9
- 4.10, Pick 46 - TE Mark Andrews, Bal/8
- 5.03, Pick 51 - WR D.J. Moore, Car/13
Going through our three questions yields the following information:
- You are solid at running back and don't need to quickly address the position.
- You already have a tight end, so you are likely finished there.
- You only have one wide receiver, so that position needs attention.
- You have two players off in Week 8 and two in Week 13. This isn't a huge concern, but you don't want to load up on more players with the same bye week.
Now, we'll look at each position and show how to best fill each of them.
If you followed the Perfect Draft blueprint, you did not take a quarterback in the first five rounds.
If you've watched the NFL over the last few years, you realize it is a passing league. Even Taylor Heinicke can throw for 300 yards in a playoff game. Use this fact to your advantage and be willing to be the last team in your league to draft their starting quarterback.
Yes. Be the last team in this league to draft their starting quarterback.
For every drafter who took Lamar Jackson or Aaron Rodgers in the first five rounds, you'll be able to select someone like Joe Burrow or Kirk Cousins or Trevor Lawrence as many as seven rounds later. The value gained is immense and allows you to load up on value at running back and wide receiver.
Here are the quarterbacks you should be willing to draft as your starter:
|1||Patrick Mahomes II||KC/12||2.09|
Here's a secret about the ADP of QB12 and QB13: it shouldn't be that high. The only reason players like Burrow and Stafford don't have 10th-round (or later) ADP is that the 12th team to draft a quarterback panics in every draft. They worry the rest of the league will squeeze them out at the position, and they reach for their starter. Then they compound the mistake. They believe that, since their starter is weak, their backup needs to be strong. So they reach for their backup.
The teams that already have starting quarterbacks aren't looking to add another. Think about it. If you have Patrick Mahomes II or Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott, are you worried about his backup? Of course, you aren't. And your opponents aren't either.
The truth is this: Once 11 teams have a starting quarterback, there is no pressure at the position. You can wait. You can even wait for a few rounds. Someone like Burrow or Stafford will still be there in the 10th round.
And if tragedy strikes and those guys are taken from you, all is not lost. The list of serviceable starting quarterbacks is deep.
Remember the key tenet from the Assessing Your Core section? It still applies. When you draft your backup quarterback depends entirely on your starter. If you followed the Perfect Draft plan and were the last team to draft a starter, feel free to be one of the first to take a backup. Even going back-to-back at quarterback is viable. If you wind up taking a quarterback earlier, be willing to wait for a long time to get a second signal-caller.
In this league with this setup, running back is the most important position on your roster. As more and more NFL teams deploy multiple backs, the supply of premier fantasy assets is low. If you followed the Perfect Draft blueprint, you will likely have two or three quality running backs after the first five rounds. This is a good start, but league-winning teams have great depth at the position.
Before we dig into backfield depth, there are occasions where one (or more) of these backs will be available into the sixth round:
Be comfortable taking any of them as a third back if you didn't come out of the core-building phase with at least three running backs.
There are two kinds of depth at running back:
- Running backs with clearly defined roles. These could be short-yardage or third-down backs. They likely won't consistently score high, but they will keep you from getting zeros if you start them occasionally. Think of Gus Edwards here.
- Running backs without a defined role but with clear potential if things break for them. These guys are currently behind established starters. They need another back to be injured or to falter before they get a large number of snaps. But if they get those snaps, they'll be great fantasy commodities. Think of Devontae Booker.
The good news is there are a few players who have roles and potential. Take James Conner. He should have a handful of carries each week and get the red-zone work. But if Chase Edmonds misses time, Conner could be a workhorse back.
You want to have both kinds of depth. You can't go into a season with a backfield solely full of potential because, sometimes, that potential takes eight weeks to be fulfilled. And you can't have a team loaded with third-down backs because they generally don't have the potential to be game-changers.
You want at least four backs who currently have a defined role on their team. Whether that role is a workhorse back like Joe Mixon or goalline back like Gus Edwards, you want running backs who play a part for their teams. The brutal nature of the position -- not to mention the new 17-game schedule -- means these players will accumulate injuries. After getting four role-players, you can add two or three guys with potential.
Running Backs with Roles
Remember, you want four running backs with defined roles. So if you came out of the first five rounds with two running backs, you need two of the ones listed above. If you already selected four in the core-building phase, you aren't required to take anyone above.
Running Backs with Potential
|20||Melvin Gordon III||Den/11||7.03|
|21||Ronald Jones II||TB/9||8.06|
|22||Michael Carter II||NYJ/6||7.11|
You want two of these, but don't count any of the backs you took as a role-player. Say you took A.J. Dillon as your fourth back. You would count him as a running back with a role and still need two or three runners with potential.
As discussed in the quarterback section, the NFL is all about passing. That not only lifts quarterbacks but wide receiver scoring is also elevated. That also leads to a wide variety in wide receiver rankings. Some wide receivers will fall past their ADP in almost every draft because some of your competitors will prefer other options.
Scoop this value throughout your draft by staying on a good pace at wide receiver.
But what is a good pace at wide receiver? Let's find out.
Wide receiver is the only position where it's best to build at a steady tempo. If you draft four early, your backup wide receivers have a hard time seeing the starting lineup. Plus, your other positions will lack quality. If you don't tend to your wide receiver corps for a while in your draft and then pile up bodies later, you'll end up with a group of similar players and have multiple difficult start/sit decisions every week. For a Perfect Draft, you want to select wide receivers at a firm clip.
Generally, try to stay around these numbers:
- After 5 rounds, have 2-3 wide receivers
- After 8 rounds, have 3-4 wide receivers
- After 11 rounds, have 4-5 wide receivers
- After 14 rounds, have 5-6 wide receivers
- After 18 rounds, have 6-7 wide receivers
Wide Receivers We Like at ADP
- Everyone on the Top 60 list from the core-building phase. If any of those receivers are available, go get them
|2||Laviska Shenault Jr||Jac/7||9.03|
|10||Michael Pittman Jr||Ind/14||11.07|
|11||Marvin Jones Jr||Jac/7||10.05|
|16||Terrace Marshall Jr||Car/13||15.07|
With only 28 players, the list above isn't exhaustive. Those are just players we like. If there are receivers you like not on that list, feel free to deviate. Just stay on pace and stockpile the position.
Over the last several years, the role of the NFL tight end has gone from blocker-who-will-sometimes-catch to dynamic, play-making receiver. Over half the league has a tight end with the potential to be a viable fantasy starter. That means, in most leagues, there isn't much pressure to reach for a player at the position.
You can take two paths at a tight end: 1) Draft one early in the core-building phase, and 2) Sit back and wait until there is value.
If you take Path 1 and end up with someone like George Kittle, you can probably close up shop at the position and just play the waiver wire if something happens to Kittle.
Path 2 Tight Ends to Target
|8||Robert Tonyan Jr||GB/13||8.07|
For your starting tight end, just grab one of the players above at value. And don't be worried over only seeing nine names on that list. Remember, there were six tight ends in the Top 60 list. That means you are looking for a starting tight end out of 15 possibilities. Those are pretty good odds. Just find the value.
If, by chance, your league is crazy for tight ends, here's a fall-back list.
The players on this list carry more risk of underperforming, though. You may want to take two of them.
In the olden days, aka "Before Value-Based Drafting," even experienced drafters would take kickers in the top half of their drafts. Sadly for good players, those drafts are gone. In most leagues these days, kickers go late. Usually, in the last few rounds. Whatever happens in your league, you have a couple of strategies. They are both simple.
- When six kickers have been taken, pick the highest one available on your list.
- In your second-to-last round, pick the highest one available on your list.
Some drafters will still take a pair of kickers. They'll say, "Got to have a backup," as they walk back from the draft board. If you have a few of these people in your league and try to wait until the end of the draft to take a kicker, you could be stuck with a shaky option to start the season. Each of these strategies keeps that from happening without costing you much in the way of value. As you remember from the earlier sections, there are plenty of sleeper running backs and wide receivers with ADPs beyond Round 18.
And here's the list:
- Justin Tucker, Bal/8
- Harrison Butker, KC/12
- Ryan Succop, TB/9
- Robbie Gould, SF/6
- Mason Crosby, GB/13
- Rodrigo Blankenship, Ind/14
- Tyler Bass, Buf/7
- Jason Myers, Sea/9
- Jason Sanders, Mia/14
- Greg Zuerlein, Dal/7
- Matt Gay, LAR/11
- Younghoe Koo, Atl/6
Bonus Kicker Strategy
Selecting a kicker with a late bye week can be helpful. That late bye week will allow you to worry about bye issues at other positions without using an extra roster spot at kicker.
While not as maligned as the kicker position, team defense is an afterthought for many drafters. The Perfect Draft doesn't have time for afterthoughts. You have two choices at the position. The first one is similar to one of our kicker strategies: When six defenses have been taken, pick the highest one available on your list.
And here's the list:
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Washington Football Team
- New England Patriots
- Baltimore Ravens
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Los Angeles Rams
- Kansas City Chiefs
- San Francisco 49ers
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Miami Dolphins
- Indianapolis Colts
- Buffalo Bills
Or you can follow the second strategy: Be bold and target weaker Week 1 opponents and start streaming defenses. That means you have two options:
- Carolina vs. NY Jets
- Jacksonville at Houston
If you do take the second option, do so in your third-to-last round. While it may seem like Carolina and/or Jacksonville will be available in Round 18, you run the risk of someone using this same strategy. If that happens, you might get stuck with the Browns or Cowboys and have to open the season against Kansas City or Tampa Bay. That's not appealing.
The Perfect Draft Overview
- Build your core with Top 60 players. Your first five picks need to be solid and will determine the direction of the rest of your draft.
- Be the last team to draft a starting quarterback. Do not panic, as there are plenty of viable options at this position.
- Build a solid, diverse backfield. You want a mixture of primary ball carriers, role-players, and potential gems.
- Consistently build your wide receiver corps throughout your draft. Don't get behind at the position, but don't go overboard early.
- Be willing to exercise patience and find value with your starting tight end. Don't take two unless your starter is shaky.
- Take a decent kicker before everyone else is finished at the position.
- Either grab a decent defense or select a team with a great Week 1 matchup.
Looking Over an Example Team
Was the last team to take a quarterback and got Burrow at value. Solid backup as well.
1.03, Pick 3 - Derrick Henry, Ten/13
2.10, Pick 22 - J.K. Dobbins, Bal/8
3.03, Pick 27 - Chris Carson, Sea/9
7.03, Pick 75 - Trey Sermon, SF/6
11.03, Pick 123 - Gus Edwards, Bal/8
15.03, Pick 171 - Rashaad Penny, Sea/9
Got four backs who have solid roles and a pair of backs with high potential.
5.03, Pick 51 - D.J. Moore, Car/13
6.10, Pick 70 - Jerry Jeudy, Den/11
8.10, Pick 94 - Laviska Shenault Jr, Jac/7
9.03, Pick 99 - Michael Gallup, Dal/7
12.10, Pick 142 - Elijah Moore, NYJ/6
14.10, Pick 166 - Rondale Moore, Ari/12
18.10, Pick 214 - Van Jefferson, LAR/11
Fell behind pace during the core building phase. Was able to recover in the middle rounds and formed a great wide receiver corps.
4.10, Pick 46 - Mark Andrews, Bal/8
Andrews fells to us, so we started and finished the position in the core building phase.
17.03, Pick 195 - Jason Sanders, Mia/14
Nice option with a very late bye week.
16.10, Pick 190 - Los Angeles Chargers, LAC/7
Good option filled with play-makers.
There you go.
Let the principles above guide you. Study them. Study the players. Mock draft over and over until you feel comfortable with multiple scenarios for how the draft may unfold. Once you're into it, let the draft come to you. Be flexible, don't be afraid to get your guys. And have fun.
Let's crush this.