“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 will target, and how we will 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 affect your later picks' decision matrix. 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, then 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, 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 each 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. 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.
Overall: There will be multiple right answers at every position, and the right answers will change as the season unfolds. Have clarity on which players you like at each position in each section of your draft so you can piece together a roster of players you want no matter how your opponents draft.
QB: Quarterback is deep as always and you’ll probably like who you get at QB12 if you are the last to take a starter in a typical league. If you want to take someone before QB12, Jalen Hurts and Trey Lance offer the most bang for your buck. If you want to wait even longer than QB12 and go late round quarterback, there’s plenty of ways for that to work too. Have you considered playing in more Superflex/2QB leagues?
RB: The running back dead zone is alive! From around the 5th-10th round you should be able to find at least 2-3 names that you like to level off as a fantasy RB2, if not better! Take a running back you are highly confident in during the first three rounds to be your RB1 and then wait and throw a few darts in that 5th-10th range to see what you harvest in the early season.
WR: Wide receiver value is strong from the 2nd-5th round and you should plan on spending 2-3 picks in that range on the position in PPR leagues.
TE: The dropoff after the top five tight ends could be steep. With two of them falling to the 4th-5th round, you can afford to take one this year. If you don’t, it’s probably smart to pay for your favorite from the TE6-9 range instead being left out in the cold at the position.
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.
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 point per 25 passing yards, the quarterback with a running dimension remain king.
I get it, 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 Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray and Patrick Mahomes II who can score 30 points a game on average in typical scoring systems at their peaks 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 was the runaway #1 overall pick in previous years and will still go #1 in a lot of leagues this year even after he missed most of the last two seasons. 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 an elite fantasy quarterback, but don’t want to pay the premium for Josh Allen? Jalen Hurts.
Hurts was rough as a passer last year and had a poor wide receiver group outside of DeVonta Smith. It was so bad that the team morphed into a run-first team mid-season. Hurts had one game with over 30 pass attempts from Week 8 on after having five in the first seven games before that. Since then, they made a huge trade for A.J. Brown bolster the passing game, a sign of a shift in philosophy. The Eagles don’t have a true goal line back, which allowed Hurts to score 10 touchdowns on the ground last year. If Hurts maintains that level of involvement as a runner in goal to go situations and improves incrementally as a passer - even if that improvement is only because he has a true #1 receiver now - then he should take a jump from the Joe Burrow/Matthew Stafford/Aaron Rodgers points per game level up to the Josh Allen level this year, but instead going at least a couple of rounds after Allen. None of five quarterbacks going before Hurts are bad picks at ADP, it’s just that Hurts offers the same ceiling and a similar floor for a cheaper price.
Target: Jalen Hurts
Trey Lance could be going closer to the QB12 range in typical home leagues, but in “plugged in” leagues, he is going as high as QB7 or QB8. Is he worth that? You bet. The last running quarterback in a Kyle Shanahan offense was Robert Griffin III III, and he was the #1 fantasy quarterback on a points per game basis with a very poor skill position group. Lance has George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel. He might not be fantasy QB1 like Allen, but he can still be a league winner at ADP.
Target: Trey Lance
If you’re more conservative or just prefer taking a RB/WR/TE where Hurts is going, Wilson and Rodgers are both quality picks at ADP. Tom Brady is going slightly before Wilson and can be included in this group as long as you aren’t worried about his training camp absence or the Buccaneers' offensive line woes. Who knows how good Wilson can be in an organization that isn’t forcing him to row against the current of their run-first philosophy? Tim Patrick going down in the preseason lowers Wilson’s ceiling, but he was already underpriced before that happened. We all know how good Rodgers can be without Davante Adams, and it’s pretty good.
You can wait until everyone has a quarterback in a 12-team league this year and still get Cousins or Carr. Cousins is the preferred option because there’s more optimism around his new offense and his offensive line is slightly to moderately less scary. In leagues that give bonuses for big games or more than four points per pass touchdown, the gap between them and the top 12 gets tighter.
What if I wait and miss out on Carr and Cousins? (AKA the Deshaun Watson question)
It will be ok. Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence could be suitable fantasy quarterbacks under new, competent coaching staffs. Jameis Winston has a lot better supporting cast than he had last year, and he was pretty good for fantasy last year with a low passing volume. Even Matt Ryan and Jared Goff have solid outlooks as reasonably safe high floor plays to begin the season while you make a plan to upgrade at quarterback eventually. This is also the optimal team build for a late-round pick on Deshaun Watson (if your fantasy GM code allows for it), although, with a bunch of cold weather games in a new offense with new teammates, Watson isn’t a lock to be the fantasy quarterback he was the last time we saw him. Here are my more in-depth thoughts on the fantasy implications of Watson’s suspension.
Do I need a QB2?
Take one of your favorites outside the Top 12 if the roster size allows. It accomplishes three things. First, it gives you injury insurance, bye week coverage, and covid insurance. Second, it denies one of your competitors who did not take a QB1 an option that could hit and allow them to get away with it. Third, if your late-round quarterback hits, you can trade your established commodity quarterback to help your team elsewhere.
A note for Superflex/2QB players
The top 12-15 quarterbacks fly off of the board in Superflex/2QB leagues. You should probably take your QB1 in the first or second round. If you have an early draft slot, it is almost imperative to take a quarterback first because you will likely still find a top 10-12 RB/WR/TE available at your second pick, but the top 10-12 quarterbacks should be gone. Typically in a Superflex/2QB draft, you can get RB/WR/TE a round or more later than their ADP in 1QB leagues. Alternatively, that makes taking a RB/WR/TE come with a penalty of taking them in the same round they usually go in if you take one in the first round. You can employ a strategy of waiting on your second quarterback and taking RB/WR/TE as long as you can until you feel forced to take your QB2 because the supply is drying up. Jameis Winston, Matt Ryan, and Jared Goff will be available after your top 50 or so RB/WR/TE are gone, so you won’t be assessed as big an opportunity cost when you take them as you would if you take an early QB2. Going quarterback in two of your first 3-4 picks can still work out, but you have to be almost flawless on your early RB/WR/TE picks if you don’t take your QB1 early.
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