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The ebb and flow of drafts and ADP (average draft position) movement creates patterns in drafts that give us the building blocks of our overall draft strategy. Players at the same position will often come off of the board in clumps that roughly reflect the consensus tiers and also adhere to the psychology of runs that triggers similar options to come off of the quick succession. With that information, we can identify “sweet spots” and “dead zones” that allow us to rule out positions in certain draft slots and reserve other picks for a position, giving our strategy the beginning shape and form that is usually enough to get us through our draft on its own. Where are the sweet spots and dead zone based on early ADP data?
QB Sweet Spots
6th Round - This is the place to grab that quarterback who you believe will produce at or near an elite level at a discount. Robert Griffin III, Nick Foles, and Matt Ryan lead the pack of quarterbacks that will come off the board in the sixth round of a lot of drafts. This is also when the RB2s start to dry up and the WRs get a lot shakier than their fourth and fifth round counterparts.
9th Round - In the ninth round, you can take that quarterback 11th or 12th off of the board that the league chooses for you. It could be Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, or Colin Kaepernick. If you don’t have a particular target in the top 8, but you don’t want to completely minimalist at the position/stream and instead have a primary #1, this is probably when you pull the trigger. You might be able to get a Jay Cutler a round or two later, but that represents a very small discount from a ninth round price. If you like Cutler over the others, just take him here.
QB Dead Zones
4th/5th Round - The proven elite trio of Peyton, Rodgers, and Brees is gone by this point. Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck are going in this range, but unless you are certain they will join the vaunted triad, you’d just be better off taking an elite quarterback a round or two earlier. Even if you believe in Luck and Stafford, taking one of them here means you are just as certain that there are no similar values to be had later, which is a tough sell this year. There are a lot of good strategies at QB. Unless Luck or Stafford play at their absolute peak this year, taking one of them in the fourth or fifth round is not one of them.
RB Sweet Spots
Top 4 - When you get LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, or Matt Forte with your first-round pick, you are getting a full tier higher than any other team that takes a running back in the first. Your draft strategy can also be more focused for the 2-3 and 4-5 turns knowing this. Congratulations.
Early 2nd - If you don’t draw at top four pick, you can take your RB1 in early 2nd. The RB value in the late first isn’t as good, and you’re just as likely to get Demarco Murray there even though he would be the right pick in the first. Montee Ball and Le”Veon Bell are viable mid-low RB1 types who are also often there in the early 2nd. Just say no to reaching for a back in the back half of the first.
Mid 3rd - I could see passing on running backs in the mid first and mid second for a pair of receivers, or maybe a receiver and Jimmy Graham because of how often I see CJ Spiller and Andre Ellington available in the mid third round of early drafts. Granted, both will have down weeks because of their lack of goal line carries, but big play ability and proven talent give each the potential to put up a season of 2010 Jamaal Charles or 2012 Spiller on limited weekly touches. RB1 upside in the third round.
Late 5th-7th - You’re not doing backflips at the RB2 options available here, but they can hold the line, and in a few cases, greatly outproduce draft position. If you only get one back in your first four picks, you can still likely have one of Joique Bell, Trent Richardson, Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, or Pierre Thomas giving you reasonable RB2 production at the beginning of the season while your sleepers later and waiver wire additions grow more potential at RB2 on your bench. The wide receiver and tight end quality has dropped off enough by this point that a limited RB2 prospect doesn’t look like a bad return on a pick.
9th-11th - This is where you grab your upside play (or two). Any number of rookie running backs and prospects who are still on the upslope of their career arc like Lamar Miller, Khiry Robinson, Bernard Pierce, and Christine Michael are going in this range.
RB Dead Zones
Mid-Late 2nd - Once Murray, Ball, and Bell are gone, you have a much higher risk factor with options like Doug Martin, Zac Stacy, and Giovani Bernard, who have an unknown share of work being ceded to running backs drafted in the first three rounds.
Late 4th-Mid 5th - Bishop Sankey leads the rookie running backs in drafts, but he is often gone by the early-mid 4th. Toby Gerhart was there for us well into the fifth and even sixth round in early drafts, but he is surging into the fourth round. If you draw an early first round pick, you might than no running backs look like good values at either of the 2-3 and 4-5 turns
WR Sweet Spots
Late 1st - Dez Bryant, AJ Green, and Demaryius Thomas are usually back half of the first round picks, and if you draw a late first, you can almost be assured of getting one of them as an excellent start in PPR leagues.
4th Round - This is the round where solid veteran WR2 options with WR1 upside reside. Andre Johnson, Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, and Roddy White are all fourth round picks, which is a solid, smart investment in PPR leagues.
9th-11th Round - This range has the rookie/prospect upside appeal of the running back position at wide receiver, but it also features underrated veterans like Dwayne Bowe, Cecil Shorts, and Anquan Boldin. In general, players in that 90-120 range are representing great value and they should be the foundation of a value-based auction strategy.
WR Dead Zones
3rd Round - Receivers like Randall Cobb, Keenan Allen, and Vincent Jackson aren’t nearly as enticing as the group going immediately before them in the late 2nd, but they also aren’t clearly better than the fourth round options, which also include younger upside like Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin if you prefer that to high floor veterans. It seems like WR investments return better bang for your buck a little before or a little after the third round.
6th-8th Round - Sure, a Michael Floyd could slip through to the sixth, or Mike Wallace could be a hit in the seventh. Emmanuel Sanders is a nice target in this range, but you have to risk losing him if you don’t take him in the sixth. Unexciting (at this price) options like Kendall Wright, Jeremy Maclin, and Sammy Watkins are the kind of receivers that go in this area of your draft. There are a few gems, but this part of your draft is better off dedicated to other positions.
TE Sweet Spots
Late 3rd-Mid 4th - If you’re lucky, you’ll still get Rob Gronkowski with a late third round. The good news is that if your league is rational and Gronkowski is gone in the top 25-30, Jordan Cameron will almost surely be there as the last “elite” tight end option. If you want to tight end early, but not too early, this is where you want to be.
8th-9th Round - Jordan Reed, Kyle Rudolph, and Zach Ertz might not approach the top four in terms of upside, but they probably lead the next group. While I’m a fan of going tight end either very early or very late, taking your TE1 in this area can work if its one of these three and they hit.
12th or Later - Very simply, this is where you can get Heath Miller and Dwayne Allen, who have the talent and situations to at least be low-end TE1s this year.
TE Dead Zone
5th-7th Round - You might still get Jordan Cameron here if you’re patient (he’s falling especially far in ESPN and CBS leagues), but otherwise you’ll be taking guys like Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, Dennis Pitta, and Greg Olsen, who promise good, but not great TE1 production, but not at the discount of the later options, who also have just as much upside.