What is Upside Down Drafting?
If you're new to the Upside Down Draft Strategy (UDD) and it's the first time you've read about this topic, you've stumbled into the middle of the story. Begin here for the basics or go here for a more exhaustive look.
For simplicity's sake, I often endorsed waiting until the fifth round to take a running back. However, the truest intent of UDD is to adjust your mindset and strategy just enough that you're not in the same predictable cattle call as everyone else. When you're approaching the draft in a different order than your peers, your mind is opened up to pools of talent at different times than the herd and you're now beginning runs rather than caught in the middle of them.
The most accurate way to grasp the strategy is to select non-running back positions with four of your first six picks and preferably only one back during your first three while increasing the position as your priority choices between rounds 5-16. In other words, only pick two running backs within your first six picks and then at least 4-6 with backs during your next 10 picks.
Now that we're caught up, let's look at the mid-round PPR backs that I endorse for this year's UDD Strategy.
This list will not be a comprehensive look at every running back. If you want to know my thoughts on each player, read the comments in my rankings. If you're thinking, "I'm going to email or Tweet Matt and ask him, 'what about [insert name of back not listed below that you maybe-possibly-kinda like]?'" it will be nice to hear from you but I'll still tell you to read the comments in my rankings.
If I have any major updates to my preferred list of mid-round backs, I'll keep you posted weekly in subsequent Gut Checks.
This article will be drafting for PPR leagues with 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 2 non-QB flex spots, 1 PK, and 1 TD.
Early-round OPtions (For those with a top-five pick)
If you have a top-five pick or, you find this strategy appealing but emotionally you need a pair of arm floats to wade into this strategy pool, here are backs I find the most appealing because of their skill and surrounding talent that lessens the potential for "down weeks."
- Christian McCaffrey - Go ahead and fear the lack of red-zone love while others pick a back who has 20 Tds during his first two seasons.
- Ezekiel Elliott - As long as the renegotiation gets settled within 2-3 weeks of the season, I'm good with the best back in football.
- Alvin Kamara - Strictly thinking about fantasy value, Kamara is a blend of McCaffrey's safety and Elliott's upside.
- James Conner - He's going to catch a lot of balls because the dearth of receiver talent will lead to check-downs. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will miss each other.
- Nick Chubb - If I were starting a real football team, Chubb and Elliott would be neck-and-neck in skill assessment and I'd give Chubb's professionalism the edge. There's a huge upside to this season that isn't baked into his projections.
- Devonta Freeman - Ito Smith may not make it out of his depth chart alive this summer. Freeman has top-5 upside at his position.
- Kerryon Johnson - No Theo Riddick? The receiving touches will be split among Johnson and C.J. Anderson. Think of Johnson as a more powerful McCaffrey with a lower ceiling.
If you want to read more about what I think, see the comments in my rankings.
THE GUT CHECK'S PREFERRED MID-ROUND (4TH-10TH) RUNNERS
I'm listing two or three runners per round as well as an extra runner that is worth reaching for if both of the prescribed backs in those rounds are gone. In italics are one or two non-runners in each round I value. I called it my Non-RB Exception. I've found that using 1-2 rounds between the 5-10 block for a non-runner strengthens the balance of the team. This is based on PPR formats with 12 teams.
If you land at least five of these backs by the 10th round you should have a solid start to your Upside Down Draft. ADP is based on PPR leagues because PPR formats are well tailored for Upside Down Drafts.
I recommend all the names listed, but the underlined players are my favorites. In some cases, I've underlined multiple players in the same round so if you aren't enamored with the list from the previous or following rounds, you have my permission (if you need it for some weird reason) to reach for one to land multiple underlined guys. However, don't take that underline as a reason to fixate on the player, the strategy is about casting a wide net on a block of backs.
This year, labeling the list so you can think of your draft in dimensions of risk friendliness:
- High-floor, high-upside (potential top-5 player at the position and no worse than a low-end starter.
- High floor, medium-upside (no worse than a low-end starter with upside as low-end QB1/RB1/WR1/TE1).
- Medium floor, high-upside (no worse than high-end flex with top-5 position potential).
- Medium floor, medium-upside (no worse than high-end flex with low-end every-week starter upside).
- Low floor, high-upside (a strong boom-bust element with non-starter floor and top-5 upside).
There are also symbols next to some players to help you understand where you should consider transcending ADP values to maximize your values independent of the herd mentality:
- (↑) - I'd take this player one round above his listing so I can pick another player from that listed round.
- (↓) - I'd rather see if this player slides to the round below his listing.
- (†) - Only if none of the other players are on this list
- (υ) - If he wasn't undervalued by ADP, I'd probably take him one round above his listing to ensure he's available. Priority pick in this round.
In at least four of these six rounds (and I recommend five) you want to take running backs. If you've been using this strategy in the past or you feel comfortable doing so, you may also consider taking fewer runners from this block if you feel strong enough about 1-2 of the backs listed after round 10.
RB Block: Rounds 4-10 (Consider using two Picks for WR/TE/QB)
*"F" = The player's potential floor.
* "U" = The player's potential upside.
Upsides: "High" = Top 15 at the position. "Medium" = Top 24-Top 36. "Low" = Top 48 or worse.
Floors: "High" = Top 15-24. "Medium" = Top 24-Top-36. "Low" = Top 48 or worse.
High F - High U
High F - Med. U
Med. F - High U
Med. F - Med. U
Low F - High U
Kerryon Johnson (↑)
Mark Ingram II (υ)
|Tevin Coleman (↓)|
Jordan Howard (↑)
Dante Pettis (↑)
Marvin Jones Jr (↑)
Royce Freeman (↑)
Ronald Jones (†)
Dak Prescott (↑)
There are numerous ways to approach this list, including the recommendation of six rookies and four sets of players on the same depth chart. I'm not intentionally recommending handcuffs; it's a by-product of players I like for their talent and there will be more potential handcuffs recommended for the available players after the 10th round.
PROFILING THE 5-10 BLOCK
Round 4 (In order of preference)
Johnson offers the greatest upside because the Lions released Riddick and rookie Ty Johnson is not a refined product. The addition of T.J. Hockenson will add another weapon in this ground attack as both an in-line blocker and play-action receiver who will create binds for linebackers and safeties in the box with dual run/pass responsibilities.
He may lose opportunities inside the five to C.J. Anderson. However, Johnson also proved valuable as a detached receiver from the line or the backfield, which means he might also be on the field at the same time Anderson is in the backfield.
This will give Johnson upside that places him closer to the distribution of touches we see with Christian McCaffrey.
Baltimore has talented runners in its stable, but Ingram is the most proven commodity. He should excel behind the Ravens' line.
The advantages Ingram will earn will be similar to the presence of Alvin Kamara when Kamara was used outside and Ingram was in the backfield. In fact, the threat of Jackson as a runner is likely more consistent as the quarterback than Kamara in selected sets.
Although the Broncos are changing to a zone ground game that will be a better match for Royce Freeman, look for Phillip Lindsay to earn the Tevin Coleman role as the receiving option, outside runner, and change of pace with enough volume to deliver solid fantasy RB2 production. He may even deliver better production than the undervalued Freeman in PPR formats.
I was higher on Henry this spring, but I have concerns about him earning enough favorable game scripts and matchups this year to award him a high ceiling of potential. The same is also true of Jacobs unless he usurps Jalen Richard's role and rarely leaves the field.
Both backs are worth taking, but Robert Woods' consistency in a strong offense and the weapons Andrew Luck has gained in addition to an improved offensive line makes them more compelling options when building with the UDD strategy than Henry and Jacobs.
The Patriots like using three backs and without a great receiving corps, James White will likely earn another strong season as a receiver in this offense. Couple the diminished receiving talent with Sony Michel's knee and White could lead this backfield in touches. Post similar production as 2019 is not so far-fetched of an idea.
Russell Wilson and Lockett achieved fantastic efficiency last year—and Lockett didn't have the frequency of two-way-go situations that he'll earn from Doug Baldwin's old role in the slot. Expect a career-year from Lockett in terms of receptions and yards.
Godwin is one of the best young receivers in the league. He's an underrated red-zone threat with deep speed and physicality. If Jameis Winston had a more consistent track record, Godwin would be valued 2-3 rounds higher.
Kupp is healthy enough to work in training camp without restriction and he's the most trusted option in the Rams' red-zone passing game. He has top-10 upside as a PPR receiver and a top-15 median production.
There's the potential for Rashaad Penny to eclipse Chris Carson as the lead back and potentially the featured back with the vast majority of the backfield touches. There's also potential that Pete Carroll dies his hair fluorescent green.
Seattle likes to use 2-3 backs in a rotation. Penny may overtake Carson sometime this year as the lead back but Carson's floor will remain high enough that he'll likely make good on his ADP.
We may have to wait until the regular season to determine how much Kalen Ballage has improved between the tackles, which means betting on Kenyan Drake is a good idea. If Ballage falters early, Drake could easily have top-15 fantasy upside at his position.
Even if Ballage produces, look for Drake to remain a strong PPR option who performs to his current draft value. Keep in mind that the current coaching staff has ties to New England (head coach Brian Flores and coordinator Chad O'Shea) and Denver (running backs coach Eric Studesville).
Both the Patriots and Broncos had reputations for touting one player during camp and it not work out. Studesville was around for the Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee, Montee Ball trio that morphed into the McGahee-Moreno-Ronnie HIllman fiasco and then the C.J. Anderson emergence that Denver was reluctant to exploit and they added the ever-underachieving Devontae Booker into the mix.
Remember likely emergence of Jonas Gray? How about Shane Vereen? Would Stevan Ridley have a strong follow-up to a top-10 season or would the Law Firm BenJarvis Green-Ellis have another year of top-15 production?
LeGarrette Blount played well but he kept getting written off in favor of Vereen, Gray, Ridley, White, Bolden, and even Tyler Gaffney. The ever-present and touted Rex Burkhead was always going to overtake Dion Lewis, too. What about Mike Gilislee?
These three coaches may only be guilty by association for the convoluted mess of these two backfields, but until we see good results, I'm not counting on the guy touted in Dolphins training camp as the starter because last year, Ballage had a lot of work to do.
I'd rather bet on Drake, who will still have an RB2 floor in PPR leagues and RB1 upside if Ballage struggles. This is superior to Tarik Cohen, who is a decent selection here but lacks the top-end upside due to the presence of David Montgomery and Mike Davis.
Montgomery has the high-end RB2 upside because he'll likely earn red-zone touches and enough backfield routes to become a weekly starter. However, he has a lower floor than Cohen because Davis is good enough to turn this into a three-headed backfield if Montgomery struggles.
Rodgers is worth your consideration if you wind up in a spot where the fifth-round is tapped out of the suggested players.
If his ADP remains intact over the course of the next 2-3 weeks, I'll be taking Dante Pettis a round earlier than his value, and skipping the players on this list unless one of them falls to the seventh round. If Miles Sanders begins putting the ball on the ground during the preseason, I'd consider the same with Jordan Howard.
If neither of those courses appeals to you, let's just look at this group as-is. Guice is healthy enough to practice without restrictions, which is an excellent sign. The potential loss of Trent Williams hurts the Washington offensive line, but this unit hasn't stayed intact for years now and Guice is a skilled enough player to deliver fantasy RB2 value with a patchwork line.
Still, his downside is low enough that I just explained why I'd leapfrog Guice and the rest of this group with players from the seventh round, so keep that in mind. I also saw Guice's value drop well past the sixth round in several of my mock drafts.
Moore is a productive slot receiver who will likely earn his biggest plays from this position despite the fact that Norv Turner will move Moore and Curtis Samuel around. Samuel is earning a lot of love from Hipster Harmon and his fantasy acolytes, but expect a balanced enough distribution of passing targets that Moore at least earns his pre-draft value.
Miller has been a what-you-see-is-what-you-get fantasy option who usually outperforms his value. I don't believe the Texans have another runner to overtake Miller on this roster unless Damarea Crockett plays to his potential or D'Onta Foreman outperforms my doubts about his injury rehab. Miller isn't a great bargain but he has been a solid choice and likely remains a such as long as you don't hear rumblings about the two mentioned above.
Mayfield offers elite fantasy upside if all of his targets play to their potential and the offensive line plays as it did down the stretch of 2018. If not, his floor will still remain within low-end QB1 territory. You're paying for the upside with Mayfield here and not what I recommending doing in light of the other values in this range.
Williams has a solid WR2 ceiling and his floor doesn't drop too far below his current ADP value as a high-end WR3. Philip Rivers showed trust in Williams and he should benefit from the attention paid to Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry.
Tevin Coleman has the big-play ability to deliver borderline RB1 fantasy production in this offense. However, he's on a depth chart that could care less about his potential. Coleman will likely have the same role he had with Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta. Consider his change of scenery a lateral move for fantasy output.
Jones has a variability of that spans rounds 6-8, depending on the draft. When mocking with Footballguys rankings (see below), I took him in this range based on my draft spot.
Pettis has fantasy WR1 upside and a top-24 floor, which makes him the best value of the players on this Round 7 list. Howard earns more disdain than love from the fantasy community but until Sanders proves he can hold onto the ball, I'll place bets on a seventh-round fantasy pick with a history of RB1 and RB2 production despite lacking great receiving chops.
Although my rankings to reflect Wilson's upside, if the Seahawks receiving corps emerges the preseason unscathed I'll be placing more bets on Wilson's upside as a borderline top-five fantasy passer. Wilson's teammate Penny worked with Marshall Faulk during the offseason. Most people have no idea what that work actually entailed or how beneficial it will actually be, but's word-candy for the nutritionally-starved fantasy community.
At worst, Penny replaces Mike Davis and earns fantasy RB3 value. At best, he overtakes Carson and approaches fantasy RB1 upside.
I can't give up on Sammy Watkins because I appreciate his technical skills and versatility as a deep threat, possession route-runner, and red-zone prowess. The Chiefs training staff seem optimistic that it helped Watkins unlock his health, which has been the greatest hurdle for his pro career.
If true, Watkins has high-end fantasy WR2 upside in a dynamic offense. This seems outlandish but record-breaking offenses like the Colts and Broncos often had 2-3 wide receivers and tight ends with fantasy WR1-TE1 and/or WR2 upside. With a healthy and able Tyreek Hill (given he should recover in time for the opener if not by Week 3 of the preseason with a bruised quad) rejoining the team alongside Travis Kelce and the unreal Patrick Mahomes II, this is a team capable of waging an assault on Peyton Manning's single-season records he accrued in Denver.
- Royce Freeman/Marvin Jones Jr
- Anthony Miller
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling
- Latavius Murray
- Darrell Henderson
- Austin Ekeler
- Drew Brees
My two favorite players in rounds 8-9 are Freeman and Jones. You won't be able to get them at any turn unless you pick Pettis in the sixth and take Jones-Freeman at the 7-8 turn—one round earlier than prescribed. I'll be considering it in August drafts, I have a higher-risk style than a majority of my readers.
Jones is a long-time favorite whose health is the greatest hurdle. He will see less of safeties over the top in this Lions offense that now has an elite prospect at tight end and a pass-catching threat at running back who can also work between the tackles.
When healthy, Jones is one of the most dangerous receivers against tight coverage and he can deliver after the catch. He has a high upside and a low floor, but I'll take him at this price.
Freeman is the safest pick and a player I anticipate will see his ADP continue rising as the preseason progresses and it becomes clearer that he'll have a significant role in the offense. Consider him the Devonta to Lindsay's Tevin—which the Broncos coaching staff has already characterized—and you understand why I'd jump two rounds above his current to grab him.
See the section for Round 11 for more about Valdes-Scantling and Miller, who are climbing boards faster than the ADP is tracking it.
Murray inherits an excellent run-blocking line and a cohort at running back whose presence will often draw safeties and linebackers outside the box when sharing the field with Murray. There are questions about Murray earning Ingram's role outright or Kamara gaining a bigger share of the touches now the Ingram has moved to Baltimore, but thinking that Kamara will become the feature back is a presumption against the tendencies of Sean Payton's coaching style for many years. Expect 700-900 yards from Murray on the ground.
Although Murray and Freeman aren't the trendy picks this offseason, Henderson is one of the sexiest picks of the summer. He should deliver no worse than RB3 production in the role that Sean McVay has built for him. However, he could deliver strong RB2 upside if Malcolm Brown is called upon to replace some of Todd Gurley's work because McVay will likely lean harder on Henderson if Gurley misses time.
If seeking a better-known commodity at the position, Ekeler is the alternative. However, Ekeler will have to contend with Justin Jackson with or without Melvin Gordon III in the fold and it adds risk to his ceiling and floor.
If you must, Brees is a safe pick with elite upside if the receiving corps remains healthy and can draw multiple defenders away from Michael Thomas. Even if Brees has another "down year" relative to his career in New Orleans, he isn't a mistake-prone passer despite having the skills to attack with aggression.
- Royce Freeman
- Jared Goff
- Dak Prescott
- Anthony Miller/Marquez Valdes-Scantling
- Kareem Hunt
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Kyler Murray
- Tom Brady
- Ronald Jones
If Freeman is still available here, it's a greater risk to pass him up when considering the running back distribution history of Denver's offensive scheme. Even so, there are drafts where he has fallen to the 10th round.
Goff and Prescott are two of my prime targets when waiting on passers because both have a full complement of weapons and have a track record of fantasy production when well-armed. I've been taking them at the 9-10 turn.
The rest of these picks are upside plays with notable floors. Hunt's value depends on Chubb's health or the Browns running away with the AFC. Roethlisberger should still have a ton of volume but the efficiency will dip without Antonio Brown. There's potential for it to dip a lot.
I'm counting on Murray to have strong fantasy QB1 numbers for half of the year. He's a better boom-bust member of a QB by committee than a passer who leads your starting lineup. Brady is difficult to discount based on his storied history but without Rob Gronkowski, Josh Gordon, or a truly healthy Demaryius Thomas, it's difficult to fully trust him outplaying his current value.
Jones is on this list in case the buzz about him isn't shallow information based on his physique and optimistic hype campaigns by the coaching staff to pump Jones up through the media. There are seven players from Round 10 I'd prefer right now.
- Dak Prescott
- Anthony Miller/Marquez Valdes-Scantling
- Philip Rivers
- Delanie Walker
- Peyton Barber
- Dede Westbrook
- Austin Hooper
- Damien Harris
- Nyheim Hines
If you passed on Prescott in Round 9, he's an even better value now. Rivers has the weapons to deliver 3-5 rounds above his current asking price. I'm happing drafting this pair as my quarterback depth chart when I can.
Unless I'm finding ways to grab Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, I'm not even thinking about tight ends until Delanie Walker and beyond. Walker is healthy and has the best on-field relationship with Marcus Mariota among his teammates.
You and the other fantasy analysts you read may turn your noses up at Barber, but Ronald Jones has a lot to prove. As stated before, if Jones beats out Barber and earns the lead role, it's a positive sign that he's in store for a top-15 season at his position because Barber is that sound of a player despite lacking Jones' scintillating speed and acceleration.
Hooper has top-five upside if he can earn more red-zone looks. Dirk Koetter has a history of creating red-zone efficiency with his tight ends and the Falcons believe Hooper has incrementally grown to the point that he's on the verge of a breakout.
Skeptical about Sony Michel's 50-year-old knees? Damien Harris lacks Michel's top-end potential but his floor is a lot higher due to similar versatility and stronger health. He may be the best bet between the two backs and his availability has a wider span (high and low) than the other backs on the list.
My friend and colleague, Dwain McFarland, is higher on Hines' upside than I am because after looking at the Eagles' past 4-6 years of running back play as the model for the Colts' offense, and it appears that Hines has already reached Darren Sproles' top performances during Frank Reich's years in Philadelphia. I don't see much room for growth in his game, but even his median production should exceed his current round value.
RB BLOCK: ROUNDS 11-20 (CONSIDER USING 5-6 Picks FOR DEF/K/WR/TE/QB)
There are also several backs I like with ADPs well after the 10th round that you should consider taking after you pick your block of backs. Depending on the ADP of the other position options you're considering, you may find it worthwhile to reach for some of these options so you can get who you want elsewhere.
*"F" = The player's potential floor.
* "U" = The player's potential upside.
*"High" = Top 15 at the position. "Medium" = Top 24. "Low" = Top 48 or worse.
Med. F - High U
Med. F - Med. U
Low F - High U
Damien Harris (↑)
Curtis Samuel (↑)
Keke Coutee (↑)
|Matt Breida (↑)||Kalen Ballage (↑)||
Devin Singletary (↑)
Matthew Stafford (↑)
C.J. Anderson (↑)
Giovani Bernard (↑)
Darwin Thompson (↑)
Justin Jackson (↑)
A.J. Brown (↑)
Miles Boykin (↑)
Mike Davis (↑)
Reggie White Jr, Jr.
Preferred picks Between rounds 11-20
- Anthony Miller/Marques Valdes-Scantling
- Keke Coutee
- Curtis Samuel
- Dion Lewis
- Matt Breida
- Damien Harris
- Jaylen Samuels
- D.K. Metcalf
- Adrian Peterson
I expect Valdes-Scantling's value to climb a little more and I'd happily take him as early as Round 8 if he continues to perform well and my primary options on the list aren't there. There's enough buzz about Samuel that there will be a contingent of fantasy players who will feel the same about Samuel as I do about Valdes-Scantling. In fact, his value is higher than this spot in a lot of the mocks that I've done.
I prefer Coutee because Samuel is likely behind Greg Olsen, Christian McCaffrey, and possibly D.J. Moore in the pecking order and Coutee might only be behind DeAndre Hopkins—especially if Will Fuller V is slow to regain confidence in his knee or has yet another injury woe.
Lewis, Breida, Harris, and Samuels are essentially interchangeable on my list. I prefer Lewis to the other three because of his experience, versatility, and likely a significant role to begin the season. However, Breida has the shot to become the 49ers' Devonta Freeman if Jerick McKinnon continues struggling with his health.
Harris has equal upside Lewis and Breida but equal-to-greater competition the more experience Breida when it comes to claiming a meaningful role. Samuels will have a role to begin the year but it may not be as big as some anticipated earlier this spring. His receiving skills, the Steeler offensive line, and the loss of Antonio Brown could make Samuels an excellent handcuff to James Conner if you believe in adding them to your roster.
Metcalf is the rookie with massive upside but his age and inexperience place his floor below the basement. Old man Peterson has the range of upside-downside as Metcalf due to Derrius Guice. Knowing I might get Peterson a round or two later if Guice remains healthy, I'd prefer Metcalf.
However, in a vacuum, I'll take Peterson because his Old Man Game that was bad-ass last year despite performing a tattered Washington offensive line. Plus, Metcalf looks like he might run right out of one of his leg muscles at any moment.
There will be drafts where I will wait on Jackson as my first quarterback and follow up with Stafford in the 13th or 14th. Expect Jackson to continue running the ball a lot on set plays that the Ravens offense devises. These are safer plays than pocket scrambles and it sets up the opposing defense for bigger plays in all facets of the gameplan.
If I already took care of my quarterback situation, I love taking Miller for his high-volume upside and versatility. As I mentioned with Westbrook, versatility at this range of fantasy drafts offers multiple roads to production. Miller's physicality should translate even more with a year of experience and now fully healthy.
The only thing holding me back from taking Miller at this point is my desire to wait until this round for either Hockenson or Olsen as my first tight end selection of the draft. Hockenson is making plays in Detroit that you don't see from rookies at the position and I'm praying that Sigmund Bloom continues telling Footballguys subscribers that he's worried about Hockenson falling victim to offensive dynamics we've seen from Zach Miller and Vernon Davis early in their careers.
Choosing between the tantalizing play of Hockenson and the proven veteran play of Olsen is even more difficult than deciding between Miller and a tight end in this round. Olsen is the safer play but with Jason Witten available 2-3 rounds later—depending on how early you want to take him versus his ADP—I like going for Hockenson's upside.
I only wish Witten would make a couple of preseason cameo appearances in ESPN's booth because it might drop his ADP outside 20-round drafts. If you weren't willing to take Breida in the 11th, you might consider it here. If not, Jackson is a great option high-upside option in any given week.
Expect Ballage's ADP to continue climbing if the Dolphins continue feeding him first-team reps during the preseason. If not, I'd consider Ballage here merely for his upside if Drake gets hurt and he's the only true between-the-tackles body Miami has at the position.
If you want only one of Miller or Stafford, then taking a tight end in Round 12 and waiting on the player you desire from the two here is the way to go. Campbell is surprising most with his route acumen that some had trouble separating what specific routes they didn't see from the movements he executed that promised better skill than reported. He'll earn some excellent opportunities in this offense because of the surrounding talent that will create winning matchups for him.
Mattison has his share of analyst fear-mongers against him. He has a lower floor because Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah offer better competition and characterized but he should acclimate by midseason and it means there's a shot at a lead-back upside. If you're part of the afraid, Tucker is an ultra-safe pick that will have your peers laugh at you for taking a kicker this early.
It's what you get for being afraid to take one of my first four options. Or you could dig into Round 14's options a little early.
- Matthew Stafford
- C.J. Anderson
- A.J. Brown
- Miles Boykin
- Giovani Bernard
- Justin Jackson
- Darwin Thompson
- Jason Witten
- Duke Johnson Jr
- Chris Thompson
Stafford and his weapons are healthy and there's an addition by subtraction with the release of Theo Riddick to give the two-headed backfield of Johnson and Anderson more oxygen to stoke the fire. Both runners catch the ball well and removing Riddick from the equation creates an opportunity for the coaches to make the offense less predictable.
If you don't want/need a runner at this point who will contribute immediately and have starter upside (I don't know who wouldn't), Brown and Boykin are my to votes as the rookie receivers most likely to deliver consistent and immediate production. Boykin is performing in camp like the player that most people should have seen coming at Notre Dame. Boykin might remain available as late as the 20th round if his value doesn't rise significantly within the next two weeks.
If you miss getting Anderson and need more backs, the quintet of Bernard, Jackson, Darwin and Chris Thompson, and Johnson are all strong choices. Bernard, Chris Thompson, and Duke Johnson Jr have the most proven upside. Bernard is really a no-brainer given the offense and his baseline contributions.
Chris Thompson and Johnson have massive downsides because both get hurt a lot. Thompson's injuries are notable whereas Johnson's seem to be weekly but aren't listed as serious matters on the injury report despite missing significant time during games.
It's why I prefer Jackson and Darwin Thompson. Both are skilled and are in positions to earn greater opportunities. Thompson is already earning second-team reps with Damien Williams missing practice time with a hamstring issue.
- C.J. Anderson
- A.J. Brown
- Miles Boykin
- Giovani Bernard
- Justin Jackson
- Darwin Thompson
- Jason Witten
- Browns Def
- Robbie Gould
- Mark Andrews
If you need a second tight end, Witten is a great choice for those who've cleared the mental block they have about age and understand that Witten's game is not predicated on speed. If not, any of the players profiled in Round 14 are strong choices.
- A.J. Brown
- Miles Boykin
- Jason Witten
- Spencer Ware
- Doug Martin
- Deebo Samuel
- Mike Davis
- Dallas Goedert
Beginning to see a pattern with who my late-round guys of choice are? If you've already picked the first three from this list or don't wish to, Ware, Martin, and Davis offer starter upside in their offenses and all three can catch the football. It means, yet again, that their versatility creates multiple paths to fantasy upside.
Samuel and Goedert are likely patience plays. Samuel will probably pay off down the stretch. Goedert will offer strong moments that will be harder to predict without an injury.
Wilson offers the potential for immediate fantasy starter production at a ridiculously good price but he also earns another year of shaky quarterback play. Go ahead and play the Brown lottery ticket if you haven't grown weary of his injury history. Yeldon is the safest player in a vacuum but the crowded depth chart makes his potential a lot shakier than his ability.
If one of the players from above falls, take him. If you need a kicker, get a jump on the competition. Otherwise, I prefer the underlined receivers to the underlined running backs. Then I'll take the backs and after that, the receivers not underlined.
In Round 20, I actually prefer the low-floor and high-ceiling options. These are the last four receivers on the list and the high-upside/low-floor running backs.
Here are mocks from draft spots at the top, middle, and end. From the top, it makes sense to consider an elite running back and that's what we'll do in this example to show how it plays out.
From the Top (No.1 Overall)
Thoughts: I like my first overall pick to have a combination of safety, volume, and production. Elliott would be the top player on the list if not for the threat of a holdout. Barkley has the most athletic upside if not for his surrounding talent. It leaves McCaffrey and Kamara and because Kamara will still split time in Sean Payton's offense, I went with McCaffrey.
If Kelce fell to me at 2.12, I would have taken him and followed with my first receiver. In fact, when Kelce falls to me, I like the idea of taking him and Patrick Mahomes II back-to-back and riding the heart of the Chiefs offense this year.
However, I'm happy with Thielen and Amari Cooper. I also would have been thrilled with two of Hilton, Evans, Allen, and Cooper.
Godwin or Lockett was a difficult choice. Godwin has a hair more talent, but Lockett has the better quarterback and his slot role has me regretting my choice a little bit. I'd be happier with Lockett-Ingram here.
Jones might have made it back to me in the eighth round, but he was ranked high enough in Draft Dominator that I decided to grab my receiver depth early with Jones and Pettis and rely on backs who would be available later at what I believe is a bargain. Having five receivers with high-volume potential and big-play ability is the strength of this team. If Royce Freeman comes through as the Broncos' version of Devonta Freeman, I'm thrilled with the heart of my roster.
Most people are expecting Miles Sanders to succeed. When using this draft strategy, I don't mind taking best on Howard, whose value in this mocks was consistently lower than his ADP.
Getting Goff near the halfway point of drafts has been a luxury for the second year in a row. If I warm up to Cousins and Garappolo, they're even better values 4-6 rounds later in the mocks that I performed.
I was a little surprised that Olsen left the board in the 10th. It's where he should be but his ADP has been lower. It's an adjustment worth noting. Still, I like having Hooper here knowing the Witten and Hockenson remain bargains in rounds 14-17.
C.J. Anderson should be earning a bump if Kerryon Johnson earned one from the release of Theo Riddick but this didn't happen. Still, I love having a running back roster that has four backs after fifth round who are slated to earn weekly playing time as no worse than change-of-pace or red-zone options. All four have a strong RB2 upside, if not better.
Campbell, Boykin, and Thompson are rookies I'm excited about and willing to take them now and dump them within the first month rather than forced to bid on them at a higher value later—especially with the strength of my receiving corps.
Footballguys is down on Stafford as a whole, but I have concerns about Cousins' consistency and Garoppolo hasn't played enough for me to be completely sold on him despite my excitement about the 49ers scheme.
From the Middle
I'm not as optimistic about his team that I drafted from the sixth spot as I was the first spot. I took one too many receivers early on and I opted to go boom-bust with a mid-round running selection that leaves a potential hole at the position.
Still, there's potential with the rest of my running back depth chart to fill that RB2 hole—I just see the possibility that it could become a weekly issue making the correct lineup choice. Ideally, I like drafting as if I can set my lineup and forget it. We know that's not usually realistic but it's the goal.
Thoughts: Kamara falling to the sixth spot was unexpected and I had a difficult time choosing between him and Hill. I'm pretty sure if I had this choice in 10 drafts, my selection choices would be 50/50 between the two players.
I hoped Beckham would fall one more spot but I will easily take Kelce here. It's probably a good thing that Mahomes didn't make it back to me because I hope to pick two receivers that I believe have top-15 floors and top-10 ceilings. Cooper and Lockett were the last two on the board that I felt this way about.
I got greedy at receiver with the next two picks, following up with Godwin and Jones, I probably should have considered Carson or Drake with one of these choices, but the upside of both receivers and the desire for solid depth on my receiving corps got the better of me. I wouldn't call it a mistake, but it is one of those choices I thought about repeatedly after looking at my final roster.
I find it a consolation that Cohen fell to me in the seventh and he's a high-floor flex who had four elite-caliber fantasy weeks. Guice is a gamble but I loved his skills at LSU.
What may prove the pick I most regret will be taking Miller ahead of Henderson in the ninth round. I really considered Henderson in the eighth when he fell but I wanted to see if I could stretch it another round.
I'm happy with my quarterback tandem of Goff and Prescott and I like seeing that Prescott fell this far. I consistently eyeball Jackson in this range as well.
Barber is a worthwhile choice considering he could be a top-36 runner with top-24 upside at the price of a reserve. He might be the next fantasy iteration of LeGarrette Blount—the community doesn't respect his value but he continues defying their analysis.
I felt a little better about my backs once I could add Anderson, Jackson, and Thompson between rounds 14-19. One of these players will prove worthwhile even if Guice falters.
Hockenson, Brown, and Boykin are common rookie bets this year. I took Hockenson because I already took Kelce and preferred his upside. Although I would have been happy with Witten here, too.
Although this is the team I'm the least satisfied with it still has the potential to be the best.
From the Turn
This is typically my favorite spot to draft and this squad indulged my desire for breakout candidates while still having enough safe options. This may not be the best of the three teams on paper, but it's becoming a habit for me to draw the ire of Rate My Team in August and be playing for the title in December.
Thoughts: After writing about teams having success with limiting Thomas down the stretch last year, I'm a little spooked about taking him. Still, I overcame my minor neurosis — especially with Jared Cook joining the Saints and younger options gaining more experience.
I'm stoked about drafting Beckham and when Johnson fell to me in the third round, I resisted the slight urge to take Luck and opted for a combo of the Lions runner and Woods. If you prefer Cooks ahead of Woods, I understand. I wanted consistency behind Thomas and Beckham.
Nabbing Lindsay at the 5-6 turn felt good—especially when I got Freeman in the 10th. Pettis in the sixth felt too soon for me at first but after getting two backs I liked and knowing that I'd get quarterbacks and tight ends that I'd be happy with much later, I got over myself fast.
Once I got over that twinge of concern, I had no problem taking Valdes-Scantling at essentially the top of the eight and following up once again with a big swing on Guice. I feel much better about having Guice on this team because of Ekeler and Freeman as my next two picks.
This team might wind up being a squad with a bunch of RB2s and flexes, but I believe I have the lineup-setting chops to make it work. Hooper remains a thing for me at this range of the draft that I can live with.
The rookie trio of Brown, Boykin, and Hockenson was a common thread with all of my drafts. What I really enjoyed with this draft was having Anderson fall to me in the 14th round. I felt more comfortable with my choices knowing that I locked up two backfields with promise and the potential for enough carries that could make both pairs of options viable on a weekly basis.
Stafford consistently falling to the 15th round is nice to see. I know he also has been an inconsistent player but at least injuries to himself and his skill talent have been a valid excuse that Cousins didn't have.
Getting the Bears in the 18th round felt right—although I know that some of my fellow nerds at Footballguys will not allow it.
Last year, I mentioned it was the best I felt about using UDD in a few years—the year manly leading voices said it wasn't a good idea.
Which meant it was probably the best time to do it.
The key isn't the strategy as much as it is having comfort with the strategy to select as many of the players that you believe in as possible—players you like based on the hard work of your projections and rankings (or someone's you've settled upon).