While many come to the draft table with a long list of 150-200 players, a draft comes down to a much smaller pool of players for each owner. There will be 20-25 targets that are ideal selections and another 20-25 that are preferred as a fail-safe pool. Once or twice a draft an owner is faced with middling choices going by ADP chalk or moving up target players from down the board. As the commentary will outline along the way, going with preferred options that may or may not remain on the board another round or two creates a more satisfactory final outcome. Creating an avoid list is as important or more important than a target list.
*Rounds are based on myfantasyleague.com average draft position data from mid-August, 12-team leagues with PPR scoring*
Round 1 (Early)
Neutral: Calvin Johnson
Avoid: Jimmy Graham
Grabbing a top running back is the chalk pick in the top 4-5 without a bad choice among them. Even Eddie Lacy at 1.05 is rock-solid. Passing on one of the top backs for Jimmy Graham or Calvin Johnson makes the wait until the late second round a treacherous one for running backs. An owner may get fortunate with a high-volume starter, or they may not. The draft could hinge on how the picks fall in the late second and early third round in that scenario.
Round 1 (Late)
Best: Eddie Lacy
Neutral: A.J. Green
Avoid: Jimmy Graham
Eddie Lacy anywhere after 1.05 is a strong start. Dez Bryant is primed for a career year, Demaryius Thomas is a 1,500-yard, 15 touchdown threat, and Calvin Johnson has a ceiling few can approach. A.J. Green is the ho-hum choice by comparison. Jimmy Graham, when compared to getting Rob Gronkowski a round later or Julius Thomas even after that is a less-than-ideal start.
The three top choices are automatic picks anywhere in the second round, especially the two running backs. Doug Martin is rising on my board with the loss of Charles Sims for most of the season. Julio Jones and Jordy Nelson have top-5 upside at a discount. The main takeaway on this list is to avoid a top quarterback unless one falls into, ideally, round four.
Best: Zac Stacy
Zac Stacy around the Round 2-3 turn is one of the last remaining comfortable running backs. Tre Mason still looks far from a legitimate three-down threat to Stacy’s workload. Alfred Morris is a decent pick in this range. Many are happy to take Andre Ellington in the 20-25 range. I am firmly on the other side, looking for alternatives and hedging away with Ellington with a late pick (for watch list spot) for Stepfan Taylor or Jonathan Dwyer. If investing in a Washington wide receiver, DeSean Jackson is cheaper, with higher upside, than Pierre Garcon.
Best: Cordarrelle Patterson
Preferred: Victor Cruz
Patterson and Cruz are above-average picks in the third round if facing the ‘avoid’ options, but an absolute steal in the fourth round. Once Julius Thomas is off the board, the tight end appeal drops through the floor. If a top-3 quarterback falls into the fourth (unlikely in mainstream leagues), the opportunity cost is palatable. Tough to be on the board with the running backs in this round, but open to Toby Gerhart from the fifth round group.
Neutral: Rashad Jennings
The lines begin to blur on the ADP cutoffs as the range of outcomes from draft to draft increases. Percy Harvin is a value even in the fourth round, as well as Toby Gerhart. The key takeaway is the ‘avoid’ list players; tough to support any of the trio in the top-60 overall. Taking the most-expensive Patriots running back is a recipe for disaster, banking on a second straight healthy season from Ryan Mathews is dicey, and T.Y. Hilton will have far more competition for targets than his free run of 2013.
Best: Torrey Smith
Torrey Smith is the slam dunk here as a cheap WR2 or great WR3. Smith and Bishop Sankey are in play for round five as well. When the best and better targets of a round dry up, move to the target players from the next round prior to exploring the neutral or worse plays from the existing round as a general rule. More quarterbacks and tight ends to shy away from flood this ADP range.
A bit of a dead zone here without a no-brainer pick. Combining the preferred options from round 7-8, Eric Decker and Golden Tate are safe WR3/4 plays for the risk-averse crowd. Owners already comfortable with their core group or looking for upside can side with Brandin Cooks or Kelvin Benjamin. A few quarterback enter the discussion, but one of these options are bound to slip a couple of rounds from this point, likely Jay Cutler at minimum. Greg Olsen and Dennis Pitta? Run of the mill low-TE1 options with little payoff to jump into the tight end waters in this range.
Preferred: Tony Romo
As mentioned in the seventh round, quarterbacks begin to come into play in rounds 8-10. With a healhy Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller loses appeal and Terrance Williams is not much better than Devin Street in Dallas. Plus Gavin Escobar and Lance Dunbar are poised to have larger roles in the passing game.
Best: Justin Hunter
Justin Hunter’s draft position from league to league will vary quite a bit. Starting in round seven, he deserves heavy consideration as a preferred WR3/4 option. Carlos Hyde is the preferred neutral option here. Maurice Jones-Drew looks to have the edge over Darren McFadden in Oakland, even when McFadden is healthy. Mike Evans and Zach Ertz are two trendy names, but unlikely to have a ceiling worthy of selection near this range.
Fred Jackson is the name in flashing lights, even a round or two prior. Jackson has a flex option floor with RB2 or better upside any game C.J. Spiller is out. Until a verdict is known for Josh Gordon, round 10 is the earliest I advocate his consideration. With an eight-game suspension, he moves up a round or two. Less than half the season, Gordon jumps up into the top-75. With 12 game or more out of action, Gordon will be off the board. Dwayne Bowe is a comfortable pick as a depth receiver with WR2 potential. Martellus Bennett is the first legitimate target tight end on this list beyond the top-3 options early on. Terrance West and Bernard are both preferred depth running backs this their murky depth charts break in their favor.
Anquan Boldin is a lesser version of Dwayne Bowe from the previous group: quality depth with starter upside. Quarterbacks remain viable choices, especially if a Tony Romo or Russell Wilson slips through the cracks. All three of the preferred running backs have avenues to top-15 status as the year moves along.
Preferred: Mark Ingram II
Aaron Dobson is the standout here, as well as the previous couple of rounds. Kenny Britt is a second option to double up with potential at wide receiver. Dobson was a WR2 when healthy and starting in the middle of 2013. Kenny Britt is the best outside receiver in St.Louis and all reports are the perennial tease is healthy, rededicated (or for the first time?), and in a now-or-never window to produce.
Tight ends and quarterbacks in the late rounds are the best available players a majority of the time. Tight ends like Heath Miller and Travis Kelce are similar to many options in the single-digit rounds. The quarterbacks with rushing ability get the edge here as powerful committee options early in the season as the waiver wire pecking order is sifted out. Cody Latimer, as Sigmund Bloom has advocated,’ is an injury away from being a Peyton Manning target.’ Shooting for upside in the second half of the draft, few players have the upside of Cody Latimer.