Drafting a fantasy football team is about making the best of what's available when your pick comes around. You can map out a plan to get player X, but if and when said player comes off the board right before your turn, it's important to know what to do in that event rather than lament your pre-draft target getting taken from right out under you—odds are it will happen again.
When drafting out of the back half of the first round—which will be addressed here in the third installment of the draft strategy series—there are no guarantees. The only true guarantee in a draft comes with the pressure of picking first.
So how can you be ready for the prospect of drafting from draft slots 7-9? Let me and my editor, Matt De Lima, walk you through different roster-building strategies for this range of picks.
Drafting in round 1
Drafting in this range means you have the first dibs at either the next tier of running backs or receivers. Either Najee Harris (No. 7 ADP) or Justin Jefferson (No. 6) will likely still be on the table with the seventh pick, and I would not hesitate to grab either of them there. But after what seems to be the consensus top seven players (order aside) are gone, you’re looking at Dalvin Cook at running back and Ja’Marr Chase or Davante Adams at receiver.
I prefer Cook in this position because of the heavy workload that awaits him in a good offense. Touchdown regression came for him last season after he scored 30 times over the previous two seasons, but Cook should return to the end zone more often and catch more passes in an improved Minnesota offense in 2022.
As much as I want to be, I'm not as enthusiastic about Chase or Adams, both top-six receivers last season. But the reality is any decline in touchdown production and fewer chunk plays hurt Chase's value a lot—he was one of three receivers among the top 10 in receiving yards who did not log 100 receptions, so his PPR value isn't the same as other first-round wideouts, and he showed the full range of his week-to-week boom/bust potential in Year 1.
As for Adams, he's teaming up with his college quarterback, Derek Carr, but there are more mouths to feed in Las Vegas than in Green Bay, where he fielded 300-plus targets over the last two seasons from the back-to-back reigning MVP.
This is admittedly a conservative first-round draft strategy. If you're looking for upside, get Chase, who already proved plenty of people wrong as a rookie and could continue to ascend. Otherwise, go with Cook after Harris and Jefferson have been picked.
Matt De Lima’s round 1 hot takes:
Volume can often feel more predictable than talent and that's true for guys you will be drafting in rounds 3 or 4 and beyond. The idea being that scheme is typically more consistent than outcome. For example, we know Derrick Henry is going to see a ton of carries so that volume translates into big scoring. But the volume comes because he is talented and the scheme is centered around him because he is their best player. You with me? With players as excellent as Chase, this early in their careers, you have to trust the Bengals will continue to get him the ball no matter what. He's that good, right? Chase is still the No. 1 receiver in a great offense and a dynamic talent with the same coordinators and coaching staff. I believe Chase is the top choice from this group if available. Next, I also give a slight edge to Cook over Harris. I would likely take Joe Mixon over Adams as I am very worried about a big drop to his target share.
Drafting in rounds 2 and 3
You should feel pretty good heading into Round 2 with Harris or Cook anchoring your backfield, or Jefferson or Chase at WR1. Now you want to address whichever position you didn't in the first round.
If running back is taken care of, I love CeeDee Lamb in this range as your WR1. He currently has an ADP of 17 (WR7), but Michael Fabiano has him ranked 13th overall, and he's his No. 5 receiver. More targets could be in store for Lamb entering his third season with Amari Cooper out of the picture.
I’m less bullish on Deebo Samuel and Tyreek Hill, the other receivers going around Lamb. Samuel's contract situation was resolved over the weekend, but his value won't be what it was in 2021 if he isn't running the ball as often, and the move to Trey Lance at quarterback could also negatively affect Samuel's production. As for Hill, he's in a new offense with a new quarterback. It could work out for both of them, but it requires more projection. Fabiano is one spot higher on Samuel than ADP.
I almost prefer drafting a receiver in the first because of what should still be available at running back in Round 2. In the 16-18 range, you can expect to find Nick Chubb, Alvin Kamara, Javonte Williams, Aaron Jones and Leonard Fournette. Kamara, Jones and Fournette all finished inside the top 12 at their position (Chubb was No. 13) in PPR scoring a season ago. I prefer them in this order: Fournette, Jones, Kamara, Chubb, Williams.
It’s unlikely it happens, but I’d be all over Travis Kelce if he falls in the second. His ADP is currently 14 (TE1), but there's a slim chance he slides a pick or two.
With the RB1 and WR1 positions filled, you can go in many different directions in the third round. There's a chance someone from the running back group of Ezekiel Elliott, James Conner or David Montgomery is still on the board. Kyle Pitts (34 ADP OVR, TE3) is also an option, as is Tee Higgins, a more-than-suitable WR2. And then there’s Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.
If you elect to stray from peppering running backs and receivers in the early rounds, I would only do so for a player like Pitts, who had a monster rookie season. Josh Allen, who will likely already be off the board at this point, can justify his ADP as an early-round pick because of his rushing upside, but the same can't be said for Mahomes and Herbert.
The WR-RB-RB strategy seems like the best route so far. Let’s see if we can find a suitable WR2 and flex in the next two rounds.
Matt De Lima’s rounds 2 & 3 hot takes:
Leading into this range (picks 16 to 18) and if they're available, I like D'Andre Swift, Travis Kelce and Nick Chubb. I might even take CeeDee Lamb ahead of Chubb. Next up, I like Deebo Samuel and Tyreek Hill, followed by Aaron Jones, Javonte Williams and Alvin Kamara.
If I take a WR in the first, I am 100% going with a RB in the second. I've said before after three rounds, I want 2RB-1WR or 2WR-1RB.
In the third round, I'm not in love with a lot of the players in this range (31 to 33). I'm passing on A.J. Brown, Elliott, Conner, Montgomery and I'm probably not drafting a TE or QB (Pitts, Mahomes or Herbert). I like Tee Higgins so he's on the table assuming I didn't draft Chase in the first. So here I'm praying Mike Evans falls to me (he won't) or reaching a bit on Cam Akers, who carries a bit of risk but I loved him last year before he got hurt so I'm happy to give him another shot this season.
Drafting in rounds 4 and 5
Once again, I like the players expected to be available in the fourth round when drafting out of the 7-9 slots, especially to address WR2. Diontae Johnson and Jaylen Waddle are stable options who finished in the top 13 at their positions, while Michael Pittman Jr., Terry McLaurin and DK Metcalf are going a little later and offer upside and intrigue in new situations.
I prefer landing a receiver with my fourth pick compared to the players at other positions in this range, like Josh Jacobs and George Kittle. Fabiano is lower on both of them than their ADP. The Raiders drafted a running back in the fourth round who could eat into Jacobs's workload in what figures to be a more pass-happy offense, and Kittle has missed 12 games over the past two seasons and has a quarterback change ahead—though Kittle went for 101 yards and a score in one of Lance's two starts as a rookie.
So far, that's WR-RB-RB-WR for the first four picks. Now, where do we go from there in Round 5?
I'm throwing another dart at a wide receiver. Two very good quarterbacks—Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow—are both going in the 55-57 range, as are running backs like Damien Harris and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but I prefer loading up on more pass-catchers at this point and getting a solid starting flex on my roster.
Keep an eye on Chris Godwin’s ADP as the season approaches after he began training camp and is not on the PUP list. The Buccaneers receiver could be an extreme value in the fifth round—his current ADP is 54 (WR21). Amari Cooper is the No. 1 in the Browns' offense, and his ADP reflects his recent dip in production, so he's priced appropriately as a low-end WR2 who you can get as your WR3. Also going in this range: Brandin Cooks, Marquise Brown.
Matt De Lima’s rounds 4 & 5 hot takes:
Assuming I'm set up with either 2RB-1WR or 2WR-1RB, I'm probably going to further stockpile RBs and WRs. In this spot (picks 40 to 42), I would love it if Johnson, Waddle or Pittman fall to me. I don't mind McLaurin here but I might actually reach for Travis Etienne as he's one of my favorite sleepers this year.
In the fifth round (picks 55 to 57), I don't mind Joe Burrow (ADP 56). But I might take my first real big risk and grab either Chris Godwin or Breece Hall if available. Are those players risky? Rookies are always a risk. Sometimes they pop early, sometimes they pop late and sometimes they don't pop at all. Speaking of pop and his brothers, snap and crackle, Godwin is still recovering from a torn ACL but I just love his hands and ability to get open. I'm putting a kibosh on Kyler Murray. My mother told me, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all"—and I'm going to try to do that for once.
Takeaways from drafting from picks 7 to 9
The first round is difficult to navigate from these draft slots. There appears to be a consensus top seven—Fabiano's top seven players match the current ADP, though a bit out of order—and there are a few ways you can proceed after that. Locking up your WR1 seems like the best option to kick off your draft, then you can capitalize on discounted running backs over the next few rounds.
There are points in the first five rounds from the 7-9 slots where a quarterback (Murray or Herbert) or a tight end (Kelce or Pitts) might make sense. I still prefer to get two high-floor running backs in the second and third round and then come back and take a few shots at receiver as the draft goes on. Getting a stud like Jefferson or Chase, an upside player like McLaurin, and a stabilizing force such as Cooper to round out your receiver room makes the most sense to me.
If you address running back in the first round, I'd opt for a receiver in round 2, a second running back in the third, and then you can still double tap receiver in the fourth and fifth.
Matt De Lima’s drafting 7-9 final takeaways:
I found it interesting that Chase, Mixon, Higgins and Burrow all line up with these spots. You should only stack in DFS but what a crazy team that would be. In the end, I feel this year is shaping up for me to try to stay mostly conservative on risk in the first four rounds. Then, by the fifth round, I think the player pool opens up and it becomes about getting your guys. I'll call it the Clyde Edwards-Helaire line (roughly around pick 55). Once he's one of the top players available in your drafts, it's time to just throw ADP and roster construction out the window. Hopefully you've got a solid core by then because at that point, I'm going after my guys. There are just swaths of untouchable players in the 50 to 75 range that I'll never draft (Jerry Jeudy, Adam Thielen, Cordarrelle Patterson) and guys who I think are dialed-in to have a huge year (Allen Robinson, Courtland Sutton, Gabriel Davis). This is the time of year to start forming those opinions and absorbing as many points of view as you can.
More fantasy and NFL coverage: