Drafting out of the back of the first round can be a daunting prospect. You’re subject to the whims of your fellow managers as the top players at each position quickly become scarce.
You will not be getting Derrick Henry with one of the last picks of the first round. Don’t bank on Cooper Kupp, either. But you can be sure you’ll have two opportunities, in quick succession, to get high-end talents at running back and wide receiver. That’s not necessarily something your opponent who picked third can say, for what it’s worth.
Just like your opposing managers who selected at the top of the first, you’re subject to the highs and lows of the snake draft format—draft both of your guys, then wait an hour for your picks to come back around. It goes without saying it’s important you nail these picks. My editor Matt De Lima and I are here to help with that in the fourth and final installment of the fantasy draft strategy series.
Drafting in rounds 1 and 2
The players currently going 10-12 by ADP in order are Joe Mixon, Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs. Mixon finished as the RB4 a season ago and played 16 games for the second time in his career; Adams was the WR2 and his discount is a result of the change of scenery (and quarterback) going from Green Bay to Las Vegas; and Diggs was the WR7 in what felt like a down year for him.
Needless to say, I’m comfortable with any of the three of them at this position. My colleague Michael Fabiano has them ranked in that order with Diggs actually below both D’Andre Swift and CeeDee Lamb, which brings us to the players going in the broader range of 10-12. Ja’Marr Chase or Dalvin Cook both have an outside shot at falling to 10—if either of them do, they shouldn’t make it past that pick, and you can be the beneficiary of your opponents trying to get cute ahead of you.
I’m not as high on Swift, especially if Mixon is still on the board, and I feel you can wait on Lamb—his ADP is currently 17 (WR7). With your first-round pick I recommend targeting Mixon, one of the last remaining running backs guaranteed to see a high-volume workload, or one of Adams or Diggs, both of whom have turned in consecutive 100-plus catch seasons.
Now just a few picks after landing your RB1 or WR1, you’re back on the clock in the 13-15 range. Who are we looking at here? Current ADP numbers tell us Travis Kelce, Swift and Nick Chubb are being drafted early in the second. Mark Andrews beat out Kelce for the TE1 spot a season ago, but the Chiefs star is due for even more targets with Tyreek Hill’s departure from Kansas City (I wrote about that here). Swift finished with the third-most targets at his position despite missing four games a season ago and he showed his prowess on the ground with back-to-back 100-yard outings in November. And Chubb is a high-floor, pure rusher on a team that likes to establish the run.
You might have to reach a pick or two for a receiver, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with grabbing Deebo Samuel, last season’s WR3 who just got paid, or Lamb, who is bound to be peppered with targets this year, and pairing either of them with a Round 1 running back.
I like the idea of getting Mixon in the first and either Kelce or a receiver in the second. If Mixon (or Cook) isn’t available when it’s time to draft in the first, get a dominant receiver and address running back a few picks later with one of Swift or Chubb.
Zero-RB is tempting the way the board is playing out—Diggs and Lamb? Are you kidding? But I still prefer to secure a top-12 back since there won’t be one left by the end of the third.
Matt De Lima’s rounds 1 and 2 hot takes:
If Dalvin Cook, Najee Harris or Ja'Marr Chase are there, that's your pick. Of the players in this range mentioned above by Kyle (Mixon, Adams and Diggs), I'm most comfortable with Mixon both as a player—and of course if you've been listening to my ramblings—because I prefer running backs in Round 1. Given the wide gap between your picks at the end of the round, you could miss out on a whole tier so I think a balanced drafting approach is best here. In Round 2, you're hoping Diggs is still there. I don't mind taking Travis Kelce but I probably would only do that in a TE-premium league and that probably means he is off the board. Kyle mentions a zero-RB approach but I really like the RBs in this range (Swift, Chubb and I wouldn't fault you for a slight reach on Javonte Williams.) Ideally, we're looking at 1RB-1WR after two rounds.
Drafting in rounds 3 and 4
Speaking of the end of the third, which players are we looking at there? Hopefully you followed the above advice and locked up your RB1 and WR1—now it’s time to throw another dart at one of those positions, even if current ADP numbers don't necessarily point you in that direction.
The players going in the 34-36 range, in order, are Kyle Pitts, Cam Akers and Justin Herbert. That’s zero receivers and one running back who didn’t look great in his quick return last season. Expanding the ADP scope a bit opens the door for Jaylen Waddle, Diontae Johnson and Michael Pittman Jr., all of whom have ADPs higher than 36. Michael Fabiano is especially high on Pittman and Johnson—he has them each ranked 10 or more spots better than their ADP. I also like the receivers in this range a lot more than the running backs, unless David Montgomery (ADP of 31) falls.
So we’re on the WR-RB-WR route so far, unless you paid up for Pitts, Herbert or Patrick Mahomes in the previous round. In the 37-40 range, you’ll find plenty of the players mentioned above: Waddle, Johnson, Pittman, plus Antonio Gibson.
Now your draft is at a crossroads. You can sit here and land a solid receiver to fill in at flex, like Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf or D.J. Moore, or you can reach for a riskier running back, such as Travis Etienne, J.K. Dobbins, Elijah Mitchell or Breece Hall. Two of them missed all of last season with injuries, one plays running back for the 49ers, which is always a fun position to project, and the other is a rookie on the Jets. Pick your poison, but they’re all still talented players.
Depending on how your draft is shaping up, it’s possible—but not recommended—to hold off one more round to draft your RB2. That means you pretty much have to land one of Damien Harris, A.J. Dillon or Chase Edmonds in the next round. If running backs are flying off the board and your team remains RB2-less, don’t wait any longer. But if you can weather the storm and assemble a receiver room of Diggs, Waddle and Johnson, three of the top 13 receivers in 2021, that’s a formidable force to build your roster around.
Matt De Lima’s rounds 3 and 4 hot takes:
Round 3 is shaping up as one of my least favorite rounds because of what I feel are blah options like Ezekiel Elliott, David Montgomery, Antonio Gibson, Josh Jacobs and James Conner. I wouldn't say I'm never drafting them—I'm just not excited by their prospects this season.
The temptation to go rogue on a QB or TE is strong with guys like Pitts and Mahomes here who are just so much more exciting than the RBs I listed above. I just have to stress again that I want to wait for a QB and TE. Mahomes and Herbert are tempting here, but when you can wait 5-plus rounds and still end up with Russell Wilson, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers; I just don't see the rush. Same feelings about the tight end position. Pitts is special and we are probably on the cusp of a monster season from him, but I can't pass up the value of trying to hit on a late-round flier or a surprise breakout from a Week 1 waivers-caliber option. You have 13 weeks to find a good tight end and you only need one in your starting lineup. You're going to need six or seven good running backs and wide receivers combined so I want my best dart throws aimed at them in the early rounds.
In the 34 to 39 range, I'm feeling three running backs: Cam Akers, Travis Etienne and Breece Hall. You may be saying Etienne and Hall are reaches there, and yes, you're right. That's how much I like them over some of the other guys in this range. If I can somehow get two of those three in the third and fourth, then I'm happy. The three receivers I like in this range are Jaylen Waddle, Diontae Johnson and Michael Pittman Jr., in that order. Ideally, I'd like either 2WR-2RB or 3RB-1WR after the fourth round.
Drafting in round 5
Going into Round 5 your team makeup is likely either RB-WR-WR-RB or WR-RB-WR-WR. Let’s entertain the first option.
The board is yours at 58-60 with two running backs and two receivers already rostered. I like taking a shot at a receiver with upside to start at flex in this round. That could be Marquise Brown, one of Denver’s top two wideouts (Jerry Jeudy or Courtland Sutton) or Amon-Ra St. Brown. Brown will be the true No. 1 in Arizona until DeAndre Hopkins returns from his six-game suspension, Jeudy and Sutton will both benefit from a massive quarterback upgrade in Denver and if St. Brown builds on his rookie campaign, you won’t want to miss out on it.
Now let’s address route No. 2: You need a running back, badly. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Harris, Dillon and Miles Sanders are all going in this range and they each have their drawbacks. CEH might face competition from Ronald Jones, same goes for Harris with Rhamondre Stevenson, Dillon with Aaron Jones and Sanders with the entire running back room and Jalen Hurts. But this is the price you pay for waiting until now to draft a second running back.
The good thing is your Round 6 pick will come back around soon enough, which puts you in position to draft a pair of running backs and receivers and a flex and then quickly address quarterback or tight end if you haven’t already.
Matt De Lima’s round 5 hot takes:
In round 5, I'm again avoiding the temptation to take a quarterback like Murray or Burrow. Here, I'm praying Brandin Cooks, Chris Godwin or Mike Williams fall in my lap if I want a receiver. I don't like Amari Cooper, Marquise Brown or Amon-Ra St. Brown. I prefer Courtland Sutton over Jerry Jeudy. If receivers are thin at this point, I don't mind reaching a bit for Allen Robinson.
The running backs in this grouping are very hot and cold to me. I like Harris but I prefer Stevenson at his ADP 108. Miles Sanders is a serviceable RB2, but I'd rather have Kenneth Gainwell at ADP 159. I'm on board with A.J. Dillon but I'd rather have taken a RB in the previous round like Hall or Etienne.
Takeaways from drafting from picks 10 to 12
Generally speaking, these are great draft positions from which to load up on wide receivers. Running back? Not so much. That’s why I favor drafting running backs in the second and fourth rounds if you don’t get Cook or Mixon in the first. If you get one of the top-tier backs in the first, hold off in the second and look again in the 3-4 range. You won’t be happy with what’s left at the end of the fifth if you wait until then to select an RB2.
Because of the large gaps between your pick groupings, you’re especially subject to missing out on positional runs from these draft slots. I like the RB-WR-WR-RB-WR approach, but the WR-RB-WR/QB-RB-WR works as well.
This is a very good position from which to draft a quarterback at the 3-4 turn. If you truly want to have one of the top three quarterbacks on your team, you must pay up for them with one of those picks because Allen, Mahomes and Herbert won’t be there next time you’re on the clock—and Allen might not even last through the back of the third with his current ADP of 23.
Matt De Lima’s drafting 10-12 final takeaways:
After six rounds, I really want 3RB-3WR. Then I can go QB-TE in the seventh and eighth which means I could have, say, Dallas Goedert or Dawson Knox paired with Wilson, Brady, Rodgers or Stafford. Does Goedert or Knox have any realistic shot at being a top-three TE? Probably not. Will having the QB6 to QB10 keep me out of the fantasy postseason? Definitely not. The point differentials between the best and what you'd end up after waiting on a QB and TE are not that significant. Where you get in trouble in fantasy is lacking depth and not using your best draft picks on the best RBs and WRs.
You can try to call your shots, but as I've tried to convey throughout this series: You don't actually know anything. And even if you happen to be correct that Player X is much better than Player Y, injuries and suspensions still happen. Tipped passes that turn into interceptions, random fumbles, bad weather, etc. are all variables you don't control.
The only thing you can control is providing your roster with a balance that makes sense within your scoring system. Good luck!
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