- Strategy to guide you through the first six rounds of your fantasy draft if you've got one of the last four picks
If your fantasy football league uses a draft, some of the hard work is taken out of your hands. Much of what you do on draft day will be driven by draft slot. If you have a top-three pick, someone like Odell Beckham won’t be in your first-round plans, and will be long gone by your second pick. Likewise, if you’re picking toward the end of the first round, you can forget about Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley.
With a large portion of your path pre-determined by your slot, you need to find a way to use these predictable outcomes to your advantage. You can, to a large degree, figure out well in advance the players you will select in the first three or four rounds. You may not be able to identify all three or four exactly, but you can certainly make a pool of, say, 15 players, and know for sure that four of them will be on your team heading into round five. Doing that reconnaissance before draft day will give you an advantage when the all-important middle rounds arrive.
We’re going to take a look at how to build a championship team from every draft slot in a 12-team league. To do this, we’ve divided the slots into early (one-through-four), middle (five-through-eight) and late (nine-through-12) selections. We’ll run through the first five rounds, giving you the foundation you’ll need for a winner. (Check out our sleeper and breakout columns for help beyond there.) We’ll assume standard rosters, with one quarterback, two running backs, three receivers, one flex, one tight end, one kicker and one defense in the starting lineup, plus six bench players. We’ll also call it a half-point PPR league, which is becoming the go-to setup for most fantasy leagues.
For the purposes of this column, we’ll lean heavily on average draft position data from FantasyFootballCalculator.com. ADP is not gospel, but it is a great tool for estimating which players will be available for each of your picks. Your draft won’t follow the exact specifics laid out in this column, but studying this general framework and fitting it to your league will have you well-positioned to craft a potentially dominant team on draft day.
First and second rounds
ADP in-group (picks nine through 16): Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette, DeAndre Hopkins, Kareem Hunt, Odell Beckham, Dalvin Cook, Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Devonta Freeman, Keenan Allen
Just beyond ADP: Christian McCaffrey, Davante Adams, Jordan Howard, A.J. Green
It’s going to feel like an eternity for the three-four turn to arrive, but look at those names you’ll be picking among for your first two picks. Any pairing can be the foundation of a championship fantasy team. Given that you get to make this pick in tandem, it’s hard to give any advice that goes beyond my top 300 rankings. The one actionable piece of advice I can give is not to worry about positions here. You can go with two backs, two receivers or one of each. No one should be concerned with positions this early in a fantasy draft. You have plenty of time to figure that out, both in the rest of the draft and on the waiver wire over the first few weeks of the season. Get the two best stat accumulators you possibly can, regardless of position. If you’re truly divided, half-PPR does tilt the field slightly in favor of receivers.
Third and fourth rounds
ADP in-group (picks 33 through 40): Alex Collins, Tyreek Hill, Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Rodgers, Amari Cooper, Jay Ajayi, Kenyan Drake, Zach Ertz, Demaryius Thomas
Just beyond ADP: Lamar Miller, Josh Gordon, Juju Smith-Schuster
I’m not going to dance around it. As great as those first two picks are, you can see why picking at the back end of the first round feels like a bit of a disadvantage this year. While those lucky league mates of yours at the front of the draft get an elite back and two more high-upside plays at either back or receiver, you’re stuck making your third- and fourth-round picks after the draft clearly takes a dip in overall value. It’s not a death sentence, especially if you nail those first two picks, but it is a disadvantage.
This is the first spot of the draft where positions might matter. If you doubled up on receivers in the first two rounds, do you really want to take a shot on Amari Cooper here? You may, but it’s something that should be part of your thought process. Same goes with respect to Alex Collins or Jay Ajayi if you started your draft with Melvin Gordon and Devonta Freeman. It still isn’t the be-all, end-all, but it’s a consideration in a way that it wasn’t for the first 30 picks of the draft.
Fitzgerald and Ertz are the rock-solid picks here, in terms of delivering what you expect of them. Fitzgerald has at least 107 catches for at least 1,023 yards and six touchdowns the last three years, and there’s no reason to think he’ll fall off a cliff this season. Ertz is the go-to pass-catcher in Philadelphia’s offense, if there is one, and that could become even more true if Alshon Jeffery starts the year on the physically-unable-to-perform list. There is, however, some concern about Carson Wentz. If he needs to miss time early in the season, that’ll hit Ertz’s fantasy value. Collins, too, feels reliable, though he’s boring and he doesn’t give you anything as a receiver. Still, there’s no one on Baltimore’s roster threatening his workload on the ground, and he was a revelation for the team last year, rushing for 973 yards and six touchdowns on 212 carries.
Every other player in this range comes with some risk.
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say it, but I know I do. I am on record, multiple times, as believing Aaron Rodgers is the greatest quarterback of his era. Having said that, this is fantasy football, not real football. Taking him in the third round of a one-quarterback league is potentially disastrous. There is simply too much quarterback value available later in the draft and during the season to take a signal-caller this early. If he’s still available at the five-six turn, we can talk. For now, put him out of your mind.
The player who concerns me the least among the rest of the group is Drake. We’re dealing with a small sample size, but he was excellent when the Dolphins finally turned the backfield over to him last season. In the final five games of the year, Drake ran for 444 yards on 91 carries, caught 17 passes for 150 yards, and scored two touchdowns. Extrapolate that over 16 games, and you get 1,420 rushing yards, 54 receptions, 480 receiving yards and 6.4 touchdowns. I’m not saying Drake is going to push 2,000 yards from scrimmage, but it helps conceptualize just how good he was at the end of last season.
Ajayi, too, has some major breakout potential. It’s silly to put much stock into what he did with the Eagles after the trade from Miami last year. He joined a successful team at midseason, with zero time to learn all the intricacies of the offense before being thrown into the fray. Having said that, it’s noteworthy that he carried the ball 41 times in his final three regular season games, and 33 times in playoff wins over Atlanta and Minnesota. Now he has had a full offseason with the team, and LeGarrette Blount out of the picture.
The three receivers other than Fitzgerald are wildly interesting. Thomas found a way to survive playing the last two years with Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. Case Keenum might as well be Aaron Rodgers, as far as he’s concerned. The ceiling is low, but the floor should be along the lines of 70 catches, 900 yards and six touchdowns. Cooper has yet to live up to expectations, but we’re still talking about a 24-year-old with two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. If Jon Gruden is telling the truth about building the offense around him, the breakout that the fantasy community has been waiting for could finally arrive.
Hill is the real wild card here. He has been one of the most dynamic players in the league the last two years, but there’s some risk with the Chiefs going from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes. We knew exactly what to expect from Hill with Smith under center. Despite the disparagement of Smith’s arm from all corners, he was the best deep-ball thrower in the league last year, according to Pro Football Focus. All seven of Hill’s receiving touchdowns last year were at least 30 yards, and five of them came from at least 56 yards out. Production like that is hard to repeat, especially with a new quarterback.
Fifth and sixth rounds
ADP in-group (picks 57 through 64): Dion Lewis, Ronald Jones, Greg Olsen, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Kerryon Johnson, Corey Davis, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead
Just beyond ADP: Sammy Watkins, Michael Crabtree, Marshawn Lynch, Evan Engram
We’ll extend this one to six rounds since we’re on the turn at the end of the fifth. Again, this may not be too early for Rodgers if he slips, but it is too early for Wilson and Brady. Forget about them.
The rest of the ADP tier is made up nearly entirely of players with obvious warts, but also massive upside. That’s true for everyone except Olsen, who’s going too high based largely on reputation. The bottom line is he’s a 33-year-old tight end coming off a season in which he missed nine games with a foot injury. With Devin Funchess, D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey on the roster, he has more competition for targets than ever. This ADP treats Olsen as the player he was in the circumstances he used to be in, not his current reality.
If either Burkhead or Michel could get clearly ahead of the other, the winner would be an easy RB2. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen at any point this season, and we certainly won’t know if it will happen when we’re sitting down to draft. Burkhead was too good last year for Michel to own the backfield, and the Patriots wouldn’t use a first-round pick on a running back if they didn’t have plans for him to contribute immediately. Both will have plenty of fantasy relevance, but they’re likely to get in one another’s way all season.
Johnson and Davis are the major upside plays here. I like the idea of chasing them if your first four picks give your team a high floor. Johnson has been one of the stars of the summer, positioning himself as the favorite for early-down work in Detroit. If he can affix LeGarrette Blount to the sidelines, he’ll be one of this season’s return-on-investment kings. He broke out in his junior season at Auburn, running for 1,391 yards on 285 carries and scoring 20 total touchdowns. Davis, meanwhile, was the fifth overall pick last year, but was hampered all season by a nagging hamstring injury. He has the most talent on the roster, but Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker are reliable pass-catchers, and Marcus Mariota still has some way to go to prove he’s a franchise quarterback. If you have a strong foundation, Davis is a nice swing-for-the-fences play here.
Lewis could prove to be a steal in his first year in Tennessee. He was one of the five most productive backs over the second half of last year, and while New England’s offense had a lot to do with that, he turned himself into an indispensable player in that offense. Derrick Henry looms as a threat and will have his role in the offense, but he hasn’t been terribly efficient in his career. Lewis is a far superior receiver, and has been the better runner in short yardage, as well. Lewis could play his way into a two-thirds share of the backfield, and that would make him a steal at ADP.
Finally, Jones should be able to assert himself as the starter in Tampa, but he’s unlikely to rid himself completely of Peyton Barber. He was a monster in his final season at USC, rushing for 1,550 yards on 261 carries and hitting paydirt 20 times. There’s risk tied to Barber’s presence, as well as the Buccaneers’ offense, but that’s baked into the price. Jones is a worthwhile selection at his ADP.