Drafting to Trade
By Heath Cummings
August 7th, 2012

Everyone knows the point of a fantasy football draft is to draft the best team possible, but there are plenty of suggestions as to how you should do that. I'm here to offer you one more way that, while maybe unconventional, can lead to the types of results you're looking for. First, I want to offer a few disclaimers:

  1. This strategy is not for the owners that want to draft their team and forget about it. You cannot put your team on auto-pilot with this strategy. In fact, you'll probably be more involved than you've ever been.

  2. This strategy is not for the faint at heart. You are definitely raising your chances for ridicule with this strategy, especially on draft day. You will, for the most part, ignore bye weeks, and even ADP to a certain extent. We'll get to the reason for that later; just know that you are assuming a greater risk for the chance at a greater reward.

  3. This strategy is not for the loose-lipped. Even if you do hear it on draft day, the key to this strategy working is that your league mates don't know what is coming. Explaining even a part of your strategy to those in your league will have a seriously negative impact on its effectiveness. Take your lumps on draft day, and then take your trophy in January.

Okay, enough about what this strategy isn't, what is it? Drafting to trade is all about maximizing talent and the schedule. A lot of people in your league probably take into consideration some sort of strength of schedule rating for the upcoming season. What you're going to do differently is to look at the strength of schedule in sections of the season. Thankfully, our own Clayton Gray does an incredible job of providing this information to you weekly in his Ultimate Strength of Schedule feature. Here's a brief overview of how it works, and then I'll get to the players I would target in the draft to make it work.

The specifics of this will depend on your league's trade deadline, but let's assume a trade deadline after Week 10. We're basically going to break the season into three sections:

Weeks 1-5: This will be the focus of today's article. You will focus your draft on players that have the easiest schedules over this period of time.

Weeks 6-10: this is when you unload a few, some, or even a majority of the players you drafted BEFORE they hit the more difficult portion of their schedule. Depending on how many trades you make at this point, you may or may not have a lot of work to do at the deadline. You will focus heavily on players that may have underperformed solely because of the difficulty of their schedule.

Weeks 11-17: Just before the deadline you start looking for players poised to finish strong. We'll discuss more later in the season what to look for, but it definitely includes an easier schedule and an increase in opportunity amongst other things.

Okay, for now all you're really worried about is the draft right? What we're going to do is target the players with the easiest opening schedules, or those we expect to have fast starts for one reason or another. It's okay to reach a little for these players, but not more than one round in the first half of the draft. A lot of it will depend on where you draft, but I would not suggest you take this so far as to affect your first round pick. Here are your targets and a brief explanation for each:

  • Ahmad Bradshaw (ADP: 34, RB16): This strategy should almost be named for Bradshaw in 2012. No NFL running back has an easier schedule in weeks 1-5 but there is a drastic drop off after that. Combine that with the fact that a majority of his competition for carries may come from David Wilson, a rookie that will take some time to get up to speed, and you have a perfect draft to trade candidate. Unless something changes drastically, you should be able to get Bradshaw in the second round no matter what draft position you're in.

  • Vernon Davis (ADP: 62, TE5): The dominance of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have made it fashionable to take tight ends higher than history suggests you should. I would rather wait until the 5th to land Vernon Davis and then watch as he eviscerates weaker opponents early in the year.

  • Jonathan Stewart (ADP: 75, RB29): Stewart's schedule situation is very similar to Bradshaw, but his opportunity looks to be much different. I like Stewart more in PPR, but even in a standard league his start should be much hotter than his finish. The strategy I like here is to take Stewart in the 6th round as your 3rd running back. After five weeks against weak opponents there is a good chance he'll look more like a starting running back and you should be able to trade him to a team with a hole at running back.

  • Malcom Floyd (ADP: 98, WR34): You could certainly include Robert Meachem on this list as well, but there's a reason I like Floyd more for the purposes of draft to trade. No receiver on this roster has the experience with Philip Rivers that Floyd does. I think it's possible by the end of the year that Meachem or even Vincent Brown evolves into Rivers' favorite target outside of Antonio Gates, but early in the year I want Floyd. It doesn't hurt that he has the third easiest schedule of all receivers the first five weeks of the season. I'd definitely prefer to draft Floyd as my third receiver, but I'd reach a little on him and take him in the 7th behind Stewart.

  • Josh Freeman (ADP: 113, QB16): There are a couple of different strategies for Freeman here. You could wait until the 9th round to draft a quarterback and land Freeman as your QB1, but doing this is going to require packaging him in a deal for a better quarterback before the playoffs. If you take a quarterback earlier, I would still take him as a QB2 in round 9. The arrival of Vincent Jackson and Freeman's relative youth could inspire someone to think he's turning into a legitimate QB1 by the halfway point netting you a lot in a deal.

  • Laurent Robinson (ADP: 132, WR47): Let's see, Justin Blackmon and Maurice Jones Drew are not in camp yet, the Jaguars are likely to get beaten and beaten badly, and they play below average pass defenses in seven of their first ten games. They aren't going to get shut out in all those games, and someone is going to be catching all those passes they throw down 21-0 in the 4th quarter. Robinson can be taken late in drafts, but don't wait past the 10th. Once you reach that point literally anything could happen and he could provide some really nice value after a couple of big games early.

  • Nate Washington (ADP: 134, WR48): First off, about that ADP. The odds of Kenny Britt being A) healthy and B) not suspended at the beginning of the year are looking increasingly slim. Assuming he's out, I expect Washington's ADP to soar. Even so, I love him early in the year; you'll just have to be more coy about when you trade him. I would target Washington in the same area as Malcom Floyd, if not a bit higher.

  • Joe Flacco (ADP: 135, QB19): No one likes Joe Flacco as much as he likes himself as a quarterback, but there's no doubting his big arm and easy opening schedule. He and Smith could make a mockery of their opening slate and someone is going to be looking for a quarterback by the time his schedule gets more difficult. If you could get Flacco as your second QB in round 11 you'd be setting yourself up very well to trade for depth at another position midseason.
  • Let's stop here and see where that leaves you. Following all of these suggestions would leave you with a 1st, 3rd and 4th round pick to take one running back and two receivers. You'd also have an 8th round pick to pick up a 4th running back. Your draft slot will determine who those players are, so let's project you're drafting from the 6th spot. Current ADP shows Ryan Mathews going 6th, and I'd take Percy Harvin in the 3rd round and Steve Johnson in the 6th. Ryan Williams would be a great addition in the 8th and here is what your team would look like through 12 rounds:

  • QB: Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco
  • RB: Ryan Mathews, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jonathan Stewart, Ryan Williams
  • WR: Percy Harvin, Steve Johnson, Malcom Floyd/Nate Washington, Laurent Robinson
  • TE: Vernon Davis
  • On paper that is a pretty average looking team in a 12-team standard scoring league…for a full season. For a five week season starting in week one you're looking at one of the best (and deepest) teams in the league. When injuries start happening, yours will be the team that others look at and wonder how you ended up with so many starting running backs/receivers. In the next part of our drafting to trade series, around Week 4, we'll talk about what to do with your (apparent) abundance of riches.

    As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to cummings@footballguys.com.

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