This is the end of a multi-part series. The other versions will be 12-team (non-PPR), 14-team (non-PPR), 10-team (non-PPR),, and FPC formats. Jeff Pasquino will assist me in those efforts.
I started penning this article in 2002 to put my pre-draft thoughts to paper. Like most things in life, I find I do my best when I plan to succeed. This article is my attempt at that. I work hard at doing projections every year. At Footballguys, we also put together the most comprehensive Average Draft Position Lists. So the information about value is certainly readily available. The trick to having a perfect draft though is to anticipate those "pockets of value" and build your team so that you get the lion's share of these guys.
There is not one way to have a perfect draft. In fact, the biggest criticism I often get is that I am willing to wait on QB and/or TE in a lot of drafts. Many drafters show me teams where they grab a guy like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees early and then knock the rest of the draft out of the park. That's definitely possible. And against weak competition, it is also the preferred game plan.
This article assumes fairly educated drafters. You need to decide whether your league is full of sharks, guppies or a combination of both. Count the number of Footballguys subscriptions and compare that to the number of guys crossing off players from their magazine cheat sheet to get a feel for this if you really are unsure. I state this here, because against softer competition the shark move is to grab the quality QBs and TEs too. You should do this because it's nearly assured you will also get many great players to slide to you at RB and WR. Against great competition, reaching for a player at the wrong time can quickly dismantle your draft and leave you missing the key "pockets of value" that can help your chances at winning.
Before we can have the "Perfect Draft", let's define our measure of success. After the draft, your team should have these qualities:
- Against multiple projection sets, your team always grades out as one of the best teams. And to make your life easy here, just run your roster through our Rate My Team application.
- You secured a great number of players that will outperform their draft position.
- You have quality depth (in the right places) to allow for post-draft trades.
- The majority of owners recognize that you have a team that should easily reach the playoffs.
Your late round picks have the potential to be game-changing players.
These aren't absolutes, but I list them here so we know what we are trying to build.
Let's start with the two basic principles of Value Based Drafting (VBD). I will expound on them as we go through this.
All Players Have Value
Don't love anyone. Don't hate anyone. Get players that will significantly outperform their draft position and you will build a winning team.
Understand What the Average Guy Thinks
You may believe someone will be the 10th best WR, but if everybody else does not then you need to wait to maximize value.
If you don't follow these principles, you will not have a perfect draft. If you believe rookie WRs are always bad or drafting anyone over 30 is too big of an injury risk, then you will not have the perfect draft. Throw away the biases. Let value guide your draft. Let others succumb to prejudices and generalities. You are here to win your league. And you do that by getting value with every pick.
How do we define value? Value Based Drafting (VBD) has shown us that we can compare unlike positions for comparative value. The cornerstone of VBD starts with solid projections. And these projections can be manipulated to form Top 200+ lists. For this article, I will be using the Top 300 (non-PPR) list I created for the website. I have highlighted favorable differences in green to indicate players that may be bargains on draft day.
Let's have the perfect 12-team, PPR draft.
The goal is to get you the best possible team and to make sure you don't overpay for players that can still be had a few rounds later. What I look for are players that I project significantly better than where they are being drafted. The positional analysis tracks to my projections.
This article assumes a 12 team league using scoring that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 Def and 1 PK. Fantasy points are calculated as follows:
Passing TDs = 4 points Interceptions = -1 points Rushing/receiving TDs = 6 points Passing yardage = 0.05 points per yard (1 pt per 20 yards) Rushing/receiving yardage = 0.10 points per yard (1 pt per 10 yards) Reception = 1 point
Quarterbacks - Part 1
With history as our guide, we know the top quarterbacks are almost always drafted too early. And this makes sense. The quarterback position generally scores the most points so fantasy players want to roster a good one. But since most leagues only require one starting quarterback there is little pressure on the remaining quarterbacks after the first six or seven are gone. That makes sense because owners that take Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Cam Newton or Drew Brees don't expect to start any other QB except to cover byes or an injury. This creates a false sense of demand for these dream quarterbacks and then once they are gone, the demand falls off sharply after a few more quarterbacks (Romo, Ryan, both Eli and Peyton Manning get selected).
Looking at the current ADP list and there are five QBs listed as going in the first two rounds (on average):
Aaron Rodgers - Pick #3 Tom Brady - Pick #5 Drew Brees - Pick #8 Matthew Stafford - Pick #14 Cam Newton - Pick #17
I am going to say this the easiest way I know how. Just be patient at quarterback. Drafting Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Stafford or Newton may feel great for a few minutes on draft day, but it's generally a losing strategy against good competition. You will have a stud at quarterback, but you will have sacrificed grabbing elite RBs and WRs to do it. Follow this simple rule (Wait until Round 5 or later for your quarterback and you are well on your way to having the perfect draft).
The Top 50 Players
Instead of concentrating on things by position, I believe the correct approach is to grab the best player available until the Top 50 are off the board. With some luck and creating the right Top 50 list, you are hopeful to still be drafting from this list when you complete the 5th round (60 picks). If you are still using this list in the 9th round, grab a beer and call the engraver during the draft.
Because ADP is a crucial barometer on when players will get drafted, I believe it's important to merge the Footballguys Top 300 with ADP to create a single Top 50 draft list. Here is how I create this list.
For players that have a value lower than ADP, use the average of the two numbers. For players that have a value higher than ADP, use the value number.
Example: Player A has a value of 13 and an ADP of 21. His "drafting" value would be 17. (13 + 21)/2. Conversely, if Player has a value of 21 and an ADP of 13, his "drafting" value would be 21.
Doing this for the Top 300 list yields these Top 50 players (ranked from 1st to 50).
*** Note this is a generic list. You can get a tailored list by entering your scoring criteria into the VBD or Draft Dominator applications:
Pick 1.01 - RB1 Arian Foster, Hou/8 (ADP = 1) Pick 1.02 - RB2 Ray Rice, Bal/8 (ADP = 2) Pick 1.03 - RB3 LeSean McCoy, Phi/7 (ADP = 3) Pick 1.04 - WR1 Calvin Johnson, Det/5 (ADP = 5) Pick 1.05 - QB1 Aaron Rodgers, GB/10 (ADP = 4) Pick 1.06 – RB4 Darren McFadden, Oak/5 (ADP = 6) Pick 1.07 - RB5 Chris Johnson, Ten/11 (ADP = 7) Pick 1.08 – RB6 Matt Forte, Chi/6 (ADP = 10) Pick 1.09 - TE1 Jimmy Graham, NO/6 (ADP = 9) Pick 1.10 – RB7 Jamaal Charles, KC/7 (ADP = 15) Pick 1.11 – RB8 DeMarco Murray, Dal/5 (ADP = 14) Pick 1.12 – WR2 Julio Jones, Atl/7 (ADP = 16) Pick 2.01 - QB2 Drew Brees, NO/6 (ADP = 11) Pick 2.02 - RB9 Ryan Mathews, SD/7 (ADP = 22) Pick 2.03 - RB10 Darren Sproles, NO/6 (ADP = 25) Pick 2.04 - TE2 Rob Gronkowski, NE/9 (ADP = 12) Pick 2.05 - QB3 Tom Brady, NE/9 (ADP = 8) Pick 2.06 - RB11 Steven Jackson, Stl/9 (ADP = 27) Pick 2.07 – WR3 Larry Fitzgerald, Ari/10 (ADP = 13) Pick 2.08 – WR4 Andre Johnson, Hou/8 (ADP = 18) Pick 2.09 – RB12 Trent Richardson, Cle/10 (ADP = 30) Pick 2.10 – RB13 Adrian Peterson, Min/11 (ADP = 21) Pick 2.11 - RB14 Fred Jackson, Buf/8 (ADP = 33) Pick 2.12 – WR5 Brandon Marshall, Chi/6 (ADP = 28) Pick 3.01 - RB15 Doug Martin, TB/5 (ADP = 36) Pick 3.02 - QB4 Cam Newton, Car/6 (ADP = 23) Pick 3.03 – WR6 A.J. Green, Cin/8 (ADP = 24) Pick 3.04 - RB16 Marshawn Lynch, Sea/11 (ADP = 31) Pick 3.05 – WR7 Roddy White, Atl/7 (ADP = 26) Pick 3.06 – WR8 Wes Welker, NE/9 (ADP = 19) Pick 3.07 - QB5 Matthew Stafford, Det/5 (ADP = 20) Pick 3.08 - WR9 Percy Harvin, Min/11 (ADP = 38) Pick 3.09 – WR10 Victor Cruz, NYG/11 (ADP = 32) Pick 3.10 - RB17 Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG/11 (ADP = 37) Pick 3.11 - WR11 Greg Jennings, GB/10 (ADP = 29) Pick 3.12 - WR12 Jordy Nelson, GB/10 (ADP = 35) Pick 4.01 - RB18 Reggie Bush, Mia/7 (ADP = 45) Pick 4.02 - WR13 Hakeem Nicks, NYG/11 (ADP = 34) Pick 4.03 - WR14 Dez Bryant, Dal/5 (ADP = 39) Pick 4.04 - RB19 Frank Gore, SF/9 (ADP = 42) Pick 4.05 – WR15 Steve Smith, Car/6 (ADP = 40) Pick 4.06 - TE3 Aaron Hernandez, NE/9 (ADP = 43) Pick 4.07 – RB20 Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac/6 (ADP = 17) Pick 4.08 - WR16 Marques Colston, NO/6 (ADP = 41) Pick 4.09 – QB6 Matt Ryan, Atl/7 (ADP = 48) Pick 4.10 – WR17 Dwayne Bowe, KC/7 (ADP = 55) Pick 4.11 - WR18 Demaryius Thomas, Den/7 (ADP = 50) Pick 4.12 - WR19 Steve Johnson, Buf/8 (ADP = 59) Pick 5.01 – RB21 Willis McGahee, Den/7 (ADP = 58) Pick 5.02 - WR20 Vincent Jackson, TB/5 (ADP = 49)
Note: In the past I used to strongly encourage you to not draft a QB in the first 50 picks. The reason for this is you would generally end up with a better team by not falling to this temptation. The league is changing though (passing yards continue to increase) and these elite quarterbacks can earn you enough points (over their peers) that you must consider them at the right price.
Building Your "Core": Your First 5 Picks
You are looking to grab the best player available until this list is exhausted. But use some common sense while you do this. This list includes 21 RBs, so you should make sure you secure at least 2 backs off this list (as that position will have dried up considerably).
I would pay little to no attention to bye weeks during this phase. You have plenty of time to adjust after these Top 50 players are gone.
I would limit myself to just 1 QB or 1 TE from this list unless the extra QB or TE is drafted in the 8th round or later (Trade value alone makes the selection worthwhile).
After the Top 50 - Assessment Phase
The transition from the Top 50 to rounding out your team based on need is a critical one. Your analysis here can instantly turn a good draft into a great one. Here are the questions you should be asking yourself to determine your weaknesses:
How many backs did you secure? The average owner should have 1.8 RBs. Do you have 3 or more including one in the 1st round? Is this a position of strength for your team?
Did you draft a QB or TE (The average owner should have 0.50 QBs and 0.25 TEs) yet? If so consider yourself done at this position until much later in the draft. If you have not drafted these positions yet, do not panic. Good ones will be available later.
Assess your bye week situation. If three or more of your first five players are off on the same bye week, I will usually sacrifice that week so that I can be strong in every other week. If that is not the case, then I look to patch the holes with complimentary players that could have big weeks during these rough spots. Teams lining up against Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cleveland and Jacksonville etc. should all yield good results during these weeks.
As an example, Let's say you landed this team after 5 rounds (from the 4th position):
4. WR Calvin Johnson, Det/5 21. RB Ryan Mathews, SD/7 28. RB Trent Richardson, Cle/10 45. RB Reggie Bush, Mia/7 52. WR Dwayne Bowe, KC/7
Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: QB (none taken), big Week 7 bye issue, and a good mix of 3 RBs and 2 WRs.
Unless significant value presents itself, my next few rounds plan would be:
Fill out roster need at TE Fill out roster need at QB Fill out roster need at WR Try to grab players without a Week 7 bye unless they represent significant value.
Note the departure from looking for value at all cost here. RB may represent value at your next pick, but this selected player may rarely see the field with the stars you have already drafted. It is generally better to fill out your key roster spots instead of amassing a lot of value that you may not be able to use. So use your head. Are you able to select a QB or TE that represents at least fair value (ADP and value numbers are in line with the selection)?
Let's look at another example. This one from the 9th position:
9. TE Jimmy Graham, NO/6 16. WR Julio Jones, Atl/7 33. RB Fred Jackson, Buf/8 40. RB Reggie Bush, Mia/7 57. WR Steve Johnson, Buf/8
By landing 2 RBs and 2 WRs, and 1 TE you are well on your way to a perfect draft. Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: QB (none taken), Slight Weeks 7 and 8 bye issues.
Unless significant value presents itself, my next few rounds plan would be:
Fill out roster need at QB Fill out roster need at WR Grab a player sliding at RB that is exceptional value Try to grab players without Week 7 or Week 8 byes unless they represent significant value
Moving to Fill Positional Needs
Quarterbacks - Part 2
If you followed this plan up to here, you probably did not select a QB with the top 50 picks. But if you get to the 3rd round and Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees is on the board, pull the trigger and don't look back. These are elite players and grabbing them in the third round represents enough value that you can deviate slightly from the "generic" perfect draft.
Most times you won't be rostering these "elite" QBs because some other owner will have overpaid. They may think they are going to have an awesome team grabbing Rodgers, Brees or Brady early, but most times that simply will not be the case. How can I say that with such conviction? Because draft after draft, I have seen the same thing happen. People overpay for the top quarterbacks, and then a lull takes place creating pockets of value for quarterbacks 10 through 15. The guys you need are in this second group and by waiting you will secure the running back, wide receiver and tight end talent needed to field a dominant team.
Here are the Quarterbacks that I think represent great value this year:
Matt Ryan, Atl/7 (Value = 50, ADP = 48) in the 5th round or later. - His draft stock is going up by the minute so he may not represent a value pick for very much longer. The Falcons have revamped their offensive philosophy to a vertical pass attack and Matt Ryan could be primed for a huge breakout year. WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White are both elite and veteran Tony Gonzalez is still getting it done despite his advanced age. It's an added bonus that Matt Ryan also graded out as the key person to have in any QBBC strategy.
Robert Griffin III, Was/10 (Value = 71, ADP = 82) in the 7th round or later. - I see a future star in this league in Griffin. He may just be entering the league, but the poise he has already shown this preseason has confirmed my early thoughts that Griffin can be a difference maker. He can beat you both with his arm and his feet. The Redskins upgraded their wide receivers substantially this offseason and old man Santana Moss is still there to help move the chains.
Ben Roethlisberger, Pit/4 (Value = 87, ADP = 86) in the 8th round or later. – Big Ben Roethlisberger loves to throw the ball and stay in the pocket for the Steelers, who now will struggle running the ball with no featured tailback after Rashard Mendenhall's injury. Roethlisberger has big play targets with all his wide receivers, giving him options to spread the ball around and drive a pass-happy attack.
If you miss on Matt Ryan and Robert Griffin, I would look to pounce on Ben Roethlisberger as soon as two of these players are off the board: Tony Romo, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. Let those guys be your trigger. When they start getting drafted, you need to grab Roethlisberger before it's too late.
Late in the draft, I like these quarterback flyer picks to represent value:
Andrew Luck, Ind/4 (Value = 127, ADP = 113) in the 11th round or later. - He is already showing the poise he demonstrated at Stanford and has no competition at the position. The Colts are lacking of big play skilled players, but still have Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie to throw to. But in the 11th round, you are gambling on the upside and Luck has plenty of that.
Alex Smith, SF/9 (Value = 112, ADP = 161) in the 13th round or later. - San Francisco upgraded their offense and brought all 11 defensive starters back. They are primed to make a strong run in 2012. Alex has no competition for snaps. He may not be a sexy pick, but he should outplay his draft position by a significant margin.
Jake Locker, Ten/11 (Value = 143, ADP = 159) in the 13th round or later. - Jake Locker has won the starting role this year in Tennessee. That could be a strong fantasy role with Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and rookie Kendall Wright at wide receiver, not to mention TE Jared Cook and RB Chris Johnson out of the backfield. Locker also has good running ability which only adds to his fantasy value.
Russell Wilson, Sea/11 (Value = 133, ADP = 199) in the 15th round or later. - The Seahawks thought that they had grabbed their QB of the future when they signed free agent Matt Flynn, but Russell Wilson has played far too well in the preseason to keep on the bench. Wilson is a surprise starter that many other fantasy team owners will not even know who he is in some of your drafts. Grab him late with some great upside value as Wilson is very athletic and has a strong arm. He may not be this year's Cam Newton, but picking a QB this late with about 75-80% of Newton's upside is a great value play.
In most leagues, running backs are golden. Yes they can run and catch, but the real reason they are golden is that there simply are not enough of them to go around. More and more teams are using a committee approach to the running back position, pulling the starter both on obvious passing downs and sometimes in goal line situations. It has made the workhorse backs (that do all three roles) even more valuable, but also created a bigger pool of next tier backs that don't do it all. If you followed the Top 50 plan from above, you likely have a nice stable of backs on your roster to build the rest of your team around.
But two or three quality backs don't make a powerhouse fantasy roster...Having depth at RB does.
Here are the other RBs that I would target for value (outside of the top 50 picks):
Donald Brown, Ind/4 (Value = 52, ADP = 73) in the 6th round or later. - He is the starter and doesn't look pressed for carries from anyone. He exploded for 161 rushing yards and a score on just 16 carries in week 16 last year.
C.J. Spiller, Buf/8 (Value = 47, ADP = 78) in the 6th round or later. - He is again backing up Fred Jackson, but showed last year that he can deliver with more carries. Fred Jackson is 31 years old. It's not out of the realm of possibilities that he again misses time (or gets benched for Spiller). A high risk/high reward pick. Even in a timeshare, Spiller will get looks.
Stevan Ridley, NE/9 (Value = 53, ADP = 80) in the 6th round or later. - Now that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is in Cincinnati, the goal line job for the Patriots falls to Stevan Ridley. Anyone who had Green-Ellis last year as a touchdown machine knows how valuable Ridley can be in a similar role. Ridley will be the power back this year and the workhorse in the fourth quarter, running out the clock and racking up touchdowns against tired defenses. Even if New England uses a committee approach to their backfield, Ridley should be the most valuable fantasy Patriots back.
Kevin Smith, Det/5 (Value = 64, ADP 72) in the 6th round or later. - I have zero faith we will ever see Jahvid Best play again. Mikel Leshoure might be the back eventually there, but starts the year injured and serving a suspension. Kevin Smith is the starter by default. He had 201 combined yards (and 3 TDs) in week 4 last year and is just 26 years old.
DeAngelo Williams, Car/6 (Value = 76, ADP = 92) in the 7th round or later. – Williams was re-signed in Carolina last year, signifying that the organization believes in his long term value. Williams averaged over five yards a carry last year and finished just outside of the Top 25 rushers in both PPR and non-PPR formats even though he averaged fewer than 10 rushes a game. Imagine what he can do if that number moves to the 15-18 per game plateau? Snap up Williams as a nice value play wherever you can.
Mark Ingram, NO/6 (Value = 66, ADP = 87) in the 7th round or later. - He had a disappointing rookie season, but has flashed skills this preseason and plays in a high-powered offense. If he distances himself from Pierre Thomas, he could deliver a huge season on this team.
Rashad Jennings, Jac/6 (Value = 82, ADP = 109) in the 8th round or later. - Maurice Jones-Drew continues to hold out, and you will struggle to find a starting tailback later in your draft. Even if Jones-Drew comes back, Jennings will get plenty of work for Jacksonville and players who are late into training camps or skip them entirely do have a history of slow starts and injures. Great upside pick here.
Ryan Williams, Ari/10 (Value = 93, ADP = 96) in the 9th round or later. - I have never been much of a believer in Chris "Beanie" Wells. The team drafted Ryan to replace Beanie and then prompted to lose him to an ACL injury last year. He is running strong in camp while Beanie continues to remain injured.
Evan Royster, WAS/10 (Value = 104, ADP = 124) in the 10th round or later. - There is a logjam at running backs on the Redskins, but Royster has been running with the first team for the last month. Roy Helu is considered a better blocker, but the coaches seem to like the complete game associated with Royster. Draft him while cheaply he remains under the radar.
Felix Jones, Dal/5 (Value = 116, ADP = 151) in the 12th round or later. - Felix came into camp overweight and frankly has not looked very good this preseason. But here is a player who was the starter for the Cowboys to start last season. DeMarco Murray looked good and then faded last year. Without much else at RB, Felix Jones may get more looks than everyone is expecting simply by default. If he sheds the weight, he should be the team's 3rd down RB.
Taiwan Jones, Oak/5 (Value = 135, ADP = 228) in the 13th round or later. - Darren McFadden is immensely talented, and maybe he really does stay healthy this year. But it won't surprise any of us if McFadden is sidelined again, which would open the door for Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones. While Goodson ran well in limited opportunities in Carolina, he's a more one dimensional straight line runner, whereas Jones is the explosive, do-it-all back that would better suit the Raiders offense. It's likely the Raiders would use a committee, but Jones ability to catch the ball and break explosive plays makes him a high risk, high upside end game choice.
Bilal Powell, NYJ/9 (Value = 145, ADP = 250) in the 15th round or later. - He has secured the 3rd down RB for the Jets (over Joe McKnight) and might end up pushing Shonn Greene for the starting job. Greene is nothing special at all (averaging just 4.1 yards per carry the last two years despite running behind a good offensive line). Powell showed nothing last year as a rookie, but has made a big impression this year in camp.
The biggest key to having a great wide receiver corps is following the Top 50 plan above and then swooping in and stealing the players that slide unnecessarily in a draft. Here are some guys that should represent excellent value this year:
DeSean Jackson, Phi/7 (Value = 49, ADP = 66) in the 6th round or later. - He has a new contract and appears motivated to play his best football. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Torrey Smith, Bal/8 (Value = 46, ADP = 70) in the 6th round or later. - He has emerged as the WR1 on this team. Baltimore is promising more "no-huddle" and increased looks vertically. Smith is the player who will benefit with this change in philosophy the most.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oak/5 (Value = 79, ADP = 101) in the 7th round or later. - He struggled his first two years in the league, but flashed his true potential at the end of last year catching 26 passes for 433 yards and 2 TDs in his last 4 games. Gifted with amazing speed, this is a player on the rise.
Denarius Moore, Oak/5 (Value = 91, ADP = 102) in the 8th round or later. - He is nursing a hamstring issue which is a bit troublesome, but showed immense talent in spurts last year. He could become an elite talent in this league.
Santonio Holmes, NYJ/9 (Value = 94, ADP = 111) in the 9th round or later. - He is the WR1 by a wide margin on this team. He is nursing an injury (as are the rest of the Jets' receivers), but is expected to be ready to go soon.
Titus Young, Det/5 (Value = 99, ADP 103) in the 9th round or later. - This 2nd year player is having an electrifying camp and plays on an offense that should challenge for the league lead in pass attempts. I like his chances to have a break-through season.
Brandon LaFell, Car/6 (Value = 114, ADP = 149) in the 10th round or later. - He has emerged as the WR2 on the high-flying Carolina offense. Steve Smith is 32 years old (an age where speed starts diminishing) and could see his targets decline as the year goes on. LaFell managed 103 yards and a TD on just 3 catches in week 16 last year.
Jerome Simpson, Min/11 (Value = 129, ADP = 173) in the 12th round or later. - Probably known more for his spectacular flip last season for the Bengals, Jerome has developed into a pretty good player. He will start the year suspended, but will be WR2 on the Vikings after the suspension. He had three 100+ yard efforts in 2011 and has improved every year.
Doug Baldwin, Sea/11 (Value = 126, ADP = 177) in the 12th round or later. - It's a mess at wide receiver in Seattle, but Baldwin is one of the guys who will have a role no matter what. Sidney Rice is the big wildcard, but he still is not healthy. Doug managed 136 yards and a TD against the Super Bowl winning Giants in week 5 last year. At age 24, he is an intriguing prospect going forward.
Davone Bess, Mia/7 (Value = 131, ADP = 165) in the 12th round or later. - Someone in Miami has to catch the ball. I am not in love with Bess' game, but it's hard to imagine him not getting targets and some production based on who else is on this roster.
David Nelson, Buf/8 (Value = 137, ADP = 224) in the 13th round or later. - This player gets zero respect, but he improved significantly in his 2nd year. He is worth a gamble this late and represents nearly zero risk of not performing at his ADP.
Emmanuel Sanders, Pit/4 (Value = 151, ADP = 193) in the 13th round or later. - Up to this point in his career, he has had a very minor role. But with injuries mounting at RB for the Steelers, the team may need a lot more from Emmanuel Sanders in 2012. He has a lock on the WR3 job behind Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace.
Brian Hartline, Mia/7 (Value = 155, ADP = 247) in the 15th round or later. - See Bess above. Someone has to be the WR1 in Miami. Bess and Hartline are the favorites to be that player.
Some other WRs will undoubtedly slip in your drafts besides the above targeted bargain list. In recap, grab approximately three receivers in rounds 2 through 6 and then wait for exceptional value to emerge at WR because it always does.
The New England Patriots rolled out two rookie TEs in 2010 and those players took the league by storm. That continued through 2011 and many more teams are now deploying two TE sets to confuse defenses.
Because so many more teams are utilizing the TE position, there are almost always bargains at this position late in a draft. In fact once the top 7-8 names come off the board, there is minimal pressure on the TE position the rest of the draft (in leagues that start just 1 TE). It's no surprise that since TEs catch a relatively small amount of passes, primarily on short and intermediate routes (again, excluding the top tier guys), there usually isn't a great deal of variance between the sixth-best PPR TE and the 11th best. Last year the 6th best TE scored 191 fantasy points while the 11th best contributed 173 points (18 point difference or 1.1 points per game).
So ultimately, once you get past the big TEs, you're really debating over approximately a few points per week (which is why it can be wise to just wait until the later rounds to select a TE).
The tight end that I will be targeting in most of my drafts this year is Aaron Hernandez, NE/9 (Value = 41, ADP = 43) in the late 4th round or later. I think the Patriots decision to not give Wes Welker a longterm deal speaks volumes about what they plan to do in the passing game this year. And that plan involves using both TEs on the field as their standard offense. Instead of always using Welker in the slot, I expect the team to slide Hernandez in the slot out of a lot of these two TE formations. Add in Hernandez rushing skills and he should be an elite option all year at the position.
Here are the other TEs that I think represent great value in drafts this season:
Brandon Pettigrew, Det/5 (Value = 67, ADP = 75) in the 7th round or later. - He had a slew of drops that could have been TDs. I like his game and he plays in an offense that insures he is rarely double teamed. If he adds the TDs and converts on more of his 125 targets, he could put up huge numbers at TE for a fraction of the cost of the big 3.
Brent Celek, Phi/7 (Value = 117, ADP = 129) in the 10th round or later. - Despite getting just 17 yards in three weeks (weeks 3-5), Celek finished the year with 62 catches, 811 yards and 5 TDs. He had 4 games with 75+ yards receiving.
Dustin Keller, NYJ/9 (Value = 124, ADP = 152) in the 12th round or later. - This is not a sexy selection, but with no real WR2 on the Jets, Keller should be targeted enough to provide excellent value. He finished with 65 catches, 815 yards and 5 TDs and has no challenger for his position.
Kyle Rudolph, Min/11 (Value = 136, ADP = 150) in the 13th round or later. - The Minnesota Vikings have no real veteran receiving presence in their offense after Percy Harvin, who is still rather inexperienced himself. With a young quarterback (Christian Ponder) and injury concerns with their star running back (Adrian Peterson), Minnesota can use all the talent they can get in the passing game. Rudolph will be splitting time with John Carlson which limits both of their upsides, but if Rudolph becomes the primary tight end then his fantasy value really climbs the chart.
Greg Olsen, Car/6 (Value = 142, ADP = 132) in the 13th round or later. - He did not put it all together last year after moving to Carolina from Chicago. He split time with Jeremy Shockey last year, but now is the only legitimate TE on their roster for this year. Playing with Cam Newton, Olsen should have a lot of opportunity to put in his best season to date.
In leagues that go after kickers early, just wait. You can get an adequate PK in the last two rounds of your draft. In leagues that draft this position real late (most leagues), look towards the second to last round to grab the one kicker you will roster. Suffice it to say that in a lot of leagues now, people wait until their last pick to take their kickers and end up missing the good kickers by a few picks. Most likely that sleeper WR you want in the second to last round will still be there for you in the last round. In waiver wire friendly leagues (most), don't be afraid to draft just one kicker and add others as necessary during the season to cover the bye weeks and/or exploit matchups.
The kicker I am targeting in a lot of drafts is Garrett Hartley, NO/6. You can usually get him after 6 kickers are taken. Should you miss out on him, grabbing Shayne Graham, Hou/8 will get you a producer after ten or more kickers have been taken.
Scoring systems generally come into play and define when defenses are taken. I suggest you wait until 7-9 defenses get selected and then take the Bills defense with confidence.
Another winning strategy to deploy after the draft for defenses is simply to look two games ahead in the waiver process. Most teams will have one or two defenses meaning that half of the defenses are available as free agent pick ups each week. By looking two to three weeks ahead at who will be playing Indianapolis, St. Louis, Cleveland and Jacksonville etc. you likely can find a cheap defense that should perform well against subpar offenses. Drop this defense after their "quality game" so that you can continue to pick up other defenses that will have good weeks. Because of this strategy, I advise you to draft just one defense and look to play matchups the rest of the way. Every year two or three defenses are predicted to be terrible but end up playing great.
Putting It All Together
- Draft for value until the top 50 players is exhausted. These are your "core" and will define how you approach the rest of the draft.
- Look to select Matt Ryan as your quarterback in the 5th round. If he eludes you, wait until nine or ten quarterbacks have been selected and take two in successive picks. Robert Griffin III and Ben Roethlisberger are two that I expect to exceed their draft position. Both add key rushing yards and TDs to pad their fantasy totals. Both also play for teams that have suspect ground games.
- Target TE Aaron Hernandez in the late 4th round, but if you miss on him grab Brent Celek and play with confidence.
- Add value at QB, RB, WR and TE in the middle rounds to protect bye weeks, add critical depth, and give yourself a chance to trade off talent to bolster your squad as the season progresses.
- Target this list of players that have exceptional value this year:
- RB Donald Brown, Ind/4 in the 6th round or later
- WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oak/5 in the 7th round or later
- QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pit/4 in the 8th round or later
- WR Titus Young, Det/5 in the 9th round or later
- TE Brent Celek, Phi/7 in the 10th round or later
- WR Jerome Simpson, Min/11 in the 12th round or later
- QB Jake Locker, Ten/11 in the 13th round or later
- RB Bilal Powell, NYJ/9 in the 15th round or later
- Use the final rounds to add your kicker, a defense and to go after young players in a "Swing-For-The-Fence" mentality. These are players who most likely have a reserve role now, but could be huge fantasy producers should they be given a larger role in their offenses. All should be able to be drafted after round 15. At quarterback I like Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, and Russell Wilson. At running back I like Montario Hardesty, Javon Ringer, Lamar Miller, and Bernard Pierce. At wide receiver I like Steve Smith (StL), Stephen Hill, Brian Hartline, Donnie Avery, Harry Douglas, and Reuben Randle. At tight end I like Rob Housler, Ed Dickson, and Lance Kendricks as younger players that could dominate if given the chance.
- Unless your league has some exotic scoring that elevates defenses, it is best to wait until the last few rounds to grab your defense. After 7-9 defenses are off the board, you should be able to grab the Buffalo Bills. They will be solid and have a great schedule.
- Wait until the second to last round and grab your kicker. Garrett Hartley and Shayne Graham are two that should be available late that play for good offenses.
Well that is it folks. Hope you all do well in your coming drafts. Remember, the key is not to just follow the Top 300 list but to see where it differs substantially from average drafts. This is how you get value with every pick. And value is how you build winning fantasy teams.
Here is a sample team drafted from the 9th position:
Rd 1 - Pick 9 - TE Jimmy Graham, NO (ADP = 9) Rd 2 - Pick 16 - WR Julio Jones, Atl/7 (ADP = 22) Rd 3 - Pick 33 – RB Fred Jackson, Buf/8 (ADP = 33) Rd 4 - Pick 40 - RB Reggie Bush, Mia/7 (ADP = 45) Rd 5 - Pick 57 - WR Steve Johnson, Buf/8 (ADP = 59) Rd 6 - Pick 64 – RB Donald Brown, Ind/4 (ADP = 73) Rd 7 - Pick 81 - QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pit/4 (ADP = 88) Rd 8 - Pick 88 – WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oak/5 (ADP = 101) Rd 9 - Pick 105 - QB Josh Freeman, TB/5 (ADP = 119) Rd 10 - Pick 112 – RB Evan Royster, Was/10 (ADP = 124) Rd 11 - Pick 129 - TE Brent Celek, Phi/7 (ADP = 129) Rd 12 - Pick 136 – WR Brandon LaFell, Car/6 (Value = 114, ADP = 149) Rd 13 - Pick 153 - RB Kendall Hunter, SF/9 (ADP = 153) Rd 14 - Pick 160 - QB Alex Smith, SF/9 (ADP = 165) Rd 15 - Pick 177 – WR Emmanuel Sanders, Pit/4 (ADP = 193) Rd 16 - Pick 184 – QB Russell Wilson, Sea/11 (ADP = 199) Rd 17 - Pick 201 - RB Bilal Powell, NYJ/9 (ADP = 250) Rd 18 - Pick 208 - Best defense available Rd 19 - Pick 225 - Best kicker available Rd 20 - Pick 233 – WR Brian Hartline, Mia/7 (ADP = 247)