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Faceoff: Late Rounds Strategy

Footballguys staff members discuss how to best close out your draft

Generally speaking, what is your primary focus late in your drafts?

Andy Hicks: It depends on how deep the league is. In shallow leagues you are trying to cover depth, get a kicker and a defense.

In medium sized leagues you can be a lot more flexible. Options such as handcuffing, platooning wide receivers or backup running backs, maybe a third quarterback and multiple defences become options. A lot depends on how you have drafted in the early and middle rounds, but my preferred option would be looking to platoon wide receivers or backing up my first few draft picks if they have viable replacements. An example would be to draft both Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, therefore platooning the Detroit WR2 position or if I drafted A.J. Green early, I may look to get Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones later on.

In deeper leagues or 16-team leagues, the whole range of options are open. You would always be looking to get value for your selections, even in the 24th round, but also be looking for players with upside. Some people like to gamble on roster longshots or a guy that busts out in the fourth quarter of a preseason game, but I'd much rather look at depth at all positions. A third quarterback, a second team defense, roster certainties behind weak starting running backs, third wide receivers on the best or up and coming passing attacks, basically avoiding the guy who gets cut before final rosters are decided.

Jason Wood: Andy is correct in that the answer really comes down to the size and type of league. In the kinds of shallow redraft leagues that are most popular, I would just load up on running backs and wide receivers...the more the better. In fact, if your draft rules don't specify that you have to draft a complete roster, I would probably pass on drafting kicker too and just take another skill guy. But if the leagues are deeper, I would instead focus on rounding out positions. In QB-scarce leagues it's a real asset to have a third projected starter (talking about DEEP leagues here), and it can even be worth grabbing a second defense in deep leagues if it looks like the only waiver wire options are going to be the bottom 8-10 defenses.

Adam Harstad: I try to be cognizant of the fact that most of the guys I draft in the later rounds will wind up benched for the entire season or cut for some waiver wire darling. Realizing that really brings the goal of the late rounds into focus: all you should be trying to do at this point is rostering upside. I'd much rather draft a long shot with upside than a more reliable name without any upside. If the long shot misses, then it makes it easier to figure out who to cut when submitting waiver claims. If the low-upside player performs to expectations, though, he's just going to be a roster albatross- too productive to cut, not productive enough to start.

To illustrate using current ADP values... right now, Davone Bess is the 75th receiver off the board, A.J. Jenkins is the 76th, and Mario Manningham is the 77th. Bess and Manningham are both known mediocrities. They're guys who have already bounced around the league for a little bit. Bess has never been fantasy relevant. Manningham already disappointed in his current role just last season. The best case scenario for either, in my opinion, is that they manage to become a secondary or tertiary target in mediocre passing offense. I don't trust either of them to be efficient converting the targets they do receive to fantasy points. Maybe they'll give you WR3-type production if you're forced to start them once or twice due to bye issues, but in all likelihood even their best case scenario is hardly worth rostering.

A.J. Jenkins, on the other hand, is much more interesting. He's a recent 1st round pick whose coaching staff is invested in his success. He's falling as far as he is because he was spectacularly unproductive as a rookie. Even in the best case scenario, first-round WRs are a 50/50 proposition in the NFL, and Jenkins' rookie season makes that look wildly optimistic. Still, while I think he's unlikely to amount to much of anything in fantasy this year, it's not hard to craft a narrative where Jenkins shocks the world. He wouldn't be the first young, talented receiver to start his career slowly. If I'm in the 18th round and I'm looking for a receiver, I'd much prefer a complete unknown like Jenkins over a known mediocrity like Bess or Manningham.

Another point to remember in the later rounds, especially when drafting quite a while before the season kicks off, is that you don't want to draft someone based on what their value is today, you want to draft them based on what it might be in September. Right now, Willis McGahee's ADP is basically off the map. That makes sense today, because McGahee is a free agent and you can't score points if you don't have a team. All it takes, though, is for one team to suffer an injury atop their running back depth chart, and suddenly McGahee is back in the game. I would love to gamble on McGahee with the last pick of my draft. Either he lands on a team and his value rises dramatically, or he doesn't land on a team and I just cut him when adding free agents after Week 1. Remember, the last pick of your draft is already going to be the first guy you look to cut in free agency, so there's no downside. Brandon Lloyd and Chris Wells are two more players who are currently free agents, but who might wind up latching on with a team once injuries strike. Nick Foles and Zach Sudfeld are two guys who are priced like backups, but who have a shot at winning the starting job. One last name worth mentioning is Riley Cooper; his off-the-field actions raise serious questions about whether he'll make Philadelphia's 53-man roster. If he does make that roster, it's presumably to be a starting wide receiver on one of the most up-tempo offenses in the league. If he doesn't make the roster... well, like I said, guys you take in the 20th round or later are typically the same guys you're looking to cut to make room for whatever waiver wire darlings catch your eye in Week 1. To me, that's a gamble very much worth taking with your last pick of the draft.

Mark Wimer: As in all things fantasy, late round strategy is partially determined by who you've rostered earlier in the draft. Sometimes you may feel the need to back up a starter, while other times you might just load up on a lot of projects.

Taking a third starting QB in 14- or 16-team leagues (or a really deep league as Jason notes) is a really useful strategm because A) there really aren't 32 fantasy-worthy starters in the NFL - nobody wants a team with Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne or Christian Ponder/Matt Cassel as their No. 2 quarterbacks, so having three starters gives you excellent injury insurance - and B). having three projected starters at quarterback gives you a great deal of trade leverage if another owner's top starter goes down - Matt Ryan has no proven backup, just two young arms in Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree, and Renfree is coming off a shoulder injury in Duke's bowl game, as one example of a lean NFL quarterback stable entering 2013.

In a just-completed, 40-round IDP start-up dynasty draft (with a three-team taxi squad) I drafted FIVE quarterbacks, two of whom are destined for the rookie taxi squad - Matt Ryan, Sean Renfree, Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon, and Matt Schaub. The way I look at it, Freeman either has a great year and I've got quality injury insurance for coming years in Glennon, or Freeman is cut loose in 2014 and starts somewhere else in the NFL, which will likely give me four starters next year in that scenario. Schaub I can hold during 2013 or trade away in the event of another team losing their No. 1 quarterback (I like the lineup of receivers and tight ends in Houston, plus Arian Foster and Ben Tate can catch the football - Schaub has led the NFL in passing yardage once in his career (2009 - 4,770 yards) and should be well in excess of 4,000 again this year. If more than one-two quality NFL starting quarterbacks miss time during 2013 Schaub should have premium trade value for my squad.

The dearth of quality NFL quarterbacks makes them worth cultivating in dynasty leagues, in my opinion.

During late rounds, I also like to load up on second- and third-year wide receivers who have a chance to break out in the coming season. The Mohamed Sanu/Marvin Jones duo is on a lot of my benches this year (including the IDP dynasty league referenced above), and I really like Nick Toon as an upside play - especially with Joe Morgan now out due to an ACL. Toon is the likely No. 3 wide receiver in New Orleans, and he is the established backup to Marques Colston, who is aging rapidly and somewhat injury prone. Toon's NFL opportunity is just around the corner in my opinion.

As a DeMarco Murray owner in a lot of leagues, I've been picking up Lance Dunbar as his injury insurance often - Dunbar is set as the No. 2 running back in Dallas as far as I can tell and Murray isn't a paragon of playing 16-game seasons thus far in his career.

Will Grant: In the late rounds, it's all about swinging for the fence. You look for guys that are boom-or-bust types. Players that can quickly turn your team from contender to champion if the situation breaks right for them. A lot of guys like the 'handcuff' idea, where the draft a player's backup in the event of an injury. I'm not a big fan of this, but I'm not above drafting someone else's backup player if I think they might produce. Sigmund Bloom puts a group of the staff together for the What If series (like What If Danny Amendola Gets Hurt) and these are great places to look for potential late round flyer picks that might work out for you. These picks are really considered 'throw away' picks, where if the guy doesn't work out right away, you just cut him loose.

As far as kicker and defense go, I definitely try to go with only one of each. If the league drafts early enough (like in July), I may even skip drafting a kicker if I know that there will be a free agency period before the first week of the season. I'd rather go into camp with a potential star than to carry a kicker on my roster and hope that I can get the same guy week 1 if he breaks out. Just make sure you can have at least one waiver wire session before the season starts, or you'll be sitting without a kicker for the opening week.

Heath Cummings: I agree with Will when he says "it's all about swinging for the fences". I also agree with skipping a kicker if you have the opportunity to pick one up later, especially for drafts that happen in July or early August. I generally aim for backup running backs that I think would be successful if they got the job and young high-upside receivers. These are the types of players that are most likely to be thrust into a starting lineup and turn into bye week replacements or all-important trade chips. I generally like to take a defense in the third-to-last round. You won't get your first choice there, but it's generally right before the run from the "don't draft a defense or kicker before your last two picks" crowd. If I must take a kicker, I take one in the next-to last round for the same reason.

There are two other positions that I may focus on in the late rounds. One is tight end, because if I don't get one of the top six tight ends I don't see much value in taking one before the end of the draft. In my opinion there's a pretty small difference between tight ends 7-17 this year, so I'll load up with two or three tight ends at the end of the draft and then play the one that hits. The other position is defensive back in IDP leagues. Safety is an extremely deep position and it's often pretty productive to play the matchups week to week.

Andy Hicks: I have to advise a little bit of caution in the swing for the fences approach, but first of all I need to define it. Swing for the fences to me means taking a player late that has way more bust out potential than boom.

If we look at last years MFL average ADP figures and define anyone with an ADP after the end of the 14th round as a swing for the fences type, we have a very poor hit rate. People may point to Alfred Morris, but on average he was taken on average in the late 12th, early 13th round. Not my definition of a swing for the fence.

Of players taken with an ADP higher than the 14th round, the highest ranking QB was Sam Bradford who finished 18th. At running back, the best we could get was Danny Woodhead who finished 25th. Vick Ballard at 27th was also useful. Next we have Felix Jones and Knowshon Moreno who took their time getting stats. We had a few successes at Wide Receiver where James Jones finished 16th, T.Y. Hilton 25th, Golden Tate 30th, Brian Hartline 35th, Josh Gordon 37th and Andre Roberts 39th all had varying degrees of use. At tight end we got a couple of big results in Heath Miller who finished 4th and Dennis Pitta who finished 7th.

How many of them can be considered home runs? If I'm being generous, maybe two or three of them. To me that's a poor strike rate when players like Jake Locker, Kendall Hunter, Dustin Keller and Michael Floyd were more likely to have been swing for the fence types. Guys like Cecil Shorts and others who were popular waiver wire types, were more than likely undrafted and I wouldn't count as a swing for the fence.

Maybe it's a one year anomaly and in other years guys with an ADP outside the first 14th rounds succeed more often, but I'd much rather pick off the fallen fruit in guys who have fallen below their ADP, than reach for the top of the tree and more than likely throw away a draft pick. A second base hit is more useful than a strikeout and before anyone thinks I'm being too conservative, I'm not advocating taking guys like Michael Jenkins or Jason Avant who perennially fall in the WR50-70 area. These kind of guys are no use to anyone, but I'd rather be relying on my first 14 picks than hope one of my last two, four, six, etc. picks bails me out. Give me a backup to one of my early picks or cover my bases with a platooned wide receive pick, a second defense or a third quarterback any day rather than a player that I'm likely cut at the first chance.

Obviously knowledge takes out some of these players that are likely to bust, but how many people have a true skill at finding swing for the fence picks? As a percentage play, swing for the fences is very low. You may occasionally hit it big and even win your league with it, but I guarantee that a higher percentage option will be more fruitful.

Jeff Pasquino: I'm with Will and Heath here. Once you have secured your starters (minus kicker and defense) and probably a backup at each spot, I am only going to draft players that - if a certain scenario plays out - will get into my weekly lineup. Otherwise, these players are completely useless to me. In a deep league, this may mean a handcuff to my RB1, but in many leagues this is a running back or wide receiver that may become the next Victor Cruz or Alfred Morris if the right situation plays out. The last thing you want to do is to pick a guy who should be on the waiver wire most weeks.