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Being a Fantasy Elitist, Part II

How to Exclusively Target Elite Offenses in Your Fantasy Drafts

In Part I, we discussed why it is important to target players from offenses expected to be among the NFL's best. In this installment, we'll put what we learned in Part I to practice. First, in order to target elite offenses, we must identify them. Sigmund Bloom did an excellent job of this back in June. To summarize, here are the offenses to target:

  • Tier 1: Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Green Bay, New England
  • Tier 2: Philadelphia, San Diego, New Orleans, Denver
  • Tier 3: Minnesota, Dallas, Atlanta

And here are the offenses to avoid:

  • Bottom Tier: Tennessee, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, Buffalo, Houston, St. Louis
  • Low Tier: Washington, San Francisco, Carolina, Kansas City

Putting Theory Into Practice

Now that we know which offenses should be our focal points, let's examine ADP data (PPR scoring) to determine which players to target in each round. For this exercise, we'll assume a window in the Pick 5-8 range to give decent-sized pool of players and allow for some "reaching" if we really like a player. Exercises like this always have some margin for error as every draft is unique and sees players selected in different places.

Rounds 1 and 2

Rounds 1 and 2

We learned in Part I that the wide receiver position has the biggest correlation between good offenses and top-12 fantasy finishes. Because of that, it's a safe move to grab two receivers from high-octane offenses in Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson.

Sunday, August 23 edit: with Nelson's injury news, we obviously wouldn't select him here (or in any portion of a draft) as he is out for the season. Instead, we'll simply select his teammate, Randall Cobb. Cobb will get an uptick in targets without Nelson and is a solid low-end WR1 now.

Rounds 3 and 4

Rounds 3 and 4

After starting with two wide receivers, some emphasis should probably be placed on running backs. Part I showed us that runners on bad offenses can overcome their situations but only if they're the true focal point of their team. Without one of those guys available this late, we should remember that half of the top-12 running back finishes in the last two years came from good offenses. Frank Gore won't be the centerpiece of Indianapolis' potent unit, but he'll get the bulk of the carries.

C.J. Spiller won't be the bellcow or goal line back in New Orleans, but he will lead in running back receptions on a team that often leads the NFL in overall running back receptions. Considering the PPR format and our two high-end receivers, Spiller is a nice RB2 fit.

ROUNDS 5 AND 6

Rounds 5 and 6

These rounds are a wasteland for players from good offenses. That is explained by the 26-8 imbalance of good offense players to bad offense players in the first four rounds. All of the top performers on good offenses are selected early. This portion of the draft introduces the top performers from the bad offenses. While tempting as top options on their teams, these players are still far from guaranteed to produce. Rounds 5 and 6 are good rounds to "reach" if you like a player going a round later that you don't think will make it back to you.

The selection of Ben Roethlisberger here is a prime example of this strategy. His ADP is half a round lower, but he's at the controls of our number-one offense. Many like him better among quarterbacks than Drew Brees, who is going right in the middle of the fifth round. If you agree with that ranking, it further justifies the pick. Pairing Roethlisberger with Martavis Bryant provides us a very high weekly ceiling while not torpedoing our floor due to the players we've selected earlier.

ROUNDS 7 AND 8

Rounds 7 and 8

Many fantasy owners are scared off by Bill Belichick's fickle hand when it comes to selecting a New England running back, but the offense provides LeGarrette Blount with a high floor in games where the script should favor New England. Fundamentally, he's a touchdown scorer on a team that should score plenty of touchdowns. Charles Johnson of Minnesota gives us an emerging young receiver in an offense coordinated by fantasy-friendly Norv Turner.

ROUNDS 9 AND 10

Rounds 9 and 10

Round 9 is another "wasteland" of sorts with many first and second options on neutral offense teams littering this part of the draft. In Part I, we concluded that if we're making an exception at wide receiver, we're looking at players who will be target hogs in their neutral offenses. With a raw rookie projected to start opposite him and virtually no pass-catching experience at tight end, Steve Smith fits that bill. Since the tight end position provided us with random, touchdown-heavy correlation results in Part I, it felt prudent to wait and not invest too much capital at the position. So Josh Hill in Round 10 seems like a nice fit as he has shown some red zone acumen (even when Jimmy Graham was on the team).

It's worth noting here that we now have two New Orleans players on the team. Many fantasy owners don't like to mix players from the same NFL team unless it's in a quarterback-to-receiver "connection." However, we've already conceded that Spiller isn't the team's goal line back and discussed that we're shooting for touchdown production with Hill. Therefore, these two won't cannabalize each other's fantasy production very much due to their difference usage profiles. 

ROUNDS 11 AND 12

Rounds 11 and 12

Rounds 11 and 12 still offer some high-floor players whose ceilings could far exceed their price tags should some injuries on their teams occur. Danny Woodhead is the quintessential high-floor, low-ceiling PPR running back. If Melvin Gordon can't handle pass-blocking duties or gets injured, Woodhead's role would only grow. Dwayne Allen is another tight end with good red zone skills.

Allen joins Frank Gore as Indianapolis representatives on the roster. While Spiller and Hill had difference usage patterns, Gore and Allen will both need touchdowns to be high-end fantasy performers. It would appear that we're limiting our team's ceiling here. However, it's important to remember that the whole intent behind selecting players from elite offenses is that they'll produce enough yards and touchdowns to make multiple players high-level fantasy producers.

Roster Through 12 Rounds

Roster 1

If the last two years of history serves us right, both top-seven receivers should finish as WR1s; at least one of the running backs should climb into the RB1 ranks; and the quarterback should finish very close to his current ranking as a floor. Even after eliminating two-thirds of the NFL, we crafted a team that looks like a championship contender.

If you're opposed to starting with two wide receivers, here's another potential roster:

Roster 2

Allen Robinson seems to be this year's "hype darling." He's a receiver on a bad offense, which generally doesn't lead to fantasy success. But he has a lot of talent, so we chose him in the Round 6 "wasteland" as an upside pick.

Top Options, Bottom Offenses

Instead of exclusively choosing players from good offenses, here's a team of "number one" options on bad offenses for comparison.

Roster 3

While this team could potentially cobble together a decent record, it has a very low ceiling as the touchdown potential for many of these players is low -- mainly due to poor quarterback play on their teams.

Late Round Sleepers

Based solely on the teams for which they play, here are some late-round fliers that should be considered as they could be fantasy difference-makers with injuries in front of them or if depth charts fall their way:

  • Cody Latimer (Round 13)
  • Montee Ball (Round 13)
  • DeAngelo Williams (Round 13)
  • Jerick McKinnon (Round 14)
  • James White (Round 15)
  • Heath Miller (Round 15)
  • Steve Johnson (Round 15)
  • Donte Moncrief (Round 16)
  • Dan Herron (Round 16)
  • Phillip Dorsett (Round 16)
  • Jonas Gray (Round 19)
  • Travaris Cadet (Round 19)
  • Lance Dunbar (Round 20)
  • Cole Beasley (Round 20)
  • Mark Sanchez (Round 20)
  • Virgil Green (Round 21)
  • Nick Toon (Round 21)

Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail hester@footballguys.com