This is the first of a multi-part series. The other versions will be 12-team (non-PPR), 14-team (PPR), 10-team (PPR), Auction (PPR), and FPC formats. Jeff Pasquino will assist me in those efforts.
I started penning this article in 2002 to put my predraft 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 quarterback and/or tight end in a lot of drafts. Many drafters show me teams where they grab a guy like Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning early and then knock the rest of the draft out of the park. That's definitely possible. And against weak competition, it can be the preferred gameplan.
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/or Dominator apps and compare that to the number of guys crossing off players from their magazine cheatsheet 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 quarterbacks and tight ends too. You should do this because it's nearly assured you will also get many great players to slide to you at running back and wide receiver. 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 postdraft 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 should 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 300+ lists. For this article, I will be using the Top 300 (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 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 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 defense, and 1 place kicker. Fantasy points are calculated as follows:
- Passing TDs = 4 points
- Interceptions = -1 points
- Rushing/receiving TDs = 6 points
- Passing yardage = 0.05 pts per yard (1 pt per 20 yards)
- Rushing/receiving yardage = 0.10 pts per yard (1 pt per 10 yards)
The Top 50 Players
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. This list appears here for PPR leagues
- 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 PPR list. You can get a tailored list by entering your scoring criteria into the VBD or Draft Dominator applications:
- Pick 1.01 - RB1 LeVeon Bell , PIT/11 (ADP = 1)
- Pick 1.02 - WR1 Antonio Brown , PIT/11 (ADP = 3)
- Pick 1.03 - RB2 Jamaal Charles, KC/9 (ADP = 4)
- Pick 1.04 - WR2 Odell Beckham Jr, NYG/11 (ADP = 8)
- Pick 1.05 - RB3 Adrian Peterson , MIN/5 (ADP = 2)
- Pick 1.06 - WR3 Julio Jones, ATL/10 (ADP = 10)
- Pick 1.07 - WR4 Demaryius Thomas, DEN/7 (ADP = 9)
- Pick 1.08 - TE1 Rob Gronkowski, NE/4 (ADP = 11)
- Pick 1.09 - WR5 Dez Bryant, DAL/6 (ADP = 6)
- Pick 1.10 - RB4 Eddie Lacy, GB/7 (ADP = 5)
- Pick 1.11 - RB5 C.J. Anderson, DEN/7 (ADP = 12)
- Pick 1.12 - RB6 Matt Forte, CHI/7 (ADP = 13)
- Pick 2.01 - WR6 Calvin Johnson, DET/9 (ADP = 14)
- Pick 2.02 - RB7 Marshawn Lynch, SEA/9 (ADP = 7)
- Pick 2.03 - WR7 Jordy Nelson, GB/7 (ADP = 17)
- Pick 2.04 - QB1 Andrew Luck, IND/10 (ADP = 15)
- Pick 2.05 - RB8 DeMarco Murray, PHI/8 (ADP = 18)
- Pick 2.06 - RB9 LeSean McCoy, BUF/8 (ADP = 16)
- Pick 2.07 - RB10 Justin Forsett, BAL/9 (ADP = 24)
- Pick 2.08 - RB11 Jeremy Hill, CIN/7 (ADP = 21)
- Pick 2.09 - WR8 A.J. Green, CIN/7 (ADP = 19)
- Pick 2.10 - WR9 Randall Cobb, GB/7 (ADP = 22)
- Pick 2.11 - QB2 Aaron Rodgers, GB/7 (ADP = 20)
- Pick 2.12 - WR10 T.Y. Hilton, IND/10 (ADP = 26)
- Pick 3.01 - WR11 DeAndre Hopkins, HOU/9 (ADP = 32)
- Pick 3.02 - RB12 Lamar Miller, MIA/5 (ADP = 29)
- Pick 3.03 - WR12 Mike Evans, TB/6 (ADP = 25)
- Pick 3.04 - RB13 Frank Gore, IND/10 (ADP = 33)
- Pick 3.05 - WR13 Alshon Jeffery , CHI/7 (ADP = 23)
- Pick 3.06 - RB14 Mark Ingram, NO/11 (ADP = 36)
- Pick 3.07 - TE2 Jimmy Graham, SEA/9 (ADP = 27)
- Pick 3.08 - WR14 Emmanuel Sanders, DEN/7 (ADP = 28)
- Pick 3.09 - WR15 Brandin Cooks, NO/11 (ADP = 30)
- Pick 3.10 - RB15 Joseph Randle, DAL/6 (ADP = 40)
- Pick 3.11 - RB16 Alfred Morris, WAS/8 (ADP = 37)
- Pick 3.12 - RB17 Melvin Gordon, SD/10 (ADP = 31)
- Pick 4.01 - RB18 Andre Ellington, ARI/9 (ADP = 41)
- Pick 4.02 - RB19 Latavius Murray, OAK/6 (ADP = 42)
- Pick 4.03 - RB20 C.J. Spiller , NO/11 (ADP = 45)
- Pick 4.04 - WR16 Julian Edelman , NE/4 (ADP = 46)
- Pick 4.05 - QB3 Russell Wilson, SEA/9 (ADP = 44)
- Pick 4.06 - WR17 Keenan Allen, SD/10 (ADP = 47)
- Pick 4.07 - WR18 Kelvin Benjamin, CAR/5 (ADP = 34)
- Pick 4.08 - RB21 Todd Gurley, STL/6 (ADP = 49)
- Pick 4.09 - WR19 Andre Johnson, IND/10 (ADP = 43)
- Pick 4.10 - TE3 Greg Olsen, CAR/5 (ADP = 52)
- Pick 4.11 - RB22 Jonathan Stewart, CAR/5 (ADP = 55)
- Pick 4.12 - RB23 Ameer Abdullah, DET/9 (ADP = 59)
- Pick 5.01 - RB24 Carlos Hyde, SF/10 (ADP = 38)
- Pick 5.02 - RB25 T.J. Yeldon, JAX/8 (ADP = 54)
Note: There are three quarterbacks that appear on this list, but I am going to tell you a simple truth. Your team will end up a lot better if you wait until after this list is exhausted before choosing a quarterback. The reason for this is because there is exceptional value at quarterback once everyone in the league drafts one. In years where there were just a handful of difference makers, you could make an argument that you need an elite one. This year the quarterback pool is as deep as I have ever seen. Trust me here. Don't draft an early quarterback.
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. Obviously you can't draft running backs every round and have the "Perfect Draft" since you are limited in the number you can start each week.
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 one tight end from this list unless the extra tight end is drafted in the eighth 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 2.0 running backs. Do you have two or more including one in the first round? Is this a position of strength for your team?
- Did you draft a quarterback or tight end (the average owner should have 0.25 quarterbacks and 0.25 tight ends) 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 Oakland, Tennessee, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, and New Orleans should all yield good results during these weeks.
As an example, Let's say you landed this team after five rounds (from the seventh position):
- 7. WR Odell Beckham Jr, NYG/11
- 18. RB Demarco Murray, PHI/8
- 31. WR DeAndra Hopkins, HOU/9
- 42. WR Julian Edelman, NE/4
- 55. RB Jonathan Stewart, CAR/5
Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: quarterback (none taken), tight end (non taken)
Unless significant value presents itself, my next few rounds plan would be:
- Grab another quality RB
- Fill out roster need at tight end
- Fill out roster need at quarterback
- Grab a player sliding at wide receiver ONLY if he represents exceptional value.
Note the departure from looking for value at all cost here. Wide receiver may represent value at your next pick, but this selected player is a roster need. 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 running back, tight end, or quarterback 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 10th position:
- 10. TE Rob Gronkowski, NE/4
- 15. WR Jordy Nelson, GB/7
- 34. RB Mark Ingram, NO/11
- 39. RB Joseph Randle, DAL/6
- 58. RB Ameer Abdullah, DET/9
Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: quarterback (none taken), and just one WR taken.
Unless significant value presents itself, my next few rounds plan would be:
- Grab wide receivers.
- Fill out roster need at quarterback
- Grab a player sliding at running back ONLY if he represents exceptional value.
Let's look at a final example. This one from the second position:
- 2. WR Antonio Brown, PIT/11
- 23. RB Justin Forsett, BAL/9
- 26. WR T.Y. Hilton, IND/10
- 47. WR Keenan Allen, SD/10
- 50. TE Greg Olsen, CAR/5
Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: quarterback (none taken), a major bye week issue at WR for week 10, just one RB.
Unless significant value presents itself, my next few rounds plan would be:
- Grab running backs.
- Fill out roster need at quarterback
- Grab a WR without a week 10 bye
Moving to Fill Positional Needs
If you followed this plan up to here, you should not have selected a quarterback within the Top 50 picks.
The league has morphed into a passing exhibition on most weeks. Fifteen quarterbacks finished the year with 4,000+ combined passing and rushing yards. Let that sink in. For every drafter taking a quarterback early, someone waiting still got a player who finished with 4,000 combined yards much later in the draft.
There have never been more quality quarterbacks playing each week than what is available this season. So for every drafter that pulls the trigger to get an Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson early, some drafter (read YOU if you are wise) will grab someone like Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford, or Philip Rivers as many as six to seven rounds later. I am telling you with conviction that there is not enough difference to make getting the "elite" guys worthy of a draft strategy this season.
Waiting is for Winners...draft the 12th quarterback...or later.
From my own projections, here are my top fantasy quarterbacks for this year:
- Andrew Luck (ADP = 2.03), IND/10 (412 Fantasy Points)
- Aaron Rodgers (ADP = 2.08), GB/7 (397 Fantasy Points)
- Russell Wilson (ADP = 4.08), SEA/9 (355 Fantasy Points)
- Ben Roethlisberger (ADP = 5.08), PIT/11 (355 Fantasy Points)
- Matt Ryan (ADP = 6.06), ATL/10 (338 Fantasy Points)
- Cam Newton (ADP = 6.07), CAR/5 (338 Fantasy Points)
- Drew Brees (ADP = 5.09), NO/11 (336 Fantasy Points)
- Peyton Manning (ADP = 4.03), DEN/7 (336 Fantasy Points)
- Tony Romo (ADP = 7.01), DAL/6 (334 Fantasy Points)
- Matthew Stafford (ADP = 7.11), DET/9 (331 Fantasy Points)
- Eli Manning (ADP = 8.02), NYG/11 (330 Fantasy Points)
- Ryan Tannehill (ADP = 8.08), MIA/5 (327 Fantasy Points)
- Philip Rivers (ADP = 9.09), SD/10 (317 Fantasy Points)
- Colin Kaepernick (ADP = 11.11), SF/10 (312 Fantasy Points)
- Teddy Bridgewater (ADP = 11.01), MIN/5 (311 Fantasy Points)
- Sam Bradford (ADP = 10.11), PHI/8 (304 Fantasy Points)
- Andy Dalton (ADP = 14.02), CIN/7 (300 Fantasy Points)
- Jameis Winston (ADP = 13.25), TB/6 (298 Fantasy Points)
- Joe Flacco (ADP = 11.1), BAL/9 (290 Fantasy Points)
- Tom Brady (ADP = 8.06), NE/4 (286 Fantasy Points)
- Jay Cutler (ADP = 12.07), CHI/7 (283 Fantasy Points)
- Carson Palmer (ADP = 12.08), ARI/9 (283 Fantasy Points)
- Alex Smith (ADP = 16.09), KC/9 (283 Fantasy Points)
Now consider the people that took any of the top 10 names based on ADP. Are they looking to add a quality backup? Would you if you drafted Drew Brees, Cam Newton, or Tony Romo? This dynamic defines the solution. Once 11 people have drafted their quarterback, you can wait another 20+ picks and get the next guy. Who is it? It depends on your draft, but it's usually Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, or Philip Rivers. And all of these guys would have that "quality starter tag" in any other year.
But David...what if someone snipes all these other guys from me? This is the beauty of waiting. You aren't penalized by this at all; There are still plenty of solid quarterback options that could easily threaten the top 12. Chase Stuart outlines a combination of Bradford/Winston that has such a weak schedule should combine for top 5 production.
Besides drafting the 12-13th Quarterback, here are the guys that I think represent great value this year:
- Colin Kaepernick, SF/10 (Value = 99, ADP = 131) in the 11th round or later
- Andy Dalton, CIN/7 (Value = 133, ADP = 158) in the 13th round or later
- Jameis Winston, TB/6 (Value = 136, ADP = 148) in the 13th round or later
- Alex Smith, KC/9 (Value = 151, ADP = 189) in the 14th round or later
In most leagues, running backs are golden. Their value lies in their ability to both run and catch. The reason they are golden is that there are simply 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 decent 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):
- Jonathan Stewart, CAR/5 (Value = 42, ADP = 55) in the 5th round or later
- Ameer Abdullah, DET/9 (Value = 43, ADP = 59) in the 5th round or later
- Devonta Freeman, ATL/10 (Value = 85, ADP = 99) in the 8th round or later
- Darren Sproles, PHI/8 (Value = 113, ADP = 134) in the 11th round or later
- David Cobb, TEN/4 (Value = 120, ADP = 133) in the 12th round or later
- Fred Jackson, BUF/8 (Value = 145, ADP = 178) in the 14th round or later
- Theo Riddick, DET/9 (Value = 157, ADP = 222) in the 17th round or later
- Khiry Robinson, NO/11 (Value = 166, ADP = 260) in the 18th round or later
- Montee Ball, DEN/7 (ADP = 151) backs up CJ Anderson in the 14th round or later.
- Jerick McKinnon, MIN/5 (ADP = 173) backs up Adrian Peterson in the 15th round or later
- James Starks, GB/7 (ADP = 208) backs up Eddie Lacy in the 17th round or later
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 (outside of the top 50):
- Allen Robinson, JAX/8 (Value = 58, ADP = 69) in the 6th round or later
- Roddy White (Value = 63, ADP = 78) in the 7th round or later
- Anquan Boldin, SF/10 (Value = 67, ADP = 100) in the 8th round or later
- Eric Decker, NYJ/5 (Value = 69, ADP = 107) in the 9th round or later
- Torrey Smith, SF/10 (Value = 79, ADP = 102) in the 9th round or later
- Pierre Garcon, WAS/8 (Value = 80, ADP = 110) in the 10th round or later
- Kendall Wright, TEN/4 (Value = 91, ADP = 112) in the 10th round or later
- Steve Johnson, SD/10 (Value = 108, ADP = 155) in the 11th round or later
- Doug Baldwin, SEA/9 (Value = 114, ADP = 173) in the 13th round or later
- Malcom Floyd, SD/10 (Value = 141, ADP = 213) in the 15th round or later
- Allen Hurns, JAX/8 (Value = 158, ADP = 232) in the 17th round or later
- Mohamed Sanu, CIN/7 (value = 192, ADP = undrafted) in the 20th round or later
Some other WRs will undoubtedly slip in your drafts besides the above targeted bargain list. In recap, grab approximately three receivers by Round 6 and then wait for exceptional value to emerge at WR because it always does.
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).
This presents a dilemma of sorts in drafts. One can grab an elite (top 5 or 6) Tight End or wait until the later rounds and grab some upside guys that could crack the top 10 at the position.
I generally prefer a decent TE, but I think the wise drafting approach is to not reach for one if they go sooner than normal.
Here are the two TE that I am targeting outside of the top 50 players:
- Kyle Rudolph, MIN/5 (Value = 101, ADP = 129) in the 9th round or later.
- Heath Miller, PIT/11 (Value = 111, ADP = 171) in the 12th round or later.
If I fail to land Kyle Rudolph, I generally will look to grab TE with my next pick. This should put you in the Tyler Eifert, Dwayne Allen or Austin Seferian-Jenkins tier. I like all of these players as potential breakouts this season.
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.
Instead of targeting any particular kicker this year, I just like to keep these 12 names handy and start crossing them off the list. When 6-8 are gone, jump in and get the top rated guy left. Here are my top 12 kickers:
Gostkowski (NE/4), Vinatieri (IND/10), Hauschka (SEA/9), Crosby (GB/7), Tucker (BAL/9), Bailey (DAL/6), Barth (DEN/7), Parkey, PHI/8), Bryant (ATL/10), Prater (DET/9), Walsh (MIN/5), Novak (SD/10)
Scoring systems generally come into play and define when defenses are taken. I suggest you wait until 7-8 defenses get selected and then take the Eagles defense with confidence. Failing to get the Eagles, you generally can grab the Indianapolis Colts as your last pick of the draft. They start out with the Bills, Jets, Titans, and the Jaguars. That's as good as it gets and this should be a great defense out of he gate.
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 at most 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 Cleveland, Tennessee, Buffalo, Jacksonville, and St. Louis 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.
Our own Chase Stuart suggests grabbing both the Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP = undrafted) and the Indianapolis Colts (ADP = undrafted) and play matchups each week. It's a compelling strategy if you can afford using up two roster spots.
Putting It All Together
1. 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.
2. Look to select the 12-13th quarterback off the board 20 picks after the 11th QB is taken. Add another from the QB 13-16 tier soon after taking your first QB.
4. Add value at 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.
5. Use the final rounds to add your kicker, a defense and to go after younger players in a "Swing-For-The-Fence" mentality. These are players who are flying way below the radar, 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 14. At quarterback I like Jameis Winston. At running back I like Montee Ball, Jerick McKinnon, James Starks, and Khiry Robinson. At wide receiver I like Allen Hurns, Devin Funchess, Markus Wheaton, Josh Huff, and Mohamed Sanu . At tight end I like Clive Walford.
6. Unless your league has some exotic scoring that elevates defenses, it is best to wait until the last few rounds to grab your defense. Grabbing Philadelphia (after 7 defenses have been taken) or Indianapolis (last round) should yield great returns against a minimal investment.
7. Wait until the second to last round and grab your kicker.
Well that is it folks. Hope you all do well in your coming drafts. Remember, the key is not to just follow the Top 200 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.