Win. Your. League.

Receive 3 Free Downloads More Details

The Gut Check No.368: Developing a Draft Strategy

Waldman turns an ADP list sideways and takes you through the process of developing a draft strategy. 

Upside-Down Drafting is now right-side up. I wrote about not taking running backs until the fifth round well before social media became popular. And it's not like I was the originator. Paul Charchian was writing about it ("Do-the-Opposite") before the Internet became a fantasy football mainstay. 

My motivation for the strategy was to zig when people zagged. Now that Upside-Down/Zero-RB/Do-the-Opposite has become conventionally acceptable and the encouraged approach among fantasy analysts across the industry, I can't help but wonder if it's time to switch things up. 

There are a number of options that I'm considering and it's easy to bounce around with several half-baked thoughts without arriving at any strong conclusions. I imagine if I'm having this problem, many of you are, too.

I've always found that when I'm stuck, it's helpful to look at things a different way. Seeing something old from a new perspective can generate fresh ideas.

It's what I'm doing this week with a (PPR) ADP list. I'm taking an ADP list, reformatting the look, and walking you through a process that should help us solidify some viable draft strategies this year.

ADP lists, like rankings, are presented in a linear fashion. With my usual draft strategy becoming commonplace, I'm looking for fresher angles and a linear list doesn't help me visualize the cause-and-effect of my roster building choices.   

So I changed things up. These first four tables are ordered by RB, WR, QB, and TE. Each column is the ADP round for the players. The players in each position table are in order of recent ADP from the link above. 

I formatted it this way because it's a good way to visualize the first eight rounds of a draft. 

 Things I notice from this perspective:

  • Taking the top rated QBs early may generate a significant lead on the rest of the position group if you make the right pick, but it's not usually enough production to make up for the loss of early-round players at RB and WR. 
  • If fantasy owners stick closely to ADP,  3-5 backs will leave the board each round for the first 15 rounds. 
  • There are backup RBs with higher ADPs than starters. 
  • If you want surer bets at WR1-WR2, 23 of the 24 options will be gone by the end of the fourth round.
  • If you want surer bets at RB1-RB2, 18 of the 24 options will be gone by the end of the fourth round. 
  • Four QBs and three TEs will be gone by the end of the fourth round. 
  • Eight rookies have ADPs in the first 12 rounds and only 3 have ADPs within the first 8 rounds.

These aren't even the most compelling takeaways. Seeing the players listed this way reveals to me that there are a lot of players that I think are overvalued. If I'm drafting with a specific strategy in mind, like taking a block of 5-7 runners between rounds 5-12, there will be players I take so I'm adhering to the strategy when I'd otherwise bypass.

But I want to see what happens if I cut players from my list who I'll avoid based on their ADP. I also want to note underrated players I'm willing to reach at least a round higher than ADP. Here's how the first eight rounds appear when I redshirted talents I'd prefer to avoid and green-lit options I'd stretch for. 

In case you're color blind, I redshirted Julian Edelman, Andrew Luck, Latavius Murray, Matt Jones, Jeremy Langford, Jordan Matthews, DeVante Parker, Frank Gore, and Ladarius Green. I green-lit Dough Martin, Matt Forte, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Allen Hurns, Travis Kelce, John Brown, Tyler Lockett, and Marvin Jones. If you're wondering why I made these choices, my past month of articles and rankings comments will adequately share my thoughts on them. 

Overall, I green-lit 10 players and redshirted 8. I have an equal number of redshirted and green-lit players before round 5. The majority of my redshirts are RBs.The majority of my green-lit talents are receivers.

Drafting From An Early Spot

Right away, this adjusted list reveals that my values coincide with drafting two RBs within the first five rounds. Let's explore that possibility with the first overall pick:

Option A (Rounds 1-12): 

  1. WR Antonio Brown
  2. RB Doug Martin
  3. RB Matt Forte
  4. WR Larry Fitzgerald
  5. QB Russell Wilson
  6. RB Ameer Abdullah
  7. WR Tyler Lockett
  8. WR Sterling Shepard
  9. RB Derrick Henry
  10. RB Isaiah Crowell
  11. TE Martellus Bennett or Antonio Gates
  12. WR Michael Thomas

As I constructed option A, I found that I had to draft Forte a round earlier than his ADP. I also originally picked WR Doug Baldwin in the fifth round until I saw that I would have missed all my QB choices between rounds 9-12. Wilson to Lockett is preferable to a pair of Seahawk receivers and no QB.

Option B (Rounds 1-12):

  1. RB LeVeon Bell, Adrian Peterson or Todd Gurley
  2. WR Demaryius Thomas
  3. RB Doug Martin
  4. WR Larry Fitzgerald
  5. TE Travis Kelce
  6. RB Ameer Abdullah
  7. WR Marvin Jones
  8. QB Jameis Winston
  9. WR Travis Benjamin
  10. RB Kenneth Dixon
  11. QB Matthew Stafford
  12. WR Devin Funchess

I included Peterson as a possibility because I value him higher than most but I realize most owners with the first overall pick will decide between Bell and Gurley. I'm not in love with Demaryius Thomas with my second pick but I'll take Sammy Watkins if he proves healthy by mid-August. His ADP should remain where it is due to the long-term uncertainty that lingered throughout July. I'd be happy with a Thomas/Watkins, Fitzgerald, Jones receiving trio in light of the current drafting trend. 

Option C 

  1. Rob Gronkowski
  2. Doug Martin
  3. Matt Forte
  4. Jay Ajayi
  5. Donte Moncrief
  6. Tyler Lockett
  7. Stefon Diggs
  8. Travis Benjamin
  9. Matthew Stafford
  10. Michael Thomas
  11. Jay Cutler
  12. DeAndre Washington

I'm not keen on taking Gronkowski in the first round but it's worth seeing what unfolds when you push the limits of an unconventional draft strategy. I dislike this receiving corps even if I see the potential in it. If my RBs play to their abilities, I could probably thrive without an elite fantasy receiver thanks to Gronkowski but I'll have to be excellent at selecting weekly matchups and that's easier said than done. 

Option D

  1. Antonio Brown
  2. DeMaryius Thomas
  3. Sammy Watkins
  4. Larry Fitzgerald
  5. Jay Ajayi
  6. Ameer Abdullah
  7. Tyler Lockett
  8. Derrick Henry
  9. Isaiah Crowell
  10. Martellus Bennett
  11. Matthew Stafford
  12. Devin Funchess

This option is the Upside-Down team I constructed from this reformatted ADP list. If you're new to this type of strategy, I suggest this article as a starting point. During the past decade that I have been employing this strategy with success, I've found that you only need one low-end RB1 or strong RB2 in your lineup to field a season-long points leader and a contender for a championship. 

The receivers for this squad should give this team consistency. Jay Ajayi has the best fit as a potential RB1 but Abdullah, Henry, and Crowell all have the talent if their offenses improve and they become its focal point. 

You may not find the TE-QB combo of Bennett and Stafford that inviting as a cornerstone of this strategy. I'll note that I easily could have taken Antonio Gates and Jameis Winston with the 10-11 turn. 

I like this team. My concern is that Upside-Down Drafting/Zero-RB/Do-The-Opposite has jumped the shark--at least in the leagues I'll be in. 

What I Learned From This Exercise

Re-formatting ADP into a grid will help you see what is likely to play out in drafts and how to be one step ahead of the competition. Here's what I discovered: 

Late QB? All the Way: With the possible exception of Russell Wilson, this ADP layout has shown me that I'll be far more comfortable taking my chances on quarterbacks between rounds 8-12 and closer to the bottom of this range. It's important to note that most of my leagues include fantasy analysts and they love to wait on QBs, which means passers like Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, and Carson Palmer will be available a round or two lower than their ADP.

Bortles? I bet he'll slip to the 10th round in a lot of FBG's staff leagues based on how many of my peers feel he's overrated. I'm making this point because if you are in league with owners you know well, this grid should help you see which positions/players will slip and which ones your league mates will overdraft. 

Late TE? All the Way: I'm a believer in Martellus Bennett as a TE1 steal after the 9th round. I'm also sticking with Antonio Gates as a solid TE1 until his legs fall off. Then there's the likes of Charles Clay, Eric Ebron, and Austin Hooper who all have TE1 upside. With a rich stock of late-round QBs and late-round TEs, it means...

Rounds 2-4 Are Spots To Reach for RBs: If you must get a top-end WR1 early, I'd recommend considering two backs from a list of Elliott, Martin, Forte, Miller, Anderson and Ajayi with the next three picks. Elliott will likely go in the first in my leagues so I'm not really counting him. I'm recommending a reach of 1-2 rounds for Martin, Forte, Anderson and Ajayi because they're the best options at a bargain and I'm concerned that a lot of fantasy owners thinking these guys will be easy to grab in the rounds 3-5. Maybe in your league but not mine. 

Rounds 4-7 Are Good Fishing Spots for WRs: This is also the basis for why I'm recommending a slight reach for RBs. I don't believe we'll see significant regressions for Doug Baldwin, Larry Fitzgerald or Allen Hurns. We'll also see another year of consistent production for John Brown and I'm betting on significant increases in production for Tyler Lockett and Marvin Jones. If you draft 3-4 of these players in addition to a first-round WR (and I'll count Gronkowski as such if you can weather the remnants of the Brady-Goodell Blood Feud), you'll have a strong team. 

Sometimes turning a problem sideways gives the perspective you need.