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The Gut Check No. 418: The Gut Check Draft Plan

Matt Waldman unveils his draft plan for fantasy players seeking a looser ADP boundary, higher risk, and higher reward. 

Why Loosen ADP Boundaries?

David Dodds has a Perfect Draft and Sigmund Bloom has a Master Plan. Both are quality reads. I especially like Bloom's concept of "triggers" to gauge "if/then" situations for selecting a refined pool of players. 

As someone who competes with sharks year after year, I've found that there are drafts where it pays to be bold. Fantasy players with plans rooted too deeply in projections and ADP can get too tied to their data.

Frequently, they are also counting too much on a predictable process to unfold. When you can shake up that process, it can allow you to capitalize on overly cautious owners who have "if/then" themselves into a corner with a rigid plan. 

I have often seen these types of owners either guffaw over early picks of mine and gradually get frustrated that I'm sniping their picks. Early on, they critique me for picking the players way too early. By the midpoint of the draft, they are frustrated that I've taken 3-4 of "their guys." By the end of the draft, they're unhappy with their squads. Some of them complain that there are owners who don't understand good value, and the draft process was "bush league" because other owners overreacted to me pushing the envelope and began doing the same thing to the point that the process lost its relative predictability.  

Those are fun draft nights.

While watching your competition lose its collective composure is a nice side effect, the purpose of an aggressive draft philosophy is to cut through the process that restricts you from getting the players who will have the greatest impact on your squad. The mission of the draft is to pick the best players.

If you're confident that the players you covet have a range of upside at least 1-2 rounds higher than their ADPs and minimal downside, why are you waiting for them at their ADP? It may technically be a reach, but it is only a reach if you're wrong. 

Of course, the risk is that you miss wildly on multiple picks that cost you opportunities for safer picks that could have better positioned your team for contention. High-risk doesn't sell fantasy football apps or site subscriptions. Many readers have busy lives and just want the best answers so they can field a competitive team that only requires a small amount of tweaking to become a contender (why Rate My Team is so popular). 

If you're scared of being your league's laughing stock in August, then this draft isn't for you. If you want to win big in a room filled with highly prepared, process-oriented competition, you might just land multiple impact players and dominate your league. 

Even if you're a play-it-safe drafter, you may find that reaching well beyond most people's comfort level for 1-3 of these options could pay dividends especially if you can fit them in without a major disruption to your draft plan. 

I've found that selecting players 2-3 rounds ahead of their ADP often puts me on a track where I'm ahead of curve with the players I covet the most—especially when the competition is so focused on that first-round pick that it gets locked into a serpentine/ADP process that yields diminishing returns. 

This year, I've identified 4-6 players who may not be first-round picks but I think have first-round production upside. When that happens, it makes it easier to draft with a looser ADP boundary.

Every year, it seems like half of the drafters I compete with are not that excited about their first-round picks and far more disappointed about missing on players during rounds 2-7. It is an indication of getting locked into a tight ADP mentality that keeps them from getting the players they value most. 

The 2017 Gut Check Draft Plan 

I went through the August 17 PPR ADP list and identified players that I would take earlier than ADP. I arrived at a list of 50 players (three of them team defenses) that I think are underrated, have high upside, and match the Gut Check's Loose ADP Boundary Draft Plan. If I were to arrange them as All-Gut Check Teams, I'd have three teams and 19 "honorable mentions." 

The honorable mentions are depth chart reserves or options for deeper drafts.  When it comes to the first three teams, the placement of the players is not critical. Follow the draft plan and it will become clear to you who I prefer.

Pos 1st Team 2nd Team 3rd Team H Mention  H Mention H Mention
QB Philip Rivers Matthew Stafford Jay Cutler Sam Bradford DeShone Kizer Patrick Mahomes
RB1 Christian McCaffrey Dalvin Cook Joe Mixon Samaje Perine Thomas Rawls Jamaal Williams
RB2 Marshawn Lynch Danny Woodhead Ameer Abdullah Darren Sproles Dion Lewis Alvin Kamara
RB3 Doug Martin Adrian Peterson Derrick Henry D'Onta Foreman Rex Burkhead James Conner
WR1 Dez Bryant Tyreek Hill Terrelle Pryor Tyler Lockett Nelson Agholor Malcolm Mitchell
WR2 Keenan Allen Martavis Bryant Stefon Diggs Chris Hogan Chris Godwin Dede Westbrook
WR3 Terrelle Pryor DeSean Jackson Tyrell Williams      
WR4 Marvin Jones Taylor Gabriel Travis Benjamin      
TE1 Jimmy Graham Delanie Walker Vernon Davis      
TE2 Austin Hooper Evan Engram        
DEF Broncos Chiefs Seahawks      

Now that you've seen the players, let's examine how they fit into a plan for a 20-round PPR draft. If the players are still available in the rounds after my recommendation, take them or prioritize them above the others unless there is a clear positional need. Considering how I've structured this draft, there won't be many positional needs that arise. 

If you examine closely, you'll see that the ADP boundaries are wider with each succeeding round. This is normal even with tight ADP standards because the earliest and latest ranges of selection spots tend to be wider with middle and late picks.  

The 2017 All-Gut Check Team by Round

Round 1 (Picks 1-12): Dez Bryant (ADP 18) or Christian McCaffrey (ADP 33)

If you have an early pick and David Johnson, LeVeon Bell, or Antonio Brown are available, take one of them and let Bryant and McCaffrey drop to the second round list. These are great players with offenses that maximize their skills.

If you have a middle or late spot and Jordy Nelson or DeMarco Murray is there, consider taking one of them. Both are in offenses built specifically for what they do best and have elite surrounding talent that directly aids their efforts.  

If neither Nelson nor Murray appeal to you, Bryant and McCaffrey are first-round caliber players. Bryant will be the centerpiece of this offense for the first six weeks of the season. He's one of the best tight-coverage receivers in the game.

One NFL guy I know has talked with numerous scouts about McCaffrey and a lot of them believe McCaffrey will deliver what many thought Reggie Bush was supposed to be. Don't worry about Jonathan Stewart, because McCaffrey will be one of the Panthers' top-three receivers and he'll earn red zone touches with designed plays that should earn him somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-8 total touchdowns.

If McCaffrey earns 1200 total yards and 8 scores with at least 50 receptions, we're looking at 218 fantasy points—good for No.8 among RBs last year. He's a smart, quick, efficient runner who could also take over for Stewart if the veteran gets hurt. McCaffrey could excel to the point that resting Stewart more often and reserving him as the goal-line back becomes appealing. 

Round 2 (Picks 13-24): Keenan Allen (ADP 32), Marshawn Lynch (ADP 24), or Terrelle Pryor (38)

This is one of the biggest risk-reward rounds for me on paper, but it's very likely that you can get Bryant and McCaffrey 1-2 and at least 2 of these 3 players drop to the third round. I've always loved Allen's game and while the injury issues scare fantasy owners, if you truly believe that injuries can't be predicted, then Allen is easily a strong choice. He and Philip Rivers demonstrated great rapport in limited time during the past two years. Mike Williams will not be a factor this year and I love versatile inside-out receivers who are paired with veterans like Rivers. 

I am not buying the idea that Lynch will earn Latavius Murray's 195-carry workload. But if he does, I am buying that he'll also earn 12-15 touchdowns. The risk with Lynch is his age and the difficult divisional opponents. Then again, I remember when the 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams were also considered tough matchups for running backs and what Lynch did to them. 

Pryor is one of my favorite picks. Kirk Cousins and the receiving corps is an upgrade of surrounding talent that will, directly and indirectly, help Pryor. The Washington offense is similar to Cleveland, which eases Pryor's transition. And Pryor has developed a reputation for a superstar's work ethic. These factors should overrule any concerns about that statistical history of conversion projects to wide receiver. Pryor already blows the curve as an athlete, worker, and an option with past success.    

Round 3 (Picks 25-36): Tyreek Hill (ADP 46), Dalvin Cook (ADP 45), or Joe Mixon (ADP 44)

All three players offer versatility and they should be centerpieces of balanced offenses. Hill has strong red zone upside due to his skill as a runner. Cook and Mixon offer upside in the receiving game, which makes them somewhat bullet-proof if the Vikings and Bengals offenses encounter poor game scripts.  

Round 4 (Picks 37-48): Martavis Bryant (ADP 63) or Jimmy Graham (ADP 59)

Bryant has a top-36 floor and that's a cautious estimate. Unless he has an off-field problem, Bryant should be no worse than a top-24 option and he could easily have top-5 upside if Antonio Brown gets hurt. The greatest concern I have with the Steelers is whom they trot out at quarterback if Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt. That could this passing game.

The Seahawks upgraded its line with the versatile Matt Tobin, which should help Seattle maintain a balanced offense that will allow the scheme to maximize Graham's versatility as a receiver. Graham is healthier than last year when he was fantasy football's No. 2 tight end. If you prefer to wait on a tight end, I recommend looking at my ninth-round choice as a potential TE1. It's a little riskier, but with the players you're acquiring during the next five rounds, I think it's worth considering.

Round 5 (Picks 49-60): Danny Woodhead (ADP 64), Ameer Abdullah (ADP 68), Stefon Diggs (ADP 65)

I believe in Woodhead as a red zone player and high-volume receiving game target. I've always believed in Abdullah's upside as a low-end RB1 if he can stay healthy. This is the make-or-break year for the Lion. Diggs is probably the safest of these three options. He was reasonably helpful last year despite playing the entire year with injury and a quarterback still getting familiar with the offense.  

Round 6 (Picks 61-72): Doug Martin (ADP 81), Adrian Peterson (ADP 76), Delanie Walker (ADP 74), Derrick Henry (ADP 84)

Martin is the greatest boom-bust option 2017 drafts but I'm buying. Peterson isn't far behind and I'm also a believer. Analysts who don't like Peterson spent a lot of time talking about burst and ignoring the offensive line play. Even those who emphasize the importance of the offensive line seemed to forget about it when judging Peterson's athletic ability post-knee surgery. He gets one more year before I close the book on him.

Walker is a terrific value as one of Marcus Mariota's favorite players in an offense that gets Walker targets in every range of the field. Henry is Larry Johnson waiting behind Priest Holmes for an opportunity behind one of the best run-blocking units in the league.

The Miss Manners of Fantasy Football hate the idea of taking Henry this early but you're doing this to take players with talent. There aren't many options I've listed who are non-starters. Those that are, have great talent and a strong supporting cast. Plus, I've learned a thing or two about where to pick my spots with these players and not overload you with them—something I've been doing to win titles when some of these experts were still waiting for their voices to drop. 

Round 7 (Picks 73-84): DeSean Jackson (ADP 86), Tyrell Williams (ADP 101), Philip Rivers (ADP 102)

When it comes to free agent receivers joining new teams, I don't know if there is a more natural fit in the NFL than Jackson and Jameis Winston. Jackson is the perfect complement to an aggressive quarterback with a gun like Winston. Whether it's the play-action game, quick-hitting adjustments that allow Jackson to work in the open field, or scrambles that buy time for Jackson to work open, look for this pairing to shine.

I've been touting Williams since April and I'm not talking about Mike. Tyrell was the most reliable option for Rivers after Allen got hurt. Rivers can support multiple fantasy starters and Williams will earn time against lesser cornerbacks than he did last year. Look for another strong year as he guns for a new deal with the Chargers (or likely another team) in 2018.

Becuase quarterback play yields the smallest gap in fantasy production between the top options and the low-end starters, I'm good with waiting on the position and taking options with experience and a talented supporting cast. Rivers is the safest of the bunch even if he sacrifices a little bit of upside.   

Round 8 (Picks 85-96):  Matthew Stafford (ADP 107), Samaje Perine (ADP 109),  Marvin Jones (ADP 127)

Stafford can be a top-5 passer when he has healthy options. This year, the preseason has been kind to him. I know that some of our more popular fantasy writers in the industry cited Perine's two fumbles (one in practice and one in the first preseason game) and one blown pass assignment in a one-on-one drill as him "struggling." I suppose that's true but later reports from beat writers characterized Perine's problems as "overthinking" as he acclimated to his new team and scheme. That was my thought, too. Perine looked like his usual cast-iron self against Green Bay defenders who melted off him like butter. I expect Perine to close the gap and overtake Rob Kelly by midseason.

Jason Wood is one of my favorite Footballguy analysts, but I think someone has been subbing Stephen Hill tape whenever he thinks he's watching Jones. You know how I feel about him. If you don't, he's probably in 80 percent of my articles this summer. Read up.  

Round 9 (Picks 97-108): Thomas Rawls (ADP 128), Jamaal Williams (ADP 134), Austin Hooper (ADP 151)

If you need backs, I like the upside of these two. However, if you have four runners already or you haven't selected a tight end, I'd highly recommend Hooper. He may not deliver top-5 production at the position, but I think he'll be a lot closer to it than many think because of his tight-coverage prowess, the heavy emphasis of misdirection in the Atlanta offense, and the fact that Mohamed Sanu has proven little as a fantasy option for over five years. If Hooper falters, it's easier to acquire a low-end TE1 during the year than any other position. 

Round 10 (Picks 109-120): Broncos (ADP 113), Chiefs (ADP 131), or Seahawks (ADP 130) defense

Yes, be that guy who takes a top defense early. You can save yourself 15 minutes a week not reading Sigmund Bloom's Rent-A-Defense feature until that one bye week comes along where it's necessary. I selected three teams with athletic, turnover-heavy units that have offenses good enough to impair their efforts.

Round 11 (Picks 121-132): Darren Sproles (ADP 149), Evan Engram (ADP 161), Dion Lewis (ADP 171)

Donnel Pumphrey can't pass protect and he's not as sturdy between the tackles as Sproles. Sure, Corey Clement might surprise, but I'll take my chances on Sproles if I'm in the 11th round and I didn't take enough running backs. He'll earn enough playing time to be a factor. Lewis is still my pick as the top back in New England. Remember, this time last year there were folks believing in James White and Tyler Gaffney as the starters. Engram is a risky pick with great upside and at a position where it's easy to adjust if he flops. If you landed enough talent at running back and wide receiver, you don't need a stud tight end to win your league.  

Round 12 (Picks 133-144): Alvin Kamara (ADP 155), Taylor Gabriel (ADP 167), Tyler Lockett (ADP 168)

I'm not a Kamara fan in terms of his overall skillset—not yet—but I forecasted the potential for strong flex production as a rookie if he landed with a team that let him be a space player. That's what the Saints are doing. 

The Falcons used Mohamed Sanu in the slot down the stretch of 2016 and it was due to Gabriel's success as a perimeter option. Dan Quinn talked this up last week and I think Gabriel has more upside as a talent than Sanu, who has delivered exactly one starter season for fantasy owners during his career. Now that he has a full offseason with Matt Ryan, I expect him to earn fantasy WR3 production and if Julio Jones gets hurt, that upside climbs significantly. 

I'm not in love with Tyler Lockett's game like I am Paul Richardson's, but Lockett is a fine athlete with similar skills as Richardson and maybe even better as a runner. He's not as gifted at the catch point or against press coverage, but I'll take my chances here if in need of another option. Note: That said, if Gabriel or Lockett fall to the 14th round and Cooper Kupp is there, I might go for Kupp ahead of them.

Round 13 (Picks 145-156): D'Onta Foreman (ADP 184), Sam Bradford (ADP 162), or Rex Burkhead (ADP 189)

Foreman's blocking and ball security are likely reasons why he's still the No. 3 back on the Texans depth chart. He's also on a team where the offense will likely struggle. I like his talent as a ball carrier, but I prefer Burkhead as the choice in this round so you can pair him with Lewis and get two-thirds of the likely contributors in the Patriots backfield and cut one of them as the season progresses (if needed).

Bradford has been a good quarterback in bad situations. He proved that last year and I'm excited to see how an improved offensive line and healthier surrounding skill talent will benefit his production.  

Round 14 (Picks 157-168): James Conner (ADP 200) or Cooper Kupp (ADP 212) 

I watched James Conner against the Falcons. While my pals on the Footballguys Newswire didn't find his efforts impressive, I did. Yeah, he slipped on multiple touches that cost him yards, but the fact that he did so after making cutbacks and bounce-outs that were quick enough to avoid penetration and reach the edge of a first-team defense was what I wanted to see. He didn't have balance issues in college so I expect the slips won't be an ongoing problem. If Bell gets hurt, Conner could be a league-winning option. 

I've talked up Kupp as an NFL prospect since last September and a fantasy option since June. He's done nothing but get open and catch passes. In the Rams offense, he'll benefit from either extreme of play. If they're surprisingly great, Kupp will have lots of room to roam. If they're bad, he'll be the check-down option of choice for a team where the game scripts leave him open. 

Round 15 (Picks 169-180): DeShone Kizer (ADP 222)

I hope you don't have to take a quarterback at this point. But if you need a second passer, Kizer's ability to run and Brock Osweiler's difficulty throwing accurate passes when away from the practice field make Kizer a reasonable gamble. Game scripts should also favor garbage time.

Round 16 (Picks 181-192): Nelson Agholor (ADP 241) or Patrick Mahomes (ADP 238)

I'd rather have Paul Richardson or Travis Benjamin over any of the players I'm about to list, but if you're confident you can get these two options where I recommend them, do so. Agholor is a nice gamble who you can toss back to the waiver wire if he doesn't earn that Jordan Matthews role. Mahomes is an upside gamble as a desperation QB2 that you can hold onto until your bye week and dump for a different passer if he doesn't earn time due to an Alex Smith injury.  

Round 17 (Picks 193-204): Chris Hogan (ADP 249), Chris Godwin (ADP 259), or Travis Benjamin (ADP 259)

All three will likely be fourth or fifth options for their offenses, but they are all a part of good schemes and they have fantasy WR3 potential if an injury strikes. 

Round 18 (Picks 205-216): Paul Richardson (ADP 281), Vernon Davis (ADP 262), or Malcolm Mitchell (ADP 280)

Richardson is a starter. I repeat, Richardson is a starter on his team that you can get in the 18th round. Davis is a hedge that Jordan Reed won't stay healthy and he still has the wheels of an elite option. Mitchell is like Hogan, Godwin, and Benjamin but deeper down the depth chart.

Round 19 (Picks 217-228): Best Kicker

My wife learned to kick 20-yard field goals in five minutes. I don't study them. Look at the Footballguys rankings and choose the best option. 

Round 20 (Picks 229-240): Dede Westbrook (N/A)

My No. 8 pre-draft receiver in the 2017 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, Westbrook reminds me of T.Y. Hilton. He's a fearless, big-play option who has great rebounding skill for his size and runs better timing routes than characterized. Westbrook has dominated in the preseason and he's worth a flier this late in case Marqise Lee and/or Allen Hurns (both have had a history of multiple injuries) can't stay healthy.