Every year leading up to draft season, there are players described as having “high floors." There are others who are more risky, "high-ceiling" players. This exercise will show that a mix of both is the best way to optimize your draft.
This strategy will keep your opponents guessing. Also, having some high-floor players will keep your team competitive when your "boom or bust" guys don't boom. I believe a championship team can't just have safe players thoughout; it must also have a player or two who can win a week almost on their own.
For our purposes here, we'll be picking sixth in a 12-team PPR league. We'll look at players whose Consensus ADP's (as of August 10) are within a reasonable number of slots of our pick. At the end, we'll have two teams from which we'll pick the best mix of players (using one per round). As the draft progresses, we can stray a bit more from ADP because variability increases as drafts progress.
Players in gray project to have high floors and a relatively predictable range of outcomes. Players in blue project to be a bit more volatile but have higher ceilings in their range of outcomes. The players in bold were the ones selected for the exercise.
In Round 1, our floor-seeking player sees an established veteran guaranteed all the touches he can handle and gladly selects Adrian Peterson. The high ceiling player selects A.J. Green, knowing that this is a three-receiver PPR league and banking on getting running backs later. With what should be a massive target share in Cincinnati this season, Green seems like as good a bet as any non-big-three receiver to crack the top three.
The second round sees Team Floors take a receiver who is a perennial high performer in Brandon Marshall, who should once again eclipse 160 targets (172 last season). Team Ceilings takes Keenan Allen, who was fantasy football's WR3 through seven weeks last season before his Week 8 injury. It's worth noting that Allen could be considered a high floor player too as someone who, if healthy, will lead a pass-heavy team in targets, catches, and yards. But his ADP is WR11, and he has top-five upside, so we're considering him a ceiling player here too. Most players in the first few rounds straddle the line between being high floor and high ceiling players. The fact that they can provide both is why they're being drafted where they are.
In Round 3, Team Ceilings decides to take its first running back. LeSean McCoy is someone who should dominate the workload in the Buffalo backfield. 20 touches in any given week could lead to a player who out-performs his draft position, especially when said player can be resistant to game script due to his pass-catching ability. Team Floors takes another receiver from a top offensive unit in Randall Cobb. He struggled as the team's top receiver last year, but that was an aberration compared to the years he has been a fringe-WR1 with Jordy Nelson stretching defenses.
Rounds 4 and 5 see both teams double up at wide receiver. They are employing the "Single RB" approach I wrote about last week. Team Floors took an elite RB1 and has now taken four receivers in a row in Rounds 2-5. Both Golden Tate and Jordan Matthews figure to lead their teams in targets. Matthews should also be a big part of his team's red zone attack. While not perfect candidates to break through into the WR1 territory, neither are at the top of many bust lists either.
Team Ceilings started out with two receivers and then took McCoy as its RB1 before doubling back to Jeremy Maclin in Round 4 and Donte Moncrief in Round 5. Maclin is being drafted at his floor, making him an ideal pick for Team Ceilings as someone likely to outperform ADP in a big way. Check out the "Plant a Flag: WR" Staff Roundtable, where I expanded upon Maclin's prospects for 2016. Moncrief, meanwhile, has a good a chance as any player being drafted after WR20 to surprise with double-digit touchdowns.
Now loaded with four receivers, Team Ceilings decides to shift to running back. But instead of taking one of the more pedestrian options in this range, this owner swings for the fences and takes DeAngelo Williams ahead of his ADP. In what has become a bit of a personal crusade, I've detailed a couple times in the last couple weeks that Williams is the ideal RB2-by-Committee player because he'll actually be projected to be an elite RB1 for four weeks. Williams provides relief to the RB2-by-Committee owner by making it only a nine-week regular season journey instead of a 13-week endeavor. Note: my thoughts on Williams are all the way at the bottom of that third link, but the entire thing is full of goodness, so read it but be sure to come back when you're done!
Rounds 7 and Later
Round 7 sees Team Floors take another running back whose role in his offense is secure. Frank Gore should get the ball as much as his 33 year-old body can handle in an offense that should positively regress this year if Andrew Luck stays healthy. Team Ceilings snags Tyler Lockett, an ascendant player whose draft position is this low mostly due to a small sample size of production.
The eighth round gives us an interesting occurrence as both players selected come from the same depth chart. Rookie Corey Coleman should be a target hog in Cleveland, especially in the first four weeks. Josh Gordon has shown us his immense upside, but we haven't seen it since 2013. Will he come back and give us WR1 weeks? Or will he be pedestrian and "just another guy" in an offense suddenly well-stocked with weapons? Anyone who believes in Gordon will likely have to do what Team Ceilings did here and draft him a round ahead of ADP. If he can get back to even a shadow his 2013 self, an eighth round pick is still a very sound investment.
It's worth nothing that if you like the nucleus of Team Ceilings but think it's just a little too thin at running back, players like Charles Sims and Arian Foster could have been swapped in Lockett and/or Gordon in Rounds 7/8.
Both teams have employed a late round quarterback and tight end strategy. Team Floors gets Philip Rivers in Round 9 while Team Ceilings grabs a potential lottery ticket in Derrick Henry, who could be a high-end RB2 or RB1 if DeMarco Murray were to miss time. Both teams get a tight end in Round 10. Team Floors gets a "Mr. Reliable" type in Antonio Gates while Team Ceilings reaches for the sky with an uber-talent like Jimmy Graham. Team Ceilings has two Seattle pass-catchers, which isn't ideal, but they were selected late enough that this team won't be overly compelled to start both in any given week. In the final pick we'll cover here, Team Ceilings selects Matthew Stafford, a player whose ceiling we've seen back when he threw for 5,000 yards in 2011 and as recently as last season, when he was QB5 over the season's final eight games.
Typically, at this point in a draft, the remaining players are "lottery ticket" types before owners start selecting defenses and kickers, so let's examine the two rosters as they stand now. First, we'll compare them by draft order:
And now, we'll compare them by position:
Both of these rosters are strong, but the best fantasy footballers don't exclusively select just one type of player. They mix predictable contributors with boom/bust players. So let's take a look at both rosters and select one player per round from each to form the "ultimate" team.
In terms of PPR ADP, this team starts QB17, RB3, RB32 (who will be projected as top-10 for four weeks), WR10, WR19, WR22, TE13, and has flex options of WR29, WR35, WR39, and RB39. That's a solid start, and with six members coming from the high ceiling team, it could end up better it appears on paper.
Do this exercise before your draft. Grab an ADP list (there's one sortable and customizable by multiple sources available here on the site), and perform it for your draft slot. If you're sixth or close to it, I already did it for you. If you're not, pick an acceptable range such as one to three slots either way around your pick and determine the range of players that will most likely be available to you.
While flexibility is key in any draft, you'll find that most of your preparation will help during the process. For instance, there will inevitably be more than one player you like in a certain round. Should the player that do not pick slide to the next round, you'll definitely know who to pick in that spot (and you'll get great value at that). Remember: flexibility is key, but preparation leads to domination!
Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org