Build a Fantasy Football Draft Plan in Reverse - Footballguys

How late-round target players dictate early-round strategy in a fantasy football draft

Over the last few years, the proliferation of the zero or late-round draft strategies for any of the skill positions has led to a boom of activity around team-building and draft capital optimization in fantasy football drafts. The late round approach to any position is a two-way street as an owner would be centering their attention on the back-half of the draft (plus more attention to the waiver wire) but also pointing to avoidance of the position in the early rounds. While any strategy of positional drafting can work with the right players, the late-round approach works hand-in-hand with the entire value structure of the position for a particular year.

ASSESS THE LATE ROUND LANDSCAPE

When getting up to speed on the new landscape of positional value for a fantasy football season - or simply recalibrating for a new wave of upcoming drafts - my first task is simply highlighting late round players of interest. This can be done on an overall (mix of positions) sheet of the Top 200 or so, but I prefer to separate the positions into distinct columns.

Next, I simply highlight - starting at the bottom - the players of interest. Especially outside the first 10 rounds or so as they are all affordable and any singular player can be drafted in most of your leagues if aggressive enough.

There are bound to be highlighted players at every position in the low-cost bucket, but the key is looking at your confidence level and the sheer number of options. For example, the quarterback position is low-hanging fruit this year. Even when a league fades the position as a whole, waiting until at least 10-15 quarterbacks are gone is a sound approach. Based on August myfantasyleague.com average draft position (ADP), here are the options outside QB15:

There are others, but this list alone screams wait on the position. There are steady veterans (Roethlisberger, Smith), underrated fantasy performers over the years even if it is not pretty (Bortles, Manning), overlooked profiles (Prescott, Tannehill) and hopeful risers (Mariota, Trubisky). Finally, Jameis Winston is getting a solid discount based on his suspension to open the season.

Tight end is similar to quarterback in start-one-tight-end formats. Beyond the Top 12, which puts a player into the double-digit rounds of ADP, here are Week 1 starters of intrigue:

Other options could include Ricky Seals-Jones, Cowboys starter, Jets starter, Vance McDonald, Broncos starter, and Tyler Kroft (depending on Tyler Eifert's health). Watson outside TE25 in ADP is the glaring name, returned to New Orleans and Drew Brees where he enjoyed a career year in 2015. Also, the Saints have questions beyond Michael Thomas at WR1.

The rules for running backs are targeting potential starters without an injury in front of them to clarify the depth chart. These are underrated backs in committees which could break their way or veterans with beaten down stock near or beyond RB30 in ADP:

There is plenty of risk building a running back mainly from this subset, eschewing the position in the early rounds. However, the Packers, Jets, Raiders, Seahawks, Redskins and *maybe* Buccaneers, Bills, and Patriots could have their top producing running back from this list and draft zone. Jamaal Williams looks to have the starting role for the start of the season and Aaron Jones is behind with his suspension. With all the love for Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson - the starting favorite last season before injury - is being overlooked in Seattle. Bilal Powell started in Week 1 of the preseason over the now-recovering-from-concussion Isaiah Crowell for the Jets. The Derrius Guice ACL injury has Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine on the radar for quality touches. Peyton Barber is an underrated bet to be the Week 1 starter with Ronald Jones off to a slow start. Chris Ivory could be the easiest bet on this list with off-field issues hanging over LeSean McCoy. Jeremy Hill impressed in Week 1 of the preseason and fits the profile of a successful reclamation project back in New England.

Finally, at wide receiver, like running back, the goal is to find strong depth chart roles and potential No.1 options on their team.

Dallas is a key depth chart with all the main options low in ADP. Benjamin is the most intriguing locked-in Week 1 No.1 receiver. Jacksonville has a muddy mess on their depth chart. Josh Doctson has a shot at the No.1 spot but looks to be sluggish in his progression. Danny Amendola can inherit a good chunk of the Jarvis Landry role and DeVante Parker has yet to show a strong argument to be the strong WR1 on the depth chart. John Brown is a rebound candidate as the WR2 on a Baltimore passing game with plenty of targets available and lacking proven options at WR3+ and tight end. Tyler Lockett is an exception to the general rule, but finding No.2 receivers paired with elite quarterbacks is a secondary target list approach.

BLENDING THE DRAFT BOARD

Knowing the above list of target players for the late rounds for each position, an owner can project the outline of their team for the back-half of a draft. On my example above, a quarterback is by far the most accessible in the late rounds - quality NFL starters with projectable floors. As a result, running back and wide receiver are more important in the early rounds. Running back is deep in depth, but I still want two or three sturdy options before getting outside the top-100. Late-round wide receivers have modest appeal as having a drafted option or two before Kelvin Benjamin is about as lean at the position in the early rounds as would be recommended. Having say Demaryius Thomas in the Round 4 range and Michael Crabtree in Round 6-7 would create a solid start even without investing a large amount of early-round capital. Tight end is the most intriguing position for 2018 as there are questions throughout, starting with Travis Kelce's added competition for targets and a new quarterback plus Zach Ertz's competition from Dallas Goedert encompassing the TE2 and TE3 of ADP. Outside of Rob Gronkowski in mid-Round 2 or Travis Kelce making it to mid-Round 3, waiting at tight end is a sound approach due to the late-round targets above and sporadic value opportunities like Jimmy Graham and Delanie Walker in the mid-TE1 zone.

The final result is exiting the first six or seven rounds with three or four running backs and two or three wide receivers. If a tight end falls to an overt level, then they mix in, likely instead of a running back knowing the later target player list outlined above. Building a draft board, starting in the later rounds, creates a more balanced approach to team-building. The most important function is preventing low efficiency on late picks, where the preferred players are sparse. Instead, allowing flexibility with the early rounds where the global appeal from player to player is higher to return value.