The Master Plan for 2018 - Footballguys

An overview of draft strategy per position and how to fit the strategies together into a master plan

“Have a plan. Follow the plan, and you’ll be surprised how successful you can be. Most people don’t have a plan. That’s why it’s easy to beat most folks.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant, football coach, University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide.

Striking a balance between having a plan built by good research to navigate your draft and seeing how your draft is unfolding through the lens of necessary alterations on the fly to that plan is a difficult task. If you improvise or go “best player available” every round, you could leave weaknesses that are hard to overcome if you don’t draft and manage in a style to mitigate your unforeseen shortcoming. If you stick with your plan through hell or high water, you can miss great values or other ways to exploit the tendencies of your leaguemates.

I want to emphasize this: EVERY PLAN WORKS IF YOU PICK THE RIGHT PLAYERS.

You can gain some edges over your opponents by timing your picks by position to coincide with the areas of the draft most likely to yield the best ROI at the position, but this will gain you maybe a 5-10% edge on your competition at the very most. You win your league by building in upside capable of giving you massive advantages at a few positions while not conceding much to the competition at other positions. You must take a handful of players who can greatly exceed their draft value, which includes taking on the risk that makes those players available later than their ceiling suggests they should be.

You can’t win your league by swinging for singles and doubles in your entire draft.

Often I hear “You can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it”. Bullpucky. I and many others have won leagues after shanking first rounders and other early picks. Matt Waldman lays out the case for the importance of the rest of fantasy football that doesn’t involve the draft in his typical immersive way, and every one of you should read it right now. What this means is that your draft should build in some confidence in your abilities to address weaknesses in-season. You can’t have everything in your draft. Isolate a few spots you are comfortable with operating at from a weakness and understand what your strategy will be during the season to deal with that. Streaming tight ends. RB2BC. QBBC. And play it safe in the first and second rounds if you want, but know that taking risky players there does not doom your season if they fail.

So, be thinking ceiling for most, if not all, of your draft. Know that you are going to punt a position or two and devise a strategy to optimize your chances of getting away with it. But most of all, take players you can believe in. Don’t talk yourself out of players you like because you already filled the position’s starting requirements or need to fill another starting position that just saw a run take place. Don’t take players that don’t give you the warm fuzzies. The heart of this endeavor is still player/team evaluation, even if it is also the most difficult part.

So I just made a big speech to tell you that draft plans only give you incremental edges, but they won’t win your league for you. Now here’s my draft plan. Enjoy.

Quarterback

Every year quarterback gets deeper and easier to manage. Really. There are going to be multiple right answers at quarterback this year, and right answers in every area of your draft. At least one or two of the top five drafted quarterbacks will return that value, and as the fantasy hive mind continues to wait longer on all quarterbacks, including the elite options. A few mid-round options will end up in the top 5-7, and one might be a league winner by landing in the top three. Numerous late round options have the potential to be solid matchup plays, if not level off as every-week starters. A few quarterbacks on the waiver wire to begin the season will have lasting value.

In previous years, the advice here might have been to make sure you know your league because leagues where quarterbacks are premium scorers (such as six-point passing touchdown leagues) or leagues where players hoard quarterbacks might force you to take a quarterback earlier than you want to. This year, you can be comfortable starting the season with a quarterback going 20th or later. Really.

There are at least two ways you can approach quarterback. One is to zero in on ADP values and target a specific quarterback. The other is to let your league decide who you are taking by using a trigger - basically, this is a round/player combination that amounts to “if X is available in Round Y, draft him”. Adjust this for your league’s habits and your scoring, and of course feel free to pass on a quarterback even when they are a value pick if an even bigger value pick is still available.

ADP Values

Alex Smith (WAS) in the 10th round or later

Smith was a top-five quarterback last year, he is going to a situation that should fit his talents and style well and his offense is likely to lean pass-heavy after losing their top running back. The loss of Derrius Guice will hamper the offense to an extent, but with a healthy offensive line in 2016, Washington was still one of the most productive offenses in the league while putting Matt Jones and Rob Kelley out there at running back. Why is the fantasy football community projecting a huge regression in Smith’s stats? Don’t ask why. Just take advantage of the unwarranted pessimism. Marcus Mariota also fits here if you have faith in new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to execute a 2017 Rams-esque turnaround.

Andrew Luck (IND) in the 7th round or later

Luck isn’t completely out of the woods and he might not be the quarterback he was before his injury/surgery, but all signs point to Luck being comfortable, healthy, and ready to pick up where he left off. He was a perennial top-five fantasy quarterback before his injury, the team has little to work within the running game, the offensive line should be the best he has played behind, and the subpar Colts defense might force Luck into higher-scoring games. There’s little reason to think Luck won’t approach or crack top five numbers again.

Blake Bortles (JAX) in the late rounds

Bortles helped us win leagues in great matchups last year and appears to be more confident and comfortable than ever. He opens with the Giants, Patriots, Titans, and Jets. Weeks 14-16 bring the Dolphins, Washington, and Titans. The Jaguars have a much deeper wide receiver group than last year, their best receiving tight end of Bortles' career, and a budding big play satellite back in Corey Grant. Taking Bortles and relying on the waiver wire or a trade if he reverts to 2017 preseason form is a viable strategy. Even if you get sniped on Bortles, starting out the season with Tyrod Taylor or Andy Dalton with a streaming approach in mind will be fine.

If you are enamored with the upside of Patrick Mahomes or the large discount on Drew Brees services, or believe in a Matthew Stafford return to big numbers or Matt Ryan bounceback season, or can’t resist the bargain blue-chip investment of Philip Rivers, go with it. Quarterback is a big tent this year and sliding ADP across the board combined with a deep waiver group means that you can hand pick your quarterback without a big penalty if you’re wrong.

Triggers

In previous years, there would be a “take the gas tank to E” recommendation about what to do if you decide to wait until 15+ quarterbacks are gone to take your starter. Bortles and Dalton are usually available well outside of the top 15. This is where we are at quarterback in 2018.

Backup Quarterback

Don’t bother with a backup quarterback unless teams start taking third quarterbacks and some carry three all season. The same depth that fuels streaming makes treating the waiver wire as your backup/bye/injury depth viable. Freeing up early season roster spots for waiver wire darts is crucial. One exception might be if you wait for Bortles or Dalton as your QB1 and want some insurance in the form of Jameis Winston, who can provide low QB1 production available around the same part of your draft, but not until Week 4 and at the cost of waiver wire flexibility.

A note on going cheap at quarterback: I’m not against going cheap at quarterback, but the pendulum is starting to swing back to investing in a quality option. I don’t believe that going cheap at quarterback AND going cheap at tight end is a good strategy. The one exception is if your league is very trade-friendly and amassing value at running back and wide receiver will give you lots of chances to trade for an elite quarterback/tight end and lock up strong options at every position. While I believe in planning around a weakness, I wouldn’t want that weakness to be quarterback AND tight end. Running back turnover and wide receiver depth make those easier positions to mitigate while leaving a weakness in your draft than quarterback (because more and more owners go late at quarterback) and tight end (because of scarcity). Pick one of quarterback and tight end to go cheap at, but don’t leave yourself among the bottom of your league at both spots. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a pick in the first five or six rounds at either position. You can draft your quarterback and tight end in Rounds 7-9 in many leagues and feel good about your starters at both positions.

Running back

As RBBC continues to become more prevalent, true bell cow backs are becoming more valuable. Going upside down and forgoing running back until the fifth round can work out, but you’re highly unlikely to find a back to rival your opponent’s RB1, and the gaps at wide receiver and quarterback are getting easier to make up with later picks. Running back picks become less appealing much faster than players at other positions (save for maybe tight end). Running backs in the second might have more risk and lower ceilings than the wide receivers, but that relationship stays constant, if not increases, the deeper you go in your draft. Relying on later picks and the waiver wire to land your RB2 and depth to carry you through the season is viable, but going into the season without an RB1 could be much tougher to fix with savvy management. It might hurt to pass on a quality wide receiver early to get your cornerstone back, but when you see how much you like the wide receiver options from the sixth on, you’ll be happy you did.

RB1

If you draw draft slot 1: Todd Gurley, LAR
If you draw draft slot 2: David Johnson, ARI
If you draw draft slot 3: Le’Veon Bell, PIT
If you draw draft slot 4: Ezekiel Elliott, DAL

It’s not worth a long dragged out fight to decide Bell vs. Johnson at two. Johnson 2016 was better than Gurley 2017 if you can believe it. While the Cardinals offense isn’t the same as 2016, that’s enough to give Johnson the edge on my board. These are the four backs that will be a main goal line option and be among team target and catch leaders (come on Cowboys) squarely in the prime years for their position.

If you draw draft slot 5: Hope someone takes Antonio Brown in the Top 4

Alvin Kamara was a league-winner last year and the regression narrative is a little overblown, but he isn’t quite the rock-solid investment that the top four are. The problem is that if you don’t take a running back at five, you are looking at Joe Mixon, Christian McCaffrey, or Jordan Howard as your RB1 (with a shot at Devonta Freeman). If that doesn’t sound bad to you, take Brown at five after the top four backs go. If you’d rather lock in an RB1, take Kamara, or possibly Melvin Gordon III, who could take another step towards a role like the top four this year.

If you draw draft slot 6-9: Alvin Kamara, NO or Melvin Gordon III, LAC

Kamara is more exciting on a per play basis, Gordon is safer on a weekly volume basis. Both are the best of the rest at running back. Saquon Barkley is going in this range if you are ambitious, and that can push Gordon to the 10th or 11th spot as a gift.

If you draw draft slot 10-12: Gordon, Dalvin Cook, MIN or Leonard Fournette, JAX

Gordon might be there, but if not, Cook is set up to be a foundational back and all signs point towards no worries about his surgically repaired knee - just watch the state of the Vikings offensive line. Fournette ahead of Cook isn’t crazy on offensive line issues alone, although Fournette has been plagued by ankle issues the last two seasons. The bottom line here is that like the pre-PPR days, the first round is a running back round again. Back to the future. Any wide receiver you take in the late first isn’t going to be that much better than the wide receiver there in the early second, but you might miss your only opportunity to take a strong RB1 by getting your WR1 of choice.

RB2

There are lots of paths at RB2, assuming you’ve got your first-round running back in tow.

A second RB1 as your RB2

Draw a late draft slot and you can pair up two of Cook, Gordon or Fournette - or Kareem Hunt if you aren’t worried about Spencer Ware’s return affecting his outlook. If you draw a mid or early first-round pick, you can snag Christian McCaffrey in the second on hopes of his workload growing, or Devonta Freeman on hopes on his offense getting better in year two under Sarkisian. You can also wait until the early third and potentially get Jordan Howard or Joe Mixon as your RB2 and pocket Rob Gronkowski or a solid WR1.

What about LeSean McCoy?

He’s a potential RB1 on volume in Buffalo and he’s also available in the third. Unfortunately, discipline/exempt list situations are mercurial and often based on media coverage. McCoy could play the entire season, overcome all of the factors working against his success in Buffalo’s offense, and return second-round value on a third round price, but the downside is much more significant. Buyer beware.

A Stealth RB1 as your RB2

Alex Collins, BAL
Mark Ingram II II, NO

If you start RB-WR with a mid or late first-round pick, going with Alex Collins in the late third (or early fourth if you want to chance it) is a great Plan A for your RB2. Collins is the clear lead back in a productive backfield on a competitive team whose quarterback and offensive line play should be better this year. A riskier, but cheaper version of this strategy is targeting Mark Ingram II in the fifth. He was an RB1 last year but will miss four games after being suspended for PED use. There is a possibility that his play or role drops off post-suspension, but the possible advantage of a second RB1 in your RB2 slot for a price cheaper than most teams pay for their RB2 is large. In that event, your RB3 will be your RB2, but assuming PPR scoring, that’s not a scary proposition. See the RB2BC list below for options.

A boom/bust RB2 the fifth/sixth

Rex Burkhead, NE
Dion Lewis, TEN
Marshawn Lynch, OAK
Royce Freeman, DEN

Rex Burkhead is one answer here with Sony Michel’s knee acting up. Burkhead had trouble staying healthy last year, so pairing him with James White later would be wise if you employ this strategy. Burkhead should be first in line for touches and touchdowns in a very productive backfield. Dion Lewis qualifies in PPR leagues. He is a top-end talent but hasn’t been given the opportunity to be a consistent fantasy force since his serious leg injury in New England - until late last season, when he won leagues in Week 16. Lewis got paid by Tennessee and should be used enough to be a PPR RB2 with top-10 weekly upside. Marshawn Lynch is another enticing name in the sixth who could even be there in the seventh. He appears to be the lead back in Oakland and in top shape. The team reportedly loves Doug Martin, so we’ll have to avoid that assumption of rational coaching landmine to sidestep the landmine that Lynch was in the first half of last year when his usage was baffling. Freeman has looked like clearly the best back in Denver and should take over in a matter of time.

A safe RB2 in the fifth

Lamar Miller, HOU

Lamar Miller is the answer here with D’Onta Foreman still not back on the field. Miller has dropped a little bit of weight and resembles the back he was at Miami more than he did in his first two years in Houston. The Houston offense should produce enough with any competent back for a lead back to flirt with RB1 numbers. Miller is competent.

RB2BC

If you prefer to stock up on wide receivers after feeling hemmed into taking a running back in the first (and hopefully Gronkowski in the second) and forgo running back through Rounds 3-6, here are some names that could bail you out in the 7th-9th:

Receiving backs: Chris Thompson, WAS (who admitted won’t be 100%, but is still undervalued based on 2017 production), Tarik Cohen, CHI (whose role and effectiveness of usage is going to grow by an unknown amount this year)

Useful backs whose value could grow: Jamaal Williams, GB (lead back vs tough Week 1 and 2 matchups against Minnesota and Chicago who could assert himself with Aaron Jones suspended - monitor ankle injury), Kerryon Johnson, DET (should lead Lions in touches, has skillset/ability to be a every-down back), Isaiah Crowell, NYJ (same role as last year, but much cheaper in better situation than last year, Carlos Hyde, CLE (Browns treating him like clear starter over Nick Chubb so far),

10th Round or Later Emergency RB2: Chris Carson, SEA (should be lead in RBBC to open season), Rob Kelley, WAS (first in line to get carries after Guice ACL tear), James White, NE (weekly touchdown upside, role could grow), Peyton Barber, TB (still ahead of Ronald Jones II), Jordan Wilkins, IND (Injuries/poor play keep him moving up Colts backfield pecking order).

Running back Bench

Assuming you have taken care your first two backs by the sixth round, the RB2BC group should provide a good list of mid and late round targets, but it is not exhaustive. In addition to the names above, here are some more backs to target on your bench in the 10th round or later:

Aaron Jones, GB - Will require two weeks of waiting, so not as attractive in short bench leagues. He was clearly Green Bay’s best runner last year.

Giovani Bernard, CIN - Good enough to start for a lot of teams, Cincinnati does not appear interested in making a thunder/lightning committee with Bernard and Joe Mixon, but his talent, track record and position scarcity makes him hard to overlook.

Matt Breida, SF - Already down with a shoulder sprain, Breida might be more 1A than a backup, and Jerick McKinnon’s injury (calf) is trickier to come back from. This also looks like a situation that produces numbers for any competent back.

Nyheim Hines, IND - Buzz cooling after an inauspicious preseason opener, but still has the big play profile and skillset to be a Tarik Cohen/Chris Thompson x-factor type in an offense overseen by a forward-looking head coach.

Javorius Allen, BAL - Kenneth Dixon is fighting just to make the roster. Allen is the #2 in a productive backfield, and he has the goal-line and receiving back skillset to present matchup flex value and big Alex Collins injury upside.

Latavius Murray, MIN, T.J. Yeldon, JAX, Spencer Ware, KC - An injury away from inheriting the lead back role with second-year backs ahead of them. All proven talents to various extents. Chase Edmonds and Rod Smith might deserve to be on this list too.

Jeremy Hill, NE - Appears to be in the lead for the Patriots #4 back job, might capture goal line duty and reprise LeGarrette Blount’s 2016 if Burkhead and Michel end up on sidelines (which already happened once in camp).

Corey Grant, JAX - Could play himself into a Cohen/Thompson lite role this year with explosiveness and performance in very limited usage last year.

What about Handcuffs?

Protecting an investment in your RB1 isn’t a bad strategy in deeper leagues (12 team/20 man roster or deeper) where the waiver wire tends to be thin. Here are the handcuffs to target based on the likelihood of strong value in case of starter injury and cheap draft cost (which takes players like CJ Anderson and Tevin Coleman out of consideration):

Todd Gurley/John Kelly (Malcolm Brown might be first in line, but Kelly is better)
Le’Veon Bell/James Conner (Jaylen Samuels will also play a role)
David Johnson/Chase Edmonds
Ezekiel Elliott/Rod Smith
Dalvin Cook/Latavius Murray
Kareem Hunt/Spencer Ware
Leonard Fournette/T.J. Yeldon (Corey Grant will also play a role)
Melvin Gordon III/Austin Ekeler
Jerick McKinnon/Matt Breida
Joe Mixon/Giovani Bernard

Wide receiver

Wide receiver early strategies continue to give way to wide receiver depth strategies with the growing number of speculative late picks and more varied pass offenses proliferating around the league.

WR1

The general advice this year is don’t take a wide receiver in the first round. Antonio Brown will be worth a first-round pick. Odell Beckham Jr Jr and DeAndre Hopkins very well could be. Turn the page and see that Julio Jones, Keenan Allen, AJ Green, Michael Thomas, and TY Hilton also could be, and they are often, if not always available in the second round. Throw Mike Evans and Davante Adams into the WR1 in the second round mix, too. Hilton is often available in the third. Amari Cooper has a WR1 season in his range of outcomes in the third, even Josh Gordon in the 4th/5th. Don’t feel like you need to get your WR1 in the first round. To recap:

2nd round WR1s

Keenan Allen, LAC
Julio Jones, ATL
A.J. Green, CIN
Michael Thomas, NO

3rd round WR1s worth a 2nd

T.Y. Hilton, IND

Won’t talk you out of taking them as a WR1 in late 2nd

Davante Adams, GB
Mike Evans, TB

Won’t talk you out of taking them as a WR1 in the 3rd

Stefon Diggs, MIN
Amari Cooper, OAK

WR2

If you can take Hilton as your WR2 in the third after Allen/Green in the second that is ideal, although it could be unnecessary with the depth at the position. Demaryius Thomas and Jarvis Landry should be high floor WR2 options in PPR and they’re often available in the fourth. Sammy Watkins has boom/bust WR2 potential in the sixth. Chris Hogan will be the Patriots #1 receiver for four weeks and his outlook might be even better when Julian Edelman returns and he’s available in 5th/6th. Speaking of Edelman, like Ingram if he returns to form after his suspension, he’ll be a very strong option bordering on WR1 value, and he’s available in the sixth. The WR3 group is strong and deep enough that you might even be able to draft a mess of them to complement a true WR1 and easily get away with it - in fact, that was how the position went last year. If this isn’t becoming clear, wide receiver has the width, depth, and breadth this year to allow for a wide range of approaches and the recommendations reflect that. You may not share the same targets, but having a flexible list of rounds to fill roles depending on how the draft unfolds is essential to your wide receiver draft prep.

WR1 as your WR2 in the third

TY Hilton, IND

High floor WR2 in the fourth

Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
Demaryius Thomas, DEN
Jarvis Landry, CLE

High ceiling WR2 in the fourth

Brandin Cooks, LAR

High ceiling WR2 in the sixth

Sammy Watkins, LAR
Julian Edelman, NE
Chris Hogan, NE
Corey Davis, TEN

Possible WR2 disguised as WR3 in seventh

Jamison Crowder, WAS
Marquise Goodwin, SF
Emmanuel Sanders, DEN

WR3

If you want to be big spender at wide receiver, getting a Watkins/Edelman/Hogan/Davis as your WR3 could guarantee one of the best wide receiver groups in your league if you nail your first two picks, and you’ll also have two running backs and a tight end or three running backs in tow. Waiting can be rewarded with Crowder, Goodwin, or Sanders or an ever-growing list of players with WR3 potential:

Cooper Kupp (LAR) in the 7th/8th
Will Fuller V (HOU) in the 7th/8th
Robby Anderson (NYJ) in the 8th/9th
Randall Cobb (GB) in the 8th/9th
Nelson Agholor (PHI) in the 8th/9th
Tyler Lockett (SEA) in the 10th or later
Kenny Golladay (DET) in the 10th or later
Kenny Stills (MIA) in the 10th or later

Wide receiver Bench

Hopefully, you’ll end up with a name or two from the list above as your first or second wide receiver off of the bench. Even if you don’t, the list of wide receivers with the potential to be contributors to your team seemingly goes on forever this year. Bench wide receiver targets should include, but not be limited to:

Mike Williams (LAC) in the 11th or later
Anthony Miller (CHI) in the 12th or later
John Brown (BAL) in the 14th or later
Keelan Cole (JAX) in the 14th or later
Tyrell Williams (LAC) in the 14th or later
John Ross (CIN) in the 14th or later
Chris Godwin (TB) in the 14th or later
Taywan Taylor (TEN) in the 14th or later
Geronimo Allison (GB) in the 14th or later
Keke Coutee (HOU) as late as possible

Don’t fret if your favorite upside wide receiver to target in the late rounds isn’t on this list. While these are my endorsements, the strategy point is that there’s gold in them thar late-round wide receiver hills, go prospecting!

A note about wide receiver strategy: The wide receiver depth this year is once again so strong at you might flirt with the idea of not taking your first wideout until the fifth or sixth round. A strategy that incorporates Rodgers, Gronkowski, and strong duo or trio of backs is not crazy. If you take the right receivers from the 6th/7th on, you can get away with stacking the other positions. Let’s also remember that the focus on the waiver wire will be running back with all of the upside down drafting, so finding viable wide receivers on the waiver wire will be easier than finding viable running backs.

Tight End

Another year, another group of 6-8 reliable tight ends, some hopes for injury prone players to stay healthy, and the promise of a new young group ready to expand the number of playable options at the position. History tells us that the number of elite options stays low, generally higher expectations are not met, and tight end is a brutal position on the body.

Ideally at tight end, you want to invest early and give yourself a distinct edge on the competition, or invest later and recoup middling production at the position to gain advantages elsewhere by not yielding a huge advantage to the teams with strong plays at tight end. Going for a middling option like Kyle Rudolph cuts into your draft capital while likely yielding no significant advantage over teams that use late round picks and waiver options well.

Factors continue to converge that point directly to Rob Gronkowski providing an unfair advantage at the position as long as he can stay healthy. The Patriots have their weakest wide receiver group in years, and that includes after Julian Edelman returns from his suspension, but especially before (and Edelman is not a sure thing to play at previous levels). Travis Kelce lost a quarterback that fed him and gained the best second wide receiver his offense has had during his career. Zach Ertz’s touchdown spike might be short-lived with Dallas Goedert in town. Evan Engram might struggle to match his 2017 target level with Odell Beckham Jr back and Saquon Barkley on the roster. Greg Olsen has the best supporting cast in the passing game he has seen during his time in Carolina. Perhaps Jimmy Graham playing Aaron Rodgers boosts his numbers and Jordan Reed finally stays healthy.

While everyone else at the position has a lowered ceiling, Gronkowski is set up for a career-high in targets, and he still looked unstoppable for a good part of 2017. He has played at least 14 games in three of the last four years. Gronkowski is consistently available in the second round even though he may provide the largest advantage over his peers of any player at any position by a good margin. Ride or die with us.

If you don’t want to take Gronkowski in the second or hope he falls to you in the third, Graham is intriguing in the 5th/6th simply because of Rodgers, although Martellus Bennett was intriguing at this time last year. Delanie Walker in 7th is safe (assuming his toe is ok), but Jonnu Smith might be getting a larger part of the tight end target share this year. On the opposite end of the risk/reward mix spectrum, Jordan Reed is 3-4 rounds cheaper than last year and healthier than last year, with a new quarterback that helped Travis Kelce hit career-high numbers.

Going deeper, Jack Doyle may see his targets come down a bit with the addition of Eric Ebron, but those targets will be Andrew Luck targets. The offense also could feed Ebron and Doyle target shares to the tune of two TE1 options with the weakness at wide receiver and in the running game. There are believable breakout narratives for George Kittle (make sure you draft someone else because his Week 1 availability isn’t certain yet), Ricky Seals-Jones, and David Njoku.

Want to wait until the end and draft a tight end to leadoff in a streaming approach? Tyler Eifert isn’t a bad choice because he could end up being your every-week tight end - for as long as his body holds up. He draws the Colts Week 1. Austin Seferian-Jenkins draws the Giants defense that can’t cover tight ends.

It’s a gut feeling, but Dallas Goedert is a candidate to break down further the assumption that rookie tight ends can’t be consistent contributors in fantasy leagues. He could come out of the gate hot if Alshon Jeffery isn’t ready and dominate red zone targets.

There’s room for every approach:

2nd round investment: Rob Gronkowski, NE
5th/6th round investment: Jimmy Graham, GB
7th/8th round investment (floor): Delanie Walker, TEN (monitor toe injury)
7th/8th round investment (ceiling): Jordan Reed, WAS
9th-10th round investment (floor): Jack Doyle, IND
9th-10th round investment (ceiling): David Njoku, CLE, George Kittle, SF
Late round/Week 1 streamer: Ricky Seals-Jones, ARI, Tyler Eifert, CIN, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, JAX, Dallas Goedert, PHI

Kicker/Defense

The last two rounds as usually are the kicker and defense rounds. This year, there are a few defenses that might be worth the splurge:

Jacksonville was producing at historic levels for a fantasy defense last year and should be just as good as last year, but they will cost a premium. The Rams added Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters and open with the Raiders and Cardinals, but they are only negligibly cheaper than the Jaguars. Likewise, the Vikings added Sheldon Richardson, but they underperformed expectations last year, yet are still being drafted early.

The sweet spot to invest in a fantasy defense is in the 5-8 range:

Denver - added Bradley Chubb, open with home games against Seattle, Oakland, and Kansas City in Weeks 1, 3 and 4, and road games against Joe Flacco and the Jets in Weeks 2 and 5.

Baltimore - Open at home with Buffalo, then Cincinnati on the road, but on Thursday night, then a home game against Case Keenum

New Orleans - Open at home against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Browns in Weeks 1-2.

This doesn’t mean you have to commit to these defenses for the entire year. The added advantage they could give to your lineup in the opening weeks alone justifies the 13th round (or later) price they will cost, especially if you take Mark Ingram II or Julian Edelman as part of your early draft.

Otherwise, you are looking at Week 1 matchups and streaming from there. I write a column every week on the best defenses to stream and will have you covered.

For Week 1 this year (assuming Baltimore, New Orleans, and Denver are gone):

Cincinnati (at Indianapolis) - If you buy into rusty Andrew Luck having to work out kinks
Pittsburgh (at Cleveland) - If you buy into Browns gonna Brown, even with Tyrod Taylor
Green Bay (vs Chicago) - If you buy into prime time Lambeau and Trubisky needing time in a new offense
Detroit (vs New York Jets) - If you buy into this as a welcome to the NFL game for Sam Darnold on road in prime time

Last round kicker targets (all outside at Top 8 ADP)

Dan Bailey, DAL - healthy now and offense might have trouble finishing drives
Robbie Gould, SF - Was on fire with Garoppolo
Graham Gano, CAR - Should be one of the most accurate kickers again, good situation
Adam Vinatieri, IND - Old reliable, offense should be a lot better

Bottom Line

Quarterback: There is no wrong approach, and don’t feel like you have to get a quarterback later than ADP to get one of the “right answers”. Go with your gut here.

Running Back: It is imperative to take your RB1 in the first round and preferable to get your RB2 in Rounds 4-6at the latest, but you can get away with taking one running back in the first five or six rounds, just don’t get left out of the RB1 tier.

Wide Receiver: The second and third round can yield a WR1, and the value in the 6th-10th rounds is excellent. The list of potentially viable wide receivers goes on as far as the eye can see, so stock your bench with upside plays.

Tight End: Buy a ticket for the SS Gronkowski (hopefully a 16-week tour) in the second. If you don’t, there are solid values of the boom/bust and safer varieties in the mid-rounds, and upside/streamer plays in the late rounds.

Sample Drafts

Round
Early Slot 1
Early Slot 2
Mid Slot 1
Mid Slot 2
Late Slot 1
Late Slot 2
1
Le'Veon Bell
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
DEN D/ST
BAL D/ST
13
NO D/ST
14
15
16
17
18
Geromino Allison
19
DET D/ST
PIT D/ST
GB D/ST
20