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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.

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