This is the first of a multi-part series.
I started penning this article in 2002 to put my pre-draft thoughts to paper. Like most things in life, I find I do my best when I plan to succeed. This article is my attempt at that. I work hard at doing projections every year. At Footballguys, we also put together the most comprehensive Average Draft Position Lists. So the information about value is certainly readily available. The trick to having a perfect draft though is to anticipate those "pockets of value" and build your team so that you get the lion's share of these guys.
There is no one way to have a perfect draft. In fact, the biggest criticism I often get is that I am willing to wait on a quarterback and/or tight end in a lot of drafts. Many drafters show me teams where they grab a guy like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees early and then knock the rest of the draft out of the park. That's definitely possible. And against weak competition, it can be the preferred game plan.
This article assumes fairly educated drafters. You need to decide whether your league is full of sharks, guppies, or a combination of both. Count the number of Footballguys subscriptions and/or Dominator apps and compare that to the number of guys crossing off players from their magazine cheat sheet to get a feel for this if you really are unsure. I state this here because against softer competition the shark move is to grab the quality quarterbacks and tight ends too. You should do this because it's nearly assured you will also get many great players to slide to you at running back and wide receiver. Against great competition, reaching for a player at the wrong time can quickly dismantle your draft and leave you missing the key "pockets of value" that can help your chances at winning.
Before we can have the "Perfect Draft", let's define our measure of success. After the draft, your team should have these qualities:
- Against multiple projection sets, your team always grades out as one of the best teams. And to make your life easy here, just run your roster through our Rate My Team application.
- You secured a great number of players that will outperform their draft position.
- You have quality depth (in the right places) to allow for post-draft trades.
- The majority of owners recognize that you have a team that should easily reach the playoffs.
- Your late round picks have the potential to be game-changing players
These aren't absolutes, but I list them here so we know what we are trying to build.
Let's start with the two basic principles of Value Based Drafting (VBD). I will expound on them as we go through this.
- All Players Have Value - Don't love anyone. Don't hate anyone. Get players that will significantly outperform their draft position and you will build a winning team.
- Understand What the Average Guy Thinks - You may believe someone will be the 10th best WR, but if everybody else does not then you should wait to maximize value.
If you don't follow these principles, you will not have a perfect draft. If you believe rookie wide receivers are always bad or drafting anyone over 30 is too big of an injury risk, then you will not have the perfect draft. Throw away the biases. Let value guide your draft. Let others succumb to prejudices and generalities. You are here to win your league. And you do that by getting value with every pick.
How do we define value? Value Based Drafting (VBD) has shown us that we can compare unlike positions for comparative value. The cornerstone of VBD starts with solid projections. And these projections can be manipulated to form Top 300+ lists. For this article, I will be using the Top 300 (PPR) list I created for the website. I have highlighted favorable differences in green to indicate players that may be bargains on draft day.
Let's have the perfect draft.
The goal is to get you the best possible team and to make sure you don't overpay for players that can still be had a few rounds later. What I look for are players that I project significantly better than where they are being drafted. The positional analysis tracks to my projections.
This article assumes a 12-team league using scoring that starts 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 defense, and 1 kicker. Fantasy points are calculated as follows:
- Passing touchdowns = 4 points
- Interceptions = -1 points
- Rushing/receiving touchdowns = 6 points
- Receptions = 1 point
- Passing yardage = 0.05 pts per yard (1 pt per 20 yards)
- Rushing/receiving yardage = 0.10 pts per yard (1 pt per 10 yards)
The Top 60 Players
Because ADP is a crucial barometer on when players will get drafted, I believe it's important to merge the Footballguys Top 300 with ADP to create a single Top 60 draft list. This list appears here for PPR leagues
- For players that have a value lower than ADP, use the average of the two numbers.
- For players that have a value higher than ADP, use the value number.
Example: Player A has a value of 13 and an ADP of 21. His drafting value would be 17. (13 + 21)/2. Conversely, if Player has a value of 21 and an ADP of 13, his drafting value would be 21.
Doing this for the Top 300 list yields these Top 60 players (ranked from 1st to 60).
*** Note this is a generic PPR list. You can get a tailored list by entering your scoring criteria into the VBD or Draft Dominator applications:
- Pick 1.01 - RB1 Todd Gurley, LAR/12 (ADP = 1)
- Pick 1.02 - RB2 Le'Veon Bell, PIT/7 (ADP = 2)
- Pick 1.03 - RB3 Ezekiel Elliott, DAL/8 (ADP = 4)
- Pick 1.04 - RB4 David Johnson, ARI/9 (ADP = 3)
- Pick 1.05 - RB5 Alvin Kamara, NO/6 (ADP = 6)
- Pick 1.06 - WR1 Antonio Brown, PIT/7 (ADP = 5)
- Pick 1.07 - WR2 DeAndre Hopkins, HOU/10 (ADP = 8)
- Pick 1.08 - RB6 Melvin Gordon III, LAC/8 (ADP = 9)
- Pick 1.09 - WR3 Odell Beckham Jr, NYG/9 (ADP = 11)
- Pick 1.10 - RB7 Leonard Fournette, JAX/9 (ADP = 10)
- Pick 1.11 - RB8 Kareem Hunt, KC/12 (ADP = 12)
- Pick 1.12 - WR4 Julio Jones, ATL/8 (ADP = 13)
- Pick 2.01 - WR5 Michael Thomas, NO/6 (ADP = 15)
- Pick 2.02 - WR6 Keenan Allen, LAC/8 (ADP = 17)
- Pick 2.03 - RB9 Saquon Barkley, NYG/9 (ADP = 7)
- Pick 2.04 - RB10 Dalvin Cook, MIN/10 (ADP = 14)
- Pick 2.05 - RB11 Christian McCaffrey, CAR/4 (ADP = 16)
- Pick 2.06 - WR7 A.J. Green, CIN/9 (ADP = 20)
- Pick 2.07 - RB12 Devonta Freeman, ATL/8 (ADP = 18)
- Pick 2.08 - RB13 Jerick McKinnon, SF/11 (ADP = 23)
- Pick 2.09 - TE1 Rob Gronkowski, NE/11 (ADP = 21)
- Pick 2.10 - WR8 T.Y. Hilton , IND/9 (ADP = 27)
- Pick 2.11 - WR9 Davante Adams, GB/7 (ADP = 19)
- Pick 2.12 - RB14 Jordan Howard, CHI/5 (ADP = 25)
- Pick 3.01 - WR10 Mike Evans, TB/5 (ADP = 22)
- Pick 3.02 - WR11 Adam Thielen, MIN/10 (ADP = 31)
- Pick 3.03 - WR12 Tyreek Hill, KC/12 (ADP = 29)
- Pick 3.04 - RB15 Joe Mixon, CIN/9 (ADP = 24)
- Pick 3.05 - WR13 Stefon Diggs, MIN/10 (ADP = 30)
- Pick 3.06 - WR14 Amari Cooper, OAK/7 (ADP = 33)
- Pick 3.07 - WR15 Larry Fitzgerald, ARI/9 (ADP = 38)
- Pick 3.08 - TE2 Travis Kelce, KC/12 (ADP = 26)
- Pick 3.09 - WR16 Doug Baldwin, SEA/7 (ADP = 35)
- Pick 3.10 - RB16 Kenyan Drake, MIA/11 (ADP = 37)
- Pick 3.11 - QB1 Aaron Rodgers, GB/7 (ADP = 28)
- Pick 3.12 - TE3 Zach Ertz, PHI/9 (ADP = 34)
- Pick 4.01 - WR17 Demaryius Thomas, DEN/10 (ADP = 44)
- Pick 4.02 - WR18 Brandin Cooks, LAR/12 (ADP = 46)
- Pick 4.03 - RB17 LeSean McCoy, BUF/11 (ADP = 32)
- Pick 4.04 - WR19 Golden Tate, DET/6 (ADP = 45)
- Pick 4.05 - RB18 Mark Ingram II II, NO/6 (ADP = 52)
- Pick 4.06 - WR20 Jarvis Landry, CLE/11 (ADP = 39)
- Pick 4.07 - RB19 Lamar Miller, HOU/10 (ADP = 47)
- Pick 4.08 - RB20 Alex Collins, BAL/10 (ADP = 36)
- Pick 4.09 - WR21 JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT/7 (ADP = 43)
- Pick 4.10 - WR22 Allen Robinson, CHI/5 (ADP = 48)
- Pick 4.11 - RB21 Derrick Henry, TEN/8 (ADP = 40)
- Pick 4.12 - QB2 Russell Wilson, SEA/7 (ADP = 50)
- Pick 5.01 - WR23 Michael Crabtree, BAL/10 (ADP = 63)
- Pick 5.02 - WR24 Marvin Jones Jr, DET/6 (ADP = 54)
- Pick 5.03 - RB22 Jay Ajayi, PHI/9 (ADP = 41)
- Pick 5.04 - QB3 Cam Newton, CAR/4 (ADP = 60)
- Pick 5.05 - TE4 Greg Olsen, CAR/4 (ADP = 58)
- Pick 5.06 - QB4 Deshaun Watson, HOU/10 (ADP = 42)
- Pick 5.07 - WR25 Marquise Goodwin, SF/11 (ADP = 74)
- Pick 5.08 - TE5 Jimmy Graham, GB/7 (ADP = 53)
- Pick 5.09 - RB23 Tevin Coleman, ATL/8 (ADP = 64)
- Pick 5.10 - RB24 Dion Lewis, TEN/8 (ADP = 56)
- Pick 5.11 - QB5 Tom Brady, NE/11 (ADP = 49)
- Pick 5.12 - WR26 Josh Gordon, CLE/11 (ADP = 55)
Note: There are five quarterbacks that appear on this list, but I am going to tell you a simple truth. Your team will end up a lot better if you wait until after this list is exhausted before choosing a quarterback. The reason for this is because there is value at quarterback once everyone in the league drafts one. In years where there were just a handful of difference makers, you could make an argument that you need an elite one. This year the quarterback pool is as deep as ever. Trust me here. Don't draft an early quarterback.
Building Your Core - Your First 5 Picks
You are looking to grab the best player available until this list is exhausted. But use some common sense while you do this. For example, you can't draft running backs every round and have the Perfect Draft since you are limited in the number you can start each week.
I would pay little to no attention to bye weeks during this phase. You have plenty of time to adjust after these Top 60 players are gone.
I would limit myself to just one tight end from this list unless the extra tight end is drafted in the eighth round or later (trade value alone makes the selection worthwhile).
After the Top 60 - Assessment Phase
The transition from the Top 60 to rounding out your team based on need is a critical one. Your analysis here can instantly turn a good draft into a great one. Here are the questions you should be asking yourself to determine your weaknesses:
- How many backs did you secure? The average owner should have 2.00 running backs. Do you have two or more including one in the first round? Is this a position of strength for your team?
- Did you draft a quarterback or tight end (the average owner should have 0.42 quarterbacks and 0.33 tight ends) yet? If so, consider yourself done at this position until much later in the draft. If you have not drafted these positions yet, do not panic. Good ones will be available later.
- Assess your bye week situation. If three or more of your first five players are off on the same bye week, I will usually sacrifice that week so that I can be strong in every other week. If that is not the case, then I look to patch the holes with complimentary players that could have big weeks during these rough spots. Teams lining up against Indianapolis, Oakland, Miami, NY Jets, San Francisco, and Cleveland should all yield good results during these weeks.
As an example, Let's say you landed this team after five rounds (from the ninth position):
- 9. RB Leonard Fournette, JAC/9
- 16. WR Keenan Allen, LAC/8
- 33. WR Amari Cooper, OAK/7
- 40. WR Brandin Cooks, LAR/12
- 57. WR Michael Crabtree, BAL/10
Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: You have not selected a quarterback or tight end.
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