Justin Bonnema wrote a great piece about who to take if you have pick 1.01. In that article, he lays out the pros and cons of each of the top selections. But once that’s done, you have to watch 22 other players go off the board before you pick again. If you have the No. 1 overall pick, who you take with your second and third picks will set the tone for your entire draft. Here are a couple of different ideas on how to build around your team around your first-round pick.
Spotting the Trend
One of the keys to a successful fantasy draft is spotting the players who have the best value based on their draft position. But when you’re drafting at the end of one round and the beginning of another (on the turn), if you only take the best available players each time you are up, you could end up with great depth at certain positions and consistently lose because of how weak you are at other positions. When drafting on the turn, you have to look at the players who were taken by the other GMs and try to anticipate where the draft is going. If you can spot the trend, you can control the draft.
To help spot the trends in your draft, you start with average draft position: given where you are in the draft, what players have ‘typically’ gone off the board in similar drafts. In mid-July, looking at a typical 12-team draft, the first 23 picks normally include about 15 running backs, 7 wide receivers, and 1 tight end. In a PPR league, your running back/wide receiver ratio will be about the same (11/11). When looking to make your pick at 2.12 and 3.01, look at how your draft has played out against these numbers to see if there are any trends that you can take advantage of.
Tight End Required
If your league requires each team to start a tight end, then having one of the top scoring tight ends can really give you an advantage. In a PPR league and leagues where tight ends receive a bonus (+1.5 per reception), it’s even more important. A few seasons ago, Rob Gronkowski was a first-round quality pick in PPR leagues. He has slipped a little and this year and he’s now trending toward the send half of the second round. If no one has drafted him in your league, taking Gronkowski is the easy choice with one of your two picks. Last season, he only played 14 games, but still finished with over 1000 yards receiving, eight touchdowns and he was the No. 1 fantasy tight end. This year, he’s projecting to score about two more points per week than any other tight end in the league. If your league mates have passed on Gronkowski because they think it’s too early to take a tight end, he’s about as close to a no-brainer choice as you’re doing to get.
If Gronkowski is off the board, you might also consider taking Travis Kelce with one of your two picks. Kelce also finished with more than 1000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season, and he will be a big part of the Kansas City offense again this season. He has also been healthier than Gronkowski over his first for seasons. While Gronkowski usually misses a couple games a season, Kelce has only missed one game in four years. There is a little concern with Kelce because of the quarterback change in Kansas City from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes, but Kelce is still the most consistent pass-catcher on the team and he’s going to get plenty of opportunities each week. In a PPR league, Kelce is still good value at 3.01 and will keep you ahead of the tight end trend since he and Zach Ertz will definitely be gone before you pick again at the end of Round 4.
Running Back Depth
Most leagues require at least two running backs to start each week and if your league has a flex position, about half the teams will have three on the field if possible. You really can’t have too many quality running backs on your roster. Even if you followed Justin’s advice and took a running back with the #1 overall pick, you would be taking a big risk if you passed on taking another running back this early in the draft. Your league format and current trends should be your guide.
If you draft has gone against the trend, and there are more running backs available than expected, you’re in luck. This could happen if several people want to take a quarterback early, or maybe some guys went crazy at wide receiver in a PPR league. If that’s the case, taking guys like Jerrick McKinnon or Christian McCaffrey are likely still on the board. McKinnon was under-utilized in Minnesota, but in San Francisco, he is going to surprise a lot of folks and should have a solid season. McCaffrey will split time with C.J. Anderson in the Carolina backfield, but he had 80 receptions as a rookie last year and should see plenty of targets this year as well. In standard and PPR leagues, both McKinnon and McCaffrey will provide you with excellent opportunities from week to week.
If your league followed the crowd in the first two rounds, you could still find yourself looking at guys like Alex Collins, Derrick Henry and even Devonta Freeman in a PPR league. Collins is a great complement to your first-round selection and will put up starting quality numbers for you this year. He finished 2017 strong after a slow start and should perform well with a full season of opportunity in front of him. Freeman struggled a bit last season and he missed a couple games due to injury. When healthy, he will approach 50 receptions for the season and that makes him a decent choice for PPR leagues if he’s available. While he’ll still share time with Tevin Coleman, there should be plenty of opportunities for Freeman to justify taking him at this point. Derrick Henry is a bigger risk in a standard league and a definite pass in a PPR league at this point. He’ll split time with newly acquired Dion Lewis and could disappear in games if the coaching staff thinks Lewis is the better matchup. Henry has too much downside to risk taking him this high in the draft.
If your league left you with decent value at running back, don’t hesitate to take two at this point, even if you took one in the first round as well. The talent and production will drop off considerably after these picks, and having two or three solid running backs on your roster will give you an excellent base to build your team around for the rest of the draft.
If your league has over-drafted running backs and your cheat sheet shows you’re looking at third-round value already, you need to make some decisions. If guys like Kenyan Drake or Derrius Guice are the best running backs available in a standard league, it’s better to pass on them and look for value at wide receiver (see below). If Drake, Joe Mixon, or Jordan Howard are the best available in your PPR league, the smart play is to pass on them as well. Drake struggled in several games last season and has a couple things to prove in Miami before he is given the top spot. Frank Gore is on the downside of his career, but he’s still going to steal touches from Drake this year. Guice also has some upside, but there is a lot of uncertainty in the Washington backfield and you may not want to risk that with your second or third pick. Jordan Howard will have a decent year in a standard league, but in PPR leagues, he’s not as attractive because he doesn’t catch the ball much (just 52 receptions in two seasons.) His upside is limited by Tarik Cohen because the Bears have already said they want him to be more involved in the offense. The only reason to consider taking a running back in this range is if you gambled at No. 1 overall and took a wide receiver. Taking your first running back now is going to hurt, but you can’t take the risk of waiting until the end of Round 4 to get a running back now. Too much talent is already gone.
Wide Receiver Depth
If your league is stuck in the 90s and they have over-drafted running backs in the first two rounds, you should see eye-popping value at wide receiver when you are back on the clock. Guys like Mike Evans or A.J. Green might be available here and in a PPR league, even guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Adam Thielen would be great picks. Evans is just a stud. He has four straight 1000-yard seasons to start his career and there is no reason to believe he’s going to slow down now. He’s still a rock-solid performer who can put up double-digit fantasy numbers every week. A.J. Green struggled last season, as did the entire Bengal offense. He’s not nearly the stud that Evans is, but lack of serious competition makes him a guy who will see 130+ targets again this season. Larry Fitzgerald is the Energizer Bunny of the NFL – even in his 15th season, he keeps going and going. With Sam Bradford under center this season, you can pencil Fitzgerald in for another 100 catch, 1000+ yard season. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are really the 1A and 1B of the Minnesota receiving corps. In a PPR league, don’t be afraid to take Thielen this early – as he’s on track for another season with 80+ receptions and 1200+ receiving yards. If he can improve on his career-high five receiving touchdowns, he’s going to be a great addition for your team.
If your league over-drafted at wide receiver, then you’re probably looking at the running back depth that we mentioned above. If you’re looking at guys like T.Y. Hilton or Tyreek Hill as your best wide receiver options here, consider passing on them now and building solid depth at running back. You can use your back-to-back picks to maximize wide receiver value later in the draft.
But what about Quarterbacks?
This season projects to be a great year to wait on drafting a quarterback. Even in six-point passing touchdown leagues, there is less than a two-points-per-game difference between the top six selections. That lack of a clear value pick means you should pass on taking a quarterback this early and stock up on running backs and wide receivers where the talent gap is more pronounced.
But this approach takes patience, guts and a little bit of luck. Drafting on the turn means you could very easily miss the start of a quarterback run and see six or seven picks fly off the board when there is nothing that you can do about it. That’s why the smart play this year is to go with a quarterback by committee approach if you have the No. 1 overall pick. Instead of targeting Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady as your top selection, use your back to back picks to get two lower-ranked guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins or Philip Rivers. Then look at the weekly projections for each of them in the MyFootballguys feature and see which one gives you the most points each week. If you’ve played the matchups correctly, by the end of the season, you’ll have scored more points at the quarterback position than a lot of the teams that used a higher draft pick on a set-it-and-forget-it quarterback. Combine that with the value you’re scooping up at running back and wide receiver, and you’ll be in a great position to make a playoff run.
Good luck this season!