“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 risks that make 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 weakness and understand what your strategy will be during the season to deal with that. Streaming TEs. RB2BC. QBBC. And play it safe in the 1st/2nd 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.
A new frontier
This year gives you more freedom and flexibility than any year since I have been doing this. Quarterbacks with clear Top 3-5 upside at the end of the Top 10, or even outside of it. Running backs with Top 6-8 upside are there in the third round. Wide receivers with Top 20 upside are there into the 30s and sometimes 40s. Tight Ends with Top 3-4 upside are there in the mid-rounds, and plenty of potentially serviceable or better options are there in the late rounds.
This year -- more than any other year -- should embolden you to get your favorites. ADP, be damned, you should be willing to reach a round or two early for the players you have the strongest belief in. The depth of tiers and variety of opinions has created an inside out moment. With the proliferation of fantasy analysis, we can find sound arguments to defend or detract from taking every player at ADP this year. ADP won’t reflect the true range of a player's likely draft window and, come Week 3 or 4, lots of reaches are going to look like values and values will be dropped in early waiver wire runs. Team construction is easy this year. With a Chinese Menu approach, you can adapt your draft plan on the fly. Miss on your early targets? Simply adjust to addressing those positions in the middle or late rounds. There are viable options at every level of your draft. Different names may appeal to you than the ones that appeal to me, but rest assured, a lot of names should appeal to you.
This is Important - I give you my targets and reasoning, but you should target the players you believe in the most. Don't blindly rely on my player evaluation!
Every year, the quarterback position 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 be worth taking at ADP, and as the fantasy hive mind continues to wait longer on all quarterbacks, including the elite options.
Don’t overlook quarterback as a position that can give you a material advantage! Don’t think of the 15-20 points you can get most weeks from your QB20 (or even a waiver wire quarterback) as a win at quarterback. Think of that as a zero, and aim for quarterbacks with 25-30 point weeks within their scoring range, if not 30+. Be open to taking and carrying more than one quarterback and targeting matchups week-to-week.
Know your lineup settings! This advice becomes more important the fewer starting spots you have. It also becomes more important in .5 PPR or non-PPR leagues. By decreasing the scoring range for RB/WR/TE, a big quarterback week becomes more decisive in fantasy matchup results. Know your scoring system! Six-point passing touchdowns or passing yard performance bonuses create passing ceilings to match the running quarterback ceilings. This might seem like rudimentary advice, but even in so-called expert drafts, I see strong evidence that not everyone changes their rankings/draft picks to reflect the scoring and lineups.
What button should I press on the elevator?
Think of your quarterback choice like you’re on an elevator with your league opponents. The best times to get off are first, in the middle of the group, or near the end. Let how your draft unfolds and your relative confidence in the quarterback in question and alternatives at other positions guide you. Don’t be afraid of being the last on the elevator.
First one off
Patrick Mahomes II in the late second through the fourth
Can Patrick Mahomes II eclipse what he did last year? Why can’t he is probably the better way to ask the question. He will gain Mecole Hardman to further stretch defenses and signs point to Sammy Watkins being healthier than years past. Mahomes also seems like the type of player who is competing against an ideal, not his competition. He is unlikely to rest on his laurels and coast on his past accomplishments. It’s doubtful he ever could have done what he did last year if he was that type. If it seems impossible that Mahomes can be better last year, remember that what he did last year seemed impossible going into the season. Running back and wide receiver are deep enough to afford you one (or even two) non-RB/WR early picks. Mahomes will give you plenty of 10-20 point weeks in our quarterback scoring system where a 15-20 is really a zero.
UPDATE: Deshaun Watson is now closer to Mahomes and could be a target himself if he falls to the fifth or later.