The Master Plan for 2015

A holistic approach to making your draft plan and knowing your options as your draft takes shape

“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 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 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 your 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 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.

Note: Here are some other articles I've written this month that can enhance this plan:

PPR Top 200

PPR Auction Values

Tiers: QB RB WR TE

ADP Desirability Rankings: QB RB WR TE

QB1

Quarterback is getting boring in fantasy drafts. We need 2QB/Superflex to become the norm to inject more strategy back into quarterback drafting. In the meantime, our expert mock drafts and overall rankings are going to be misleading. We tend to play the “take the gas tank to E” game in our drafts, and de-emphasize quarterback greatly in overall rankings. In your league, everyone might draft their starter by round 5 and many top backups could be gone by round 8. So don’t get too hung up on my round recommendations here, just know the quarterbacks that tend to offer value compared to quarterbacks going around the same point in your draft.

QB1 Triggers

When all Elite RB/WR/TE gone (around mid 2nd) - Andrew Luck
When Peyton Manning/Russell Wilson are drafted (around 5th) - Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady
When everyone else has taken a starter - Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford
When QB2s are beginning to be taken - Carson Palmer, Tyrod Taylor

What about streaming?

You don’t need to stream quarterbacks this year and you shouldn’t go into a draft with streaming as your Plan A. With 15 weekly projected QB1’s on the board, you can be superpatient and still get one. There are at least four excellent QBBC candidates after that, you can just take two of them if you get shut out.

There’s a catch 22 here: either most of your league will slow play quarterback, and a good one will be cheap enough to make streaming unattractive, or your league will start picking good backups in the 7th/8th and the waiver wire won’t be robust enough to support streaming. Yes, you can make streaming work (heck I won the rotoworld dynasty title last year with RG3/Fitzpatrick/Austin Davis), so break ties against quarterback and don’t fear being on the wrong side of runs if a desired RB/WR/TE target is still there, but don’t go into your draft with a “Don’t take any quarterback in the first 12-15 rounds” edict.

Backup QB

I am comfortable going into the season with no backup quarterback and using the waiver wire when I need to cover a bye or make an “oh #%$” plan until I can make a trade to cover my QB1 being lost for a long period or the season. That is, with a few exceptions (unless you’re in a short bench league where the waiver wire is always rich with starters):

Carson Palmer or Sam Bradford as QB1: The most likely top 15 quarterbacks to miss time this year. I would take one of the last from the Dalton/Cutler/Kaepernick/Bridgewater to play some matchups and have some security. If you get shut out of that tier, draft Fitzpatrick, Griffin, Flacco or Alex Smith and hope they hit. Be ready to cycle through waiver wire options to improve your QB2 if they don’t. Don’t feel like you MUST take a QB2 if you start with Palmer/Bradford, but know that it might be advisable.

Thin waiver wire leagues: This is pretty simple. If almost every starter gets drafted in your league - for instance Blake Bortles and Derek Carr get drafted - you might want to take a backup from those mentioned above. I hate having a roster spot tied up on a backup quarterback all season and try to avoid it so I can use that spot to try to hit on a waiver wire pickup, but we also have to be realistic and not leave our season open to failure if our QB1 goes down.

RB1

I generally go RB1 in the first round because the proposition of taking running backs gets less attractive the deeper you go in your draft.

RB1 FIRST ROUND TARGET LIST

LeVeon Bell, PIT
Adrian Peterson, MIN
Jamaal Charles, KC

Eddie Lacy, GB
Marshawn Lynch, SEA
C.J. Anderson, DEN
Matt Forte, CHI

If you’re drafting in the late first, chances are you will see a wide receiver just as good as the one you are passing on for your RB1 at your early second round pick. If you are flirting with a WR/WR (or Gronk/Luck or one of them with a WR) start, I get it, just know that you might see all of your running back targets dry up before your third round pick. You might end up in Upside Down/Do The Opposite/Zero RB strategy land without intending to be there at the outset of your draft. Get familiar with this strategy in case you are pushed to it.

The main advantage of getting your RB1 in tow early is that you can go RB2BC and really not sweat the position for 4-5 more rounds if you want. I like the idea of counting on myself to find a running back diamond in the rough, but finding two is a tall order with this strategy becoming more popular by the year.

Taking Gronkowski, an uberstud WR like Brown or Jones, or Luck in a QB-heavy scoring system makes sense with an early pick this year, too. Running back is deep enough that you can probably still get a low RB1 around the 2-3 turn.

2-3 TURN RB1 TARGET LIST

Frank Gore, IND

Lamar Miller, MIA

Mark Ingram, NO
Justin Forsett, BAL
Andre Ellington, ARI

You can easily double up here and get a low RB1 as your RB2, giving you a very solid RB duo despite skipping the position in the first round. You might have to pass on some nice wide receivers to do that (Hilton, Cobb, Evans, Hopkins), so I won’t talk you out of wide receiver in the third. I will try to talk you out of passing on running back with your first three picks. Note: Ellington is often falling to the fifth round or later, so you might want to chance him falling to the 4/5 turn, but I have him here value-wise.

What about UPSIDE DOWN/DO THE OPPOSITE/ZERO RB?

Every draft strategy works if you pick the right players. It’s not necessarily a losing strategy to avoid running back early by design. Just know that with information quality and dissemination getting better and the popularity of this strategy continuing to trend up, snagging your desired targets later and getting values off of the waiver wire will be more difficult. I would imagine that we’ll have a “stick it to the teams that didn’t take a back early with this pre-emptive pickup” designation in our waiver wire show this year. Again, Matt Waldman does a great job covering the strategy he called “Upside Down Drafting” (we should also credit Paul Charchian with creating “Do The Opposite” drafting at least ten years ago).

Just know that if it doesn’t include Arian Foster, you’re doing it wrong.

RB2

Running back value this year makes it very attractive to take your RB2 in the late second to late third round range. I see lots of reports of Ellington going in the fourth, or even fifth, so perhaps you can forgo RB2 in the third if you feel confident he’ll be there in fourth or later. For the sake of completeness, I’ll list the targets here, but they are the same as the RB1 targets when going nonRB in the first.

2-3 TURN RB2 TARGET LIST

Frank Gore, IND

Lamar Miller, MIA

Mark Ingram, NO
Justin Forsett, BAL
Andre Ellington, ARI

If you haven’t taken your RB2 in the first three rounds here are some additional RB2 target/round range combinations:

fourth/fifth ROUND RB2 TARGETS

Arian Foster, HOU

Andre Ellington, ARI
Ameer Abdullah, DET

fifth-seventh ROUND RB2 TARGETS

Chris Ivory, NYJ

Doug Martin, TB

CJ Spiller, NO

TJ Yeldon, JAX

eighth ROUND OR LATER RB2 TARGETS

Danny Woodhead, SD
Duke Johnson, CLE

Isaiah Crowell, CLE
Darren Sproles, PHI

These are also good RBs to fit into upside down, etc drafting or really any draft plan. Hitting on a late running back can give you trade flexibility that other positional hits just don't offer.

RB Bench

I’m not against having three running backs in your first 5-6 picks even though you only *need* two. From the seventh on, any running back that screams value should be taken. Running backs are still the easiest currency to spend in trades in fantasy football and it never hurts to play some defense. If Arian Foster is himself for the second half of the season, he’ll be an unfair advantage to everyone who has him. Better that you wager a 7th/8th round pick on it being you and trusting your ability to manage your team to overcome the loss of whoever you passed on for Foster. Use the list above to determine mid-round RB targets.

LATE ROUND RB TARGETS

Christine Michael, DAL

Darren McFadden, DAL

Zach Zenner, DET

David Johnson, ARI
Khiry Robinson, NO
Dion Lewis, NE

Matt Jones, WAS
DeAngelo Williams, PIT

Lance Dunbar, DAL

What about Handcuffs?

You’ll notice some of the running backs listed to target in the late round are handcuffs. Should you handcuff the backup to your starter? Certainly in the case of Williams covering Bell, it just makes too much sense. Perhaps Alfred Blue (if cheap, ie 10th or later) cuffed to Arian Foster makes sense. Those are special cases. The reality is that there aren’t that many clear handcuffs around the league. The few we can isolate, like James Starks, are still more likely than not to just clog up your bench all season. In leagues with thin waiver wires where you rarely even find a wing and a prayer back to cover a bye, taking a handcuff might make sense because you are screwed if a cornerstone running back goes down. I still prefer taking a handcuff I think is more likely to hit because of talent, scheme, clarity of role, or likelihood of starter to go down or get hurt whether I drafted the starter or not. If you do feel cornered into handcuffing backs, here’s the best pairings:

HANDCUFF PAIRS

LeVeon Bell & DeAngelo Williams, PIT
Jamaal Charles & Knile Davis, KC
Eddie Lacy & James Starks, GB

CJ Anderson & Ronnie Hillman, DEN
Lamar Miller & Damien Williams, MIA (subject to change)
LeSean McCoy & Karlos Williams, BUF 
Demarco Murray & Ryan Mathews, PHI
Mark Ingram & Khiry Robinson, NO

Joique Bell & Zach Zenner, DET

Andre Ellington & David Johnson, ARI

WR1

Plan A is to target your WR1 in the second. Early in the round you can get Calvin Johnson in many drafts, in the middle of the round you can get AJ Green or Randall Cobb. If you are going wide receiver in the first, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones are the two receivers with a ceiling to make it worth your while. In the early third, you can often get Cobb, Mike Evans, TY Hilton, and DeAndre Hopkins. You can get by without a wide receiver in the first three rounds, but you’re unlikely to find someone who will match most opponent’s WR1. You have count on the advantages you have built elsewhere by skipping wide receiver in the first three rounds to hang without taking one early.

FIRST ROUND WR1 TARGETS

Antonio Brown, PIT
Julio Jones, ATL

SECOND ROUND WR1 TARGETS

Dez Bryant, DAL
Demaryius Thomas, DEN
Odell Beckham Jr, NYG
Calvin Johnson, DET
AJ Green, CIN
Randall Cobb, GB

Brandin Cooks, NO

THIRD ROUND WR1 TARGETS

Randall Cobb, GB

Brandin Cooks, NO
T.Y. Hilton, IND
Mike Evans, TB
DeAndre Hopkins, HOU

WR2

Getting your WR2 in the second can be a wickedly good gambit if you trust in the running back depth at your third and fourth round picks. Getting your WR2 in the third can give you a second WR1 in the WR2 slot, although not as unfair as the advantage a WR/WR start creates. I don’t love the wide receiver value in the fourth this year. Me, I’m just fine getting my WR2 in the fifth or even sixth round. There is a large batch of strong WR2 candidates this year whether you like the high floor or high ceiling variety.

SECOND and THIRD ROUND WR2 TARGETS

See Above

Fourth Round WR2 targets

Amari Cooper, OAK

Davante Adams, GB

Fifth-Sixth Round WR2 Targets

Jarvis Landry, MIA

John Brown, ARI (often available later)

Andre Johnson, IND

Jeremy Maclin, KC

Vincent Jackson, TB
Keenan Allen, SD

Golden Tate, DET

Mike Wallace, MIN
Julian Edelman, NE

Martavis Bryant, PIT (Often Available Later)

Allen Robinson, JAX

 

WR3/Flex

Jarvis Landry is an excellent alternative for a high floor pick that has a higher ceiling than you think, and Allen Robinson can split the difference. Since I have the fifth and sixth round wide receiver value pretty level, I don’t see any reason to reach for a WR3 there. If you already have two wide receivers and don’t like any of the running backs available, that can be a good round to target Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Travis Kelce, or even Greg Olsen.

The wide receiver value is still pretty good in the seventh and eighth rounds, again with choices that fit a high ceiling or high floor WR3 strategy depending on the strengths of your first wide receiver picks. You can even get some quality veterans in the ninth or tenth rounds to give you a baseline WR3 while you wait and see if your upside picks at wide receiver work out.

Sixth Round WR3/Flex Targets

Jarvis Landry, MIA

John Brown, ARI
Vincent Jackson, TB

Jeremy Maclin, KC

Mike Wallace, MIN

Seventh-Eighth Round WR3/Flex Targets

Mike Wallace, MIN
John Brown, ARI
Nelson Agholor, PHI 
Charles Johnson, MIN
Roddy White, ATL
Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
Eric Decker, NYJ 

Steve Smith, BAL
Steve Johnson, SD

 

WR Bench

Once you stock your top three wide receivers, you should be thinking ceiling, ceiling, ceiling on your wide receiver bench. Depth will be the residue of good drafting and waiver wire moves. Not that high floor veterans are chopped liver, and if they fall into the double digit rounds, they are certainly worth targeting.

Tenth-Twelfth Round Bench WR Targets

Marques Colston, NO
Anquan Boldin, SF
Michael Floyd, ARI

Markus Wheaton, PIT
Devin Funchess, CAR
DeVante Parker, MIA
Pierre Garcon, WAS
Eddie Royal, CHI
Kendall Wright, TEN

Thirteenth-Fifteenth Round Bench WR Targets


Rueben Randle, NYG
Cody Latimer, DEN
Phillip Dorsett, IND
Donte Moncrief, IND

Kenny Stills, MIA

Fifteenth or Later Round WR Targets

Danny Amendola, NE 

Josh Huff, PHI
Cole Beasley, DAL
Brandon Coleman, NO

Dorial Green-Beckham, TEN

Greg Jennings, MIA

TE1

Much like quarterback, your approach to tight end is going to be a multiple chain of if-then statements, checking in periodically to see if a targeted tight end if your best player available.

TE1 Triggers

Beginning of Your Draft - Rob Gronkowski, NE
Jimmy Graham Drafted + a Round (around the fourth/fifth turn) - Travis Kelce, KC
Eighth Round - Jordan Cameron, MIA
Tenth Round - Dwayne Allen, IND, Kyle Rudolph, MIN
No Triggers Through Ten Rounds - Tyler Eifert, CIN, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TB

Backup TE

Cameron, Allen, Rudolph, and Seferian-Jenkins are known for durability issues, so doubling up on a second player from that list above might not be a bad idea. You could also pair up Allen with Coby Fleener and just have the lesser tight end waiting in the wings if RoboCop needs to go back into the shop this year. My favorite late round tight end to target regardless of your TE1’s identity is Ladarius Green. He’ll have four weeks to make a big splash. He could be trade bait to the Gates owner or someone else who missed on tight end. Josh Hill is another good late round upside pick, and Heath Miller and Owen Daniels lead the list of high floor TE2s to target if you want to head for a shelter because your TE1 is making you feel unsafe.

Kicker/Defense

Same as it ever was, last two rounds are the kicker defense rounds. If you want to take a defense earlier than that, target the Dolphins. They added in Ndamukong Suh to an already intense pass rush, and open with at Washington, at Jacksonville, Buffalo, and the Jets. The idea is to take a defens because of their schedule to start the season, then prepare to stream based on matchup once the season gets rolling. I write a column on the best defenses to stream every week.

My favorite kicker to draft this year is Dan Carpenter. Buffalo’s defense will keep games close and give the offense short fields, but a lot more of those drafts will end in field goals than extra points. In general, though higher scoring offenses and winning teams are the qualities you want in a kicker.

D/ST Targets (Opening schedule)

Miami (see above)
Indianapolis (@BUF NYJ @TEN JAX @HOU)
Arizona (NO @CHI SF)
Pittsburgh (@NE SF - assuming no Brady)
Green Bay (@CHI)
Denver (BAL)
Cincinnati (@OAK)
Atlanta (PHI)

Kicker targets

Dan Carpenter, BUF
Chandler Catanzaro, ARI
Matt Prater, DET

And finally... a few sample drafts

1 LBell Gronkowski Julio Jones
2 Hilton Gore Calvin Johnson
3 LMiller Evans Ingram
4 Kelce Foster Ellington
5 Roethlisberger Landry RWilson
6 Landry JBrown JBrown
7 RJennings MBryant Wallace
8 JBrown Brady Cameron
9 Decker EManning DukeJohnson
10 Woodhead DAllen SJohnson
11 Parker Eifert Rudolph
12 Zenner McFadden Royal
13 DWilliams Latimer Dorsett
14 Stills Wheaton Dunbar
15 MIA FJackson DLewis
16 LGreen Beasley Amendola
17 Huff Amendola KRobinson
18 Coates Jennings Beasley
19 Coleman IND PIT
20 Carpenter Catanzaro Prater