Expert DRAFTing Week 3

A how-to-guide to beating this week's snake drafts on DRAFT

 DRAFT offers weekly fantasy contests with 5-man rosters (1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR/TE) and 0.5-point PPR scoring (the same as FanDuel).  But instead of using a salary cap like other daily fantasy sites, teams are built through live snake drafts with 30-seconds per pick. The most common contest sizes are Head-to-Head, 3-Team, 6-Team and 10-Team. 

The positional breakdowns and rankings will be in a slightly different format this week than in the past. Instead of briefly discussing each of the top-50 players, the focus will instead be on a more in-depth analysis of the top players at each position and a deeper look at the players who are being overrated and underrated by the general public. 

Please feel free to contact me (email or twitter) with any questions or if you are just looking for some extra advice for this week’s drafts. Constructive feedback on the article format and content is always appreciated.

Theme of the Week: Remembering the Big Picture There is a natural inclination early in every new season to focus too much on the small sample size of the first couple games and forget why we loved certain players all offseason. There are guys who we were excited to draft in the first few rounds of season-long leagues earlier this month who are already starting to fly a little bit under the radar in the weekly Draft format despite very little real change in their circumstances. Many of the players whom I am higher on than consensus this week fit into this mold. Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks, Amari Cooper, Joe Mixon, and Derrick Henry are some examples and we’ll dive into each in much more depth below in the positional breakdowns.

Positional Breakdowns

 

Quarterback

1. Aaron Rodgers Despite a relatively slow start, Rodgers will always be amongst the top options at the position every week. He is especially dangerous at home where he has averaged 3.0 passing touchdowns per game in his last nine games. The Packers have one of the week’s highest implied team totals (27.8 points) and Rodgers is likely to have a hand in most of the touchdowns. Ty Montgomery may have more success as a receiver than as a runner this week against a Bengals defense that allowed 92 receptions to running backs last season. A Rodgers-Montgomery stack is a way to build a strong floor in 6-Man and 10-Man contests while also maintaining real upside as well.

2. Tom Brady As with Rodgers, Brady is always a top option regardless of matchup because his ceiling is so high. We saw Brady’s week-winning ceiling last week when he threw for 447 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is at home this week and the Patriots have an implied team total of 29 points. In 6-Man or larger formats, pairing Brady with Brandin Cooks is a fantastic option. If Brady has another big fantasy week, it is very likely to include some long completions to Cooks. 

3. Cam Newton Newton is a high-variance option best suited for 6-Man and 10-Man contests. In a 3-Man, locking in a higher floor with someone like Derek Carr or Matt Ryan could be the right move while Newton is a prime target for the larger-field formats. The Saints pass defense that has given up 793 passing yards and 6 touchdowns over the first two weeks. Newton should have receivers running open all day (pairing him with Kelvin Benjamin is a strong correlation play). Whether Newton can actually hit them with accurate passes is the bigger unknown. In a tournament format, it is worth rolling the dice to find out because the upside is obvious. In his last five games against the Saints, Newton has averaged a ridiculous 28.55 points per game in Draft scoring. 

4. Derek Carr Carr is the preferred option at quarterback in 3-Man contests due to having a higher floor than Newton. In bigger contests, Carr remains a strong option but Newton’s upside may be preferable. The Raiders matchup against Washington has the highest total of the week (53.5 points) and the Raiders are 3-point road favorites. Carr has been fantastic over the first two weeks. But there is some reason for concern about his upside. The Raiders are intent upon running a balanced offense and Carr has attempted just 30 passes per game. 

5. Matt Ryan

6. Drew Brees Brees is going underappreciated this week but is worth a strong look in 6-Man and 10-Man tournaments. He has had success against this Carolina pass defense in the recent past, averaging 344 passing yards per game over the last two years. The Panthers defense has been stifling early, but the opponents (San Francisco and Buffalo) have not had the talent to really test them. Brees and the Saints have their backs against the wall at 0-2 and will throw everything they have at the Panthers this week to avoid falling into a 3-game hole in the divisional standings. 

7. Matthew Stafford

8. Kirk Cousins Cousins will be drafted higher than this in most drafts but is a player to be wary of. The matchup is certainly intriguing with the Raiders secondary having some historical weak spots. Washington also has a solid team total of 25.2 points in what is expected to be a shootout. The concern with Cousins is that Jordan Reed is injured and very little chemistry has been developed with Terrelle Pryor or Josh Doctson. 

9. Ben Roethlisberger

10. Carson Wentz

Running Back

1. Le'Veon Bell Bell still hasn’t produced one of the monster fantasy days he regularly mustered in 2016 but his Week 2 performance went a long way toward showing he is back. The yardage and touchdowns weren’t there against the talented Minnesota Vikings defense but Bell touched the ball a whopping 31 times and played 92% of the snaps. The matchup against the Bears is solid. Chicago’s run defense struggled down the stretch in 2016, allowing 153.1 yards per game over their final seven. The Bears have been much stouter to start the 2017 season but we probably don’t want to read too much into a sample size of just two games. The Steelers are 7-point road favorites, so the game script should be ideal for another 30-touch day for Bell. With his talent and projected workload, he is the obvious top pick this weekend. 

2. Jay Ajayi Ajayi barely came off the field last week in the Dolphins win over the Chargers, playing all but four snaps. He also touched the ball 30 times and rushed for 122 yards. While Ajayi has been held out of Wednesday and Thursday practices and is listed as questionable for Sunday, all indications are that he will be ready to go against the New York Jets and should again handle a massive workload. The matchup against the Jets couldn’t be much more favorable. New York allowed 180 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns to the Raiders running backs last week and 190 rushing yards to the Bills in Week 1. Expect Ajayi to continue to roll. 

3. Kareem Hunt Hunt has been the top fantasy player through the first two weeks of the season. It makes sense to some extent to ride the hot hand and rank Hunt at the top until he actually has a poor game. However, Hunt’s production per touch is unsustainable (most of his damage has come on three big plays) and he isn’t playing enough to keep putting up huge fantasy numbers. In the first two weeks, Hunt played 40 and 39 snaps. Last week, he had just 16 touches. For comparison’s sake, Bell played 68 snaps in Week 2 with 31 touches. Ajayi played 64 snaps with 30 touches. 

4. Ezekiel Elliott Elliott was riding a ridiculous streak of 15 straight games with at least 80 rushing yards before his abysmal performance (just 8 yards rushing) in Denver last Sunday. He’s facing another tough defense on the road this week. Arizona’s run defense DVOA is 7th best through two games this year and ranked 8th best last season. Despite the tough matchup, Elliott remains a top-5 option based upon his track record of consistent performances. 

5. Ty Montgomery Week 3 looks like a good spot to draft Montgomery. The Packers are 9-point home favorites and facing a Bengals defense that gave up a whopping 92 receptions to opposing running backs last season. Cincinnati funnels targets away from the outside receivers and has given up some big games to pass-catching backs like Montgomery. Through two weeks, Montgomery leads all NFL running backs with 139 snaps. While there has been some talk that the Packers would like to limit his snaps somewhat, nothing suggests that Montgomery will be anything but a workhorse for one of the league’s top offenses until injuries or fatigue start to slow him down. 

6. Melvin Gordon III Gordon has a high floor due to his pass-game usage (14 targets in first two weeks) and his touchdown upside is also extremely attractive. Gordon has scored 14 touchdowns in his last 15 games. The matchup against Kansas City isn’t a great one but is not one to be feared either. In fact, the last time Gordon faced the Chiefs, he and Danny Woodhead combined for 38.2 Draft points. 

7. Devonta Freeman Through two weeks, Freeman has played 27 more snaps than Tevin Coleman (74 to 47). Freeman has also more than twice as many carries (31) as Coleman (14). Concerns of this backfield turning into almost a 50-50 split should be mostly put to rest. Freeman is the back to own in the league’s most consistent offense. Atlanta has scored at least 23 points in 9 straight games and put up at least 28 points in 8-of-9. 

8. C.J. Anderson Anderson has emerged early on as one of the league’s true workhorse backs. He’s had at least 20 rushes and 3 targets in each of his first two outings (24.5 touches per game). Anderson is coming off of a huge performance against the Dallas Cowboys in which he totaled 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. The matchup against Buffalo is tough (7th in run defense DVOA), but Anderson is getting enough touches to trust rostering him even traveling to the east coast and facing the Bills. 

9. Christian McCaffrey

10. Dalvin Cook

11. LeSean McCoy

12. Mike Gillislee

13. Marshawn Lynch

14. Tarik Cohen

15. Isaiah Crowell

16. Joe Mixon Mixon will go undrafted in many leagues, but he should be on your radar as a final-round option in the 10-team format. Mixon has more talent and upside than the other running backs going off the board in the 5th round this week. The Bengals offense has been atrocious the first two weeks of the season and is looking for answers. They hope a change at coordinator will help. Ken Zampese was fired and Bill Lazor was promoted. Personnel changes are expected as well. The Bengals have been mum on what exactly will change, but common sense would indicate that the three-man running back committee has been a disaster and the Bengals need to settle on a true lead back. Expect Mixon to emerge as that guy and don’t be surprised if it happens as soon as this weekend against the Green Bay Packers. If the Bengals can keep this game close deep into the second half, Mixon has a good chance to see 20+ touches and the talent to make something happen with them. If you want to load up at other positions and wait on your RB2 in a 10-Man draft, Mixon is the “swing for the fences” option. 

17. Lamar Miller

18. Chris Carson

19. Jacquizz Rodgers

20. Derrick Henry It is tough to draft Henry without knowing the status of DeMarco Murray, who has a strained hamstring. Even against the loaded Seahawks defense, Henry would rank as a top-10 option this week if Murray is out. With one of the last picks in a 10-Man draft, rolling the dice on Henry makes sense as an attempt to roster upside over high-floor, but lower-ceiling options.

Wide Receiver

1. Antonio Brown When the Steelers have their full complement of top weapons with Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, and Antonio Brown, opposing defenses have to pick their poison. “Because of the balance of their offense … we'll pay (Brown) some attention, but you can't do it all the time," Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "We're going to have to be able to stand up and cover him (1-on-1) and play him without any special help some of the time." The Bears defense ranks just 26th in DVOA through two weeks. Brown will primarily be matched up against Kyle Fuller, who is ranked as the 62nd best cornerback by Pro Football Focus, and Prince Amukamara, who is making his season debut after dealing with an ankle injury. Either matchup is very favorable against Brown. The NFL’s leading receiver is primed for another big week. 

2. A.J. Green There is a “narrative street” angle here which actually makes sense and is worth factoring into Green’s Week 3 target projections. The normally reserved Green was as frustrated as many Bengals observers have ever seen him after the Week 2 loss. “We have to find a way to get our playmakers the ball,” said Green. “Whatever that is, play calling, whatever it is we’ve got to do that. This is a superstar-driven league. We're not gonna win if we don't get our playmakers the ball." The next day, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese was fired and replaced by Bill Lazor. One of Lazor’s clear mandates will be to try to find ways to get the ball to Green. Feeding Green will be a necessity this week as the Bengals will likely need to put up quite a few points if they hope to go into Lambeau Field and beat Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The cornerback matchup is not as favorable as many may have assumed on first glance, however. Damarious Randall has been one of the worst cornerbacks in the league since 2016, but he is likely to be replaced by rookie second-rounder Kevin King. King played 46 snaps against Atlanta last week and gave up just one short completion on five passes thrown in his direction. King is 6'3 and -ran a 4.43-second forty yard dash at the combine. He is one of the few defenders in the league with the size and speed combination to both run and jump with Green. 

3. Julio Jones Even in tougher matchups, a healthy Julio Jones is so dominant that he will still rank as a top-5 weekly option. The matchup against Detroit is certainly less than ideal. The Lions are ranked 4th in DVOA against the pass, have a top cornerback in Darius Slay and play at the 2nd slowest pace in the league. 

4. Mike Evans Evans has a tough matchup against Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who with help from Harrison Smith has held Michael Thomas (5-45-0) and Antonio Brown (5-62-0) in check over the last two weeks. Evans is a major talent who has excelled in tough spots with some consistency, however. Evans saw 172 targets last season and was targeted 9 times last week despite Tampa Bay winning in blowout fashion. 

5. Amari Cooper Based upon the breakdown of where Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have lined up so far this season and where Josh Norman has played, Cooper is only expected to see Norman across from him on approximately 30% of the snaps while Michael Crabtree should see Norman on closer to 70% of his snaps. The Raiders top receiver varies by the week depending on the matchups and this week looks like a week Cooper should be targeted more heavily. In a game which Vegas pegs as the only likely shootout of the week (a huge 53.5 game total), Cooper is the cream of the crop in the tier behind the four elite and healthy receivers. 

6. Michael ThomasThomas is in a better spot than many think this week. While the Carolina Panthers have some solid pass defense numbers overall, they are just 27th in success rate against opposing receivers since the start of the 2016 season. This is also a defense that Drew Brees knows well and has had success against. Over the past two seasons, Brees has averaged 344 passing yards when facing the Panthers. Last season Thomas caught each of his 10 targets against the Panthers. More importantly, the Panthers defense usually hesitant to stray too far from base defensive concepts to take away one player (like the Patriots did to Thomas last week). 

7. Michael Crabtree As noted above, Crabtree should see quite a bit of Josh Norman this week. It shouldn’t be a surprise if he again sees only six targets. However, a big chunk of those targets should come in the red zone. Half of Crabtree’s six opportunities last week came in the red zone and he turned each of the chances into a touchdown. In a projected shootout, it is still worth targeting Crabtree despite the tough matchup because of his obvious touchdown upside. 

8. Brandin Cooks Cooks could have a breakout performance this week. He has a nice matchup and the Patriots offense will be forced to take many shots downfield. The Texans secondary is beaten up. Kevin Johnson is out with an MCL injury and Johnathan Joseph will be playing through a shoulder injury.  On the other side of the ball, Cooks is the healthiest of the Patriots key targets. Chris Hogan is dealing with a knee injury and Rob Gronkowski is nursing an injured groin. The targets should be there for Cooks this week. The weaknesses of the Texans defense also play to Cooks’ strengths. “Some teams are going to decide to take away some shorter throws, and they give up longer plays,” Tom Brady said of the Texans. “I think we had seven plays over 20 yards in that game.” Cooks should be the go-to option for big plays. As Brady pointed out, the Texans yield some chunk plays. Cooks runs a 4.35-second forty yard dash and will likely be looking at press coverage which, if he can beat it, will give him a chance to run under some Brady deep balls. Cooks is a bit of a boom/bust option, but that is exactly what you should be looking for in these 6-Man and 10-Man contests. 

9. Keenan Allen

10. Odell Beckham Jr Jr Beckham will have had another week to recover from the ankle injury that limited him to just 34 snaps on Monday night against Washington. The Eagles have one of the league’s most talented defensive lines and are facing a Giants offensive line that has already given up eight sacks. Eli Manning will have to get rid of the ball quickly and that plays into Beckham’s strengths. He is dangerous on the quick slant and has an unparalleled knack for turning those short catches into long touchdowns. The Eagles secondary is a major weakness at this point due to injuries. Top cornerback Ronald Darby remains out with a dislocated ankle, and the starter on the other side, Jaylen Watkins, was lost in Week 2 to a hamstring strain. Strong safety Rodney McLeod joined Watkins with the same injury later in the game, and both are very questionable for Week 3.

11. Kelvin Benjamin

12. Demaryius Thomas

13. Davante Adams Jordy Nelson’s health will be a key consideration in how high to take Adams. Nelson has participated in practice, which indicates he is likely to play on Sunday. But his effectiveness playing through a quad injury is a major unknown. Adams is the healthiest of the Packers receivers and should see heavy volume. The Bengals have a stout pass defense, especially on the outside, and opposing offenses tend to funnel their passing attack towards their tight ends and running backs. Going back to last season, the Bengals defense has faced the second-fewest pass attempts to wide receivers. 

14. DeVante Parker

15. DeAndre Hopkins Hopkins will be a popular play this week because he’s seen a league-leading 29 targets through two weeks. The Texans have nobody else to throw to. Their top two tight ends are out and the depth chart at receiver behind Hopkins is barren. While the volume is attractive, there is plenty to be wary of in this matchup. The Patriots consistently use bracket coverage to limit the opposing team’s top weapon and there is no doubt that Hopkins is the player who will be targeted for extra defensive attention this week. 

16. Doug Baldwin

17. Dez Bryant Bryant will see a lot of single coverage from arguably the league’s best cornerback, Patrick Peterson. It’s the third straight difficult matchup for Bryant. Despite the tough matchups, Bryant has still been targeted 25 times through two weeks. Assuming he continues to see a huge share of the passing targets, he is worth targeting later in 10-Man drafts despite the tough matchup.

18. Rob Gronkowski If you are drafting on Friday or Saturday, there will continue to be some unknowns about just how involved Gronkowski is expected to be after injuring his groin and missing the second half of last week’s game. There is some risk that Gronkowski will be limited on Sunday, which pushes him down the rankings. But few players can match Gronkowski’s multi-touchdown upside, so he is worth a flier later in drafts. 

19. Tyreek Hill

20. Alshon Jeffery

Draft Strategy


2-Man drafts

 

1. Le'Veon Bell

2. Jay Ajayi

3. Antonio Brown

4. Kareem Hunt

5. A.J. Green

6. Julio Jones

7. Aaron Rodgers

8. Tom Brady

9. Mike Evans

10. Ezekiel Elliott

The decision at 1.01 probably comes down to which Steelers volume hog you prefer, Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell. Bell’s touches are a safer projection after we saw his usage return to 2016 levels last week (31 touches). 1.02 and 2.01 allow you to grab whichever of the Steelers is still available and the #2 running back, Jay Ajayi. Drafting Bell at 1.01 gives you plenty of options at the 2/3 turn. You can lock in both A.J. Green and Julio Jones at wide receiver or ride the hot hand of Kareem Hunt as your RB2 and pick your favorite between Green and Jones. The toughest choice may come in deciding which running back to target as the final RB2. Elliott gets the slight nod due to his longer track record of success but Ty Montgomery and Melvin Gordon III are reasonable options as well.

 

3-Man drafts

 

1. Le'Veon Bell

2. Jay Ajayi

3. Antonio Brown

4. Kareem Hunt

5. A.J. Green

6. Julio Jones

7. Aaron Rodgers

8. Tom Brady

9. Mike Evans

10. Ezekiel Elliott

11. Ty Montgomery

12. Amari Cooper

13. Michael Thomas

14. Melvin Gordon III

15. Derek Carr

The first two rounds have a natural breakdown which makes starting RB/WR in some order the most likely option but going Brown/Green at 1.03 and 2.01 is a solid strategy if Bell is gone and you do not have a strong preference amongst the remaining running backs. The top eight or nine players should go in every 3-Man draft and will likely go early. More than most weeks, the final round in this format is wide open. The fourth and fifth rounds of 3-Man drafts will all look wildly different from draft to draft. There is a bevy of options to choose from late, especially at wide receiver where any of the top-10 in the positional breakdown above are reasonable choices in this format. If we can get some confirmation closer to Sunday that Odell Beckham Jr is expected to see his normal workload, he jumps up the rankings and becomes a strong target in the fourth round. 

 

6-Man drafts

 

1. Le'Veon Bell

2. Jay Ajayi

3. Antonio Brown

4. Kareem Hunt

5. A.J. Green

6. Julio Jones

7. Aaron Rodgers

8. Tom Brady

9. Mike Evans

10. Ezekiel Elliott

11. Ty Montgomery

12. Melvin Gordon III

13. Devonta Freeman

14. C.J. Anderson

15. Amari Cooper

16. Michael Thomas

17. Brandin Cooks

18. Christian McCaffrey

19. Dalvin Cook

20. LeSean McCoy

21. Cam Newton

22. Michael Crabtree

23. Derek Carr

24. Keenan Allen

25. Odell Beckham Jr

26. Mike Gillislee

27. Matt Ryan 

28. Drew Brees

29. Kelvin Benjamin

30. Demaryius Thomas

The biggest strategy change in 6-Man drafts compared to 2-Man and 3-Man contests is the increased urgency to try to lock in a pair of workhorse running backs. Ideally with two backs that have a safe floor with a high likelihood of 20+ touches and some draft-winning, multi-touchdown upside as well. The amount of urgency you feel about grabbing your running backs early should be directly proportional to how much you like or dislike the late-round running back options (specifically Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and Mike Gillislee). For example, if you are bullish on Gillislee’s touchdown upside, it would make more sense to target a top quarterback in the second round or to lock up your favorite WR2 early. If you are not sold on any of the later-round running backs, then an RB-RB start makes a lot of sense. 

6-Man drafts are where we want to give some consideration to stacking. Some of the top options this week are Tom Brady-Brandin Cooks, Cam Newton-Kelvin Benjamin, Drew Brees-Michael Thomas and Derek Carr with either Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree.

 

10-Man drafts


1. Le'Veon Bell

2. Jay Ajayi

3. Antonio Brown

4. Kareem Hunt

5. A.J. Green

6. Julio Jones

7. Mike Evans

8. Ezekiel Elliott

9. Ty Montgomery

10. Melvin Gordon III

11. Devonta Freeman

12. C.J. Anderson

13. Aaron Rodgers

14. Tom Brady

15. Christian McCaffrey

16. Dalvin Cook

17. LeSean McCoy

18. Amari Cooper

19. Michael Thomas

20. Brandin Cooks

21. Michael Crabtree

22. Keenan Allen

23. Odell Beckham Jr

24. Cam Newton

25. Mike Gillislee

26. Derek Carr

27. Kelvin Benjamin

28. Demaryius Thomas

29. Davante Adams

30. Marshawn Lynch

31. Tarik Cohen

32. DeVante Parker

33. DeAndre Hopkins

34. Matt Ryan 

35. Drew Brees

36. Isaiah Crowell

37. Joe Mixon

38. Doug Baldwin

39. Dez Bryant

40. Rob Gronkowski

41. Tyreek Hill

42. Alshon Jeffery

43. Matthew Stafford

44. Kick Cousins

45. Ben Roethlisberger

46. Lamar Miller

47. Chris Carson

48. Jacquizz Rodgers

49. Derrick Henry

50. Carson Wentz

Strategy in 10-Man drafts this week should be heavily influenced by how you feel about the fifth-round options at the various positions (with running back a particular focus). For example, if you are excited about rolling the dice on an under-the-radar running back like Joe Mixon, Chris Carson or Derrick Henry then you have a lot more flexibility in the early rounds to take a top quarterback or lock up your WR2 early in the draft. 

On balance, the running back position is clearly the most shallow. Thus, if you aren’t looking to roll the dice on any of the running back names ranked 35th or lower in the above rankings, you need to make it your top priority to lock up two running backs in the first three rounds. The top-11 running backs should be pushed up the board and landing two of those players should give you a real advantage over the competition. 

The quarterback position is especially deep and any of the top-10 have a reasonable shot at finishing as the top passer of the week. In 10-man drafts, it makes sense to wait until at least the third round to draft a passer and to strongly consider holding out until your last pick.




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