The question that I seem to get asked the most about the fantasy football draft is the most complex one to answer:
“In what order should I draft?”
“When do I get my running backs, when do I get my receivers?”
“Help me with my fantasy football draft order!”
It’s not an easy answer. There are many schools of thought, and each year it seems to be getting more and more difficult. Two years ago, I’d have slapped you for taking a tight end any higher than the fifth round. And now we have these two guys, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, who are both making solid cases for being picked up in the early second.
So, I guess my first and easiest response to this question would have to be "pre-plan." Make your list, try a couple of mock drafts (available on any fantasy football site, ESPN’s are generally very good), star your sleepers and any players that you really want.
Personally, I have completed this step. I know my must-haves, I’ve run my mocks, I’ve made my list and this is what I’ve come up with. Here is a position-by-position breakdown of my perfect draft order strategy.
This is pretty in-depth. For a long-story-short version, scroll to the bottom.
Make a top-three list. A list of the quarterbacks that you want for your team. Usually, I will pick two guys who I view as starting potential, and one or two more emergency backups, just in case my first two picks go off the board and I’m not able to get them.
If you like Tom Brady or Matthew Stafford and know you want him, find out his average draft position, and plan to select him in that round. In the scenario where you somehow miss out on them, you can still rely on your backups.
Just know that there are starting-caliber quarterbacks outside of the first six rounds. If you don’t get one of the top eight guys, don’t panic. There is always a QB or two that will stand out and you can get in the later rounds.
As for having a backup quarterback on your roster, I think it is a must in leagues that have 12 or more teams. 8- or 10-team leagues, I really don’t think that it is necessary.
There will be decent quarterback options in free agency for your bye week, or in the case that your starter gets hurt. In those smaller leagues, I think it is more important to fill your bench with sleeper candidates at RB and WR than waste one space with a backup quarterback.
We’ve seen a trend happening in fantasy football for the past few years. Elite, true No. 1 running backs are getting rarer and rarer. Nearly every team in the NFL is running a multiple-back system, leaving less room for running backs to have phenomenal seasons.
This is why it is pivotal to get your running backs early. Nearly every year, I get both of my starting running backs in the first two rounds. That’s just how you need to do it. Those owners who opt for Aaron Rodgers or Calvin Johnson in the first round are getting an elite player, but they are going to take a serious hit when it comes to their starting running backs.
From where I’m standing, there are really only six real elite running backs that don’t have a backup that they are sharing a lot of playing time with: Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson.
There are other great running backs (Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray), but they all have second-string running backs that are likely going to split time with them. This limits their touches.
Following this group of second-tier players, there is an even sharper drop off outside of the top 20. If you don’t get one of those top 20 running backs, then you will be starting an NFL backup or time-sharer every week. This is generally a no-no.
So, when it comes to running backs, get them early and often. By the end of the sixth round, you should have three: your two starters and one decent backup.
Hopefully, the quarterback and running back rundown didn’t scare you too much. With all the pressure of your QB being selected before you get a chance, and the stress of getting two high starting RBs, things can get a little messy.
Good news, the wide receiver position seems ridiculous this season. I have listed my top 50 wide receivers, and in 10- and 12-team leagues, I honestly think that I’d be confident with 85 percent of them in my starting lineup each week.
The receiver position is incredibly deep this year. Of course, like all other positions, you have tiers. But, don’t be in such a massive hurry to fill this position as compared to the others.
Now, where to start getting your receivers depends on the original strategy that you outlined. If the quarterback that you have your eye on is usually going in Round 3, then take him there and take your first receiver in Round 4.
In the case that running backs are going very heavy in your draft, you could even take a RB in the fourth round and wait until Round 5 to take your first receiver. It’s just that deep.
Because there are so many NFL receivers to choose from, if you plan it right, you can usually guarantee that you will get any sleeper receiver that you want. Lots of experts are very high on Titus Young. He is currently the 33rd receiver being taken in drafts and falling in the end of Round 9. If you want him, push him up your list! It's that easy. Take him in Round 8 and you are guaranteed to have the player you want.
Like Randy Moss, take him in Round 9. Stevie Johnson in Round 6. I can tell you right now that there is one must-have wide receiver on my list, and I will promise you right now that I am going to move up a round and make sure I grab him.
As far as your bench goes. I like most of my bench spots to belong to receivers. I’ll keep two running backs, and generally fill the rest of the spots with receivers. That way I have insurance if any of my starting WRs go down. And receivers are far more likely to have breakout years. A random No. 3 receiver could easily become a big name, just look at Victor Cruz or Laurent Robinson.
So, when you are making your list, make the receiver list deep. Put a lot of names on there. You’ll be rewarded. This is where you are going to get your great sleepers and make your fantasy season successful.
This position has gotten messy. It used to be that a middle round was essentially dedicated to tight end. As soon as somebody took a tight end in Round 6, then everyone would take a tight end. Simple.
Not so much anymore. There are very defined tiers. And luckily, all of these tiers have players that have potential to put up great points. The top 15 tight ends are all great players and all start-worthy. So you don’t have to stress too much.
Since we have defined the other positions, we can do a bit of an “if, then” exercise for the tight end position.
If you want a top-tier quarterback in Round 3 or above, then don’t worry about tight end until later. You can get your RBs first, then your top QB, fill a couple WR spots, get a backup RB and then snag someone like Jason Witten or Fred Davis in Round 8. Voila, you’ve got a great team.
If you have decided that you are happy taking a small risk and getting a quarterback like Philip Rivers in Round 8 or Jay Cutler in Round 10 and using them as a starter, then you can afford to take a tight end early. You have the option of taking your RBs first, then a receiver and backup RB, then use a mid-round TE like Antonio Gates or Aaron Hernandez in Round 5 or 6.
If you have your heart set on Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, then you are settling for a bit more of a risk at the other positions, but it is still doable. Running back first, tight end second, running back third and then fill at your leisure.
I use my Shuffling Defense Strategy. I suggest that you do too. It works. I promise.
But, if your heart is set on having the 49ers or the Steelers or what have you, then pull the trigger. I would do it no higher than Round 10. Make sure you have your starters all in play before moving on to your defense.
Last. No arguments. Do not jump if other teams start taking kickers early. At the end of the year, the difference between the best kicker and the 15th best kicker is minimal. They should always be your last-round pick.
Long Story Short
I normally stick to the same outline, or some very similar variation of it.
RB. RB. WR. WR. RB. QB. WR. TE. Then backups, then defense and kicker last.
If I have my eye on a QB or TE, I will adjust accordingly.
I will reiterate, do a mock draft. One to help form your strategy. Then one to practice your strategy. It will do wonders once it is time for your actual draft.