Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Best Rounds to Draft Skill Positions

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Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Best Rounds to Draft Skill Positions
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

An incorrect marriage between round and position can end a fantasy season before it begins. 

There are no hard rules when it comes to fantasy drafts, but general guidelines grounded in years of data, championships, missteps and more do exist and have won many a league as a result.

These guidelines, with some slight alterations over the years to keep pace with the ever-changing NFL, have withstood the test of time and certainly hold true for the 2014 season. Below, let's examine when the best possible time is to strike at each position based on standard rules, outputs and a wealth of research.

 

Quarterback

Best Round: Fifth

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It's downright funny how unimportant the quarterback position is in the fantasy landscape, while on the real field it is far and away the king.

Look, it never hurts to go out and grab a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers in the early rounds. But if owners do, they are sacrificing a ton of value at more important spots with limited options.

The thing is, Manning's historical season put him at 406 total points, while Drew Brees' output in New Orleans had him at 348. No other signal-callers broke the 300-point barrier, and 16 more at the position scored 200 or more.

Quarterback is very much a spot where owners could get away with a week-by-week approach because the output is so predictable in comparison to other spots. JJ Zachariason, author of The Late Round Quarterback, breaks down the thought process, via Josh Collacchi of Pro Football Focus:

The beauty of the approach is that it doesn’t really matter who you draft, given you’re spending a late-round pick on the passer. Whoever I get, chances are I’m not sticking with him every week throughout the season, something often misconstrued with the strategy

[…]

The quarterback position has a predictability aspect each week that a lot of people don’t realize, making waiver wire players and adds more reliable than any other position.

The point is, owners can predict if Quarterback X will do well by looking at the players around him and the matchup he faces (at a very basic level). They can do the same for say, wide receiver, but production still relies on somebody else getting the wideout the ball. It's risky business.

So why the fifth round? Value. Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. Enough said, right?

Look at the sixth round. That's where Atlanta's Matt Ryan is, who scored the 14th most points at the position last season, mostly without Julio Jones.

Waiting won't hurt, though. Andy Dalton was a top-five scorer last year and has an average draft position in the 11th round. Philip Rivers is available in the ninth one year removed from coming in right behind Dalton.

The fifth round is merely the best time to assure the quarterback of choice with a pair or backs and wideouts already in hand.

 

Running back

Best Round: First

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

This will be briefer, as owners know the deal—running back is the king of fantasy.

To be fair, owners' jobs only continue to get more difficult. The league is morphing into a committee approach, which throws what would have been guaranteed carry totals in past years for a loop.

Hence the reason to go all-in as soon as possible.

The old adage "touches equal production" remains the most important, steady rule of all. Look at the evidence, via CBS Sports Dave Richard:

There were nine backs with at least 300 touches last year, all of whom finished among the Top 12 in Fantasy. Another six backs had between 275 and 299 carries -- one made it to the Top 12 while the other five finished among the Top 20. This shouldn't strike you as some kooky coincidence. More touches equals more opportunities to put up numbers.

Those sorts of backs will be gone in the first round, no questions asked. Better to get one than to wait around and seriously roll the dice. After the top five or six names, everything is a mess. Marshawn Lynch has a ton of wear on his body. Ray Rice may or may not produce. Doug Martin is coming off an injury. So is Arian Foster. Zac Stacy has no quarterback.

It goes on. The point is, quarterback can obviously wait. Wideout production does not hold a torch to running back. Don't mention tight end. The running back well goes early, and if others in a draft allow them to slip, don't panic and grab a different position, load up on two top backs and win the league outright.

 

Wide Receiver

Best Round: Third

Al Behrman/Associated Press

As great as the top wideouts are, the greatest aspect of the position is that it is by far the deepest in the fantasy landscape.

Four wideouts scored better than 200 points last year. One was Josh Gordon. The other three (Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green) seem like sure bets to score above the mark again, but remember, the top four backs scored better than the top receiver last season.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The real selling point is the depth. RB-RB is a tried and true formula not just because backs score so much and are surefire production when given the rock, but because of wide receiver depth.

Owners can get two running backs, then still grab Chicago's Alshon Jeffery at the top of the third round, who came in ninth at wideout last year with 186 points. That's flirting with the 200-point mark at a non-running back position, a ridiculous value in tandem with two backs who will do the same.

True No. 1 wideouts with multiple top-10 fantasy outputs under their belt who transcend shoddy quarterback play—such as Vincent Jackson, Victor Cruz, Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson—are all available to owners in the third round and beyond, not to mention younger players such as Keenan Allen, Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin, who appear to be headed in the that direction.

The point is, wide receiver takes a backseat for at least two rounds.

 

Tight End

Best Round: Sixth

Rogelio Solis/Associated Press

Two names have somewhat ruined this approach—Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. The former scored better than all but three wideouts and five running backs a year ago and figures to do so again. The latter is more of a risk, having missed 14 games the past two years.

Graham gives owners some comfort, sure. He'll get his, but those rare running backs slip through an owner's hands in the process. Gronkowski has ridiculous upside in the third round (where his current ADP sits), but that sacrifices a sure bet such as Jeffery in the process.

In the sixth, owners can have as many as three backs or wideouts. Either works.

For perspective on the value of this approach, look at two names with sixth-round ADP this year. One is Jason Witten, who scored the fifth-most points a year ago at the spot. Another is Jordan Cameron—who came in sixth.

Tight ends simply do not produce enough in the points department—Witten scored 127; the closest to Graham's 211 was a measly 156 from Vernon Davis.

To Graham or not to Graham is an easy question.

 

All average draft positions courtesy of FantasyFootballCalculator.com. All scoring info courtesy of ESPN standard leagues. Statistics courtesy of ESPN.

 

 

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