NFL Fantasy Draft Strategy: Who you Should Take in Round One
Draft day is approaching fast for many fantasy leagues, and having a solid strategy going in can be crucial to cementing a solid starting lineup heading into the season.
Typical strategy tends to dictate that the safest and most tried-and-true method is to take running backs as your first two picks, thus guaranteeing yourself two top guys who will earn you high points consistently each week.
With those spots solidified, you’ll often have an advantage at running back over your competition and be able to fill in the rest of your lineup with later picks or free agents.
This year, however, there are a number of factors that make other strategies (WR/WR, for example) just as good, if not better, than the tried-and-true RB/RB draft.
I’ve been doing several mock drafts each day over the past couple of weeks and have noticed some trends that have changed the way I plan to approach draft day.
The first thing to consider is your draft position, an element likely out of your control, but one that will have a strong influence on which players are available to you in each round.
For this first article, I’ll break down the first round and look at some things to consider in the early, middle, and late positions.
This guide is not meant to dictate which players you should take absolutely, but rather to give you an idea of what to expect based on the numerous mock drafts I have participated in and some insight into what you should be considering when making a selection.
The following example is for a standard-format 12-team draft.
Early (picks 1-4)
This is probably the easiest, most straight-forward decision you’ll have in the entire draft.
There are four running backs heading into this season that stand out from the rest of the pack—Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ray Rice—in that order.
If you have a chance to pick up one of this guys, take it.
They are all elite running backs who are guaranteed the lion’s share of the carries on their respective teams all season in run-first offenses (technically, Peterson could be in a pass-first if Favre decides to come back, but his level of involvement in the passing game makes that irrelevant, anyway).
Take whichever one you feel strongest about and be happy that you’ve already got an edge at running back over 8 of the 12 teams in your league.
Middle (picks 5-8)
It’s commonly thought that the middle spots are at a disadvantage because the early and late spots get to snag two players close together.
That’s not necessarily the case this year, however, as there are a lot of talented players and interesting options that will be available exclusively to those picking in the middle.
In the first round, after the first four running backs go, each pick will be a decision of filling a space at running back or wide receiver.
If one of the elite four backs mentioned above is still available for some reason, take him and don’t look back (you just got some additional value that will pay off when you get to pick earlier in round two than you would have if you were one of the first four to pick).
If all four of those backs are gone, you’ve got a decision to make.
Andre Johnson is the top wide receiver in this year’s draft, hands down.
Most rankings I’ve seen list him around 7th overall, but the case can definitely be made for taking him 5th for a couple reasons.
One is that you lock up the best player at his position, whereas if you choose a running back, you’ll only get the fifth-best at that position.
Also, as we go deeper into the draft, you’ll notice that there are substantially fewer elite wideouts this year than there are elite (or potentially elite) running backs.
Andre Johnson is really the only wideout I’d want to take this early, though the case could be made for taking Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Roddy White, Miles Austin, or Brandon Marshall (the quarterback situations for Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald make me hesitant to draft them in the first round).
Running backs I’m looking at in this position are Michael Turner, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, and Rashard Mendenhall.
They’re all elite running backs who are “the guy” on their teams and capable of carrying the work load all season.
Late (picks 9-12)
This is the earliest I’d consider taking a quarterback (Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning only).
However, due to the depth at QB this year (deep picks like Kevin Kolb, Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer, and even Matthew Stafford have high upside-potential this year), the value of having a top QB this year doesn’t seem so significant as to justify taking one of the top QB’s in round one.
Also, if you do take a QB here, you’ll likely find yourself really hurting at running back or wide receiver later on.
As stated with the middle pick, if any of the guys highlighted above (Andre Johnson, Michael Turner, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, and Rashard Mendenhall) are available, take one of them.
You’re getting great value by taking them this late in the draft (when in doubt, take the best player).
Wideouts I’d consider in this spot that are likely to be available are Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Roddy White, Miles Austin, and Brandon Marshall, in that order.
Since you pick early in round two, you have a chance to grab two of the elite top-tier wideouts available in this year’s draft, and there aren’t many.
After Andre Johnson and those four, the rest of the No. 1 receivers have some serious question marks, be it the guy throwing to them (Larry Fitzgerald, Sidney Rice, Santonio Holmes, Carolina Steve Smith), suspensions at the start of the season (Santonio Holmes, Vincent Jackson), or have too many other guys taking away targets (Marques Colston, Greg Jennings, New York Steve Smith).
As you can see, using your first two picks to take wide receivers this year can give you a real leg up over the rest of the teams in your league, especially those who take two running backs.
More than any other position, the field of wide receivers seems to thin out fast this year.
If you wait until the third round to take your first wide receiver, you’re likely looking at Desean Jackson or one of the Steve Smiths as your No. 1, and Hakeem Nicks, Hines Ward, or Santana Moss (players who were either unowned or riding the bench much of last season while frustrated owners scrambled for gold on the waiver wire).
Ward actually put up big numbers in several games last season, but this year he doesn’t have Santonio Holmes to divert attention away from him and will have Byron Leftwich throwing to him for the first 4-6 games of the season while Big Ben sits out for is off-the-field antics.
If you do go for running backs from this position, there are a lot of good options still available at this point. I’ve seen Steven Jackson and Rashard Mendenhall drop to these positions frequently.
Additionally, guys like Ryan Grant and Cedric Benson who have a lock on the starting roll without any kind of time-share are also available here.
Shonn Greene, Jamaal Charles, Ryan Mathews, and Jahvid Best also seem to have the starting spots on their teams locked up and could be considered here (though if you’re looking to pick up the latter three, you can probably wait later than the first round).
DeAngelo Williams is also worth a look here, despite the time share with Jonathan Stewart.
As much as the Panthers run, they’re both going to get a lot of touches, but be aware that Stewart may take the touchdowns while Williams gets the bulk of the yards.
That does it for my Round One strategy breakdown.
Look for my Round Two strategy soon, where we’ll look at picks 13-24 and how to start looking ahead to fill those crucial spots on your roster.
Thanks for reading,
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