Fantasy Football 2014: Top Picks and Draft Strategy Based on Current Rankings

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2014

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 15:  Wide receiver Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions in action during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 15, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Carindals defeated the Lions 25-21.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Every owner enters draft season for fantasy football with a different set of preferred players. Yet the goal remains the same across the board. It always comes down to maximizing value by analyzing the rankings and predicting what's going to happen next.

Being on the front end of a run is important. If the rankings suggest a run on wide receivers is coming soon, it's better to slightly reach for one than end up missing out on the wave completely. That's why value takes precedent over simply the best player available.

As the period of drafting heats up as the regular season approaches, let's check out how the first round currently looks based on average draft position (via ESPN). It's followed by a breakdown of the first set of picks and where owners should look to go from there.

Projected First Round

Top Picks for 2014 Fantasy Football
1Adrian PetersonRBMIN
2LeSean McCoyRBPHI
3Jamaal CharlesRBKC
4Peyton ManningQBDEN
5Matt ForteRBCHI
6Marshawn LynchRBSEA
7Calvin JohnsonWRDET
8Eddie LacyRBGB
9Aaron RodgersQBGB
10Jimmy GrahamTENO
11Drew BreesQBNO
12Arian FosterRBHOU

Current Draft Strategy

As you can see, running backs still dominate the opening round, with seven of the first 12 picks coming from the position. They aren't as prevalent as they used to be, however, when there could be 10 or more backs taken in the first round.

It's the right move too. There simply aren't as many overly reliable players at the position due to the rise of committees and third-down specialists. Those factors limit the number of touches most backs are in line for and therefore their fantasy potential.

A workhorse is extremely valuable, but once you get beyond the top six backs, there aren't many of those left.

Unlike some players, who don't like fantasy leagues in large part due to their social media accounts being overrun by people seeking more points, LeSean McCoy thinks it's cool. He explained why to Gary Mihoces of USA Today.

"So I guess it's a different way of getting the fans more involved in the game. I think fantasy is actually the closest thing to actually ... being part of the NFL," he said. "They have their own team. ... They sit players. They bench players. They start them. They trade players. I think it's something to actually get the fans more involved with the NFL, and they're actually doing a good job."

The only other pick that jumps out from the opening round is Jimmy Graham. It's rare to see a tight end go so high, but given his role in the high-powered New Orleans Saints offense and the lack of star power at the position, it's the right move at that stage.

Moving forward, the biggest piece of strategy for any owner who goes against the grain in Round 1 is to make sure you get a running back at some point over the next two rounds. Otherwise, your No. 1 back will be somebody like Andre Ellington or Trent Richardson, and that equates to a lot of risk.

The opposite is true for quarterbacks.

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 17:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos stands on the sidelines during their preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on August 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Ge
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you miss out on that first wave, which includes Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, and will end either late in the first round or early in the second, it's best to wait.

The difference between Cam Newton (No. 3 QB in 2013) and Ben Roethlisberger (No. 12) was just 34 points, or two points per week. That's not a big enough gap to warrant using an early pick on the position unless you're getting one of those three elite options.

All told, by the end of the sixth round, the ideal roster will have two running backs, two wide receivers, a flex player and a top-notch quarterback or tight end, depending on how the draft falls.

It's all about the sleepers in the middle rounds.

Early in the draft, there's a lot of predictability. That changes once the foundations are set, because all of the surefire selections are gone. People start going after the sleepers they have been tracking throughout training camp.

Some names to keep in mind include Matt Ryan, Bishop Sankey, Brandin Cooks and Jordan Reed.

Ryan should enjoy a strong bounce-back season, with both of his main weapons, Julio Jones and Roddy White, healthy and ready to roll.

Reed received high praise from Peter King of Sports Illustrated:

This area of the draft is all about personal preference. Everybody has a unique outlook about how the season will play out. Don't worry about what some may consider reaching if you think a certain player is going to break out.

Finally, defenses and kickers should be left for the last two rounds. Once again, it comes back to value. There isn't a big enough gap between the options at either spot to warrant using a potentially valuable sleeper slot on one of them.

If you wait until the end, you can get a combination like the Houston Texans defense and Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh, which is good enough to contend for a title.

Though there's always some ad-libbing along the way, as long as the focus stays on maximizing value with every pick, the result should be a very competitive squad.


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