Fantasy Football 2020: Best Strategy for Each Pick in 12-Team Mock Drafts

Theo SalaunContributor IIIAugust 21, 2020

OUT OF CAMERA FILE REQUEST - Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake (41) celebrates his touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The road to every fantasy football championship is paved by the draft, particularly in the first three selections. Later draftees and waiver-wire acquisitions lead to league superiority, but the first three stones laid define the rest of the draft and season.

As a blueprint for those selections, we'll examine the strategy for each manager's approach to the first three rounds of their draft in a 12-team, standard scoring league. Spoiler alert: it's a lot of running backs and receivers.

Using FantasyPros' Mock Draft Simulator, the proceeding picks, for each spot in the draft, project who you should ideally select when your time at the podium arrives. Of course, players will be selected in different orders across every league, and you may have your own personal preferences, so this is better considered a guide to role and player tier prioritization.


Team 1: RB/RB/WR

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

24. Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

25. Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions

The top selection is an easy one, but you couldn't even be shamed for going after Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott instead. Regardless, you're selecting the highest tier of running back and then 23 selections later can select at the turn. 

If Travis Kelce or George Kittle is still on the board, you can consider one of them, but the optimal route here is to ensure more volume, stability and a little balance for your team by going with a running back and wide receiver. 

Running backs are fantasy gold, and you need a second one to complement Christian McCaffrey as well as a high-volume wide receiver to hold down that position. Austin Ekeler and Kenny Golladay suit those needs, as the former is a lead back with the receiving ability to circumvent game script, while the latter is the top option on a pass-heavy offense. But those are just suggestions, and you can obviously defer to other players in your positional tiers, possibly players like the high-upside Chris Carson and high-volume Allen Robinson.


Team 2: RB/RB/WR

2. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

23. Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals

26. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears

It's the exact same formula as Team 1. You grab a top-tier running back, another running back and a wide receiver. If you luck into people following the simulator's logic and allowing Kenyan Drake to drop this late, congratulations. 

Capable depth is available late into the draft at wide receiver, especially with a draft class so full of receiving talent. But running backs dry up quickly, leaving RB-sparse teams gambling on handcuffs in the later rounds. So you need to cement your backs early and then ground your team with a projected high-volume receiver.

Robinson saw 9.6 targets per game last season, so he's the perfect example of a talented receiver you can establish the position's baseline with.


Team 3: RB/RB/WR

3. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

22. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia

27. A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans

The simulator proves the aforementioned reality that the top three backs are relatively interchangeable. In this instance, Barkley dropped to No. 3 and Elliott went at No. 2. However those chips fall, the three-round recipe is the same: cement high-upside backs and then bet on a receiver you like. A.J. Brown gets that nod here as a fun top option and exceptional talent to bet on. Similarly ranked players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Terry McLaurin could fit the same bill.

In this case, Miles Sanders dropped to No. 22—which feels unlikely but possible given his recent injury concerns. If someone of that caliber drops, you play this out like Team 2. If not, your options open up considerably. 

If the running backs have thinned out to the point that there's not a huge gulf between the ones available to you in the second versus the options that should last into the third or fourth rounds, then you can lock in a high-upside receiver like Golladay or Evans a little early. 


Team 4: RB/WR/RB

4. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

21. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

28. Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks

The fourth pick is a weird one and where real variance should begin emerging. Alvin Kamara is a fantastic option, but guys like Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and Clyde Edwards-Helaire are reasonable. Like the first three, you're just looking to cement your team with a high-volume, talented back.

If that near-top tier of backs is unavailable by Round 2, with players like Drake and Sanders selected just before you, then go ahead and prioritize a big-time receiver like Evans (who may slide given doubts that the timeless Tom Brady can meet Jameis Winston's volume).

The order changes, but the strategy doesn't: selecting a wide receiver in the second just means you should round out your team's core with a leading running back in the third.


Team 5: RB/RB/WR

5. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

20. Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals

29. Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions

The simulation may have not realized how devastating allowing these players to slide will be. You could be tempted to go for Michael Thomas with your first pick, but, barring injury, coupling Kamara and Drake gives your team an incredible floor each week—regardless of matchup.

If you can luck into Golladay in the third, then your roster is in perfect position for you to get flexible for the rest of the draft. By prioritizing a level of comfort at the most important position and grounding the second-most important position in projectable opportunity, you can then pick your favorites from the positions that most often bring later-round value.

Another receiver, with some volume and upside, in the fourth (maybe a Robert Woods or a Calvin Ridley), followed by another back (a David Montgomery, Raheem Mostert, Devin Singletary or Ronald Jones), and you're set to spend the rest of your picks gambling comfortably.


Team 6: RB/RB/WR

6. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

19. Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals

30. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears

Again, the Thomas or Davante Adams temptation may grow stronger here, but you should resist and grab an exceptional running back. Thomas had a record-shattering 2019 season and was fantasy's best wide receiver by 35.5 points in standard leagues. But he was outscored by six running backs, trailing the RB5 by about 14 points in 2019.

Of those top five backs, McCaffrey (RB1) and Elliott (RB4) were first-round picks. But the other three (Derrick Henry, Aaron Jones and Dalvin Cook) all went anywhere from the first to third rounds. Running backs hold league-winning potential and need to be your early-draft priorities.

DeVante Parker and A.J. Brown were the WR6 and WR10, respectively, in 2019. Both were late-round selections. No top-10 backs went in the latter halves of 2019 drafts, so, while running backs can be waiver-wire delights later in the season, it's clear that they lay team foundations in the early rounds. 


Team 7: RB/WR/RB

7. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

18. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals

31. Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks

The last of that secondary tier with Kamara and Cook, Edwards-Helaire projects to be a prototypical three-down back with visible talent. That makes him the first priority before an interesting decision arises in Round 2.

Depending on your tiers, you can grab a wide receiver with your second selection here as players like DeAndre Hopkins and Chris Godwin may be available—each capable of granting your team a legitimate edge at the position. Both should have less volume than they did in 2019 but have proved just how valuable they can be in fantasy.

This is a gamble, but one that could pay off massively. You'll need to grab two running backs from Rounds 3 to 5 to offset the risk brought about by foregoing running-back stability for an advantage at wide receiver.


Team 8: RB/RB/WR

8. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

17. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

32. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears

Nearing the turn, you need to evaluate exactly how you see players sliding here and consider your tiers. In my third tier of backs, there are six players with big upside: Edwards-Helaire, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, Josh Jacobs, Sanders and Drake.

With eight picks between the first- and second-round selections, I would play it safe by grabbing my highest-ranked of those six, Edwards-Helaire. But if you have more than eight backs similarly ranked or know your opponents well enough to forecast them not selecting a back you like, then Davante Adams is a strong pick in the first.

Ultimately, the results are the same even if the order is not—two running backs and one wide receiver through the first three rounds. In this case, I consider Chubb too highly to forgo such a nasty tandem of running backs in favor of a high-upside receiver like Hopkins in the second round.


Team 9: WR/RB/RB

9. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

16. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

33. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

It doesn't feel right, but sometimes value supplants strategy. In this simulation, early picks of backs like Jacobs and Henry pushed Thomas down to No. 9—where he is nearly impossible to pass on. Being near enough to the turn to expect an impressive back to be available at the next selection, Thomas can be comfortably prioritized here for general scoring upside and a massive advantage over other teams' wide receivers.

But it means going after high-floor, volume backs like Leonard Fournette in subsequent rounds.


Team 10: RB/WR/WR

10. Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

15. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

34. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears

The first real deviation from the norm here, but it won't be after the fourth round. Selecting as Team 10 means you're close enough to the turn that your tiers decide your player priorities.

In this case, Robinson is a higher value at wide receiver than any of the mid-tier running backs will be. You ground your team in value for the first two selections and then can go with someone like Robinson knowing that Montgomery, Mostert or Singletary should be available in Round 4.


Team 11: WR/RB/RB

11. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

14. Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals

35. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Exactly like the Team 9 Thomas selection, you can take that chance on a receiving advantage, but you may need to prioritize volume backs moving forward—guys like Fournette and Montgomery who have clear roles, rather than a Mostert or a Cam Akers, who may have undefined volume early in the season.


Team 12: RB/WR/RB

12. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

13. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

36. David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears

Don't ask me why Edwards-Helaire dropped to No. 12 in the simulation, but it's at the turn, so you really just pick your poisons. Ideally, you can get a top-tier wide receiver and a near-top tier running back. Then, in the third round, you can balance things out with either two running backs or one back and one receiver.