It's that time of year. Eat a balanced breakfast, watch your tape and sift through your tiers. Draft day is on the horizon, and the best managers will feel prepared and adaptable thanks to comfort with their early-round cornerstones and late-round flag players.
Whether the league format is redraft or keeper, early decisions dictate later role prioritization. Here, we'll take a look at the strategy, and differences in strategy, for both.
First, a standard, 12-team redraft league's two-round mock draft, with general analysis of how those rounds should be approached. Then the rankings of the top 20 keeper players, with analysis of how those dictate the outlook of dynasty managers.
As a note, the specific player rankings are subjective. Managers can determine their own tiers based on their own research, but a cardinal rule applies for everyone: each draft is different, so be prepared to adapt.
2020 2-Round Mock Draft
1.01: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
1.02: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
1.03: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
1.04: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
1.05: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
1.06: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
1.07: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
1.08: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
1.09: Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
1.10: Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
1.11: Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
1.12: Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals
2.01: Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
2.02: Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
2.03: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
2.04: Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2.05: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
2.06: Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
2.07: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
2.08: Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
2.09: George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
2.10: Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
2.11: Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
2.12: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You may prefer talent or volume, but a combination of the two is an objective winner. In fantasy football, running back is the most valuable position, and ones with the skill and coaching trust to play on all downs, particularly on potent offenses, are uncontested.
So the top six selections in a standard league should likely be running backs who have some blend of talent, role and surrounding offense. And that can get extended to 12 of the top 14, as the only players who provide comparable value to a top-10 back are league-leading receivers.
Michael Thomas, the top-scoring receiver in 2019 by 35.5 points, would have been the sixth-best back. Chris Godwin, 2019's second-best receiver, would have been the 12th-best back. Outside of quarterback, top-scoring backs outscore every position by a wide margin in fantasy. But, more importantly, they also have a wider gulf of scoring between top and middle performers than any other position.
In 2019, the top five RB1s averaged 278.9 points. The bottom five RB3s averaged 110.9. Conversely, the top five WR1s averaged 190.1, while the bottom five WR3s averaged 120.3. Top backs outscore mid-tier backs by an average of 10.5 points per game, while top receivers only outscore their lower-scoring counterparts by 4.4 points per game. Great backs will pop up on the waiver wire by season's end, but having some early on will ensure the end of the season actually matters to your team.
Come away with at least one running back, even two, who you are confident in during the first two rounds. But, in order to do so properly, have mid-round receivers and later sleepers in mind that you're ready to balance out your roster with.
2020 Keeper Rankings
1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
2. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
4. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
5. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
6. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints7.
7. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
8. Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
9. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
10. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
11. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
12. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
13. Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
14. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
15. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
16. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
17. Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
18. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
19. George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
20. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
Julio Jones is an otherworldly talent, but he is 31 years old. That means he gets squeezed out by surprising counterparts like Kenny Golladay (26 years old), Tyreek Hill (26) and Allen Robinson (27). Those players have talent but, more importantly, a greater likelihood of serving your team for longer than Julio.
Conversely, Derrick Henry is 26 but gets bumped down in rankings because of his running style. Despite being dominant, bruising backs' workloads have a relatively short shelf life. Every back ahead of him is either younger or has the receiving versatility to play out in space, avoiding some of the physical taxation.
Kenyan Drake exemplifies a third question of projectable mileage: situation. Drake is obviously gifted and in a position to excel on a fiery offense—but he is on a one-year trial contract and, more than any other top back, the future of his workload is entirely uncertain.
Finally, it cannot be reiterated enough that tape needs to be watched for later sleepers. Late-round steals can easily pave the way to championships for keeper teams, as it's the one league where smart sleeper decisions carry into later seasons. If you got Kyler Murray, Miles Sanders or Marquise Brown at a discount in 2019, you were blessed with a rookie who can shoulder your team's needs for later seasons.
Similarly, 2020 has an incredible crop of rookies, ranging from Joe Burrow at quarterback to Cam Akers at running back (who will likely be more available than Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Jonathan Taylor) and Henry Ruggs III at wide receiver (who stands out as the most slept-on in a class of extraordinary receiving talent).