Fantasy Football 2021: Ideal Strategy for Each Spot in 12-Team Mock Drafts

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: Ideal Strategy for Each Spot in 12-Team Mock Drafts

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Fantasy drafting is an inexact science. Having a trusted big board and a plan is nice, but fantasy managers must be prepared to pivot at a moment's notice. Hours of preparation can be tossed out the window with an unexpected selection or an early positional run.

    It's smart to grab an every-down running back within the first two rounds, but if 10 running backs are gone by the time you're on the clock, grabbing a receiver first is likely to provide maximum value. It can pay to wait on a quarterback, but a third-round rush on the position could leave you looking at second-tier options before you anticipated.

    Smart managers pay close attention to scoring format—typically either standard or point-per-reception (PPR)—and apply a broad-stroke strategy to the early rounds. That strategy can change depending on where you fall in the draft order, too.

    Here, we'll examine base strategies for drafting each key position—RB, WR, QB, TE, Def/ST—from various points in the draft order. For this exercise, we'll be looking at PPR formats and working off of a 12-team premise. We'll also highlight potential pivot points where managers may want to avoid or lean into a particular position, depending on how their draft falls.

    We'll also dig into the top players at each position based on factors like proven production, projected role, player health and supporting cast. Before we do that, though, let's run through a two-round, 12-team PPR mock.

2021 Fantasy Mock Draft, Two Rounds, PPR

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Round 1

    1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

    2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

    3. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints

    4. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

    5. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

    6. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans

    7. Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers

    8. Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers

    9. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

    10. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

    11. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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

    Round 2

    1. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns

    2. Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills

    3. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals

    4. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

    5. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

    6. Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

    7. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons

    8. Darren Waller, TE, Las Vegas Raiders

    9. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

    10. DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

    11. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

    12. Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

Running Back

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

    2. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

    3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

    4. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

    5. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

    6. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

    7. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

    8. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys 

    10. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

    11. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

    12. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

    13. Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team

    14. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs

    15. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

    16. D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

    17. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

    18. Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

    19. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

    20. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders


    Running back is the marquee fantasy position. This is because the top running backs rarely come off the field and are going to provide a high floor based on workload.

    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, for example, missed two games last season and still logged 312 carries, 44 receptions and 1,918 scrimmage yards. Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey are similar high-volume backs and safe choices for early drafters (Picks 1-5).

    McCaffrey is returning from an injury-plagued season but is expected to be near 100 percent by Week 1. He's a great target at No. 1 overall.

    "Combine his talent and utilization and what he can do and how much he can touch the ball and how much of a threat he can be," ESPN fantasy analyst Stephania Bell said, per ESPN's David Newton. "I don't know if there's anybody else that I want."

    If you're drafting in the first four slots, grabbing a high-volume back with PPR upside is a must. It's also smart to grab a back late in the draft order (Picks 10-12), simply because in snake drafts, you should have an opportunity to double-up with a No. 1 receiver.

    The pivot point for backs falls between Picks 5-9. There are risks outside of the top four—Ezekiel Elliot had relatively pedestrian production in 2020, for example—and it can be smart to grab the top receiver on your board in PPR formats in the middle of Round 1.

    It's always best to grab at least one running back in the first two rounds, though, because not every team is going to employ a true workhorse.

Wide Receiver

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    1. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers

    2. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills

    3. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals

    4. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

    5. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

    6. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

    7. Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons

    8. DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks

    9. A.J. Brown, Tennessee Titans

    10. Allen Robinson II, Chicago Bears

    11. CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys

    12. Terry McLaurin, Washington Football Team

    13. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    14. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    15. Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams

    16. Julio Jones, Tennessee Titans

    17. Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

    18. D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers

    19. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

    20. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings


    Receiver is your other bread-and-butter fantasy position, and it's good to grab at least one wideout within the first two rounds. It's not a necessity, though, as doubling-up in running backs can provide a quality foundation for the entire season.

    If you're drafting early in the order (Picks 1-4), don't target a receiver in Round 1—even in PPR formats. While receptions can lead to some big weekly outings, receivers generally don't provide the same guaranteed floor that top backs do.

    Even the NFL's best receivers can be taken out of a game plan by a sound defensive strategy or an early lead. That isn't the case for backs who average 12-20 carries per game.

    If you fall in the mid-to-late order, targeting a receiver in Round 1 is fine, but it's best to follow the selection with a running back in Round 2. Unless your fellow drafters are ignoring the position entirely, every-down backs are going to be off the board by the 25th pick.

    Also, keep in mind that high-end No. 2 receivers can be nearly as valuable as No. 1s. Adam Thielen, for example, had 74 receptions, 925 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

    Elite No. 1s like Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, however, aren't likely to last past the middle of Round 2. If you're in the back of the draft order, don't expect them to fall into Round 3.


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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    1. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

    2. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

    3. Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

    4. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

    5. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

    6. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

    7. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

    8. Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

    9. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

    10. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    11. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

    12. Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams

    13 Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

    14. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

    15. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns


    There is really only one quarterback worth taking in the first two rounds, and it's Kansas City Chiefs signal-caller Patrick Mahomes. While quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Kyler Murray have tremendous upside, they don't offer the same weekly floor that Mahomes does.

    If you're drafting in the back of the order (Picks 8-12), grabbing Mahomes in Round 2 can be worthwhile—especially if your vacant skill position (RB or WR) is lacking in top options.

    Pay attention to your scoring format here, as dual-threat quarterbacks like Allen, Murray and Lamar Jackson can provide tremendous mid-round value. Don't reach for a mid-level quarterback, however.

    Once you move past the top four or five options, quarterbacks are generally comparable. You're going to find serviceable starters and streamers after the fifth round.

    Ryan Tannehill, for example, has an average draft position of 84th overall, according to FantasyPros. Even in a run-heavy Tennessee Titans offense, he threw for 3,819 yards with 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions last season.

    Don't panic if you're picking late in the order and a QB run goes off before you're on the clock. Managers rarely draft quarterbacks back-to-back, so you can likely grab the top skill player on your board and still get your QB the next round.

Tight End

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

    2. Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders

    3. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

    4. T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions

    5. Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

    6. Noah Fant, Denver Broncos

    7. Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles

    8. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens

    9. Robert Tonyan, Green Bay Packers

    10. Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team

    11. Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

    12. Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams

    13. Hunter Henry, New England Patriots

    14. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

    15. Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots


    No matter where you're picking, there are only three tight ends worth targeting within the first three rounds—Travis Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle.

    Kelce, Waller and Kittle serve as their teams' de facto No. 1 receivers, and they should be valued as high-end wideouts. Don't be afraid to draft them within the first couple of rounds, especially if an early run on backs or receivers leaves those positions lacking.

    Once you move past the Big Three, however, the middle tier is largely interchangeable. T.J. Hockenson racked up 723 yards and six touchdowns last season. Dalton Schultz had 615 yards and four touchdowns while mostly playing without starting QB Dak Prescott.

    Do not reach for a tight end outside of the top three unless there is a serious run at the position.

Defense/Special Teams

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    Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

    1. Washington Football Team

    2. Los Angeles Rams

    3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    4. Pittsburgh Steelers

    5. San Francisco 49ers

    6. Indianapolis Colts

    7. Baltimore Ravens

    8. Buffalo Bills

    9. New England Patriots

    10. Cleveland Browns

    11. Miami Dolphins

    12. New Orleans Saints


    Regardless of where you fall in the draft order, it's never wise to reach for a defense. Typically, kicker should be the last position you address in the draft, with D/ST coming just before it.

    There is a caveat, of course. If you're selecting near the bottom of the order (Picks 8-12), it can pay off to target D/ST before anyone else does. You're looking to grab a defense that regularly produces sacks and turnovers while limiting points, and elite defenses are generally going to be far ahead of the pack.

    The Washington Football Team, for example, is a great high-floor defense that logged 47 sacks, 16 interceptions and ranked fourth in points allowed last season.

    Being the first or second manager to grab a defense can pay off, largely because skill players taken in Round 12 and later are depth options and/or sleeper gambles. Your D/ST is going to be a weekly starter, and it's smart to approach the position accordingly.

    Do not, however, reach for a kicker. If you're drafting near the back of the order and cannot land one of the top specialists, it may even be smart to grab another skill sleeper and grab an above-average kicker post-draft.