Now that Draft Day is upon us, it is time to come up with a winning strategy for 2013.
Obviously where you pick in the first round is going to have a lot to do with your actual game plan (and check out Dave and Jamey's awesome articles about each individual spot), but this will be a guide to the overall draft strategy and principles you should employ this season. Wait on a quarterback. I am basing this on a standard 12-team league with the following lineup: One quarterback, two running backs, three receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a defense.
Top 10 picks: I will get into more positional detail in a second, but my basic strategy this year is as follows: After 10 picks, I want your rosters to have the following composition: A stud quarterback that you waited to grab (since there are 12-15 of them, this should not be a problem), 4-5 running backs (two of which should come from your first three picks), 3-4 receivers and maybe a tight end.
I am totally fine with four backs, four receivers and one at quarterback/tight end, but you can definitely wait until after the 10th round to grab a quality starting tight end if you so choose and add another back to the mix. The key is waiting on a quality quarterback (like a Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick or Tony Romo to name a few) so you can start your draft by securing a couple of Top 20 running backs (two from the Top 16 on my ranks is ideal), at least two Top 20 receivers along with a solid third or even fourth option at running back.
Your draft spot will likely determine your first two picks and that will shape whether or not you are building around two Top 15 running backs or a Top 5 runner and a Top 5 pass catcher. I am not taking a quarterback in the first or second round of a standard league (I will in a two quarterback league) and the only exception to my running back and wide receiver philosophy in the first three rounds is Jimmy Graham. I believe Graham offers the biggest single positional advantage of any player this year and is worth a second round pick in all formats. You can certainly make the case that Graham is worth a late first round pick in a PPR league as well.
Wide receiver is incredibly deep this year and you can start loading up at that position in either the third or fourth round and still end up with two Top 20 options. Furthermore, the later rounds in the draft will offer plenty of chances to snag high upside receivers to round out your overall roster. This blueprint will provide a very solid core to your franchise and set you up for the combination of upside and balance that is key to winning Fantasy titles.
So I have the core of my team set, now what should I do?: Load up on running backs and wide receivers like it is going out of style.
You should have an elite quarterback who will be your every week starter by this point and you will have a solid enough tight end to roll with on a weekly basis. With all of the quality backup/Bye Week Broski options at those two positions on the waiver wire, I do not see any reason to draft a second quarterback or tight end if you have a stud at the position. Use that depth on Draft Day to devote as many roster spots on running backs and wide receivers as possible. Seriously, hoard as many good No. 3 and No. 4 and even high-upside No. 5 options at running back and wide receiver as you can until you get to the very end of the draft and take your Team Defense (second-to-last pick unless your league is crazy about defensive scoring) and your kicker (last pick).
Not only will you give yourself a better team when it is all said and done, you will also have more chances to hit on the 10-12 runners and receivers who finish in the Top 24 and are not drafted in the Top 24 at their respective positions. This will also stock your roster with potential trade bait thanks to a deep bench full of quality upside plays at those positions, which should enable you to fine tune your squad into a championship team.
If I am in 16-roster spot league, I will end up with the following roster composition if all goes well: One quarterback, six or seven running backs, five or six wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. If you wait to grab two of the high-upside tight ends like Jordan Cameron and Tyler Eifert (which is a great strategy), then obviously two tight ends, six rushers and five receivers.
Finally, if your league requires only two receivers, I do not think you need more than four of them and you can even have seven or eight runners on your squad. You will have a few weeks to figure out which players you need to hang onto and which ones can be cut when it comes to the bye weeks.
Now let's look at the individual positions.
Quarterbacks: We are entering an era of unprecedented passing and quarterback scoring in Fantasy Football. The 2012 season saw a record 11 quarterbacks produce 300 or more Fantasy points. That was up from nine in 2011 and six in 2010. A record seven quarterbacks produced 340 or more Fantasy points, up from five in 2011 and three in 2010.
In other words, the quarterback position is getting deeper and more explosive than ever before.
Last year, seven quarterbacks finished in the Top 12 at least 10 times, 15 did it at least seven times and 24 made at least five appearances. Think about the fact that the league picked up four legit Fantasy starters in Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson last year alone. Add those four to perennial Fantasy powers like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and even Michael Vick, and we have 14 excellent quarterbacks.
That does not even include Andy Dalton, who was 12th overall last year and picked up Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert in the offseason. Nor does that list include Jay Cutler, who has the beast weapons and offensive system to date in Chicago or Carson Palmer, who will air it out for Bruce Arians with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd down in Arizona.
Also left off are Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger, Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman (13th overall last year) to name a few, which brings our quarterback list to 21 pretty darn solid quarterbacks. That even leaves off some quarterbacks like Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, and Philip Rivers, who will all be readily available on the waiver wire. If Terrelle Pryor wins the job in Oakland, his running ability will make him a viable Fantasy option and even E.J. Manuel in Buffalo will have a shot to put up solid point totals.
The bottom line is that we are in an era of unprecedented quarterback productivity and that means you can still get elite level production from the position on a weekly basis without using an early pick. With most teams drafting only one quarterback (as they should), there will always be quality starting options readily available to you in any given week. Obviously, if Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees fall to me in the third round, I will think about taking them, but other than that I love to snag a Ryan, Stafford, Brady, RGIII, Luck, Kap or Romo (who has never been worse than the eighth ranked quarterback in a full season) in the sixth round or later (I have gotten them in the seventh, eighth or ninth rounds in many drafts).
Quarterbacks and quite frankly elite quarterbacks are not scarce in 2013, while running backs most definitely are, so get the runners early and let your stud quarterback fall into your lap.
Running backs: This is the most top-heavy running back group of the last three years with a very solid first round lineup of guys like Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller, Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice.
I even really like the next tier of backs that includes Matt Forte, Alfred Morris, Stevan Ridley, Steven Jackson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Reggie Bush. That's why if you are in the middle to end of the first round, I love the idea of starting with two of these backs because the talent really drops off after that and you will still be able to get a legit No. 1 receiver in the third round. Given how quickly the quality starting options disappear, snagging two of the Top 16-20 primary runners with your first three is not just a good idea this year, it is an absolute must. That will not be possible for every team obviously, so if you do miss out on a second back who is the clear primary runner for his team, try to snag a very good third runner like David Wilson, Lamar Miller (depending on where you pick this is possible) Giovanni Bernard or Shane Vereen, even if it means you take three runners in your first four (or even three picks).
Now there are potentially some great runners that can be had later on in drafts this year and hoarding them as we previously discussed will allow you to take advantage of that, but you must secure your top duo as early as possible.
Just looking at current ADP (Average Draft Position) on CBSSports.com, this is the kind of start I would like to have relative to my running backs and wide receivers, assuming I take a quarterback in the seventh round and a third receiver in the eighth while waiting on a tight end. I will present two scenarios: one from the first half of the draft and one from the second half.
If you pick in the first half of the draft you could have a start as follows:
C.J. Spiller (first), Stevan Ridley (second), Demaryius Thomas (or Reggie Bush in the third), Lamar Miller (or Dwayne Bowe/Marques Colston in the fourth), Giovanni Bernard (or Pierre Garcon in the fifth), and James Jones (or Shane Vereen in the sixth). So depending on how you wanted to go about things you could have ended up with either of the following after six rounds:
Spiller, Ridley, Bush, Colston, Garcon and Vereen
Spiller, Ridley, Thomas, Colston, Bernard or
Vereen or Spiller, Ridley, Thomas, Miller, Garcon and Jones (if you wanted three receivers).
That does not even cover all of the permutations available, but as you can see, your team will be phenomenal in terms of depth and upside at both running back and receiver even with three or four backs in your first six picks. As you will see below, the receivers still available in the seventh round and later (not to mention the 10th round and later) will be very, very appealing.
Using the ADP from the back half of the first round would yield a team that looks like:
So again, some personal preference will come in here but you could feasibly walk away with: T-Rich, Forte, Cobb, V-Jax, Lacy and Bernard, which would be an excellent start. Or in a more balanced approach you could have T-Rich, Forte, Cobb, Wilson, Nicks and Steve Smith. Again, an early focus on three (and preferable four) runners will give you an excellent team at the key positions and prepare you to clean up on the values in the later rounds.
Lastly, here are some of my favorite No. 3, 4 and 5 runners based on current ADP:
No. 3: Giovanni Bernard, Shane Vereen, Ahmad Bradshaw (who will be a beast while healthy in Indy), Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram and Daryl Richardson
No. 4: Ben Tate, Bernard Pierce, Bryce Brown (that trio represents my favorite "backup" running backs to draft this year), Pierre Thomas, Danny Woodhead and Jonathan Dwyer
No. 5 (i.e. my favorite late sleepers to load your bench with): Joique Bell, Knowshon Moreno, Roy Helu, Bilal Powell, Christine Michael, Michael Bush, LeGarrette Blount, Shonn Greene, Isaiah Pead and Knile Davis
By being aggressive at the running back spot you can try to shift your runners up a tier so that your third runner is really from the end of the No. 2 tier, your fourth from the No. 3 tier and your fifth from the No. 4 tier and so on.
Remember this my fellow Fantasy fanatics, in 2013 you will be able to pick up a starting quality player with the ability to have a very solid Top 12/24 game at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, kicker and defense every single week.
The only position where that will not be the case is running back. That is why you want to hoard those bad boys to protect yourself against injury, possess glorious trade bait and increase your chances on hitting on the middle and late round runners that find their way into the Top 24 every single year.
I acknowledge that this strategy is predicated on waiting for a quarterback, but your league may go quarterback crazy. If you need to jump in on a signal caller a little earlier than I outline here, then it means that 12 of them will be picked earlier than anticipated, pushing both runners and receivers down, so the net effect should be the same. If I had to compromise at one of the positions ... being my No. 4 runner or my No. 3 receiver, I am waiting on receiver because you are about to see what a deep position it is for 2013!
Wide receivers: I've never felt like there was more quality depth at the receiver position than I do heading into 2013. With all of the quarterbacks putting up astronomical numbers, it is the receiver position that has seen a massive increase in its pool of quality options. There are literally 50 receivers I would be fine starting this year, which is an all-time high. Given that you need to go after your running backs early, taking advantage of the depth at receiver is key to assembling a complete squad.
For the second straight year we had a new record set at the receiver position, as 17 of the Top 24 (2012's then record was 14) receivers came from the first 60 picks of the Draft and were amongst the first 24 receivers to be drafted. It should also be noted that over the last four years, 10 of the top 15 receivers on average have been drafted in the first five rounds. As I have outlined earlier, this is why I want you to grab two receivers to anchor your position in the first five rounds. To me, three runners and two receivers is the ideal start.
Then grab a solid third receiver in the middle rounds (as early as round six if someone too good to pass slips to you), along with an upside fourth receiver and then a great late round flier like Ryan Broyles, Rueben Randle or Cordarrelle Patterson to round out your receiving corps.
Using current ADP as a guide, you could start with two running backs and still end up with two of the following receivers with picks in the third (Demaryius Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson or Roddy White), fourth (Randall Cobb, Victor Cruz, Vincent Jackson or Dwayne Bowe) or fifth rounds (Marques Colston, Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Pierre Garcon or Reggie Wayne).
So if you were to start with two runners and then come back with two receivers you still have a great shot at two Top 12 options and even waiting until the fifth to take your second receiver will leave you with two solid Top 16 options.
My favorite receivers to take after the 10th round (ADP after pick 120): Justin Blackmon (worth holding onto for his four game suspension), Kenbrell Thompkins (I am sure his ADP will rise up and I think he is No. 3 receiver worthy), Vincent Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Alshon Jeffery, Rueben Randle, Rod Streater, Ryan Broyles, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kendall Wright and Aaron Dobson.
As you can see, the depth and upside at receiver later in your drafts is absolutely phenomenal this year. History has also taught us that wide receiver is the one Fantasy position that always produces diamonds from late round lumps of coal.
In three of the last four seasons, at least one Top 5 Fantasy receiver and two Top 10 receivers have been drafted after the 140th pick or not at all. Also, at least six of the Top 24 in each of the last four years has been drafted after the 100th pick or not drafted at all, so it is a good idea to secure your top receivers early and then stack that bench with upside!
Tight ends: Jimmy Graham is the only tight end worth taking in the first three rounds of your drafts this year.
After Graham, I think Rob Gronkowski (health dependent), Vernon Davis, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez are all worthy of their ADP in the fifth and sixth rounds. If you do decide to jump on one of those tight ends, you will make a sacrifice at your third receiver spot, which I am fine with. It will also limit you to three runners in your first six picks and force you to wait until the seventh round or later for your quarterback, which again is doable.
If running back and wide receiver values dictate that you wait on tight end, that is fine too and you can snag two high-upside guys later in your draft.
I love Jermichael Finley in the eighth round this year (maybe the best value at the position right now) and if you wait until after the 10th round (ADP of 108th or higher) you can still get one or two of Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron, Brandon Myers, Owen Daniels, Tyler Eifert, Fred Davis, Brandon Pettigrew, Zach Sudfeld, and plenty of other viable options. That is not a bad group to have your tight end come from and just shows how deep the position is after the Top 5.
Remember, that last year, the spread between the fifth tight end and the 12th tight end was less than two Fantasy points per week.
I expect another tightly bunched year in 2013 and I promise that you will always have great options available on the waiver wire. Anyway you shake it, you should be able to get excellent production at a great value at this position and I would let the running back and wide receiver runs really determine when you jump in here. Of all of the main positions, this is the one spot where I am the most flexible because by my count there are at least 18 tight ends with Top 10 potential this year and you can use that to your advantage.
Kickers: Only take a kicker in the last round of your draft
Team Defense: Generally wait until the last few rounds and ideally the second to last round on Draft Day to snag a defense. 50 percent of the Top 12 turns over year after year and the spread among the starting defenses is bunched up just like the kickers. If you draft a defense that is struggling you can often employ the rotating waiver defense in order to take advantage of good matchups.
Some final Draft Day thoughts
1. Make sure you get the handcuff to your top running back if they have a quality option, so you can protect that early investment from injury.
2. Know your draft: Pay attention and make a note of what positions everyone in your league is drafting and what they still need. This will let you know if you need to snag that receiver you really like a round earlier or if you have to make sure you snatch up that last elite tight end because it looks like the top tier at the position is about to be gone.
Also, if you are at the beginning or end of a snake draft, pay attention and know exactly what the people ahead/behind you are doing. For example, if you are in the 10th spot and teams 11 and 12 already have quarterbacks on their roster, that is information you need to know. That way, when you are on the clock in the fifth round and there is only one quality quarterback left that you want, you go focus on another position in the fifth round and know that you can still get that same quarterback in the sixth. I know it seems very logical and easy, but it is not always implemented and can really help on Draft Day.
3. I've said it before and I will say it again: Only draft one kicker and one defense and stay away from a backup at quarterback and tight end if you can avoid it. The more running backs and wide receivers the merrier I think and if you are happy with your starters at the "single player" positions just let them ride because the wire will be stocked with quality options. Obviously a good backup can become trade bait, so judge it accordingly in your own draft. Just don't grab a backup quarterback to grab one if there are going to be a couple of comparable players that go undrafted.