Early Round Draft Strategy

by Nick Ercolano August 07, 2019

Early Round Draft Strategy

In honor the BDGE Bible publishing on Monday - if you're a draft guide purchaser - let me know how you're liking it down below - I want to talk more strategy than just player analysis. I've been diving into fantasy football analysis, pretty much, at a minimum of 3 times/week since last season ended - hopefully y'all have been keeping up a bit then you'll have a good grasp on guys I like guys I hate, etc. Having been crunching the numbers for so long, and so deeply, I get to see all of the trends that happen in fantasy football. Guys that rise, guys that fall. Where the tier breaks are. Which positions you can get at the best value, which rounds to target certain players and/or positions. I see it all, I'm like Jordan Belfort over here.

General Strategy

I get this quesiton all the time - nick should i start WR/WR/RB/RB. Should I start RB/RB/WR/WR. Like i dont fucggin know - i cant' see your draft board you-re really just about to base your draft off a blind ass opinion im going to give you? If I tell you to start WR/WR and Alvin Kamara falls to pick 10... what happens then? Thought so.

When you're projecting the beginning of the draft you have a much better picture of who the guys you like and how likely they are to fall to you. But after say, like pick 15 - it's open season on a mf - players start going all over the place. And any set positional plan you had is shot.

The other thing that makes projecting this year so difficult is this:

A lot of guys that were no-brainer 1st rounders last year, heading into the offseason, have dropped out for all types of reasons. Some of these guys still might go in the first, some of them might drop to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th round.

So, you've always gotta be able to understand the players getting picked, understand the value tiers between players and adjust accordingly, no matter where you're picking from.

General WR/RB Talk

At the end of the day, or season, running backs win fantasy football leagues. I’m not sure I can remember entering a fantasy season with more “public-annointed” workhorse running backs in the NFL as 2019 is slated to have. This year alone, by FFPC ADP data, the top 12 running backs are gone in fantasy drafts by 2.07. So, after less than 1.5 rounds have gone by (non-superflex/non-TE premium) the top 12 running backs are no longer available to draft. 50% of the first three rounds, or initial 36 overall picks, are currently running backs. Again, running backs win leagues. But, they also lose leagues, because having one of your first two or three picks bust, puts you in a massive hole that you have to try climbing out of for the rest of the year – and parallel to that point – running backs bust at pretty fuggin high rate – a high enough rate that it might not be worth pulling the trigger just because you “like drafting a workhorse running back” – because the numbers show that just because you assume one to be, there’s a high probability they are in fact, big not.

I went back over the L5 years, looking at ADP data and the finishes of running backs in fantasy football relative to their ADP. On average, over the last five seasons, 50% of running backs drafted as a top-12 fantasy RB finish outside of the top-12 at the end of that year. So, 6 of the top-12 fantasy running backs this year won’t finish inside the top 12. On average, 4.2-of-12 (35%) will finish outside of the top-18. On average over 3.5 (29.6%) will finish outside of the top-24. I’d consider your top 12 drafted fantasy running back finishing anywhere outside of the top-18 RBs an absolute bust, considering the draft capital required to secure a top-12 back is monumental (first 18 picks). Some of these busts came by way of injury, others simply turned to trash and others fell fate to dreadful coaching/play-calling, falling into unnecessary, but nonetheless existent RBBCs. But these are the facts, the big facts, derived from manual research. Straight from my fingertips.

Let's flip this over to WRs now. There's a common saying that high-end fantasy WRs are safer than high-end fantasy WRs.

Finding Busts

So, the rate is a bit higher for RBs to not finish at the elite RB1 tier, but also their floor seems to be a bit lower for the ones that don't hit that RB1 finish.

For WRs, it was almost all injuries that plagued the player.

For RBs, they have a lot more outs to bust - injuries, RBBCs, pass-catching backs, GL backs, game scripts, awful coaching.

However, and I laughed at this tweet:

Pray to the fantasy gawds for a top 4 pick. Basically.

There's no larger advantage in fantasy football then owning an elite running back. Don't confuse elite, with RB1. There is elite - Todd Gurley the last few years, Saquon, Cmac, Melvin Gordon when healthy last year, etc. Owning David Johnson last year and spewing out that he was the RB10 last year in fantasy football didn't win a single person a single thing. Johnson averaged a full 10 PPG fewer than Gurley. Oh but you got your RB1 bro!

Having an elite RB1 gives your team a massive positional advantage, year in and year out. If you have a top-4 pick it's Barkley, Zeke, Kamara, Cmac (in any order that you prefer) you don't think twice. Most of you will throw David Johnson in there too. Sure. After that, then what? I'm snagging an elite WR. It's Adams, it's Hopkins, if it's a bit later - it's anyone in that next tier - OBJ, Julio, JuJu, MT. After round 1, things get dicey, and there's a big reason why.

No one likes starting WR-WR. I hate it, but if you're at the back-half of the first round - two elite guys will be waiting - and they're all SO safe, compared to the running backs around them.

However, when we look at the running back landscape as a whole - we have to ask ourselves if we need to draft running backs early. And what I've concluded, is yes, you pretty much do have to grab one running back with your first two picks. Because, there might be - 4 or 5 guys outside of the first 5-6 rounds that have any sort of realstic top-15 RB upside. It's like Rashaad Penny, Miles Sanders, Royce Freeman, maybe Derrius Guice, but we need health, we probably need someone else in their backfield to get unhealthy. This year is NOT a deep year for running backs. So, you might have to reach for running back - but let's talk about minimizing risk while we're talking about reaching here 

MINIMIZING RISK

- Bad offenses

- Injury concerns

- RBBC

Your top 4 or so picks, should be putting up around 50% of your weekly fantasy points. Complete estimate - say your first-round pick is putting up 18/game, 2nd rounder is 14, 3rd rounder is 12.5, 4th is about 11. From 4 players, that's a lot of production. If you miss out on one of those guys, one of them busts, you're at a huge disadvantage from the rip, and it's very hard to crawl out of that whole, and of course, the earlier the pick, the more points you expect from that player, meaning it's more important, but also more risky to gamble with it.

Every round that a player falls down a round, their value shoots up, their risk decreases, because you have the round prior in which you drafted a player who should produce at a higher level and you're not relying so much on this 3rd round pick to produce at a 2nd round level.

That's why I'm so adamant on staying away from guys like Devonta Freeman, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Antonio Brown, etc. Would I be shocked if they finished at their current draft price, no, I wouldn't despite what some of you might think. But why take that gamble when there are players of equal value with less risk in the same draft range. 

It's a long season. Shit happens of course, injuries, whatever. But going straight upside is almost surely a sure-fire way to lose. Yeah if you hit, you're probably winning your league, but as a seasoned fantasy player, give me that floor that keeps me in that 2nd, 3rd, 4th place playoff contention all year, because I'm not top of my shit and know I can navigate the waiver wire, and make trades, etc. Smart and steady wins the race. The first place guy probably had a ton of luck, maybe hit on his upside picks, but so what, at the end of the year, all you have to do is get into the dance - minimizing risk will get you into the dance. You certainly want upside, but save it for later in the draft.

Now, back to reaching for the running back. Minimizing risk would normally mean, okay, take Julio and OBJ, or Davante and JuJu right? Correct, but the problem this year, is that there are so many issues surrounding the guys getting targeted in the 3rd/4th round. I would have gladly a month ago taken two of those WRs and grabbed Kerryon and Aaron Jones as my RBs. That's no longer possible + there are so many issues revolving around these guys right now

  • We have Kerryon - riddick gets cut, his ADP moves up into the 2nd and now none of his downside is getting baked into that pick
  • Marlon Mack - Andrew Luck's calf seems to be serious
  • Aaron jones dealing with a hamstring injury - someone that's dealt with like 3 MCL tears already
  • Damien Williams - hamstring - backups getting full work with the 1s
  • Derrick Henry - calf strain 

It's like holy shit. A stack of two of those guys seemed like gold only a short while ago - now idk if I want to touch any of them. But, with all of those top RBs - the gurleys, gordon's etc. moving down draft boards, people are reaching for anything that they find hope in - making these guys' ADPs shoot up to unreasonable prices when factoring in their current risks, most of which are health-related.

Side note - injury optimism is TOO real - don't find injuries in fantasy football, they'll find you. We need a player back at practice, running full for multiple days in a row coming off of a muscle strain to trust him again.

The RB situation being a mess, makes me lean with getting an elite WR1, and then your pick of Mixon, Cook, Chubb in Round 2. This is just general strategy, I know a lot of you like James Conner, sure throw his name into the gauntlet. You get the point.

The beautiful thing about all of this middling RB2s getting pushed so far up draft boards is that there is SO much value at the WR position in Rounds 3, 4, 5. So you can grab your choice of Mack, KJ, AJ, Henry if they're available in Round 3 and still hammer great options at WR for your WR2 - Diggs, Cooks, Woods, Golladay. It's absurd the WRs getting picked in the 4th round compared to the running backs (Ingram, David Montgomery, Josh Jacobs, P. Lindsay, James White) like wtf is going on.

IF YOU'RE IN FULL PPR OR 3WR

Things change a bit for me here. If you're at the backend of the 1st round, I'll double up on the elite guys - they will score a ton of points in full PPR and guys that normally I'd be off in the 5th/6th/7th rounds like James White, Tarik Cohen, etc. have more value in PPR so it's deeper at RB in that sense. 

DRAFTING a TE In the First 3?

I've been saying almost weekly, in my mock drafts that I do every Friday, that I love leaving the first three rounds with one of the big 3 tight ends - Kelce, Ertz, Kittle. The latter two only in the 3rd, however - that strategy shifts in season-long drafts - the mock draft I do are bestball drafts, where you don't have to decide who to sit and start each week. 

Kelce in TE Premium at 1.05 - absolutely. Kelce was the overall WR1 last year in TE premium leagues. Still not as big of a player as the elite RBs, but given the positional advantage, he's well worth the pick. If Kelce had a WR tag next to his name instead of a TE tag, this wouldn't even be a discussion.

However, as we dove into, the RB position is not deep whatsoever, so, I've done a ton of mock drafts and real drafts so far and when I end up grabbing a TE early, I don't like how my team turns out. A lot of the time you end up sacrificing at the running back position, and that's never fun. So, while I think there is value in getting Kelce in the 2nd, even 1st and one of these guys in the 3rd, I tend to shy away from it, and grab one of the 2nd tier TEs in the 5/6/7th rounds. 



Nick Ercolano
Nick Ercolano

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