by Noah Pires
August 31, 2018
For all you vets in the game, this may be nothing new. Everyone has their own strategies when entering their draft, and the more you play/mock, the better you'll understand trends. There's a few codes of conduct I follow when drafting to help get my team cooking like Brandin and Jared. People always say "your league isn't won on draft day", but let me tell you, it sure can be lost. So, without further adue, let's run through some simple draft tips for each position that'll hopefully help make tough decisions between two similarly ranked players much easier.
Let me just gloat, these are the QBs I've drafted over the past two sznz: Carson Wentz (QB5 Finish) and Matthew Stafford (QB7 Finish). By looking at this, you can tell I'm nothing less than an expert in this field. Alright, maybe not, but there's reasons I chose these players at their draft position as opposed to reaching for an earlier round option.
Firstly, as always stated, the difference between the QB5 and QB15 at the end of the szn (in terms of points) isn't all that different. Because of this, why draft a guy like Drew Brees (ADP QB5) at the beginning of the 6th round when you can get Alex Smith (ADP QB18) in the 12th round? Obviously I'm not saying Smith and Brees are one in the same, what I'm trying to highlight is the opportunity cost of drafting a QB with a high pick. For example, by drafting Drew Brees at his current ADP, you'd be passing on valuable fantasy assets like Jamaal Williams (RB2 upside on high-powered offense), Michael Crabtree (red-zone option on team needing to fill lost targets), and Evan Engram (Top-3 TE Potential). Now, if you draft Alex Smith at his ADP, you can get any number of these early round values, and would be passing up on guys like Geronimo Allison, Matt Breida, and oft-injured Tyler Eifert in round 12 (where Smith is being picked). In this example, compare the combinations that could be selected and you choose what you'd rather have (obviously other picks are made, but let's act like these are your only draft choices):
A. Alex Smith/Engram VS Brees/Eifert
B. Alex Smith/Jamaal Williams VS Brees/Breida
C. Alex Smith/Crabtree VS Brees/Allison
Now, to each their own, but I can't see any situation where I'd prefer Brees' side. Sure, whichever QB you choose at QB15+ likely won't produce to the level Brees will, but the difference between Brees' production and Smith's will be nowhere near the difference between Crabtree and Allison's (or Breida and Williams/Eifert and Engram for that matter).
Now, you obviously don't want to just head into a draft all willy nilly saying "fuck early QBs, I'll just take a late round guy and hope he hits!" That would be foolish. I mentioned before I chose Wentz and Stafford in the past (each going outside the top 12 at the time), because they had something important in common: a great supporting cast. In 2016, Stafford was surrounded by Tate, Marvin Jones, Ebron, Boldin, and Riddick. Now, the last 3 guys aren't exactly elite, but they served their purpose in their respective roles. Last szn, Carson Wentz was coming off a bumpy rookie campaign but was surrounded with Zach Ertz (big body over the middle and RZ), Alshon Jeffery (jump-ball winner, RZ guy), Agholor (short/over the middle routes), and Torrey Smith (field stretcher). Again, none of these guys are particularly "elite" outside of maybe Ertz, but they are more than serviceable in their roles, which is all you need for a productive offense.
Heading into this szn, who do I think are similar to these guys in terms of value and supporting cast? Alex Smith (QB18), Derek Carr (QB19), and Mitch Trubisky (QB25) to name a few, all fitting that mold:
Alex Smith = Jordan Reed, Crowder, Richardson, Doctosn, Thompson
Carr = Cooper, Jordy, Martavis, Richard/Washington, Cook
Trubisky = ARob, Miller, Gabriel, Burton, Cohen
It's possible all these guys hit, then again, they might not, but the good part about the latter is you're drafting these players at a position where their floor isn't much below their ADP. With all their options and offensive firepower, they're likely safe picks and values where they're going with potential to be borderline QB1's.
All in all, my strategy? WAIT ON QB, THINK ABOUT OPPORTUNITY COST OF TAKING AN QB EARLY, AND CHOOSE A GUY WITH AMPLE WEAPONS IN THE PASSING GAME
Now, if you don't want to draft a QB and hope to stream the position, look for guys who have gravy matchups for the first couple of weeks. Blake Bortles, for example, draws the Giants, Patriots, Titans, Jets, and Chiefs over his first 5 weeks. This is self-explanatory, but to be one step ahead, always look who your streaming QB is playing in the upcoming weeks and scout the waiver wire to see who may have a great slate in the future.
For the RB position, I focus on 3 main things when deciding between 2 players: their team's o-line, their team's defense, and their role in the offense. Let's start with component #1.
Obviously you're gonna want a guy whose offensive line isn't a dumpster fire. Guys like Lamar Miller are tricky because they are in good offense with a cemented role, but runs behind one of the league's worst run-blocking units (ranked 32nd by PFF). In this case, Miller obviously isn't undraftable, but this knock could definitely help when picking between him and another option on the board. If you want to see how PFF ranked all offensive lines heading into 2018, click here.
This is a roundabout way of explaining their expected gamescript. Why was it that teams like the Seahawks in the past (and Jags last szn) produced fantasy relevant RBs? Well, other than the fact Marshawn Lynch and Fournette were studs, it was because of their defense's ability to keep the offense on the field. NFL teams are in the business of winning (except the Browns), and to win, you keep the ball away from your opponents. To do this, you dominate time of posession, and to dominate time of posession, you run the ball. Look at last szn, I'd say 8 of the top 10 teams in time of posession had above average to elite defenses (PHI, MIN, JAX, CAR, PIT, DEN, NO, BAL). Now, it's hard to fairly assess the Eagles since their backfield situation was sort of a mess (Ajayi traded mid-way into szn), but the other teams all had at least one very usable fantasy options out of the backfield, some with 2 (Kamara/Ingram for NO, Murray/Mckinnon for MIN), throughout the year.
ROLE IN OFFENSE
This one really depends on what league you play in. If you're a real one, you're playing in a PPR/Half-PPR league. If you are, always try to remember how important receptions are for fantasy relevance. Guys like Duke Johnson are always disrespected because they aren't 230 pound machines who break off 50 yard runs, but what they do through the air gives them a higher ceiling than many other players can claim. Along with finding guys who have pass-catching upside, you should also assess a roster's depth to see to what extent a team will use that player in the passing game, especially if they aren't typically known for their hands. Alex Collins, for example. clearly has the between the tackles role for the Ravens, but has 2 guys behind him who have showcased better hands in the passing game. Similar to Collins, Lamar Miller isn't known for extraordinary hands (in comparison to guys like DJ or Bell), but the only depth behind him is Alfred Blue, who isn't a pass-game aficionado. Because of this, Miller will likely have a higher reception floor than Collins, giving him added value.
Altogether, I typically use these 3 factors in making decisions between closely ranked players. For example, if you're having trouble deciding between Kenyan Drake and Alex Collins and have no logical reasoning for choosing one over the other, you can run through these 3 factors. Firstly, Collins o-line (24th) is inferior to Drake's (20th according to PFF), so Drake wins there (slightly). Next, game script and defense. Obviously Baltimore's defense is far superior to Miami's. The Dolphins lost Ndamukong Suh this offszn, a central part of their defense, while Baltimore retained elite defensive players across their roster. Collins wins here, and wins big, meaning Baltimore will likely be able to run the ball, as opposed to Drake, who will likely be playing catch-up. Lastly, their role in the offense. Sure, Drake may seem like a better pass catcher, but posted a similar catch percentage (66.7% on 48 targets) to Collins (63.4% on 36 targets). Drake has a slight advantage in terms of pass catching, but Collins has a cemented role as the between-the-tackles runner for this team while Drake is listed as the co-starter with Frank Gore. Because of this, Collins edges out Drake, and overall, wins out.
I'm not saying these should be the only things you factor into your draft day decision, but they are a few tricks I use when deciding between similarly ranked players at the position. Other factors could be strength of schedule, but it's hard to assess how well a defense will play the upcoming szn, so a player with an "easy" schedule may not come to fruition if the team's they face are improved on the other side of the ball (think about the Saints' perception last year before the szn started vs how well they actually performed on defense).
My number one rule when drafting a wide receiver is GET ONE TETHERED TO A GOOD QUARTERBACK. Sure, guys like A.J. Green or OBJ can overcome these issues, but if you look at the top WRs (according to ADP), almost every single one is on an offense headed by a good to great QB. Typically, top-end guys produce no matter their QB situation, seen by Deandre Hopkins when he was cookin with Tom Savage, so I usually use this tactic in later rounds, but can add value to the elite guys as well, which is why I like Davante Adams more than Mike Evans and A.J. Green. For example, let's look at 2 similarly ranked players, Chris Hogan (WR19) and Josh Gordon (WR18). Both are guys with huge upside and WR1 potential, but one thing separates them greatly. One is playing with Tom Brady, the other? A mixture of Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield. I'm not saying the Browns' QBs are bad, per-say, I'm just pointing out they aren't anywhere near Brady's level. For me, this is a simple pick, I'm taking Hogan. Brady will be able to support 2 players at once (Gronk and Hogan), as proven last year with Cooks and Gronk, while Tyrod has never had a szn where he had 2 receivers surpass 600 yards. Just looking at the QB situation, Brady's history and elite play, should make your decision a little easier.
Other than having a good QB, something else to look for is a player's role in their offense. Typically, I use this when deciding if I'm trying to get a guy with a high ceiling or high floor later in drafts. Let's look at Jamison Crowder and Will Fuller. Crowder's role in the Skins' offense is that of a slot weapon, while Fuller is more of a field stretcher. With that being said, Crowder obviously has a much higher floor than Fuller, as he will typically run short routes over the middle, which are easier to convert than 60 yard bombs. However, if at this point of your draft you want a guy who has potential to put up massive numbers with vintage DeSean Jackson weeks, you'd go Fuller. Last szn, 4/7 of his tuddies came from 20 or more yards out, including 59, 48, and 39 yarders. He scored a TD in 4 games, where his weekly finishes ranged from WR3-WR21, but in games where he didn't catch a TD, his BEST finish was WR42! Now, Crowder had a down year, but in 4 of his last 7 games he finished as a WR2 or better and in 7 of his 9 final games was a WR3 or better (ranging from WR5-WR34). This is why it's important to understand a player's role in their offense and the ceiling/floor that comes with them. If you're looking for a safe option that can be a bye week filler, I'd suggest a slot guy or someone who isn't so touchdown dependent and can rack up receptions and yardage on a weekly basis, but if you're in best ball, guys like Fuller and Goodwin are the way to go.
Similar to WRs, I mostly base my decisions off of their QB. Not much to say here that's any different from the point I made in the WR section.
What is different from WRs, though, is I don't avoid tight ends who get their value from red zone trips since about 80% of tight ends who finish in the top-12 on a weekly basis do so because they caught a tuddy (Kelce, Gronk, Ertz, Delanie all could be weekly starters w/out scoring, along with a few others). Throughout the year, just look at the top tight ends during a week and I bet you'll see a guy who you've never heard of before finish top 12 because he caught 3 passes for 17 yards and a TD, that's just what the tight end position is. Last season, the top 4 tight ends all finished with 8+ TDs, and 9 of the top 12 had 5+ TDs. Sure, touchdowns aren't easy to project, but if you look for big bodied TEs on teams surrounded by other options who aren't elite in the red zone, you'll typically find valuable high-touchdown upside assets. This year, guys being picked late with this upside are ASJ and Mike Gesicki, both on offenses without real big-bodied receivers who will compete with them for targets inside the 10.
Secondly, I tend to look at the depth the team has in terms of other receiving options. As mentioned in a different article, Jack Doyle is in a great situation where he's the 2nd best option in an offense that should improve heading into 2018. Other guys like this are Ricky Seals-Jones and Charles Clay. RSJ is 3rd in line behind DJ and Fitz, which makes him a value being picked outside the top 20 at the position, and Charles Clay has a shot at being the #2 behind McCoy (as far as targets go). Even if they aren't huge redzone monsters, which isn't out of the conversation for these guys, they'll likely have a safe enough floor due to being a main option in the passing attack for their respective teams. Guys who are going later that I shy away from because of this are Cameron Brate, Vance McDonald, and Austin Hooper, all who may have high TD upside but are 4th or 5th (or worse) options in their offenses. If you're going the route where you want a high ceiling and want a high-TD upside guys, any one of these 3 are serviceable, but if you want a consistent contributor, look for a guy in an offense devoid of pass-catching talents.
Combining these two measures (guys with a RZ presence and having minimal receiving depth), will lead you to late round values like Doyle and RSJ. Sure, they won't produce like Gronk or Kelce, but typically nobody else at the position does. If you want to load up on other positional players, be my guest because once the top 3 tight ends are off the board, you don't really know what you're gonna get from that position on a week to week basis, so you might as well wait and hope for the best with one of these guys.
If you're gonna draft a defense, obviously go for one which has a proven track record of being elite. Teams like Baltimore, the Eagles, and Minnesota have shown consistency of being viable fantasy options, but even then, the Vikings finished as the 12th ranked D/ST last year. Because of this, I mostly avoid drafting a defense, unless one of the high-ranked options fall until the end of the draft (like Jacksonville, Eagles, Baltimore, which they typically won't). Instead, a good tactic is to always hold off on drafting one and look at their early season schedule. For example, look at week 1, Baltimore plays the Bills, a team with an unproven QB and weak offense, or the Saints, who play against Ryan Fitzmagic. Typically, you should look for teams with poor QB situations (more options will be evident as the year goes on and we get to see who is the Brock Osweiler of 2017) and just stream the defense playing these teams. If that doesn't work and a defense who's playing a poor QB is already rostered, try to target teams who are facing an offense with a weak o-line. Even week 1, it may not look like a great matchup, but the Titans face Miami, a team with limited options and a below average o-line. Last year, Tennessee recorded the 5th most sacks and added Harold Landry to their d-line. The Titans may not be drafted, so they could prove to be an elite Week 1 streaming option.
If your league uses kickers, I suggest getting guys on elite offenses who have shown they are competent. Sure, the Chargers are a good offense, but if Aguayo wins this job I'm not touching him. LA might be in scoring opportunities, but I'm not risking negative points for missed FGs (and a broken heart).
Now, let's look at the 10 highest scoring offenses in the NFL from 2017. ***I'll rank them from most points to least and put their kicker's positional finish in parentheses***
1. Rams (K1)
2. Pats (K2) don't smoke kids
3. Eagles (K11 but K10 on PPG basis)
4. Saints (K5)
5. Jags (K11 when combining Josh Lambo and Jason Myers)
6. Chiefs (K6)
7. Lions (K9)
8. Steelers (K7)
9. Ravens (K4)
10. Vikings (K10)
The only kickers who finished top 10 not listed were Matt Bryant (K4) and Robbie Gould (K3). Gould, playing for the 49ers is the only true outlier as they scored the 20th most points in 2017. Altogether, it's quite clear, if you need a viable option to fill the kicking position, just draft a guy whose team can move the ball and get into scoring opportunities.
Lastly, there's one tip which everyone should understand, and it applies to any position when you're drafting. This is the idea of opportunity cost. I'm no economics expert, but I can explain this decently well in terms of fantasy football: by picking one player, you are losing out on the opportunity of choosing another player at that same draft position. For example, you're sitting at the 12th pick of round 1. If you go back to back WRs, OBJ and Julio for example, you're essentially NOT picking Kareem Hunt and Christian McCaffrey, or a combination of one of the previously mentioned WRs and RBs. In doing this, think what's gonna be left for you at the 3/4 turn. RBs there are Drake and Jay Ajayi, while WRs are Amari Cooper and Doug Baldwin. By passing up on 2 RBs at the 1/2 turn, you get 2 solidified stud WRs, but are left with 2 questionable RBs with roles that aren't quite set in stone. If you go back-to-back RB at the 1/2, you get to pair 2 stud RBs with 2 WRs who are effectively their team's #1 option with top 10 upside. This is just one example, but it's a good one in showing how you should always think ahead when drafting and assess what you're passing up on and what will remain for you when your next pick comes around.
Obviously, these aren't the only things you should base your picks off of or how you should prepare for your draft, but using these simple tips can help make otherwise difficult decisions easier when choosing between 2 players you may have ranked back to back with no real logical reasoning for who you prefer.
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