Updated: Aug 17, 2019
Preseason football is finally upon us, which means those of you that haven’t been reading articles, scouring ADP, or jumping in mock drafts as of yet are going to have some major catching up to do. It’s okay though, no need to panic. There are potential bargains throughout the entire draft and solid information to keep in mind that could help you finally bring that ‘ship home. Unfortunately, there are also inefficient, low ceiling players lurking from round to round. When coupled with bad draft habits those players could crush your fantasy hopes. You don’t want to be left sobbing in a tattoo parlor while all your league mates watch you get Phil Collins tattooed on your lower back, now do you? Don’t let this be you, this is your year! Keep up with your research, do a little digging, and make sure to keep this information in mind on draft day...it just might keep Phil off your back and your buddies at bay. Against All Odds, these draft strategies can take your team to Another Day in Paradise.
Early Round RB vs WR
No matter the format you’re playing in this year, the first three picks are almost always going to be the same across the board. The elite three (factoring in Zeke’s potential holdout) running backs consisting of Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara are the 1.01 through 1.03, and for very good reason. These guys are an absolute lock to put up big numbers for your fantasy team, barring any injuries. Saquon is the only player out of the trio that is playing for a team that won’t be in the top half of the league in scoring this year, but he should be able to make up for it by taking on an expanded role in the Giants’ offense. With Sterling Shepard banged up, Corey Coleman out for the year with a torn ACL, and Golden Tate suspended for the first four weeks, Barkley should get all the carries and targets he can handle.
Aside from the elite three, there are major questions surrounding every other running back being selected in the first round. Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon are both currently holding out for new contracts and have no real time table to return to their respective teams. David Johnson is coming off of a top 12 fantasy RB finish, but it wasn’t one you were thrilled at all to have on your roster in 2018. His let down season was a product of poor coaching, uncreative play calling, and a poor O-Line, which the Cardinals took into account this offseason bringing in Kliff Kingbury and his Air Raid offense. This new up-tempo scheme has a real shot at reviving David Johnson and the rest of the offense from the ashes of their last place 2018 finish but there is real risk involved with a first time NFL head coach and a rookie quarterback at the helm. Le’Veon Bell is well over a year removed from his last NFL start and is now playing for Adam Gase, who is infamous for holding grudges against certain players and had a league worst 54.9 offensive plays per game last year while coaching the Dolphins. Coupled with that, Bell is also playing for a New York Jets offense that won’t have anywhere close to the O-Line he’s been used to working with which is a major cause for concern. His patient running style and long pauses behind the line of scrimmage waiting on a play to develop could be a big problem on his new team if he doesn’t adapt quickly. James Conner was incredibly productive during Le’Veon’s holdout last year; finishing with 973 yards on the ground, 497 through the air and 13 total touchdowns. However, there’s growing talk that Mike Tomlin may explore new avenues for the Steelers running game this year including a potential committee situation involving Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and rookie Bennie Snell. Todd Gurley is the final running back to be taken in the first round and has also been falling into the second due to very real concerns about his arthritic knee and how much that will affect his workload going forward. It’s obvious the Rams are just as concerned as fantasy owners, seeing as they spent a third round pick on Darrell Henderson and matched Malcolm Brown’s offer from Detroit to keep him with the team.
Now considering all these question marks and risks associated with the mid to late first round running backs you can either stick with the pack and make sure to land an early one or you can take this opportunity to let value slide to your team elsewhere. Don’t forget that the absolute elite top three to four backs can offer more fantasy fire power than any other position or player, but once they’re off the board, a pivot to wide receiver could be the best option for your team this year. One that could be exceptionally beneficial if you’re picking towards the end of the first round. In 2018, AJ Green was the only top twelve wide receiver taken that didn’t come close to or exceed the value used to draft him. In that same year, out of the top twelve running backs being selected, five of them were absolute busts for your team considering what you were expecting them to be. If you take an even wider look you’ll see that, out of the top twenty-four running backs selected last year there were thirteen that busted...that’s right, over half of them were busts! Compare that to the seven busts from wide receivers selected in the top twenty-four at their position and it’s a very noticeable difference. Picking a risky player with bust potential this early on in the draft can completely cripple your team and shouldn’t always be the go-to option for the majority of fantasy owners...but year after year it is. More often than not, we chase players in the early rounds that offer tantalizing promise and excitement but end up contributing nothing but inconsistent play and heartbreak in the end.
Now, of course there are always risky players taken somewhat early who completely pay off, like Tyreek Hill and Christian McCaffrey last year, but that’s not always going to be the case. Just make sure to know your play style and always weigh the risk and reward carefully early in the draft but never be afraid to go against the grain. Especially when there’s almost always going to be a run of RB’s flying off the board early and often in the first and second rounds of drafts. This year, if you decide to take the road less traveled, it could land your team two elite WR1’s and the opportunity to make up for your lack of running backs later when teams are scrambling to fill the other positional slots they ignored early on.
Don’t Bite on the Hype
Try to keep the hype of the incoming rookies from causing you to make a bad decision and passing on a more proven veteran player who is already solidified in their offense. Once the season ends and almost all of us are left with a bad taste in our mouths from another year of coming up short, we all begin looking towards the combine and then ahead to the draft. This is where it’s easy to get over excited about certain players or project them to have key roles with their team in the first year. It’s much more common for running backs to make an immediate impact than their receiver or tight end counterparts, but unless the player is an elite first round talent, there’s always the possibility that it will take certain players time to develop, learn their new offense, and become comfortable with the speed of the NFL. Over the last three years there has only been one rookie wide receiver per season to make it into the top twenty-four at their position. Every one of them was on a top scoring offense. Over that same time span, there have been nine rookie running backs to make their way into the top twenty-four. In redraft leagues, if there’s a single digit round pick you want to spend on a rookie, the odds are in your favor to spend it on a running back. Hold off on a rookie wide receiver or tight end as a double digit round dart throw and let your league mates throw away their picks on the rest of the rookie hype.
If You Can’t Land the Pass Catcher, Land the Passer
Every year it seems as if there are more and more teams that have at least two top tier receiving options. Most of these guys end up being players you’re trying to target in your drafts. Last year they were names like Diggs and Thielen, Brown and Smith-Schuster, Allen and Williams, Woods and Cooks, etc. In 2018, there was only one quarterback out of eight who had two top twenty-four receivers or one such receiver paired with a top six tight end, to miss out on a top twelve fantasy season. Four of those quarterbacks finished in the top 6. There’s a screaming bargain to be had at quarterback this year if these numbers continue into the 2019 season; it’s none other than Jameis Winston. Not only does he have two top end receivers to target in Mike Evans and up-and-comer Chris Godwin, he has OJ Howard coming back from injury this year, who has breakout season written all over him. With new head coach Bruce Arians, the Bucs should be throwing it early and often. With his “no risk-it, no biscuit” motto, Arians’ Cardinals were in or near the top half of the league in scoring for three of his five seasons serving as head coach, with two of those seasons cracking the top six. Package all of this with an ineffective defense and all signs are pointing towards a big year for Arians, Winston, and their major pass catchers. Currently, Winston is the thirteenth quarterback off the board and is being criminally undervalued. He has every chance of cracking the top six and is a steal in the double-digit rounds. That spells ‘W’, who’s hungry?!?
Know Your League
There are an infinite number of different league formats and point structures that fantasy owners are currently playing in. From the most vanilla friends and family leagues to a league that has point per carry, point per completion, point per reception, tight end premium, with a Superflex and IDP slots. Whatever the type of league(s) you play in, always keep the scoring system and format in your mind while at your draft. Some scoring systems can completely inflate or deflate different positional value. For example, if you’re in a league that gives six points per passing touchdown instead of the standard four points, it devalues rushing quarterbacks and makes a solid pocket passer worth just as much or more as a quarterback that runs all over the field but may not be as efficient through the air. Just as important as point structure is knowing your league mates’ tendencies in a draft. There’s always that guy or girl who reaches for a quarterback early or severely overvalues players from their team. Knowing the types of drafters you’re up against can help you effectively navigate your way through the draft. It’s a lot like poker; if you can get a good read on your opponents it’s all over. Above all else, the most important thing to remember and remind yourself on draft day is how much fun this damn game is. We often forget throughout all of our research, scheming, and grinding our way through the season that this is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to bring us all together and give us unity through this silly, childish game we all love playing so much. Let’s not forget to keep that joy - that made us obsessed with this to begin with - in the front of our minds as we approach the new season. Even if you don’t take first place, you can take a small victory from seeing your friend walk out of the tattoo parlor with some fresh loser’s ink.