By Tzali Nislick
It’s now late July (already!) and that means draft season is right around the corner. Whether you’re new to fantasy football or just want a refresher on the dos and don’ts of drafting, here are my rules to drafting each position in fantasy football.
QB: Wait, wait, wait…
Please, and I cannot stress this enough, wait on a quarterback in fantasy football. I know Lamar Jackson looks tantalizing while you’re sitting there at the end of Round 2, but it’s just not worth it. For all those who want the former MVP at his current ADP, let me just refer you to Patrick Mahomes. He went from leading all players in scoring in 2018 with 417.1 fantasy points and a QB1 finish to 287 fantasy points and a QB7 finish last year. His points per game (PPG) slipped from 26.1 to 20.5. Still great, but he didn’t justify his second round ADP. That suggests Jackson is due for some regression in 2020 as well. I’d much rather build up my running backs and wide receivers in the first three rounds, positions where it’s harder to find star production. There’s a lot of late round quarterbacks that I like given their ADP. Carson Wentz and Matthew Stafford have ADPs of 12th and 13th respectively and both are great values this year. Over the last three years Wentz is 7th in touchdown passes despite missing eight games in that span and throwing to undrafted free agents last year. Stafford was on pace for nearly 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns last year and was QB4 in PPG. Ryan Tannehill came out of nowhere last season and was QB9 on a PPG basis. There’s always value to be had late at the position. And speaking of coming out of nowhere, that’s exactly what Mahomes and Jackson did the last two seasons. So who’s not to say we’ll have another QB1 this year that surprises us all? I go into depth about five even deeper options here.
RB: Take at least 1 RB in the first two rounds
I don’t care what anyone says, running back is by far the most valuable position in fantasy football. It lacks the depth of quarterbacks and wide receivers and is always top-heavy in terms of elite talent. Last year six of the top seven non-quarterbacks in terms of scoring were running backs, but they made up just nine of the next 32 players, versus 20 wide receivers. In other words, the position is bountiful in the first couple rounds but there’s a steep drop-off after that. If that wasn’t convincing enough, there was a 15.4 point per game gap between the RB1 (Christian McCaffrey) and the RB20 (Devonta Freeman), whereas the gap between the WR1 (Michael Thomas) and the WR20 (John Brown) was just 8.7 points per game by comparison. In the first 40 players overall in terms of ADP, there are 21 running backs, compared to just 13 in the next 40 players. That’s enough of me throwing stats at you, so now I just urge you to spend a first and/or second round pick on a running back because after that it’s going to be hard to find consistent, high-end production at the position.
WR: Volume is king
It seems like a simple concept, but the players who are targeted the most are going to deliver the most fantasy points. It’s as basic as that. The more opportunity, the higher the chance it leads to fantasy production. Last year Michael Thomas had a 33.03% target share, by far the most on his team. The next highest was Alvin Kamara at 18.27%. That obviously played a key role in his record 149 receptions and league leading 1,725 yards, despite averaging a pedestrian 11.6 yards per reception. Allen Robinson was catching passes from Mitchell Trubisky, but his 27.62% target share led to a WR8 finish last season. Hence the expression, “volume is king.” A player’s target share essentially establishes their floor and is a highly underrated stat compared to touchdowns, which can often be flukey. Drafting players in high volume offenses and who don’t have much competition on their team for targets is the golden rule for wide receivers.
TE: Wait, unless you’re getting Kelce or Kittle, but don’t wait too long
You probably read the headline and thought it’s the vaguest piece of advice you’ve ever heard. But it’s true. I’m fine paying a premium at tight end for guys like Travis Kelce and George Kittle mainly because they’re so reliable and consistent. In Kelce’s case, he’s been putting up elite numbers for years now and there’s no reason to believe that’ll be any different in 2020. And for what it’s worth, he had a team-high 25.52% target share last year and 30.56% in the red zone. So you know what you’re going to get from the top two guys at the position. But then you get to the next tier with guys like Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, Evan Engram and others. Here it’s important to know which guys you like and really think is worth spending a mid-round pick on. For example, Mark Andrews is someone I’m comfortable spending a 5th round pick on, but Engram isn’t. If he’s the only mid-tier tight end available for me I’d rather wait for a sleeper in the 10th or 11th round, like Noah Fant, Mike Gesicki or Jonnu Smith. But when you begin setting your sights on those guys, you have to make sure you get them because the talent level drops off significantly shortly thereafter. Tight end is by far the trickiest position in fantasy football, so it’s imperative that you go into drafts with specific players in mind that you’d be comfortable with taking and those to avoid completely in favor of adding depth.