Key #1: Draft Players, Not Positions

This key is the very first step you will be using when heading into a fantasy football season.  Draft day will be the most exciting day collectively for all fantasy owners since everyone is 0-0 and you get to hand select your own team.  Telling you to study and have your pre-draft rankings is too simple of a step, so I’m going to let you know that predetermining which positions you will take before the draft begins is a bad idea and why targeting tiers, or even just specific players is a better idea.

Don’t listen to them, it’s a trap!  Stick to your tiers

One of my previous posts I looked at the running backs vs wide receivers and who is a safer option to take in the early rounds.  Though the statistics are not what I expected, I did learn that finding great value in later round running backs is far easier than finding high value in late round wide receivers.

To this point I have not been able to confidently say that wide receivers have surpassed the value of a running back, or at least to target the best wide receivers before the best running backs, but one thing I can confidently say is the consistent running back frenzy in the early rounds is a classic example of owners set on drafting a certain position before the draft.  Yes, the amount of productive running backs is far less compared to the amount of wide receivers who are productive, but when you are thinking about Frank Gore, Julio Jones, and Steven Ridley early in the 3rd round, who are you most confident will produce at an elite level?

According to ESPN’s ADP (Average Draft Position), these players went 22nd, 23rd, and 24th in the preseason.  Like almost every year, many experts stressed the importance of taking running backs early and often.  But why?  Yes, the amount of productive running backs is small, but from the data I collected earlier, why not just stock up on running backs later and hope to find one, maybe two who become top 20 options?

This is not a simple question to answer, but here is a quick example of something I may done using these ADP statistics while having the 2nd pick overall:

1st Round- Calvin Johnson

explanation: I have stressed this from the first day I started this blog.  Calvin Johnson is the #1 most dependable fantasy player.  Everyone knows he’s the best, and he continues to be that over the years.

2nd Round- Brandon Marshall

explanation: I know and trust Brandon Marshall’s value and consistency on a week-to-week basis considering where I’m drafting him.  Marshall’s teammate Matt Forte would be another solid pick here as a RB1 considering his consistency over the years, but for the sake of this example Marshall was an easy choice.

3rd Round- Julio Jones

explanation: He’s a freak.  Yeah, he is your flex option and you don’t have a running back, but who cares?  You have a clear advantage at WR1, WR2, and Flex for the whole year.  Of course we all know Julio Jones got hurt and was placed on IR mid-season, but every player, running back and wide receiver, are susceptible to injury.  Jones done have a bad history of injuries, so Jimmy Graham, the #1 TE might have been a better pick here, but the simple fact is a running back here like Steven Ridley or Frank Gore is not as good of an option even if you have yet to draft a RB.  (note: Considering my collected data, running back and wide receivers are equal to when considering potential injuries)

At this point in the draft you are set at wide receiver and flex.  All of the “elite” running backs are gone, along with a few QBs and the “elite” TEs.  You know who also is gone?  Those preseason hyped running backs.  while you have locked in 3 of the top 8 wide receivers, some people have already taken players like Maurice Jones-Drew or David Wilson as back end top 20 RBs.

From rounds 4 through 13, I suggest you draft 2 QBs, 1 TE, and 6 RBs.  Maybe you only take 1 QB because you really believe in who you drafted, and you can take 7 RBs.

So what logic did I use to draft 3 wide receivers in the first 3 rounds?  Tiers.  I make up my own tiers by basing them off of other experts preseason rankings and what I’ve seen from them before.  My love for Calvin Johnson is well documented, so taking him before anyone is a personal choice, but when it rolls around to the 2nd round and you are debating between a 2nd/3rd tier RB in Matt Forte or a 1st Tier WR in Brandon Marshall, I want a 1st tier guy.

Before I get carried away here on my love for wide receivers (which i probably already did), let’s point out the most important point for this whole key to winning your fantasy football league: every draft is different.  When doing mock drafts and breaking down what a draft MIGHT play out like, chances are you will be thrown a curve ball early in your draft.  It only takes one person like a player to draft him earlier than expected, so if your league actually gets wide receiver happy before your 2nd round and you have a RB who was in your first tier sitting there, you should take him.

Lets take a look at my friend Brendan Sullivan’s keeper league draft results for this year.  Each team allowed to keep 1 player from their team from last year, then everyone else is available in a standard 10-team snake draft.

1 Calvin Johnson, Det WR  K Megatron’s Sunday Trousers
2 Doug Martin*, TB RB  K Peppermint Fatties
3 Jamaal Charles, KC RB  K Saint Charles
4 Drew Brees, NO QB  K The Shady Brees
5 Cam Newton, Car QB  K Team Viola
6 A.J. Green, Cin WR  K T.O.’s T.D.s
7 Trent Richardson, Ind RB  K Captain Falcon
8 Adrian Peterson, Min RB  K Show Me Your TDs
9 Arian Foster*, Hou RB  K Golden Grahams
10 Tom Brady, NE QB  K New England Armed Forces

These are the players kept before the draft.

Brendan had the 8th pick, and already having the #1 RB in fantasy without having to draft him is a certainly a luxury.  It’s important to point out that with 5RBs, 4 QBs, and 1 WR taken before the draft, the amount of top QBs is already limited.

Brendan’s first 2 picks were wide receivers (Brandon Marshall and Dez Bryant), and this was the right decision.  6 more RBs and a QB went before his pick, and without looking at his pre-draft research its safe to say most of his top tier RBs were gone.  Taking the 2nd wide receiver was a great decision, and it was even a better decision to take the 3rd receiver off the board with his next pick.

Why?  Because his league went on a running back frenzy.  Brendan did not panic when he kept crossing off running backs because he knew he was going to get his two favorite WRs in the draft (who clearly are 1st tier wide receivers).  Having Peterson may have made it easier for him to avoid the frenzy, but regardless it was still the right decision.

Once the fourth round came up wide receivers started to be drafted, but Brendan had his top 2 starting receivers locked.  His next 4 picks he took his 2nd and 3rd RB, his QB, and his TE.

The only problem I found in his drafting was his late round picks.  When using this “draft players, not positions” logic, it tends to lead to owners drafting anything except RBs.  Yes, his league starts 3 wide receivers AND a flex position, so drafting another couple receivers is necessary, but he had his wide receiver starters as close to locked up as you can ask for, so he should have focused more on late-round running backs instead of wide receivers.

Ultimately, the “draft players, not positions” logic links well with my data collected about running backs vs. receivers and the tendency for owners to favor running backs early.  What it adds to my theories is an alternative plan to the chance of a draft going a direction not anticipated.  Brendan’s league’s data is not a standard 10-team league, but it is an example of how typical drafts go with leagues.  Most of these owners went RB in the first 2 rounds, and most of them were reaching.  It’s no fluke that Brendan is currently in 2nd place in his league.  The guy ahead of him?  He kept Arian Foster and didn’t draft a RB until the 6th round, as he picked up Peyton Manning and Jimmy Graham early.  Peyton was probably the last top tier QB left in his mind, and with Rob Gronkowski out indefinitely, Graham was the clear #1 TE and alone on the top tier at the position.

You.  Cannot.  Predetermine.  Drafting.  Positions.  Prepare for your draft.  Have your own rankings and try to determine which players you like and which ones you don’t, and draw up rough tiers of players to get a sense of when a drop-off of value happens at that particular position.

This is only the 1st of 5 keys to winning your league, so don’t count on just a good draft to win.  With that said, this may be the most important key to them all.

Ryan Jackson

About Ryan Jackson

My name is Ryan Jackson and I love fantasy sports. I graduated from the University of Maine in 2014 with a degree in Journalism, and I am now a graduate student at Quinnipiac University working on a sports journalism degree.