John Paulsen's 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Day Strategery
We’re in the dog days of August, which means the heaviest part of draft season is fast approaching. It’s time for me to outline how I’m approaching fantasy drafts this year.
This piece is written with a 12-team PPR draft in mind, but Rule No. 1 of fantasy football is to know your scoring system. Owners in standard leagues are going to want to favor running backs a bit more in the early rounds since that position gets a boost in that format. Owners in two-quarterback or superflex (QB-eligible flex) leagues should ignore all the late-round quarterback talk and be sure to draft a couple of top-20 passers before they’re gone. Owners drafting in 10-team leagues should be able to wait an extra round or two to draft the targets I discuss below. A great way to discover how a particular scoring system impacts the different positions is to use our Top 200 Value Based Rankings Report. Keep in mind that all ADP that I mention in this article assumes a 12-team draft.
Back in 2015, I had something of an epiphany when it came to formulating my overall draft strategy. At the two onesie positions—quarterback and tight end, where owners typically only have to start one—I felt great about Carson Palmer in the 13th round and Delanie Walker in the 10th/11th. I also advocated for the Angry Tom Strategy, which revolved around drafting a royally pissed-off Tom Brady in the 10th/11th round and taking Palmer later as his backup. This worked out even better than expected since Brady’s suspension was lifted and he played a full season. Oh, and Walker finished as the No. 3 tight end that year.
In 2016, my top quarterback target was Tyrod Taylor, who was the 16th passer off the board in the 12th round. He finished the season as the No. 8 quarterback, so that worked out really well. (It would have been even better to target Matt Ryan as the 19th quarterback off the board, but let’s not talk about that.) The Angry Tom Strategy worked again last year, as Brady returned from a—totally justified, don’t @ me—four-game Deflategate suspension to post the No. 2 quarterback numbers down the stretch.
At tight end, I thought Dwayne Allen was primed for a big season after the departure of Coby Fleener, but he struggled with nagging injuries and basically got Wally Pipped by Jack Doyle. I also ended up with quite a bit of Walker (TE5), Fleener (TE15) and Travis Kelce (TE1), which worked to varying degrees. The nice thing about whiffing on a onesie position is that there are usually fallback options available on the waiver wire.
Last year, my primary targets at quarterback were Andy Dalton (QB17), Matthew Stafford (QB8) and Marcus Mariota (QB18). Stafford worked out, and he remains one of my primary targets in 2018. (Mariota is now a post-hype sleeper with a new coaching regime in town.)
At tight end, I drafted a lot of Kelce (TE1) in the third round, since I perceived a drop off in talent across the running back and receiver ranks at that point in the draft. There were several appealing middle-round tight ends, including Kyle Rudolph (TE8), Delanie Walker (TE4), Zach Ertz (TE3) and Martellus Bennett (TE38). The only dud in that group was Bennett. Long live the Black Unicorn.
When I keep my primary targets at quarterback and tight end in mind, I’m able to draft my running backs and receivers around those positions, finding my favorite targets and fallback options at both positions in each round. Like anything in fantasy, some of those picks will work out, and some won’t.
I’ll go position-by-position, starting with quarterback and tight end, and then I’ll outline my favorite round-by-round targets at running back and receiver.
See Quarterback Sleepers, Values and Targets for more detail on the position.
According to our projections, Aaron Rodgers is in his own tier, but I’m still an advocate for waiting on the position, so I doubt I’ll end up with too many shares of the most talented quarterback to ever play the game.
The next tier has eight quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Kirk Cousins, Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees. There is a fairly significant 21-point drop off to the next tier, so I can definitely see myself pulling the trigger on the last quarterback or two in this tier.
In 41 games since Jim Bob Cooter has taken over the play-calling duties, Stafford has completed 66.3 percent of his passes for a 7.51 yards-per-attempt average. He has posted a 4.9 percent touchdown rate and a 1.6 percent interception rate in that span. Compare that to the 61.0% completion rate/7.19 YPA/4.3% TD rate/2.5% interception rate that Stafford posted in his previous 71 games dating back to 2011, and his numbers are up across the board now that Cooter is coordinating the offense.
As for Kirk Cousins, he has three straight finishes in the top nine, and back-to-back finishes as the QB5. He’s joining a team with several very good weapons in the passing game, including Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and Kyle Rudolph, and the Vikings hired John DeFilippo, who was the quarterbacks coach for the Eagles in Carson Wentz’s breakout season. I’m very optimistic about the Minnesota offense this season.
Depending on how you look at the tiers, our third tier could run from No. 10 (Jimmy Garoppolo) to No. 21 (Dak Prescott), but I’d probably cut it off at No. 15 (Jared Goff). There are several appealing passers in this tier.
Andrew Luck seems to be healthy now, making him a potential league-winning pick in the middle rounds. In 22 games since 2015, he has averaged 278 passing yards and 2.1 touchdowns per game. He has also averaged 1.1 interceptions in that span. The resulting 20.2 fantasy points per game would have been the fourth-highest per game average in 2017. He was the No. 13 passer off the board in June, but thus far in August, Luck is the ninth quarterback drafted, on average. His ascension is likely to push Cousins and Stafford down the draft board, which is good news for me.
Owners who don’t mind streaming a bit and/or building a quarterback committee should consider Ben Roethlisberger, whose home/away splits are now the stuff of legend. His two-year home splits—318 yards/2.8 TDs at home—would have made him the No. 1 QB in 2017 while his away splits—246 yards/1.3 TDs—equate to a No. 17 finish. Roethlisberger is essentially an every-week start at home and extremely matchup dependent on the road. As the No. 12 quarterback off the board, it’s not difficult to use a pair of double-digit round picks on Roethlisberger and another passer whose schedule meshes nicely with his road games. Kirk Cousins’ schedule matches up nicely, but he’s probably too pricey for a QBBC. Alex Smith, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and Philip Rivers all fit the bill. Mitch Trubisky and Case Keenum’s schedules also fit pretty well with Roethlisberger’s.
I’m very intrigued by Patrick Mahomes—I like to call him Patty Mahomes, by the way—so much so that I wrote about him in great detail here. His ADP has been bouncing around a bit, and recent reports of interceptions in camp seem to be dragging down his stock. I’m still very bullish for all the reasons that I outlined in the article. He has looked very good in limited action, has a great receiving corps and can score points with his legs.
I’m not going to reach for any of these quarterbacks, so if I miss out on the aforementioned names, there are plenty of decent options available later on in the draft. Mitch Trubisky, Alex Smith and Blake Bortles are solid late-round values.
The Bortles Tangent (8/24): Okay, it's time that Blake Bortles get his own tangent. He just isn't getting any respect -- he's the No. 23 quarterback off the board in the 13th or 14th round. Bortles finished No. 13 in 2017 after finishing in the top 10 in both 2015 (No. 4) and 2016 (No. 9). He has a deep receiving corps to throw to, and OC Nathaniel Hackett said that he expects the team to be "more aggressive" in the passing game in 2018. It will be Bortles' second season in Hackett's offense, and he says he has a much better understanding this year. The Jaguars did lose Allen Robinson, but they still have
Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook, and they added both Donte Moncrief and Austin Seferian-Jenkins in free agency, and D.J. Chark in the draft. As a bonus, Bortles doesn't project to have a bad matchup before his Week 9 bye, so his early schedule is pretty favorable. Owners who want to take "wait on QB" to another level can stockpile 12 or 13 players at running back, receiver and tight end before adding Bortles as their starter.
The Tyrod/Jameis Tangent: One of my favorite fallback plans is to draft a combination of Jameis Winston and Tyrod Taylor. Taylor should start for the first few games (at least), and he has always been a productive fantasy quarterback when he’s active and playing. Taylor should be able to get owners through the first month (PIT, @NO, NYJ, @OAK) and allow Winston time to serve his suspension. In the 11 games last season where Winston played 90 percent or more of the snaps, he averaged 307 yards, 1.7 touchdowns and 1.0 interceptions for an 18.9 fantasy point per game average. That would have been the fifth-highest per game average at his position in 2017. Winston’s weapons are numerous and talented.
Continue reading for the rest of John's 2018 Draft Day Strategery and to view his table of round-by-round draft targets...
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