Perfect Draft: 1st in a 14-Team ESPN Standard League
I’ve done a million drafts this year and I’ve yet to pick higher than fourth. I’ll be honest, for my first Perfect Draft article, I just wanted to know what it would feel like to select Saquon Barkley. That may be tipping my hand a bit, but I grabbed him in nearly every league I was in last season and now I’m sad I won’t be able to have him in any of my usual re-draft leagues so far. The first pick is always interesting from a strategic perspective because so much talent goes off the board between your first and second pick. Sure, there’s an owner or two in every league that will take someone out of left field and provide some surprise value – Royce Freeman went 13th overall in one league last year – but generally speaking, there’s a huge drop in talent by the time it gets back to your turn. This is especially the case in 14-team leagues, where 27 players are off the board by the time your second pick comes around.
In this edition of the Perfect Draft Series, I'll be walking through a perfect draft from the 1st slot in a 14-team standard league. Each pick was optimized using projections and value-based rankings from the 4for4 Draft Hero tool.
Draft Hero Settings
- Roster settings: 1QB, 2RB, 2WR, 1 WR/RB/TE, TE, K, DEF, seven bench spots.
- No QBs before the fifth round: I usually wait much longer than the fifth round to draft a quarterback, especially in 1QB leagues, but I’ll start looking in the fifth round to see if an elite player falls into my lap.
- No TEs between round four and seven: I’m open to taking a tight end in the first three rounds if one of the three elite options are available – George Kittle, Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce – but I don’t see a large gap between the second and third-tier options this season. I’ll let other owners use fifth-round picks on Hunter Henry and Evan Engram, while I wait until at least the eighth round when you can still get quality players with upside.
- No Ks or DSTs until the last two rounds: In every league I’m in, someone takes a kicker before the 12th round. Sometimes even earlier for a defense. 4for4 has fantastic in-season articles to help with streaming both positions, and it’s rare when an owner will roster more than one of each heading into the season. Even if I’m the last to take one, I’ll end up with the 14th-ranked at each position. With kickers, there’s only a difference of 10 projected season fantasy points between the top-ranked kicker and number 14. With defense, the difference is 38 points, but only 13 between six and 14. So I’ll take a defense in round 15 and close out my draft with a kicker.
I don’t try to win my league in the first round, I just try not to lose it. Getting the best player in fantasy football in the first round is certainly what you’re hoping for, but the key to winning your league is to get quality production from the stars you select early, while capitalizing on value and upside late. When I have the first pick overall, what I really want is a player I trust. I go with someone who I think has the least amount of risk. This year, the safest option I see is Barkley.
Barkley took the league by storm last season. He was second behind Ezekiel Elliott with 1,307 rushing yards, first in the league with 2,028 total yards from scrimmage, tied for third with 15 touchdowns and second among all running backs with 91 receptions. The guy was everything the Giants hoped he’d be when they selected him second overall. The only risks with Barkley revolve around playing on a bad offense and possible durability concerns over his workload. Still, the Giants upgraded their offensive line by trading for Kevin Zeitler, and teams already were keying on him and overloading the box. I have no real concerns with Barkley, and I’m excited to make him the anchor of my team here.
Each round, Draft Hero suggests the top available suggestion along with four alternatives, as shown at the top of this section. Throughout the rest of the article, I will note those suggestions as well as my top alternative to the player that I actually selected.
My Top Alternative: Christian McCaffrey
Draft Hero recommends I take a receiver here at pick 28 overall. I agree. I don’t love the second-tier backs this year as all of them have some notable question marks, and I really like the second-tier receivers. Hilton is about as steady as they come, and this is good value. His ADP is at pick 25 and I’m getting him 28th. In a 14-team league, I’ll sometimes look to an elite tight end in the second round as a means to acquire the top player at a position and get a leg up on the competition. In this case, Ertz, Kelce and Kittle are all off the board, making it easy to focus on the best receiver available.
Hilton has been super reliable throughout his career. He’s had at least 1,000 yards in five of his past six seasons – with 966 yards in 2017 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback – and the Colts should be an elite offense again after a bounce-back year from quarterback Andrew Luck. He’s been targeted at least 100 times in every season outside of his rookie year and is clearly Luck’s favorite option. Only the Steelers threw the ball more often than the Colts did last year.
My Top Alternative: Stefon Diggs
I was all set to take A.J. Green here, but then he sprained his ankle. Right now, Green looks like he may miss the first few games of the season. I actually don’t hate taking him anyway, but I have no problem going with Stefon Diggs in this spot, who was very productive last year. He looked comfortable in Kevin Stefanski’s offense after he took over as coordinator for the final three games. Diggs scored in each of the final three games on his way to nine touchdowns on the season. I would also consider Brandin Cooks here, who has quietly had over 1,000 yards receiving for three different teams in consecutive years.
Draft Hero wants me to take another running back here, but I like the middle-tier backs this year more than I like the middle-tier receivers, and I’m not particularly thrilled with any of the backs suggested here. Pairing Hilton with a guy like Diggs makes me feel very confident in my receivers and less worried about gambling on some upside at the position later on after I round out my running back corps.
My Top Alternative: Aaron Jones
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