An Expert's Cheat Sheet to Dominating ESPN Drafts
I say this every year, but it always warrants repeating: There is no singular perfect draft strategy for fantasy football. Successfully navigating a fantasy football draft requires preparation, foresight, quick-thinking, and the ability to adjust on the fly. This article will focus on that first quality, preparation, as I have used our mighty 4for4 rankings and the ADP Bargains tool to help provide you some strategic angles for attacking drafts on ESPN.
Before I get into all of that though, I have two general strategy reminders:
1. Know your league
2. Know your scoring system
Rankings, analytics, and strategy are all well and good, but if you have a die-hard fan of a team in your league who is going to overdraft that team’s top players, that’s going to change the flow of the draft. Knowing your league mates and their draft-day tendencies can be just as important to drafting successfully as studying rankings and sleeper articles all offseason.
ESPN asks you to start one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one FLEX, one K, and one D/ST with a PPR scoring format.
Now that we have cleared that up, below you’ll find several strategy tips for ESPN drafts. Remember: these are not ironclad. These are ideas and strategies to keep in mind as your draft progress. By watching out for these players, trends, and opportunities, you should be able to acquire a title-contending 2020 squad.
PRINT: Jump to 16-Round Cheat Sheet
Draft Your Quarterback After Round 9
If you’ve played fantasy football in the past few years, odds are you’ve heard of and likely implemented the late-round quarterback strategy. This year, ESPN features several excellent late-round candidates for those looking to use this strategy again. Josh Allen and Carson Wentz are available after pick 100, Matthew Stafford is available after pick 120, Cam Newton after pick 130, and Daniel Jones after pick 140. If you read enough articles on 4for4 you’re likely to find a compelling case for each and every one of these passers as a QB1, if not the QB1 this season. By waiting to pick up one of these options, you can fill your roster with a plethora of high-upside running backs and wide receivers, putting yourself in a position to weather a potential Covid-19 storm and position yourself for postseason success.
Be Wary of Positional Runs
This applies to drafts on all platforms, but in preparing for this series I noticed positional runs leading to positional scarcity happening more often on ESPN. Part of extracting value in drafts comes from selecting a player at an appropriate or lower cost, and not reaching based on availability. There were a few instances during mock drafts where I opted for one position over another, only to have the rest of the league completely smash that position in the picks right after mine. This could be the way the ESPN ADP/rankings are aligned in some rounds, or it could have also just been bad luck on my part. Nevertheless, do not forget to be cognizant of the whole board while your drafting, especially on ESPN, to better prepare yourself against falling victim to such runs.
Hammer Middle-Round Running Backs
As you might be able to tell looking at the cheat sheet below, some of the best values between ESPN ADP and 4for4’s rankings come in the middle-round running backs, starting in Round 4 and beyond. A quick scroll through the 4for4 ADP Bargains tool shows many of these backs with a two to three round discrepancy based on how 4for4’s esteemed rankers see them versus ESPN drafters. This creates an area for you to exploit in your draft.
This doesn’t mean you have to start with a Zero-RB approach, but it sets up for a more favorable Zero-RB squad if that is your approach. I started RB-WR-WR to start a few mock drafts and came out really liking my squads when I was able to grab one or more of those middle-round running backs.
Grab an Elite Tight End at the Right Cost…or Wait Until the End of the Draft
While I am not a huge fan of grabbing a tight end early, the ESPN ADPs for the big three (Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Mark Andrews) are really favorable. Kelce and Kittle are both second-round picks in 12-team leagues, which is where I’m more comfortable targeting them, while Andrews is falling into the fourth to fifth-round. That’s a screaming value for Lamar Jackson’s No. 1 target.
If you miss out on one of these three, there is absolutely no rush to target the position. Let others fight over the middle-round options while you wait until roughly the 150th pick to grab your TE1. Breakout candidates Chris Herndon, Jonnu Smith, and Blake Jarwin are all coming off the board on average past pick 160, while Mike Gesicki is in the 140-150 range. There is an easy case to be made for each of these players to vault into the top echelon at the position this season, and waiting this late to draft one allows you to build up robust depth at running back and wide receiver during the first 10-plus rounds.
Do Not Overpay for Wide Receivers
If you haven’t picked up on this yet, the 4for4 ADP Bargains tool is a really, really useful asset when prepping for a draft. It can help you find extra avenues for extracting value from your draft. Right now, many wide receivers are going ahead of where 4for4 has them ranked, which should serve as a word of caution as you navigate your draft on ESPN. This note goes hand-in-hand with the earlier point about watching for runs. The wide receiver position is deep, but that doesn’t mean you have to overpay for one if they start flying off the board. Players like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Marquise Brown, and Michael Gallup can often be picked up at a discount versus their 4for4 ranks. Stay sharp, and be sure to play the board appropriately as you build your squad.
The Bottom Line
These recommendations are not gospel. Use which ones you agree with or fit the way your draft is flowing. Or tweak these strategies to match your own philosophy. As your draft approaches, be sure to utilize 4for4’s Draft Analyzer tool. It uses your league’s scoring settings and 4for4’s rankings to help you strategize. For more information, check out Jennifer Eakins’ Draft Analyzer Walkthrough.
Lastly, this handy 16-round cheat sheet is compiled both by using 4for4’s ADP Bargains tool and my own general feelings on some players. Use it as much or little as you’d like. I put some player names into rounds to reflect where they should be taken, even if that round is ahead of the current ADP. For instance, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is worthy of a first-round pick, but his ADP doesn’t reflect that yet. So in order to actually acquire him and at relative value, you’ll need to (likely) take him in Round 1, which is where I included him in the chart.
- All Premium Content
- The Most Accurate Rankings Since 2010
- Expert Draft Picks w/ DraftAnalyzer
- Highest Scoring Lineup + Top Available Players w/ LeagueSync
- ...and much more!