Positional Draft Strategy and Early Round Scenarios

Positional Draft Strategy and Early Round Scenarios

By Josh Moore (Owner, Director of Product), last update Aug 9, 2012

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Josh owns and edits 4for4 Fantasy Football. He was recognized as a Top 5 Most Accurate Expert in both 2010 and 2011 by FantasyPros before turning the ranking duties over to Senior Editor John Paulsen.

Follow Josh Moore on Twitter: @4for4_Josh.

I've been drafting real and mock fantasy football teams since March, or maybe even February in an attempt to best prepare myself for the 2012 draft season. I've been able to try a wide range of draft strategies (I don't simply go RB/RB every draft). I strongly believe that a good team can be drafted with a number of different starting strategies, as long as proper adjustments are made in the middle and later rounds.

Below I outline my general thoughts on each position in the 2012 draft class and break down various draft starts (RB/RB, QB/RB etc.) along with the pros, cons, and potential draft outcomes of each. As the season draws closer, no doubt some of the names in this article will change, but the concepts will remain mostly the same. Be sure to check out our positional rankings, Top 200 app, and the Full Impact Customizable Value Based Rankings for constantly updated projections & rankings.


Note: The majority of the drafts I have been participating in are PPR drafts with a roster of 1QB/2RB/2WR/1TE/1Flex. However, my overall strategy is similar for standard leagues, with some obvious names changing (Sproles, Welker, Turner etc.).


Positional Draft Strategy


Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are about as safe as it gets at the QB position. While QB is a deep position, these two form an elite tier and are worth considering in the first round after the top 3 or 4 running backs are off the board. Generally if we don't land Brady or Rodgers, value dictates that we wait on QB until the 5th-7th rounds and grab a guy from the group of Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, Peyton ManningMichael Vick, while risky, is also a nice upside pick in the late 4th or 5th round.
If you do end up waiting on QB, you may want to target a high-upside backup like Carson Palmer, RGIII, or Jay Cutler. (Note: A case could be made for Drew Brees in the same tier as Rodgers/Brady, but there is some risk here w/Sean Payton suspended and a lack of receiving depth after Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham.)


We see Arian Foster as the clear cut #1 RB. Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy are great options as well, essential a coin flip. After the top 3, things get murky. We feel good about Ryan Mathews at #4 despite the fact he's never done it before for an entire season. The upside is undoubtedly there and Mathews has a clear path to high workload in a high-powered offense with no other talented backs on the roster. From RB5 to RB10 everybody has a question mark or two, and a case could be made for any of them ahead of the rest:
  • Matt Forte - He's in camp now, but is he really worth a first round pick with Michael Bush now on the team & coming off minor MCL injury?
  • Chris Johnson - Coming off a disappointing 2011, is he really back, or will the downward progression continue?
  • Darren McFadden - We know what he can do when healthy, but he has never played more than 13 games in a season.
  • Maurice Jones-Drew - Holdout a concern & the knees injuries still make us hesitate.
  • Trent Richardson - An unproven rookie is now visiting the Dr. Andrews with a knee injury.
  • Darren Sproles - Not a workhorse, and he should be available in the 2nd round.
  • DeMarco Murray - Still mostly unproven with injury concerns.
  • Marshawn Lynch - Likely facing suspension.
  • Jamaal Charles - Coming off of ACL.


The gap between Calvin Johnson and our #2 WR (Larry Fitzgerald) is 52 points. This is the same size spread as we have from WR2 (Larry Fitzgerald) to WR24 (Vincent Jackson). To say WR is deep is an understatement. With WRs 2-20 being so closely bunched, if you miss out on Calvin Johnson in the first round, don't draft a WR until at least the 3rd or 4th round. 
Bottom line is, when a group of players are bunched closely in points, you don't want to be taking the first ones off the board. Let others draft those players and take the value that falls to you. One of Wes Welker, Roddy White, Victor Cruz, Percy Harvin, Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones or Brandon Marshall should be available in the 3rd and possibly even 4th round.


TE is extremely deep, but top-heavy. Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are essentially a coin flip, with a huge 70-point gap to Jason Witten, our TE3. This 70-point gap is larger than the gap between Witten and our current TE19, Jared Cook. Selecting one of Gronk or Graham in the 2nd round gives you a rock at the position and an elite performer. If you miss out, or decide to go in another direction, we're generally waiting until the 9th round and grabbing one of Jermaine Gresham, Brent Celek, Brandon Pettigrew, Jacob Tamme or the like. Fred Davis is another good option if he falls to the 7th or the 8th, but in general the 5-6 TEs off the board after Gronkowski and Graham are not a good value given their ADP.
If you can flex a TE, all the better as Gronk & Graham would be our 3rd and 4th ranked WRs.

Defensive Team

It's not a good idea to spend too much time or energy crafting a draft strategy for your fantasy defense, nor do you want to burn an early (or even a mid-round) pick on a position that is notoriously unreliable year to year.

Instead, we recommend using Defensive Team By Waiver Wire (DTBWW) which simply asks you to target a mediocre defense on the waiver wire each week, looking for a good matchup that's preferably at home. On draft day, use a late pick on a defese with a good schedule to open the season. You will typically get good defensive production.


Fantasy kickers are another highly unpredictable position year-to-year. If you want to grab a mainstay like David Akers or Sebastian Janikowski, you'll have to reach a couple rounds earlier. In any other situation, wait to draft your kicker until the final round, or possibly punt the position entirely and go weekly off the waiver wire.


First Round Options

If you have a top 3 pick, it's pretty clear you should be drafting one of the three elite running backs. After that, it gets a bit subjective. As mentioned above, we like Mathews with the #4 pick. But with four RBs off the board, the QB vs RB discussion gets heated. 
Some will say you need to be grabbing RBs early and often because of the position scarcity. Marshawn Lynch's DUI arrest and Trent Richardson's knee make this argument even stronger. We are in the age of RBBC, and while this means more RBs are producing marginally, it also means the true workhorse back you can ride to a championship is scarce and in demand.
On the flip side, every potential first round pick RB after the top 4 has some major red flags. They don't feel all that much like a first round pick is supposed to feel. Safe, secure, warm and fuzzy knowing you've got a sure fire starter each week.
We've been leaning towards Rodgers and Brady in the first round, or possibly Calvin Johnson because of the safety of these picks. There's not much safer in fantasy football than expecting Rodgers or Brady to put up big numbers. Likewise, the huge gap between Calvin Johnson and WR2 as noted above makes him worth consideration. Depending on your league, it is possible Brady will fall to the 2nd making him a great value pick. But this strategy is more often than not going to fail, so don't count on it.

Early Round Strategies

That said, it all comes down to how you want to build your team; there is more than one acceptable strategy and we have drafted winning teams using each of the strategies below. One guideline I'll put out there is you should probably get two RBs within your first four picks. Waiting past the 3rd round to address the RB position is an advanced strategy and more often than not you will leave you less than thrilled with your team and forced to use mid-round picks on underwhelming RB options like Shonn Greene, C.J. Spiller, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, James Starks, Donald Brown etc. On the flip side, every time you pass on an RB early in the draft, you likely come away with a relatively safe stud at another position.
The first two rounds end up dictating how the rest of your draft is going to go. If you pass on RBs, you'll be drafting RBs in the middle rounds. If you draft a QB and/or a TE, you'll be set on those positions until much much later. Here's a breakdown of possible ways your draft will start, and the advantages/disadvantages of each.
If you're picking in the middle or back half of the first round, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady make for incredibly safe picks. Coming back to you, one of Gronk or Graham is likely to be available. You're now set at these two positions for at least the first 10 rounds and can focus solely on RB and WR. You'll likely want to grab the best RB available in the 3rd and maybe again in the 4th and 5th, taking advantage of the WR depth in the middle rounds.
The downside here is that you'll be unable to take advantage of the value that might emerge at QB or TE in the middle rounds. For example, Stafford/Newton in the 3rd or Witten in the 7th.
You've grabbed Rodgers or Brady in the back half of the first round, but want to shore up the running back spot because of the depth concerns. We should be able to get someone like McFadden, Forte or Darren Sproles (PPR) in the 2nd round. We're punting on TE until the later rounds, so we'll stock up on RBs and WRs the rest of the way.
We bite the bullet and draft Matt Forte in the back half of the first round, a bit ahead of his ADP. We've locked up a quality back early, and decide to grab a stud in the 2nd round. We'd love Brady to fall, but his ADP is rising, so we settle for Jimmy Graham in the 2nd. 
Possible Outcome: 
Matt Forte, Jimmy Graham, Roddy White, Doug Martin, Michael Turner, Matt Ryan
We've decided we absolutely want to lock up a pair of stud RBs because of the lack of depth at the position. Forte and Sproles should be there for us. We are going to forgo an elite option at both QB and TE and likely end up drafting a Matt Ryan and Jermaine Gresham combo (or similar) in the later rounds.
Possible Outcome: 
Matt Forte, Darren Sproles, Victor Cruz, Fred Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Steve Johnson
Rodgers went at #5 and we couldn't turn down Calvin Johnson with the 6th pick. Brady is off the board by the time it gets back to us, but if he's not it would be tough to pass on him. That would force our hand to go RB in at least two of the next three rounds. As it is, we're looking to load up on a couple of RBs before addressing QB and filling in at WR/TE later.
In the 4th round of this specific draft, my ideal picks were already off the board and Michael Vick was staring me in the face. It's a risky pick, but the upside is no doubt there.

The Choice is Yours

As you can see, there are a number of ways to build your fantasy team, and any one of them can lead to a championship squad. However, the choices you make early on will dictate the rest of your draft, so it's important to be aware of the ramifications of each starting draft strategy and adjust accordingly as your draft unfolds.
If you manage to land a top 3 pick, the choice is easy -- you're going RB. If you're not blessed with an early pick, a choice has to be made: do you want elite studs and extreme safety with your first few picks at non-scarce positions (QB, TE, WR) or do you want to grab RBs at all cost, even if they come with significant risk and a multitude of red flags?
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