How Not to Lose Your Fantasy Football Draft in the First Round

Aug 18, 2017
How Not to Lose Your Fantasy Football Draft in the First Round

Think you can win your fantasy football draft in the first round? We have to learn how to walk before we run, people. Seriously, that’s the fantasy equivalent of all those jackwagons dropping the ball before they cross the goal line.

Our goal is not to hoist the trophy with our first round pick. Our goal is to secure an asset who will keep us in contention most of the year with the fewest red flags.

There are ways to avoid blowing your draft faster than the Jets have blown the 2017 season. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize and not get too cocky. Below are four ways to not lose your fantasy draft in the first round.

(For the Love of God) Don’t Draft a Quarterback

I know you’re still out there, first-round quarterback drafters. In my keeper league of record entering its 13th year, there are still owners who will use one of their keepers (and by definition in this league, a first or second round pick) on a quarterback. Right now, Aaron Rodgers, and maybe Tom Brady, will be kept. I led the fantasy football coverage for in 2014 and 2015, and I can’t tell you how many fans asked me if they should pick Luck in the first round. I tried warning them. I had another friend just last week asking if he should keep Matt Ryan in a 6-point per passing touchdown league. NO!

They either didn’t understand that the difference between QB1 and a mid-to-late round quarterback was far less than the difference between an early and late FLEX position pick...or they simply didn’t care. In this age of quarterbacks, though, this is the fastest way to leave yourself no room for error for the rest of your draft.

Standard Scoring: First-Round QB vs. First-Round RB/WR
FP/G: 1st-Round QB + 7th-Round RB/WR FP/G: 1st-Round RB/WR + 7th-Round QB
2016 28.13 28.97
2015 28.02 35.32
2014 27.8 29.87
2013 28.52 30.6

The table above shows the strategy of a late-round quarterback coupled with a first-round RB/WR has been more successful on a fantasy points/game (FP/G) basis each of the last four seasons. Your team would have scored more points on average than if you opted to take a quarterback in the first round. Also, the above FP/G marks are for standard leagues, making it even more likely that a first-round RB/WR in PPR leagues would be even more successful, since quarterback scoring doesn’t change in either scenario.

The table, however, does not take into account injuries—a popular argument against taking a running back in the first round. One might argue quarterbacks are safer selections, but in 2013, the first quarterback drafted (Aaron Rodgers) missed 7 games. In some 2015 leagues, Andrew Luck was the first quarterback selected, and he missed 9 games. For the most part, injuries are unpredictable and are not a logical way to lean towards one position over another in the first round.

Another rebuttal to the 'quarterbacks are safer' argument would be to take a receiver instead of a running back in the first round. In my article studying how often top-12 RBs and WRs repeat as top-12 performers at their position the following year, WRs were more likely to repeat each of the past two seasons and three of the last four.

It should also be noted top-6 quarterbacks in back-to-back seasons (and three of the last four) were just as likely to repeat as a top-12 quarterback than those in the QB7 to QB12 range.

Related: For a position-by-position view of how to draft, read John Paulsen's 2017 Fantasy Football Draft Day Strategery.

Pass on Rob Gronkowski and Draft a Tight End Later

This was more of an issue the last two seasons, when Gronk was almost universally being drafted in the first round; however, with his current injury concerns, his stock has fallen to the end of the second or early-third round. But this point can still be made: the tight end position looks like it will be extremely deep in 2017.

Last season, we warned against this, too, and end-of-year 2016 numbers proved top-tier TE was not worth it, witnessing a big decline from previous seasons.

Tight End Scoring Leaders (Fantasy Points per Week)
TE1 (Standard) TE6 (Standard) TE12 (Standard) TE1 (PPR) TE6 (PPR) TE12 (PPR)
2017 (4for4 projection) 10.3 7.5 5.8 14.3 11.6 9.9
2016 8.5 7.1 5.5 13.8 11.5 9.2
2015 11 8.4 5 16 12 9.3
2014 11.5 7.8 5.6 16.7 11 10.1
2013 13.6 8.3 5.8 19 12.9 9.6
Drop-Off From TE1 (Fantasy Points Per Week)
TE1 vs. TE6 (Standard) TE1 vs. TE6 (PPR) TE1 vs. TE12 (Standard) TE1 vs. TE12 (PPR)
2017 (4for4 Projection) 2.8 2.7 4.5 4.4
2016 1.4 3 2.3 4.6
2015 2.6 4 6 6.7
2014 3.7 5.7 5.9 6.6
2013 5.3 6.1 7.8 9.4
2013 5.3 6.1 7.8 9.4
What do these tables tell us? They tell us the gap between TE1 and TE12 continues to shrink in standard and PPR leagues, something we project again in 2017. The gap between TE1 and TE6 shrunk again in PPR leagues, but did bounce back in standard leagues from 2015 to 2016.

4for4’s 2017 projections predict the deepest group of tight end options in recent memory. In PPR leagues overall, TE6 and TE12 are expected to edge even closer to TE1, with TE6 expected to do the same in standard leagues.

Related: Tight End Sleepers, Values and Targets

Draft a Top-5 Wide Receiver?

The NFL has evolved into an extremely pass-heavy league over the past couple of years and fantasy scoring has reflected that, with wide receivers reaching new heights among the fantasy elite...until last season when two running backs emerged as a mouth-watering combination of running back and slot receiver (LeVeon Bell and David Johnson). Other running backs, buoyed by an uptick in touchdowns compared to recent years also knocked receivers out of the FLEX top-10 scorers.

Just look at how many wide receivers have finished in the top-10 of FLEX scoring leaders over the past few years...until 2016.

Wide Receivers Among the Top-10 FLEX Scoring Leaders
Standard PPR
2016 2 4
2015 7 9
2014 4 6
2013 4 6
2012 3 7
We saw nine out of 10 wide receivers among FLEX scoring leaders in PPR in 2015, but that number dropped to only four in 2016!
However, TJ Hernandez did an extensive study concluding running back is not back in 2017. Despite inflated touchdown numbers last year, league-wide RB touch share dropped again for the eighth time in nine years. League-wide red zone touchdown passing rates dropped to a level we had not seen since 2012.
And again, in my article studying how often top-12 RBs and WRs repeat as top-12 performers at their position the following year, WRs were more likely to repeat each of the past two seasons and in three of the last four.
In PPR leagues, it’s really hard to argue there won’t be some positive regression from 2016. From 2012 to 2015, more than half of the PPR top-10 FLEX scorers were WRs each of those seasons.

Draft an Established RB with a High Floor

This final section will be a matter of personal opinion. Many will find themselves towards the end of the first round in 2017, looking at a draft board where Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Green, and Mike Evans are off the board. Personally, I’d still take Michael Thomas, for the reasons I wrote about here, but I can understand wanting to go RB in this scenario and taking the best available WR in round two, if that running back comes with less risk.

Again, this is a matter of personal opinion, but these are the running backs I would target, with the thought of taking receivers like Michael Thomas, T.Y. Hilton or Dez Bryant in the second round.

DISCLAIMER: I will not be going RB-RB in most of my 2017 drafts, because of the year-to-year volatility at the position mentioned above versus receivers.

Related: Running Back Sleepers, Values and Targets

Melvin Gordon, Chargers (1.11 ADP)

I hate he’s had back-to-back seasons under 4.0 yards per carry, but I believe in some of the more advanced metrics, while also observing that new head coach Anthony Lynn is a run-game guru who has overhauled the personnel on the offensive line and changed from a man to a zone-blocking scheme. Gordon is still a dual-threat back, who will see a ton of volume on the ground and through the air, and was top-10 in yards after contact per game. He also has no credible threat to take away his goal-line touch share that was well over 80 percent last year.

Devonta Freeman, Falcons (1.09 ADP)

High-powered offense? Check. Dual-threat? Check. A high percentage of the red zone workload? Check. Freeman also just signed a contract extension with the Falcons. Ask any NFL personnel man, and they will tell you money talks. Freeman’s floor is safe in 2017.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Ezekiel Elliott’s ceiling is extremely high in Dallas, but this exercise is about finding a safe first-round option.

A Simple Recap on How Not to Lose Your Draft in Round One

Put your quarterback rankings in a safe only a trusted friend has the combination to, who can only access them for you at some undetermined point following the completion of your draft's first round. Once that is taken care of, know tight ends are shrinking the gap to TE1, and then decide on a plan between RB and WR, severely limiting your RB options based on those with a high floor.

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