Perfect Draft Series: Drafting 6th in a 12-Team ESPN PPR League
I want to be drafting in the top half of fantasy drafts this year. The sixth spot guarantees a top-two RB or top-five WR. After that group of players, I’m not excited about anyone else in the first round.
Drafting in the middle means you're less likely to be victimized by a positional run, but one downside is there isn’t as much of an opportunity to implement game theory as with picks closer to the turn. For example, let's say the owner with pick 11 is deciding between a QB and a WR. If that owner sees that the team with pick 12 already has a QB, they can take the WR with confidence, knowing that the QB will still be available at their next pick.
In this edition of the Perfect Draft Series, I'll be walking through a draft from the sixth slot in a 12-team PPR league on ESPN. Each pick was optimized using projections and value-based rankings from the 4for4 Draft Analyzer tool.
More in the Perfect Draft Series: Drafting 11th in a 12-team PPR League | Drafting 1st in a 10-Team Standard League | Drafting 16th in a 16-Team Standard League | Drafting 7th in a 14-Team PPR League | Drafting 10th in a 10-Team PPR League | Drafting 8th in a 12-team ESPN Standard League
Draft Analyzer Settings
- Roster Settings: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex (RB/WR/TE), 1 K, DST, seven bench spots
- No QB until at least the seventh round: In a single-QB league, a late-round QB approach is almost always my preferred draft method. The QB6 and QB15 are separated by fewer than 18 fantasy points in John Paulsen’s projections, but if someone like Drew Brees or Russell Wilson falls further than expected, I at least want to be reminded by Draft Analyzer that they are still on the board.
- No TEs before the fifth round: Because the demand for TEs is significantly lower than that of RBs and WRs, I prefer to load up on more scarce resources in the high-leverage rounds—in every draft, always consider opportunity cost. If Jordan Reed slips to the fifth round of any draft, though, it would be hard to pass him up.
- DST and K in the last two round: No kicker or DST is worth taking before the last two rounds in any normal-sized league. Letting league mates make this mistake results in more points for teams that wait.
- Target List: My favorite feature of Draft Analyzer is the ability to save players that you want to target. Even if Draft Analyzer doesn’t consider your targets a top choice, the software will still notify you that your favorite player is likely to be off the board by your next pick. My 2017 targets in PPR leagues are Stefon Diggs, Theo Riddick, Jacquizz Rodgers, DeAndre Washington, and Andy Dalton.
- Avoid List: Empty. Every player becomes a value at some point in the draft and I want to be sure that I am notified when those values become available.
Draft Analyzer recommended LeSean McCoy here, but after LeVeon Bell and David Johnson are off the board, I will almost always opt for a WR in the first round of PPR drafts—the WR position is generally more dependable than the RB position, especially after the first couple of backs are drafted. I’m rarely concerned with which RBs will be available in the next couple of rounds, as I tend to subscribe to the Zero-RB theory in PPR leagues.
With Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, and Julio Jones off the board, Green was the highest-ranked WR, and I concur. If we remove the Week 11 game where Green was hurt on the first series, he was on pace to lead the league in targets in 2016. Even with a healthy Tyler Eifert, Green figures to be one of only a handful of players to average double-digit targets this year. If I can land my QB target, Andy Dalton, this combo raises the boom potential of my team.
Even though Doug Baldwin wasn’t even the top suggestion at his own position, he was the safest play of the top-five recommendations here and I prefer to wait until my WR3 to roster volatile receivers such as Dez Bryant. The Seahawks have increased their passing rate in every season since Russell Wilson’s rookie year and in 2016 Seattle had the 10th-highest passing rate in neutral situations. In that same timeframe, Baldwin’s target share has steadily grown and he commanded a career-high 22 percent of team targets last season.
Baldwin has managed to turn in consecutive top-10 PPR seasons despite pedestrian target volume, but as the Seahawks offense continues to trend toward the pass, his touchdown dependency should decrease. With Russell Wilson at full health in 2017, though, we could get the best of both worlds.
From a point maximization standpoint, it makes sense that Draft Analyzer wants me to roster my RB1, but drafts are a race to win the flex position. My goal is to start as many top-20 WRs as possible each week and Demaryius Thomas gives me three players with a WR1 finish in their range of possible outcomes. A look ahead showed that my favorite group of RBs—Spencer Ware, Mark Ingram, and C.J. Anderson—should still be available in the next round, so I’m fine without a RB through the first three rounds of a PPR draft.
Over the last three seasons, only Antonio Brown (528) has seen more targets than Thomas (505). During that span, just three wide receivers have scored more PPR points than the Broncos wideout, despite the fact that last year, DT posted his lowest catch, yardage, and touchdown totals since 2011. The knock on Thomas is his scoring potential, but touchdowns are among the most variable year-to-year stats and the arrival of new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy boosts the outlook of this entire offense.
Spencer Ware isn’t the highest-projected RB in this spot, but of the top-five Draft Analyzer suggestions, he’s the safest bet to anchor my RB1 slot. Joe Holka highlighted Ware as one of the more impressive backs in the Rushing Expectation series, and called him a player with “league-winning upside”. Ware is also the top RB candidate for positive touchdown regression in 2017.
There are some circumstances where I would roll the dice and wait another round to draft my RB—Draft Analyzer showed that Ingram and CJA could still be hanging around in the next round—but in a league starting two WRs instead of three, it wasn’t worth the gamble of missing out on one of the backs in this group.
Diggs wasn’t a top-five option according to Draft Analyzer, but since I pegged him as a target, I was reminded that if I wanted him, I had to get him here. If Danny Woodhead weren’t dealing with a hamstring issue that could sideline him for the start of the season, I might have considered him here, but the prospect of having Diggs in my flex spot when any of my top three WRs are on their byes is too good to pass up.
Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception pinpoints Diggs as one of the most effective and versatile receivers in the league and only six wide receivers are expected to have more catches than Diggs, according to Paulsen’s projections.
This pick is more about not liking the players available at other positions than continuing to build my WR depth, though I do prefer to have a very deep bench of wideouts. Because I targeted Theo Riddick, fading his teammate and Draft Analyzer’s top suggestion, Ameer Abdullah, was a relatively easy call and there is a slew of later-round RBs that either offer a decent PPR floor or have huge breakout potential.
Crowder is on an early-career production trajectory that actually looks quite similar to Diggs and the Washington receiver is attached to a QB that is expected to see an uptick in scoring. With Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson no longer in Washington, Crowder figures to see his target volume increase, even with a healthy Jordan Reed and the addition of Terrelle Pryor.
It’s comforting when your targeted player is also the top recommendation. Over the last two seasons, LeVeon Bell is the only RB that has averaged more targets per game than Riddick and just four backs have scored more PPR points per touch in that time span (minimum 100 touches). Under one of the most pass-heavy playcallers in the league, Riddick is a fantastic RB2 in PPR leagues.
Although Draft Analyzer wanted me to fill out my starters here, the aforementioned log jam in the middle tier of QBs means I can wait as long as possible on the position, and a glance at the Fantasy Rosters tab in the software showed me that I was the only team without a TE—in that situation I’m willing to gamble that another team won’t take a backup at the position for a while. Johnson is expected to see a significant number of his snaps from the slot this season and buying pieces of a Hue Jackson backfield is usually a worthwhile investment.
My logic for passing on a QB or TE here was the same as the last round. Quizz is a player that I’m targeting in every draft this year, especially when I start with a WR-heavy approach. With Doug Martin suspended for the first three games Rodgers will get starter snaps early in the year and could maintain a significant workload even after Martin is activated. In three games as the Bucs’ starter last season, Rodgers averaged a 25/108/.33 rushing line and 16.6 PPR points, or end-of-season RB8 numbers.
With a solid core of position players, I didn’t want to continue to gamble with the “onesies”, especially at TE. While Draft Analyzer wanted me to grab a QB, but the drop off from Martellus Bennett to Coby Fleener, the second-highest ranked TE available, is over 30 projected points. Green Bay had the third-highest red zone passing rate last season and acquiring cheap assets in a high-powered offense is a strategy that I want to implement in every league.
Until teams started drafting backup QBs, I was willing to ignore Draft Analyzer’s QB choices—at this point there were still seven signal callers that I would draft as my starter and two more that I would be comfortable streaming in Week 1. Robby Anderson was only the fourth-highest ranked WR here, but he figures to be the only reliable target in what is otherwise going to be an abomination of an offense and a team’s WR1 generally benefits in garbage time.
When employing a WR-heavy draft strategy, I want to target RBs with high upside, but I also need players with a reliable floor in case my dart throws don’t hit. Since joining the Giants, Vereen has averaged 3.3 catches per game, which extrapolates to 53 over a 16-game season, or the sixth-most among RBs last year.
With the backup QB run starting in this round, it was finally time to roster a QB and luckily my target was still there. Even with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert out for a combined 14 games last season, Cincinnati ranked 10th in yards per drive and 7th in percent of drives to reach the red zone, but ranked just 24th in touchdowns scored. Dalton is due for positive touchdown regression and with a healthy Green and Eifert and rookie John Ross there to help stretch the field, the Bengals QB could be in for a career year.
After this round, it’s on to kickers and defense, so Draft Analyzer reminded me that I had one targeted player left. Washington is another Rushing Expectation favorite and he has standalone value on a team that could hold Marshawn Lynch under 200 carries.
I never plan on holding onto the defense that I draft, instead looking for the best early-season streaming option. The Jets are going to be a target for fantasy defenses all season and Buffalo gets the Week 1 honors.
Kicker plan: See defense plan. Carolina is projected by Vegas to score the fourth-most points in Week 1 and they are favored by almost a touchdown over San Francisco.
- Best Values: Andy Dalton–Pick 150, ADP 127; Martellus Bennett–Pick 115; ADP 103
- Worst Values: Shane Vereen–Pick 139, ADP 184; Jacquizz Rodgers–Pick 102; ADP 114
- Lessons Learned: Without the concern of having to wait nearly two rounds between picks, drafters looking to use a Zero-RB strategy, or some variation of it, can comfortably obtain usable PPR RB value throughout the middle rounds and build a team that will thrive during the thin bye weeks. Having a deep bench of positional players is especially important for owners that may have to use their waiver wire priority or FAAB budget to stream QB and TE.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images.
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