My annual draft strategy article is, without question, my favorite
article to write every year – and I write a lot
of articles spanning five fantasy football websites. I like to
think I’ve been on point in the six years I’ve written
this piece. My favorite was back in 2018 when I
wrote about Single RB as there were approximately six late-round
running backs that finished as RB1s (or close to it), which was
ideal for Single RB drafters. The best plan for that season was
to draft one RB early and then load up on WRs. While I certainly
wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea of anchoring
your team around a singular running back, I didn’t read
or hear about the strategy very much until this year.
In 2020, I wrote about Robust RB
and I still believe it’s the optimal strategy as the most
valuable asset in fantasy football is an elite running back. However,
there is a caveat, and it’s a big one – one that I
was blind to last season – and it cost me. Robust RB only
works if the running backs you are drafting are, in fact, trustworthy.
You’re probably thinking, “But there are only a handful
of truly reliable running backs,” and you’d be correct.
If that statement seems to conflict with the basic tenet of Robust
RB, that’s because it does. The most valuable lesson I learned
in 2020 is that a draft strategy only works if the right players
are available. Otherwise, you need to adapt.
1. Make the plan.
2. Execute the plan.
3. Expect the plan to go off the rails.
4. Throw away the plan.
How does this apply to fantasy football? Well, heading into your
draft, you should always have a plan of attack Ė a paradigm
you hope to achieve. The problem with sticking to that plan is
there are 11 other managers either directly or indirectly trying
to mess your plan up. Most often, they succeed.
In 2020, I was committed to coming out of the first three rounds
with at least two running backs. I justified prioritizing inferior
running backs over superior wide receivers by appealing to the
lower fantasy point differential between WRs as compared to RBs.
Last season, the RB12 averaged 15.7 FPts/G (PPR) compared to the
RB24, who averaged 12.9 FPts/G. The WR12 averaged 16.4 FPts/G
compared to the WR24, who averaged 14.6 FPts/G. My reasoning for
preferring running backs early was sound and proved to be correct.
The reason my strategy ultimately failed is because the running
backs we had to take to execute the plan werenít actually
The best example I have from 2020 is Kenyan
Drake. I was not a fan of Drake as I thought he was overvalued
as a second round pick. However, he was locked into a primary
back role on a good offense and I was willing to draft him based
purely on perceived situation and opportunity, even though I didnít
want to, because I felt like I needed to get that second ďreliableĒ
running back. That meant passing on the top wide receivers. Heading
into 2021 fantasy drafts, I am not passing on the top wide receivers
in favor of running backs I donít actually believe in.
Now that Iíve laid out the general philosophy, letís
get into some specific players to really hammer the point home.
Please note that the players Iím using are based upon my
rankings and my opinions Ė you can and should use your own
opinions on players to implement the draft strategy.
Last season, I had about 14 running backs I was willing to take
before even considering a wide receiver. This season, that number
is five. I would love to start RB-RB, but I am not going to take
someone I donít truly believe in like Derrick Henry or Jonathan Taylor over Tyreek Hill or Davante Adams. Hill and Adams have
been elite WR1s for multiple seasons. Henry has been an elite
RB1 and Taylor is a strong bet to have a true breakout 2021 season,
however, I have minor concerns about those RBs while I have zero
concerns about Hill and Adams. Once Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, and a healthy Saquon Barkley
are off the board, I am going to take an elite wide receiver or
Part of why I can do this is my confidence in the availability
of a running back in the second round. If you pick in the front
half, itís easy Ė you just take the running back. But if you pick
in the back half, you can take an elite wide receiver or Kelce
and still feel good about being able to get a running back in
the second round. There is a 99% chance one of Antonio
Harris, or Joe
Mixon will be there. If youíre feeling good about Nick
Swift, or J.K.
Dobbins, you know one of them will be there as well.
I donít want to start WR-WR because I do not believe in
the third/fourth round RBs nor do I believe in Zero-RB as an optimal
way to construct a roster - although, Iíd be willing to
do it in extreme circumstances. However, I know I wonít
have to because there will be a running back Iím comfortable
with in the second round.
This also works in reverse. Letís say you really like Aaron Jones and grab him in the late-first round; do not force a running
back in the second round if you donít really like any of
them. If anything, I would be more inclined to force the wide
receiver if itís one of the top five (Hill, Adams, Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins, Calvin Ridley) as I feel the odds of any
of them busting are significantly less than the running backs
and they all have overall WR1 ceilings.
Rounds 3-6 are where it gets very subjective. Thereís been
a lot of talk of the ďRB dead zoneĒ over the summer
and while it objectively exists, itís not as if a running
back suddenly becomes a bad fantasy asset when his ADP goes from
Round 2 to Round 3. The reason these rounds typically are home
to busts is because in recent years, itís where fantasy
managers typically draft replacement level talents based purely
on situation and opportunity.
In 2021, there may be running backs you believe are legitimately
talented that are values. I am not going to be the one to take
Miles Sanders, Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, Myles Gaskin, or
Mike Davis. I just donít believe in them enough. But that
doesnít mean you canít draft them with confidence
in rounds 3-6 if you are high on them.
I will be drafting wide receivers in that range, specifically
rounds 3-4. There are so many talented wide receivers in good
situations with a ton of upside. I am not going to list all of
the names because there are so many, but thatís kind of
the point. There are so many wide receivers and I can get at least
two, if not three, and if things break really right, four of them.
One important aspect I cannot neglect is your league settings,
specifically your starting roster construction. If you start RB/WR,
but you only start a total of five RBs/WRs, you canít rattle
off three more WRs because it doesnít benefit you to draft
a bench WR before your RB2. With more and more leagues moving
toward three WRs and multiple Flex spots, you have much more maneuverability
drafting in those league settings.
Letís say my league starts 3 WR, 2 RB, 2 Flex, and I want
to load up on WRs in rounds 3-6. By only taking one running back
early, Iím opening myself up to being weak at the position.
However, Iím willing to accept that because ultimately,
the goal each week is to score as many points as possible. If
my weakest position is RB2, but I have a stronger Flex, whatís
the difference? Most teams will have a weak Flex but instead,
your team has a weak RB2. Donít be afraid to be scrambling
every week for an RB2 the same way other teams scramble every
week for their Flex.
In an ideal world, I want the maximum amount of starting wide
receivers through eight rounds. I will have at least two running
backs as well. The final position can either be a third running
back or one of the onesie positions (QB/TE). That segues nicely
I am fine being one of the last managers to select a quarterback
as this year guys like Ryan Tannehill, Joe Burrow, and Matthew Stafford can be had in the ninth or 10th round. However, there
is value in a middle-round quarterback in 2021.
Last season, ten quarterbacks averaged at least 21.5 FPts/G
(11 if you count Dak Prescott). Compare that to 2019 and 2018
where just eight quarterbacks averaged over 20.0 FPts/G. In 2017,
just three quarterbacks eclipsed the 20.0 FPts/G threshold. If
the trend continues towards increased passing in the NFL, having
a strong QB will provide a tangible edge over a random back-end
Last season, Ryan was the last QB1 by FPts/G averaging 18.3
FPts/G. The QB6 (Russell Wilson) averaged 23.2 FPts/G. That is
a very relevant advantage. As a result, Iím going to target
one of the top six quarterbacks in the fifth or sixth round. I
wonít reach and if I have to settle for a Brady or a Tannehill
I will, but my plan is to spend one of those middle-round picks
on a quarterback.
If the value keeps falling to you at WR and RB, donít
be afraid to scoop it up and go full late-round QB. Worst case
scenario, you can grab Matt Ryan and pair him with Justin Fields
or Trey Lance. Ryan can tide you over until Fields and Lance inevitably
are named starters.
At tight end, itís much simpler. If Travis Kelce falls
into my lap in the late-first/early-second round, I will take
him. If I ever had an early pick (spoiler: I never do), I would
be fine taking Darren Waller in the late-second round. Otherwise,
Iím punting the position.
In 2020, Kelce averaged 20.8 FPts/G and Waller averaged 17.5
FPts/G. Comparing them to the WRs, they would have finished as
WR3 and WR7. They also gave you a significant edge on a random
backend TE1 who average about 10.0 FPts/G.
Meanwhile, the TE4 (Mark Andrews), averaged 12.2 FPts/G which
is merely a 2.2 FPts/G advantage over a random TE. Sure, we can
probably project some progression for guys like Andrews and T.J. Hockenson. We can also believe Kyle Pitts will have the greatest
rookie tight end season of all time. However, when looking historically,
there just isnít enough of an edge gained from taking a
middle-round tight end. As a result, Iím perfectly fine
streaming the position.
Before I move on, I do want to address the omission of George Kittle. He is the clear TE3, but I donít view Kittle on
the same level as Kelce and Waller. Kittle averaged 15.6 FPts/G
in 2020, 15.9 FPts/G in 2019, and 16.0 FPts/G in 2018 which makes
me feel confident saying thatís his ceiling. What Iím
concerned about is the inevitable Trey Lance takeover and the
fact that Kittle is an elite blocker. NFL teams love when their
tight ends can block but I want my tight ends to be glorified
wide receivers. Kittle does not run nearly as many routes as Kelce
and Waller and will soon be dealing with a rookie QB that is a
prolific runner of the football. I expect Kittle to be closer
to around 13-14 FPts/G this season, which is not worthy of a third-round
In mocks, Iíve found that worthwhile wide receivers dry
up quicker than worthwhile running backs. Once guys like Mike Williams, Michael Gallup, and Jarvis Landry are gone, the rest
of the wide receivers feel very similar. This typically happens
by the end of the eighth round. There are still plenty of darts
worth throwing, but I donít see much of a distinction between
the caliber of receiver I take in Round 10 compared to Round 14.
In rounds 9-10, there are still decent flex-worthy running backs
with plausible upside available. Guys like Kenyan
Murray, and David
Johnson come to mind. Thatís why I prioritize wide receivers
in the middle rounds before taking shots at running backs in rounds
8/9/10. Then, in the final few rounds, I can draft my tight end,
defense, kicker, and throw darts at wide receivers.
As with any strategy, be ready to adapt. I mentioned earlier
how much I hate Zero-RB, but if you pick at the turn and somehow
Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams are both there, maybe you just lock
them up and figure out the rest later. The goal is to maximize
value and the best way to do that is by sticking to your draft
board and taking the player you feel most confident in, regardless
Remember, every draft is different, and you canít be married
to one specific strategy if the room pushes you towards another.
Have a plan. Practice your plan. And, most importantly, practice
what to do if your plan goes awry. Heed the sage advice of Leonard
Snart and you will be prepared for anything that comes your way.
Good luck to you all this season!