The Game Plan: Back of the Draft
Each year, I urge fantasy competitors to do more than read our material, more than rank specific to their league settings, even more than mock draft countless times before the real deal. Even the seemingly most prepared of fantasy football drafters can do more. Thus, I give you the Game Plan.
In the Game Plan, we visualize how a draft will unfold from the first pick to the last. Invariably, soft spots appear in each draft where value can be had at each position. Anticipating those upcoming soft spots when making earlier selections will leave you better prepared to walk away from your draft with the best possible chance at taking home a title.
Since not all draft slots are created equal, we break the Game Plan into three parts: Front of the Draft, Middle of the Draft and Back of the Draft. Assuming we’re discussing standard 12-team leagues, this leaves us with four relevant picks in each section of the Game Plan. In this article, we’ll discuss the Back of the Draft, your Game Plan if you own one of the middle four picks in your league.
Rounds 1 and 2
You’ll presumably be out of luck regarding the top six RBs and Michael Vick, but if an opportunity to land one of them comes along, grab it. If you can’t get Vick, your priority will be to grab a top RB and top WR with these two picks. The receiver can come in the form of any of the top five guys: Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks and Larry Fitzgerald.
At running back, you’ll be looking at grabbing Darren McFadden if at all possible. In fact, this should be your first pick if Andre Johnson isn’t available. If McFadden isn’t around, you can grab any of the second-tier running backs available with your second pick (and a receiver with your top pick).
Rounds 3 and 4
In Round 3, the time is perfect to take a quarterback if you haven’t done so. Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees are all part of the elite at the position, just as deserving of a high pick as Aaron Rodgers (who likely was drafted a full round earlier). If Peyton Manning is pronounced healthy by the time you draft, he obviously belongs in that group as well.
If you can’t land one of the top six guys to be your QB, you’ll likely want to avoid the position for a while. Your main target in this case should be TE Antonio Gates, as he really acts like another WR1 for your team. In fact, he may even have more value than that, considering some teams will be playing the equivalent of waiver wire receivers at their TE position.
Going with both a QB and Gates with your two picks is risky, but it’s a move that can pay off well. You’ll have to emphasize adding quality RB depth throughout the rest of the draft.
If you can’t get a QB or Gates, don’t worry. Add a running back like Shonn Greene, Ahmad Bradshaw or Ryan Grant with one pick, and a receiver like Miles Austin, Brandon Lloyd or Brandon Marshall. I’d go RB over WR if you wound up with a QB or Gates in Round 3.
Rounds 5 and 6
If you only have one running back, you’ll definitely want to take at least one RB at this turn. Mark Ingram, Felix Jones, Daniel Thomas and Cedric Benson are all solid options. If you already have two RBs, you should try and land Percy Harvin and Mario Manningham to be your WR2 and WR3. Or, if you like Santonio Holmes, Steve Johnson or Chad Ochocinco and one of them are still around, take him as one of your WR options.
At this point, you’ll likely have: RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, WR3 and either QB1 or TE1.
Rounds 7 and 8
You’ll definitely need to add a RB3 at this point. You’re looking for a quality name that may have slipped a bit, someone like Marshawn Lynch, Joseph Addai, Fred Jackson or Beanie Wells. If they’re all gone, you can still grab a quality RB3 by reaching a tad for Mike Tolbert of Brandon Jacobs. For your other pick, I’d go ahead and strengthen the RB position again. If you landed McFadden earlier, now is the time to take Michael Bush. With McFadden as your RB1 and Bush as your RB4, you’ll have RB1 value locked up even if McFadden gets hurt.
After Round 8, you’ll have: RB1, RB2, RB3, RB4, WR1, WR2, WR3 and either QB1 or TE1.
Rounds 9 and 10
If you haven’t picked up a QB by this point, now is the time to strike. Your first option will be to grab two upside guys, players like Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Joe Flacco and Kevin Kolb. Eli Manning is also a great option if he slips.
If you can only land one of those guys, or you already have a QB locked up, spend one of your picks on a quality WR4. Mike Thomas is solid if he falls to you, or you can opt for Jordy Nelson, Lance Moore or others. If you don’t have a TE yet, now is the time to scoop up Rob Gronkowski, Zach Miller or Kellen Winslow.
At the end of Round 10, you should have: QB1, RB1, RB2, RB3, RB4, WR1, WR2, WR3, TE1 and either WR4 or QB2.
Rounds 11 and 12
Go ahead and grab another RB in the 11th round. Guys like Tim Hightower, Rashad Jennings, Willis McGahee and Darren Sproles could potentially pay off big. Or, you could use this pick to handcuff one of your top backs, if you didn’t get McFadden.
Not having a backup QB this deep into the draft may be a bit unsettling, but since you have an elite option at the position, very little should be invested in a backup. That’s why I don’t mind waiting till this level to take a solid QB2 like Kyle Orton, Ryan Fitzpatrick or the like. If your QB1 has a quality NFL backup (i.e., Rivers and Billy Volek), you could also choose to wait and use your final pick on that real-life backup. If your QB1 makes it to the bye healthy, you’ll be able to cut that backup for a one-week starter, then cut that one-week starter to pick the backup back up.
If you already have a QB2, go with a WR4 listed earlier, but if you don’t see value at the WR position, feel free to load up at RB.
At this point, you’ll have: QB1, QB2, RB1, RB2, RB3, RB4, RB5, WR1, WR2, WR3, WR4, TE1.
Rounds 13, 14 and 15
So, this is probably where you think you’ll finally take a defense and kicker. Not so. Kickers are a dime-a-dozen, and standard league settings are begging you to play matchups with defenses throughout the season. It really doesn’t matter who you take at each position right now, so you may as well wait to add one of each in free agency a few days before the season starts.
If you see a receiver with potential that you like, you should use your other pick on him, especially if you’re only carrying three WRs at this point. I would spend a pick on guys like Danario Alexander, Davone Bess, Greg Little or anyone else I feel has a shot at surprising early. If that option doesn’t exist, take another running back. Your main focus should be guys that have a chance at becoming a lead back in the preseason, either through injury or by winning the job. Guys that could qualify include Delone Carter, Tashard Choice, Tate, Toby Gerhart, Marion Barber, and so on. All your looking for at this point is a lottery ticket.
Grab yourself as many running backs as you can. Again, it sounds like over-kill, but injuries do happen. So does ineffectiveness. These are lottery tickets, guys that could pay off big before the season starts, giving you a surplus at the most important position in fantasy football. Monitor pre-season action and practice tidbits to see which unknown guy could potentially emerge.
More often than not, these will be late-round or undrafted rookies. Johnny White in Buffalo? Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen in New England? Bilal Powell with the Jets? Evan Royster in Washington? Bernard Scott, Jalen Parmele, Brandon Jackson, Javon Ringer, Tashard Choice, Jason Snelling, Earnest Graham, Justin Forsett and others like them could go from nobody to somebody in the blink of an eye. If you can land a handcuff for your own top running backs, that’s a bonus — you’re protected in case the worst happens over the next few weeks.
Remember, you’ll have the chance to cut the two guys on your team that appear the least likely to help you out before the season starts in order to add a kicker and defense.