Friday, August 17, 2012

Figuring Out Your Fantasy Football Draft Order

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy – Where to Pick Each Position

The question that I seem to get asked the most about the fantasy football draft is the most complex one to answer:

“In what order should I draft?”
“When do I get my running backs, when do I get my receivers?”
“Help me with my fantasy football draft order!”

It’s not an easy answer. There are many schools of thought, and each year it seems to be getting more and more difficult. Two years ago, I’d have slapped you for taking a tight end any higher than the fifth round. And now we have these two guys, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, who are both making solid cases for being picked up in the early second.

So, I guess my first and easiest response to this question would have to be “Pre-Plan.” Make your list, try a couple of mock drafts (available on any fantasy football site, ESPN’s are generally very good), star your sleepers and any players that you really want.

(This is pretty in-depth… for a “Long Story, Short” version, scroll to the bottom)

Personally, I have completed this step. I know my “must-haves”, I’ve run my mocks, I’ve made my list. And this is what I’ve come up with. Here is a position-by-position breakdown of my perfect draft order strategy.

Make a top three list. A list of the quarterbacks that you want for your team. Usually, I will pick two guys who I view are starting potential, and one or two more “emergency backups” just in case my first two picks go off the board and I’m not able to get them.

If you like Tom Brady or Matthew Stafford and know you want him, find out his average draft position, and plan to select him in that round. And, in the scenario where you somehow miss out on them, you can still rely on your backups.

Jay Cutler is a great sleeper, Ben Roethlisberger is improving in fantasy points every year, Carson Palmer could very well return to form.

Just know that there are starting-caliber quarterbacks outside of the first six rounds. If you don’t get one of the top eight guys, don’t panic. There is always a QB or two that will stand out and you can get in the later rounds.

As for having a backup quarterback on your roster… I think it is a must in leagues that have 12 or more teams. 8- or 10-team leagues, I really don’t think that it is necessary. There will be decent quarterback options in free agency for your bye week, or in the case that your starter gets hurt. In those smaller leagues, I think it is more important to fill your bench with sleeper candidates at RB and WR than waste one space with a backup quarterback.

Running Back-
We’ve seen the trend happening in fantasy football for the past few years. Elite, true number one running backs are getting rarer and rarer. Nearly every team in the NFL is running a multiple-back system, leaving less room for running backs to have phenomenal seasons.

This is why it is pivotal to get your running backs early. Nearly every year I get both of my starting running backs in the first two rounds. That’s just how you need to do it. Those owners who opt for Aaron Rodgers or Calvin Johnson in the first round are getting an elite player, but they are going to take a serious hit when it comes to their starting running backs.

From where I’m standing, there are really only six real elite running backs that don’t have a backup that they are sharing a lot of playing time with: Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson.

There are other great running backs, (Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray), but they all have second string running backs that are likely going to split time with them. This limits their touches.

Following this group of second tier players, there is an even sharper drop off outside of the top 20. If you don’t get one of those Top 20 running backs, then you will be starting an NFL backup or time-sharer every week. This is generally a no-no.

So, when it comes to running backs, get them early and often. By the end of the sixth round, you should have three: your two starters and one decent backup.

Wide Receiver-
Hopefully the quarterback and running back rundown didn’t scare you too much. With all the pressure of your QB being selected before you get a chance, and the stress of getting two high starting RBs, things can get a little messy.

Good new, the wide receiver position seems ridiculous this season. I have listed my top 50 wide receivers, and in 10 and 12 team leagues, I honestly think that I’d be confident with 85% of them in my starting lineup each week.

The receiver position is incredibly deep this year. Of course, like all other positions, you have tiers. But, don’t be in such a massive hurry to fill this position as compared to the others.

Now, where to start getting your receivers depend on the original strategy that you outlined. If the quarterback that you have your eye on is usually going in round three, then take him there and take your first receiver in round four.

In the case that running backs are going very heavy in your draft, you could even take an RB in the fourth round and wait until round five to take your first receiver. It’s just that deep.

Because there are so many NFL receivers to choose from, if you plan it right, you can usually guarantee that you will get any sleeper receiver that you want. Lots of experts are very high on Titus Young. He is currently the 33rd receiver being taken in drafts and falling in the end of Round 9. If you want him, push him up your list! Its that easy. Take him in round 8 and you are guaranteed to have the player you want.

Like Randy Moss, take him in round 9. Stevie Johnson, round 6. I can tell you right now that there is one “must-have” wide receiver on my list, and I will promise you right now that I am going to move up a round and make sure I grab him.

As far as your bench goes. I like most of my bench spots to belong to receivers. I’ll keep two running backs, and generally fill the rest of the spots with receivers. That way I have insurance if any of my starting WRs go down. And receivers are far more likely to have breakout years. A random number 3 receiver could easily become a big name, just look at Victor Cruz or Laurent Robinson.

So, when you are making your list, make the receiver list deep. Put a lot of names on there. You’ll be rewarded. This is where you are going to get your great sleepers and make your fantasy season successful.

Tight End-
This position has gotten messy. It used to be that a middle round was essentially dedicated to tight end. As soon as somebody took a tight end in round six, then everyone would take a tight end. Simple.

Not so much anymore. There are very defined tiers. And luckily, all of these tiers have players that have potential to put up great points. The top 15 tight ends are all great players and all start-worthy. So you don’t have to stress too much.

Since we have defined the other positions, we can do a bit of an “if, then” exercise for the tight end position.

If you want a top tier quarterback in round three or above… Then don’t worry about tight end until later. You can get your RBs first, then your top QB, fill a couple WR spots, get a back up RB, and then snag someone like Jason Witten or Fred Davis in round eight. Voila, you’ve got a great team.

If you have decided that you are happy taking a small risk and getting a quarterback like Philip Rivers in round 8 or Jay Cutler in round 10 and using them as a starter… Then you can afford to take a tight end early. You have the option of taking your RBs first, then a receiver and backup RB, then use a mid round TE like Antonio Gates or Aaron Hernandez in Round 5 or 6.

If you have your heart set on Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, then you are settling for a bit more of a risk at the other positions, but it is still doable. Running back first, tight end second. Running back third and then fill at your leisure.

I use my Shuffling Defense Strategy. I suggest that you do too. It works. I promise.

But, if your heart is set on having the 49ers or the Steelers or what have you: then pull the trigger. I would do it no higher than round 10. Make sure you have your starters all in play before moving on to your defense.

Last. No arguments. Do not jump if other teams start taking kickers early. At the end of the year, the difference between the best kicker and the 15th best kicker is minimal. They should always be your last round pick.

Long Story, Short-
I normally stick to the same outline, or some very similar variation of it…

RB.  RB.  WR.  WR.  RB.  QB.  WR.  TE.  … Then Backups… Then Defense and Kicker last.

If I have my eye on a QB or TE, I will adjust accordingly.

I will reiterate… Do a mock draft. One to help form your strategy. Then one to practice your strategy. It will do wonders once it is time for your actual draft. 


  1. So last night in one of my drafts I had the fortune of the 9th pick. With my almost-back to back picks I was able to snag Calvin Johnson and Fitzgerald. The RBs remaining on the board on my Fitz pick were Lynch/Murray/McFadden/Forte/Charles. Do you think I made the right choice by snagging up 2 great WRs instead of trying to get one of those RBs?

  2. Thought Id ask what you think of my team. (12 team-standard scoring - no flex, te are just scored as Wr). Qbs: Cutler,m.Ryan rbs: foster, bradshaw, greene, Tate. Wrs: Fitzgerald, Marshall, Austin, hernandez. D: lions. Kicker: m.bryant

  3. Its definitely a gamble. You have two killer WRs, Whether or not it was a good call really rests on which running backs fell to you in round three and beyond. Who'd you end up with?

  4. So im in this 10 person league with 18 rounds.
    QB, WR, WR, WR, RB, RB, TE, W/R, K, DEF, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN .
    Usually in a 12 person/ 16 round league. Would It be better if all the "main" RBs gone to draft one of the elite QB's in the first round if im towards the bottom end? Or go with getting the best RB available for the first two rounds then QB? Also like you said, I shouldn't need a backup QB in the draft till the bye week comes up for him and get one off the waiver?

    Thanks alot! I honestly really enjoy this site. You give great advice that I really appreciate.


  5. QB: Newton(3), Palmer(12)
    RB: Richardson(4), BJGE(5), Reg. Bush(6), Ridley(7), Brown(10)WR: Johnson(1), Fitz(2), Meachem(8), Williams TB(13), Moore(9)TE: Cook(11), FleenerDefense: Steelers(14)
    K: Janikowski(15) (I'm a big fan of the Polish Cannon, and the Raiders in general)

    I think I ended up with a pretty solid lineup. I'm really hoping Williams returns to 2010 form despite VJax being there. Brown was also a big choice for me seeing as how I don't know of anyone else in the backfield in Indy.

  6. theres nothing wrong with taking a QB in the first round. You just have to make sure that you jump on an RB in the next one. Murray, Lynch, Forte... they are still strong running backs and they are availalbe in round 2 or later.

    With 12 teams, that is when I start thinking about having backups at both QB and TE. It helps that you have an extra bench spot. With 12 teams, you have to think that there are only a handful left in free agency, and that none of them are that great.

  7. Curious what you think of my team. (12 team, standard scoring, TE are the same as a WR and no flex.) QBS: M.Ryan, J.Cutler, RBS: Foster, Bradshaw, Greene, Tate, WRS: Fitzgerald, B.Marshall, M.Austin, A.Hernandez D: Lions Kicker:M.Bryant

  8. Looks decent enough. Even riskier that you chose to take a QB in three and wait for your first RB until round 4. Bush looks good though and is a nice pick in 6. Jury is out on BJGE, and Richardson.
    Johnson Fitz and Newton are without a doubt the best WRs/QB combo in your league and should hopefully help make up for a lot.

    As for Mike Williams.. doubt we will see 2010 numbers, but I think that VJax being there definitely helps him rather than hurting him.

  9. I am from a league where we have 16 teams with 15 rounds(QB,RB,RB,WR,WR,TE,RB/WR/T,DEF,K,BN,BN,BN,BN,BN,BN).
    Draft pick early next week.. My league is very peculiar because top 12 to 13 QBs will go in first round picks. Do you think I should follow your strategy? if I pick elite/top 12QBs in first or second round I am sure I will not get a good RB2.. and with your strategy my 5th & 6th round picks will be crucial where I will have to settle with TE & QB instead of a Flex & backup RB what do you suggest?
    I am thinking the below order, please feel free to correct me..1. RB2. RB3. Top WR or TE(Jimmy boy or Rob G)4. WR5. TE(Finley/Gates/V.Davis/F.Davis/Hernandez - hope the priority order is correct) or WR depends up on my 3rd pick6. QB (top 14 in your list/C.Palmer/RG3/A.Dalton/A.Luck/Ponder/Freeman/R.Fitz)7. RB (Flex/Backup RB)8. WR or RB9. WR10. RB - Bench11. WR - Bench12. TE (please suggest some names if you could out of top 15 in your list:-) - Bench13. QB - Bench14. DEF(DEN/CIN/NE/ATL/MIN) - I will follow your SDS but some in my league does this already :(15. K

    Do you think I should swap my 6th and 7th round? I am worried ppl who have picked RB in first round like me will target for remaining good QBs or some might pick backup QBs.. will it be safe hunch that one of the top 14 QB in your list/C.Palmer/RG3/A.Dalton/A.Luck/Ponder/Freeman/R.Fitz will be available by 7th round and will this QBs help my team to win games?

    Your comments on this would help my draft.. you have a very good & precise ranking list..
    Are you planning to publish a updated list sometime soon? because I see B.Jacobs,D.Bryant,T.Richardon are injured.. Thanks!

  10. My list is messed up with formatting.. here the one I am talking above..

    1--RB :: 2--RB :: 3--Top WR or TE(Jimmy boy or Rob G) :: 4--WR :: 5--TE(Finley/Gates/V.Davis/F.Davis/Hernandez - hope the priority order is correct) or WR depends up on my 3rd pick :: 6--QB(top 14 in your list/C.Palmer/RG3/A.Dalton/A.Luck/Ponder/Freeman/R.Fitz) :: 7--RB(Flex/Backup RB) :: 8--WR or RB :: 9--WR :: 10--RB - Bench :: 11--WR - Bench :: 12--TE (please suggest some names if you could out of top 15 in your list:-) - Bench :: 13--QB - Bench :: 14--DEF(DEN/CIN/NE/ATL/MIN) - I will follow your SDS but some in my league does this already :( :: 15--Kicker

  11. Today I got my draft position as "16" I think it is not good right? Please share your comments on my thoughts I sent earlier.. thanks..

  12. Is it worth picking up an holding onto Kenny Britt from the FA?

  13. As a mid-late rounder, yeah.

    Injury is not the problem, the DUI is. So if he does miss time, at least we know that he will be completely healthy when he does return.

  14. First thing to note is that my draft order is not the law. I just did a mock the other day where I went QB in the first and TE in the second and then filled my RB spots, relying on middle rounds solely for WRs.

    There is no set way to do it. I just laid out what I normally choose.

    I think that the plan you laid out sounds good. But with 16 teams, the chances of that plan going through as you think are slim to none. Don't be a slave to it. Plan to be flexible. You are going to have to play it by ear, especially in a league that big.

    I do think that those QBs could be available that late, but I haven't run any 16 team mocks.

    Will not be updating the list. Everything is pretty set in stone. The injuries to Jacobs, Bryant and Richardson are hardly enough to really move the around a lot. They seem relatively minor.

  15. Answered you earlier... But again, don't plan it out TOO much. If you overplan it, then you are going to be scrambling even more when things go wrong. Having an outline is good. But not being flexible is very very bad.

    TEs, there are a few to look out for. I like Moeaki a lot and he is way down on people's radar. Kyle Rudolph is gaining popularity, but he could be there late. Greg Olsen is another one to look out for now that Shockey is gone.

    And... in a 16 team league... I don't know that SDS would work that well. You have 20% fewer defenses to choose from which is problematic. Maybe toy with the idea of picking one and sticking with them for a while.

  16. I have no problem with 16. I actually prefer being at the bottom of the order. It gives you the opportunity to see what others are doing and plan accordingly. It is a bit more thinking on the fly.. but you get back to back picks and are frankly in the drivers seat.

  17. I am a league manager of a 10-team league in its second season now. You helped me get to the playoffs last year although sadly I lost in the semis due to my own stupidity... Anyways 6 of the guys from last year are returning and making the league a keeper league has been brought up. I hadn't thought about it before this and our draft is Sunday. Do you have an opinion about using keepers? Personally I'm on the fence about it since I have LeSean McCoy and Matthew Stafford from last year's team and I wouldn't be sad to have Shady to start it all off, but I am curious for your valuable input.

    Love the site! Hopefully I get gold this year.

  18. Personally not a fan. I'd rather have either a straight up re-draft league or a dynasty league. Keeper feels like a cop-out to me. Only holding onto one player feels weird.

    Just my opinion. They are pretty popular. And you can always change the number of people you keep. Plus you are in a pretty good position. Keep Stafford, since you probably got him in a relatively late round. And you don't have to worry about getting another QB.

    Again. Its up to you. Some people love them, I'm not a fan.

  19. Thank you GHL.. I have already become a fan of you..

    I forgot to mention that my league is a standard head-to-head league with 6 points for rush/rec TD, 4 points for pass TD and 1 point for rush/rec yards.

    Please comment If I can pick two back to back RB from the below list at my league's 16th & 17th spot will it be a good/safe pick or am I making a big mistake..

    1--Darren McFadden 2--Darren Sproles(my league has kick/punt return points too) 3--Marshawn Lynch 4--DeMarco Murray 5--Trent Richardson 6--Adrian Peterson(I like this guy but ACL/MCL) 7--Ryan Mathews 8--Steven Jackson
    I am not including M.Forte, J.Charles & F.Jackson because of their TD share & strong backups
    Please remove the names from the above which you feel is risky for the 2nd pick as RB2 & who from the below can replace them?
    1--Larry Fitzgerald 2--Greg Jennings 3--Brandon Marshall 4--A.J. Green 5--Andre Johnson(I feel he is also bit risky)
    Please advise..
    I am trying to be flexible here.. If I have to play by ear, what would you do if you see too many QBs or RBs or WRs are going heavy in one particular round?
    P.S: You are doing a wonderful job.. please let me know how can I contribute/donate..

  20. I like McFadden a lot this year. And Sproles would be a great pick considering the kick/punt return points.

    A good strategy for that can be found here, I wrote it up last year.

    I disagree with you about Matt Forte. He was a beast last year, despite hardly scoring any TDs. He will still rack up a ton of yardage and receptions. I think he will be drafted before you get a chance at him.

    I agree with the list that you made for WRs.

    If QBs go heavy in one round, that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to get one. It just means that all the teams are getting theirs out of the way, and you are actually under less pressure when it comes to the later round QBs. Same with WRs really. Only grab one if you love them.
    RBs are a different story. They should all go fast and you should be among the people trying to get them immediately.

    Thanks. I appreciate your comment. Basically, if you have any post ideas that you would like to see. Or of course helping me spread the word about the site however you can. Always looking for new readers!

  21. I read your "Stars that I Just Won't Draft" and it was gr8 :)

    I agree with you on M.Forte.. I was more skeptical about M.Bush's TD role & Time share.. What do you think about J.Charles, F.Jackson, A.Peterson & T.Richardson?

    Last year I drafted a QB & De-Angelo Williams in similar spots(15th pick & 18th pick) as my 1st & 2nd round and lost the league.. Just trying to be cautious..

    If you have to pick an option from below for 16th & 17th pick which option you would choose?

    Option 1:

    RB1 + RB2 from my list I posted earlier like (Lynch/Murray/Sporles/S.Jax/anyone above them in your ranking)

    Option 2:

    RB1 + Tier1 WR1(anyone from my list I replied earlier)

    Option 3:

    RB1 + Elite TE1(Jimmy Graham I can use him in Flex spot; I don't buy R.Gron)

    I am more leaning towards option 1.. because I am not going to get any more starting RBs in later rounds.. please share your thoughts..

  22. I like Option 1

    If I were you, I'd aim (because 16 teams is very hard to predict) to go something like this:
    Rd 1 & 2 - RB & RB
    Rd 3 & 4 - WR & RB/WR
    Rd 5 & 6 - RB/WR & QB
    Rd 7 & 8 - WR & TE

  23. Thank you..Even I was thinking the same.. after first two picks I will go as the situation demands.. I will keep in mind WRs are very deep & RBs are hard to get..

    DEF in my round 7/8 or 9/10?

    Thanks again..

  24. One kind request... for the benefit of ppl like me in 16 team leagues.. Can you please extend/publish your WR & RB ranking list with more than 80+ players instead of limiting to top 50..

  25. The WR Rankings list on the right hand side goes up to 80. It hasn't been updated in a few weeks, but it should be pretty good to go.

  26. I'd just wait until defenses start going off the board. I'd say 9/10 would be a good time

  27. Matt, who would you keep in a dynasty league:
    Peyton Manning (read why you would not draft him and I agree)
    Demarco Murray
    Larry Fitzgerald
    Cedric Benson
    Miles Austin

    Love your web page and THANKS

  28. Don't know how this one slipped through the cracks. Lots of people loving on Ryan this year. Your RBs and WRs are great on paper. Love the Lions as a defense too if you plan on sticking with them. I say nicely done.

  29. Thanks.. if you have to choose one from MJD, T.Richardson & A.Peterson whom who you go for in my position? I know picking one from them would be risky and two from this group would be disaster :).. I have my draft this weekend & will keep you posted.. thnks for your advice so far... all of them would definitely help me a lot..

  30. Huge fan of you from Mexico. I´m in a 12 standard league with a flex (WR-RB) I have the 4th pick over all. Considering that Foster, Rice, and Lesean can go on the first 3 picks, what RB should I get on 4th? Being 4th, I will early on 3rd round, do you preffer a third RB, or the best option available WR-RB?

  31. MJD has to be the highest on the list still for me. Then Peterson. Then Richardson.

  32. Thanks man! Glad you like us.

    4th is an interesting position. There is the chance that one of the first three will take Aaron Rodgers. In that case, I would take the remaining RB of those three.

    If those three are taken though. You do have the option to go for Rodgers. Which is pretty big. You can get solid QBs later, but with Rodgers you know that you are going to get high consistent numbers. Outside of that... I would say that Chris Johnson is my next highest Running Back.

    I'd get a starting WR before you get a backup RB.

  33. Thank you GHL.. please find below my draft pick results.. kindly comment how does it look for a 16 team roster & where should I concentrate/watchful?

    RB2-D.Sproles(Return yardage league)
    WR2-Dwayne Bowe
    Flex(R/W/T) - S.Greene
    DEF-Buffalo Bills
    K-Mike Nugent
    Bkup RB-R.Helu (I din't know 'INJ',lets what M.Shannhan does)
    Bkup QB-C.Palmer
    Bkup WR-Davone Bess(Return Yrds+WR1)
    Bkup WR-Jacoby Ford(Return Yrds+WR3)
    Bkup TE-Kyle Rudolph
    Bkup RB-R.Turbin(Just an insurance for M.Lynch's back problem)

    Thanks a lot for your immediate replies.. I will wait for your comments..

  34. Honestly doubt it could have turn out better for you.

    I like that you took advantage of the return yardage. That is something that a lot of people overlook. Overall, for a 16-team league, I'm very impressed by your starting line up. Davone Bess is an awesome bench pick up as well, especially if he sees return duty along with his number one role.

  35. Thanks a lot GHL.. If I have made some good picks that is all because of you sir!

    Where do you think I should concentrate? I am not happy about Roy Helu, J.Ford & my Kicker pick..

    If I get a good player from free agent who should be my target to drop?

  36. Well, you need to keep Helu, as he is your only RB backup. I don't know too much about return yardage leagues (I really really hate them) so I don't know about Ford. If he is just a KR, and doesn't return punts... i would say drop him.

    Rudolph is hard to drop just because it is such a deep league, and you'll be screwed if someone else picks him up.

  37. Its what I'm here for!

  38. What up! Advice was great last! Had injuries that killed my team. This year I feel strong about my draft. What do you think. (10-team, 6 pts td pass, qb,rb,rb,wr,wr,wr,te,flex,def,k) the tenth pick selected Jimmy and Grok back to back. SMH

    Here is my team:
    Q: M. Ryan, J. Cutler
    Rb: S. Jackson, R .Rice, S. Greene, J.Dwyer, D. Brown
    Wr: Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, V. Jackson, A. Jeffery, L. Moore, Amendola,
    N. Washington
    Te: J. Gresham, G. Olsen
    Def: Philly
    K: S. Gostkowski


  39. :)

    What do you think about Micheal Floyd(Ari-WR)? Is he good or worth picking at this time?

  40. Interesting strategy with the back-to-back tight ends. He can start them both though, and both could have top WR-like numbers. Has to hurt him in the long run though not having a top TE.

    Matt Ryan is looking awesome and is going for cheap, so that is a great pickup. Love the starting RB lineup. Strong top three WRs, and Washington will make a great flex play for the first half or so of the season I think.

    Sleepers at TE. Happy to see you got two of them just in case.

    I like it a lot. Hopefully Ryan can boost those TD numbers and you'll be solid.

  41. Remains to be seen. I like his situation and Alshon Jeffrey's in Chicago. I give Jeffrey the edge just because of his quarterback. Kolb/Skelton do not impress at all.

  42. That's phenomenal I had no clue about all this until I saw this article of yours over here. And I have a question for you. Do you have any valuable information about how to defend your ideas from being stolen?