Key to your draft success

The first two rounds of your fantasy football draft are critical to your success. Last week, I took a look at the players likely to be drafted in the early rounds, along with some recommendations. Four of the first five picks are likely to be running backs, with Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas the only exception. If you are playing PPR, you can draft Thomas as high as No. 2 overall.

It wouldn’t shock me to see Thomas slip to No. 6, or even lower because there’s so much focus on getting a running back with their first pick. If he falls to you in the second half of round one, consider it an early Christmas present. Don’t expect Thomas to repeat his record-breaking 2019, but he will still project as the target and reception leader in 2020, with a 12-touchdown upside.

There are some landmines to avoid in the first round. The first landmine is Joe Mixon, who’s ADP is currently 9 in PPR. In my opinion, this is crazy high. Mixon plays for a terrible team, and the addition of Joe Burrow isn’t going to transform the Bengals into a contender. The biggest problem for Mixon and Burrows is the offensive line, which was one of the worst last year.

The second landmine to avoid is Miles Sanders, who’s ADP is currently 12. Sanders did little during the first half of the 2019 season. When Jordan Howard got hurt, Sanders averaged 16.3 PPR points. Now, the pundits are putting him at the back of the first round. To do so, you must believe the Eagles are going to pass more to Sanders and move away from the committee approach.

There’s a third running back that’s getting a lot of hype and will probably be taken in the first round. Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire is the rage in Kansas City with Damien Williams opting out. I’m won’t spend a first-round pick to take a guy who’s never played a down in the NFL. There were no offseason minicamps, training camps have limited practices and there are no preseason games.

If I’m drafting at the end of the first round and beginning of the second, I may grab a pair of wide receivers. Assuming Thomas is gone, Devante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill and Julio Jones may all be available. Last year, I employed the Zero Running Back Strategy in one of my leagues and won the league. In Zero RB, you wait until the fourth or fifth round to take an RB.

This strategy, which was originated by a high-stakes fantasy player named Shawn Siegele, leaves you with just one running back after five rounds. You might have as many as four wide receivers, or three wideouts and a top-tier tight end like Travis Kelce. You could also draft Patrick Mahomes in those first five rounds, although I’m an advocate of waiting to get a quarterback.

The reason why the Zero RB strategy makes sense is that running backs are overvalued by most fantasy owners. If others are drafting backs, they won’t by drafting wide receivers. That leaves value for anyone courageous enough to wait on backs. Keep in mind that you are likely to find Chris Carson, Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon and David Johnson still on the board in the fourth round.

It doesn’t matter whether you apply the Zero RB strategy, or a more traditional one. You’ve got to get it right in the first two rounds. I don’t mean to say you can’t find players to help your team in the later rounds because you certainly can. But don’t believe for a moment that some late-round sleepers are going to rescue you from a disastrous mistake in the first or second round.

The disastrous mistake would be like the one I made in 2018 when I took Bell with the first pick in the draft without hesitation in spite of the fact that he was threatening to hold out for a new contract. In my own defense, most analysts agreed with my contention that he was bluffing. But he wasn’t. Season over. There’s a time to take a risk with your team, but not in the first round.

A player I would put in my top five in a standard league is Derrick Henry. Henry was exceptional last year and at the end of the 2018 season, but the Titans don’t use him in the passing game. Consider that he rushed the ball 303 times for 1,540 yards in 2019 – best in the NFL. But he only caught 18 passes. Compare that to Alvin Kamara, who caught more than four times as many.

Kamara has been PPR gold the past three years, with 81 receptions each year, along with at least 700 yards. However, I wouldn’t put Kamara in my top five in a standard league. While Henry is elevated in a standard league, you must devalue Kamara, who rushed for a mere 797 yards. Kamara only scored five touchdowns last year, which means he should benefit from positive regression.

Someone in your league might draft Lamar Jackson in the first round, pointing to the fact that he led all scorers in total fantasy points last year. And it wasn’t even close. But if you’re counting on Jackson to repeat that performance, you will probably be disappointed. Jackson depends on his legs to be successful, and it’s likely that he won’t run as much in 2020 as he did last year.

My argument for waiting on selecting your quarterback is simply based on supply and demand. Eleven of the top 12 fantasy points leaders in 2019 were quarterbacks. That’s a large supply. Judging by their current ADP, you could get Dak Prescott, third best, or Russell Wilson, fifth best, in the sixth round. Carson Wentz, who finished No. 10, is projected to go in the ninth round.

As you would expect, there are several intriguing players to consider in the second round. Four of them are running backs.  Nick Chubb, Kenyan Drake, Josh Jacobs and Aaron Jones are all on my radar at this point. There are reasons to like each of these backs, but there are also risks.  The risk for Chubb and Jones is they will themselves in a time-sharing arrangement again.

Chubb, one of the most talented backs in football, has another talented back, Kareem Hunt, to contend with for an entire season. When Hunt returned from suspension last year, he had a dramatic effect on Chubb’s share of targets. Although Chubb was second in the league in rushing yards, he only caught 36 passes. Hunt had 37 receptions in eight games after serving his suspension.

I was fortunate enough to pick up Drake on waivers last year when he came to Arizona, and I didn’t regret it. He finished the season as the No. 4 fantasy back over the final eight weeks despite not knowing the playbook when he came over. He knows Kliff Kingsbury’s offense now.  Add DeAndre Hopkins and an improved offensive line to the mix, and Drake could be even better in 2020.

Jacobs was impressive last season as a rookie despite the lackluster Raiders offense and having lost 10 pounds during the season with the flu. He finished eighth overall in total rushing yards in spite of having played only 13 games. But like Chubb he was limited by a limited role in the passing games. The buzz in Las Vegas is that he will be more involved in the passing game in his second season.

Jones caught 49 passes in addition to rushing for more than 1,000 yards last year. But there is risk in taking him in the second round with the Packers drafting A.J. Dillion No. 62 overall. However, Jones had to split the workload with Jamal Williams last season and still managed to finish as the No. 2 running back in fantasy football. He’s worth picking up late in the second round.

You can follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter.

 

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