Fantasy Football Guide for Dumbies*
ADP – Average Draft Position, I’ve rounded this up or down as needed for whole numbers
All stats and draft positions were gathered from https://www.fantasypros.com/. And they aren't paying us anything.
With NFL Training camps opening up last week and the Hall of Fame game tomorrow (8P EST, FOX), we’re only about a month away from the 2021 NFL season, with that in mind, let’s start talking strategy for the fantasy season.
Let’s start where it all begins, quarterback. What I’m about to say is hardly revolutionary, but it seems that the majority of fantasy football owners simply can’t grasp the concept. *Ahem* the quarterback position is as unimportant in fantasy football as it is important to an actual NFL team.
Take a minute, deep breaths, slow exhales. OK, ready? Every year in one (but usually ALL) of my drafts, someone has to show that they’re the smartest guy in the room by being the dumbest guy in the room. Yep, they draft a QB in the first round. Last year the “trendy pick” was Patrick Mahomes, and why not? He won the Super Bowl (and SB MVP), had the #2 QBR behind only 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson, and generally looked like he was going to be the best QB for fantasy going into 2020. Guess what? He was. Mahomes averaged 25.36 PPG in 2020, edging out Buffalo’s Josh Allen by .1 PPG. Great pick right? Wrong. In fantasy football, value wins championships. Three players scored more points that Mahomes (Allen, Kyler Murray, and Aaron Rodgers) and five more averaged 24-22 PPG.
The fact that nine other players averaged within 3 points per game of the top drafted QB should show you that unless you stumble into a 2019 Lamar Jackson like I did (He was my 16th round pick and I was just hoping for insurance from him) you’ll likely have to make the difference up at other positions on your roster. Drafting a QB before you have your starting RB, WR, and (maybe) TE positions settled is a great way to be on the outside looking in during Week 17. Who could you have had in round six last year? How about Allen (#1 QB by points scored), Rodgers (#3), Matt Ryan (#12), Tom Brady (#8), or if you’d really waited, Ryan Tannehill (#7, ADP 140)?
For QBs you need to be calm, let the other owners draft their quarterback early, and then scramble to find a decent RB3 or 4, after all, who would you rather have had in the 7th round last year? Aaron Rodgers (#3 scoring, 84 ADP) or J.K. Dobbins (T-69 scoring, 83 ADP)?
Lastly, don’t bother trying to draft a backup QB. It’s a waste of a roster spot which is better off being used by a RB handcuff or a receiver instead of just waiting for an injury to happen. If you happen to be in need of a QB because of injury it’s likely you can pull someone off the waiver wire who will fill in quite nicely on a week-to-week basis. For example, if half of the owners in your league subscribe to the backup theory, that means that (roughly) the Top 18 QBs will be rostered so you’re going to need to do a little homework, play matchups, and pay attention to who’s hurt.
Let’s pretend that you lost Dak Prescott in Week 5 but managed to claw your way into a position where you needed to win in week 13 to make the playoffs. You could have added Taysom Hill (available in roughly 89.9% of all leagues last year) and potted a decent 23.58 PTS that week. Pretty good, only about 2 PTS less than Allen/Mahomes averaged in 2020. In fact, you could have had Tua Tagovialoa (Week 14 – 28.04 PTS), Jalen Hurts (Week 15 – 37.82 PTS), and Andy Dalton (Championship Week 27.58 PTS). Is it likely you’ll pull out the best performer from the waiver wire every week? Nope, but there’s usually a few QBs every week that stack up nicely against the established starters who are available on Sunday mornings.
On to the backbone of your team! Running backs! When I first began playing fantasy football in my uncle’s league (pre-internet!) in 1994 it was easier to draft starting RBs, whoever was at the top of the depth chart, that was who you drafted. Now with scoring (way!) up, and offenses much more diverse, finding that “bell cow” back is pretty difficult. Last season saw only three RBs top 250+ carries (12 did in ’94) and only eight gained 1000+ YDS (Vs. 10 in ’94). However, 2021, and this speaks to scoring, saw eighteen backs score 8+ TDs against only seven scoring that many in 1994. So, what to do? Quantity, as Joseph Stalin once said, has a quality all its own. That is surely the only thing he ever said that I agree with, but it is a statement worth paying attention to. If you can’t count on just one or two backs being inked in every week, you should make sure that you have several to choose from.
I have almost always drafted all of my RBs, including spares, before worrying too much about my receivers or anything else unless value dictates it. As an exercise I’ll be drafting 9th in a 12 team standard scoring snake draft. My picks were as follows –
Pick 9 – Ezekiel Elliott (RB-DAL, 9 ADP)
Pick 16 – Najee Harris (RB-PIT, 18 ADP)
Pick 33 – Chris Carson (RB-SEA, 35 ADP)
Pick 40 – Amari Cooper (WR-DAL, 49 ADP)
Pick 57 – Ja’Marr Chase (WR-CIN, 59 ADP)
Pick 64 – Javonte Williams (RB-DEN, 65 ADP)
My first pick was fairly easy, last year was a down one for Elliott, one that can be traced directly to Dak Prescott’s injury in Week 5. Assuming Prescott returns to camp healthy, and nothing indicates he isn’t, Elliott will be the RB1 for a team that most are expecting to be an offensive juggernaut in 2021. I briefly considered Aaron Jones (RB-GB, 11 ADP) and Austin Ekeler (RB-LAC, 16 ADP) but Elliott averages more receptions (61 Vs 40) than Jones while being a more productive runner and does not have the injury concerns of Ekeler (missed 6 games in 2020). My second pick figures to be a big part of the Steelers offense both running and receiving and is unlikely to be challenged by Benny Snell (191 ADP). Joe Mixon (RB-CIN, 20 ADP), and receivers DeAndre Hopkins (ARI, 21 ADP) and D.K. Metcalf (SEA, 22 ADP) were considered here but I feel didn’t that they offered the value of Harris.
My third pick should benefit from Seattle’s recommitment to the run, and Carlos Hyde (RB-JAX, 269 ADP) being out of the picture. I chose Carson over Miles Sanders (RB-PHI, 34 APD) and David Montgomery (RB-CHI, 34 ADP) because of injury concerns (Sanders) and Montgomery’s potentially splitting the backfield with Tarik Cohen (RB-CHI, 179 ADP), Khalil Herbert (CHI, Waiver ADP), and Damien Williams (CHI, 151 ADP). The fourth pick came down to teammates Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb (WR-DAL, 44 ADP), Kyle Pitts (TE-ATL, 51 ADP), and Kareem Hunt (RB-CLE, 52 ADP). In the end Cooper was the pick over Hunt (splitting time), Pitts (rookie TEs rarely pan out), and Lamb, who I feel will be overvalued by other owners after a great rookie season. Of those, Hunt might have the highest ceiling should Nick Chubb (RB-CLE, 8 ADP) miss significant time.
The 5th round brought me a sort of dead spot where the only backs available were James Robinson (RB-JAX, 57 ADP) who will be unlikely to repeat his 2020 #7 finish among RBs, Travis Etienne (RB-JAX, 58 ADP) who will be used in a Percy Harvin-esqe role according to coach Urban Meyer, and several receivers. Ja’Marr Chase was my pick due to his reunion with LSU teammate Joe Burrow (QB-CIN, 82 ADP). That duo should be one to watch for the next several years and I’m banking on a 900+Yd season and 8+ TDs from Chase in his debut. For my last pick I admittedly reached a bit, going with Javonte Williams over his teammate Melvin Gordon III (RB-DEN, 68 ADP) who is, for now, still RB1 in Denver. None of the other backs available at that pick offered the value I was looking for or were too much of a reach. Am I done selecting RBs? Nope, unless the league has a positional cap I’m stacking my backs and receivers deep. Why? It’s the NFL and injuries happen. We also see players emerge from nowhere every year to be fantasy players, sure, you can hope to make it to the waiver wire first and that you’re first in line, or you can draft them late and have them already rostered. The upside is if you don’t need them, you can either trade them to upgrade another position or just hoard them to keep your opponents from playing them against you. The downside? Listening to your fellow owners nag you with terrible offers and moaning about you “cheating”. They can call it what they want, I call it being prepared.
Look for backs in position to be producers in the event that a team’s RB1 goes down. Kareem Hunt is the best example of this but is probably going to be drafted for the production he’ll have anyhow. Tony Pollard (RB-DAL, 133 ADP), Alex Mattison (RB-MIN, 147 ADP), and AJ Dillon (RB-GB, 107) are all excellent choices, but be careful not to overdraft; also be aware that the owners of Elliott, Dalvin Cook (RB-MIN, 2 ADP), and Aaron Jones will all be looking to handcuff them (or should be).
Another situation you look at is crowded/undecided backfields like the Jets or Texans. In each of those cases there are front runners, but none should feel as if they are untouchable. In New York, Michael Carter (85 ADP) will probably be over drafted and then waived after a few weeks as he, Tevin Coleman (178 ADP), Ty Johnson (Waiver ADP), and La’Mical Perine (205 ADP) jostle for position. Carter will probably see more time as the season goes on, but he’s still on the Jets. The Texans have David Johnson (94 ADP) as RB1 with Mark Ingram II (199 ADP) and Phillip Lindsay (182 ADP) behind him. Lindsay is my pick to beat out the old (Ingram) and the infirm (Johnson).
The last type is the hardest to predict, and that’s players cut during training camp. The player that springs to mind for me is Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB-TB, 253 ADP). Buried behind Leonard Fournette (77 ADP), Ronald Jones II (84 ADP), and Giovani Bernard (189 ADP), just how much of a role will be available for him? Is it possible they keep him? Yeah, it is. This is just his second year in the league and he’s cheap, but unless he’s going to start playing a significant role on special teams I think it’s likely that the Bucs keep C.J. Procise (Waiver ADP) as a veteran backup. If Vaughn were to end up in Detroit, Miami, or any one of the teams that need running back help I feel he could push for time and show the skills that had Tampa drafting him in the 3rd round last year.
In conclusion, running backs should be your first, second, and third priorities, this is the position where it’s almost impossible (barring sheer luck) to pull a starting caliber player off of the waiver wire on Sunday morning, so you’d better have your backup’s backup already rostered. Pay attention to rookies and the waiver wire, and don’t bother trying to figure out who’s going to be RB1 in New England, you’ll only make yourself crazy.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
So, here we are, the one position where you almost have to purposely make poor picks to not have a good set of receivers. I’m lumping TEs in with receivers because more and more leagues are doing just that, giving your three WR/TE slots or two WR slots and a flex spot. In any case, looking at 2020’s results for receivers shows the wealth you have to choose from- twenty receivers (18 WRs, 2 TEs) averaged 10+ PPG and thirteen (12 WRs, 1 TE) more averaged 9+ PPG, a total of thirty-three (33!) receivers who are start worth every week and with five rookies drafted in the First round of April’s draft, I’m not sure it’s ever been harder to be a DB in the NFL.
While that makes it sound like you need to invest in one of the top receivers at the top of the draft to set yourself apart from the group, you don’t. No, really, you don’t. While Devonte Adams (GB, 11 ADP) and Tyreek Hill (KC, 11 ADP) are virtually neck-and-neck in both production and draft position and were the class of WRs in 2020 (averaging 4.8 and 3.5 PPG over third place), five more averaged 12+ PPG. In addition, it’s hard to predict who will be the top receiver each year; over the past four seasons four different receivers have finished at the top and only two receivers have finished #1 in one year and #2 in another (Antonio Brown in 2017/2018 and Tyreek Hill in 2018/2020).
What you can do is identify what receivers may dip or rise from year to year. For instance, Antonio Brown was with the Steelers (#3 and #4 offense, respectively) in 2017 and 2018, did anyone really believe he was going to be a top receiver in 2019 with Derek Carr throwing to him? Likewise, we already see fantasy owners making the adjustment on Michael Thomas (WR-NO, 45 ADP in ’20 Vs. 6 ADP in ’19) because of A) Drew Brees’ retirement and B) the uncertainty of the Saints’ QB situation. As far as risers? How about Robert Woods (LAR, 52 ADP) and Cooper Kupp (LAR, 58 ADP), despite their draft position actually being worse than 2020 (51 and 38 respectively), it’s hard to believe that Matt Stafford (QB-LAR, 84 ADP) isn’t an upgrade over Jared Goff (QB-DET, 197 ADP).
With regards to the TE position, there’s Travis Kelce (KC, 9 ADP), George Kittle (SF, 25 ADP), Darren Waller (LV, 29 ADP) and then a significant drop off to Mark Andrews (BAL, 57 ADP), though, as I mentioned above, owners seem to be enamored of Kyle Pitts who shoe horns in between them at 51. There are breakout candidates who should see a bump in their targets this year. Two that I see getting that bump are T.J. Hockenson (TE-DET, 65 ADP) and Noah Fant (TE-DEN, 112 ADP), both entering their third year.
Hockenson should see the bump simply because there’s no one else outside of De’Andre Swift to steal receptions from him unless rookie Amon Ra St. Brown (WR-DET, 176 ADP) catches fire. After a year that saw him targeted 101 times (5th most among TEs), it’s not a stretch to think that with Kenny Golladay (WR-NYG, 61 ADP) and Marvin Jones (WR-JAX, 136 ADP) gone he could see at least a 25-30 target bump.
For Fant, despite the Broncos having a QB battle in Camp, I feel that no matter who wins, they will be utilizing him plenty. After making good on 67% (62 of 93) of his targets in 2020, even a small bump should see him as a sleeper to be a Red Zone producer and better his 3 TD total from 2020.
It’s the middle of the 9th round and virtually everyone has a starting lineup (but not you, right? You’re waiting on a QB and one of the owners starts looking like they know something you don’t. Yep, he’s gonna draft the first defense. As Admiral Akbar said -
It is, and one that most of the other owners are going to walk right into. Someone always starts a run, be it quarterbacks, receivers, or defenses, don’t get taken in by this.
The best defensive teams are usually obvious, sometimes too obvious. The San Francisco 49ers were the consensus #1 D/ST drafted in 2020 (111 ADP) and finished 17th in the NFL in scoring defense (the only ranking that matters in fantasy football). At the same time, Washington finished 4th with an ADP of 174 meaning that you could have had them five full rounds later and looked great. You’d have looked even better had you drafted the Los Angeles Rams at 178 (ADP) and had the #1 scoring defense. My point is, that unless you’re a “set it and forget it” owner (everyone hates you BTW)
you’re unlikely to ride with one defense for the whole season, so why not wait on drafting that defense and build roster depth? Someone will be playing the Jets, Texans, or Lions every week, so just play matchups, you’ll be glad you did when your RB1 separates his shoulder in week 4 and misses October and November.
In regards to IDPs (Individual Defensive Players), don’t focus on INTs, FFs, or Fum Recs, those are too fluky to count on. Bank on tackles and sacks. That means you’re looking at EDGE players, MLBs, and strong safeties. Those are your bread and butter, don’t overthink this.
Someone will draft a kicker before the last round, don’t be that guy, just… don’t. You will have to draft one though, so look for kickers on teams that have OK offenses, but not great ones. Why? Easy, if they have a great offense like KC, sure Harrison Butker (145 ADP) is going to score points, but he was only the 13th highest scoring kicker last year because of the number of TDs the Chiefs scored. On the other hand, three of the top five scoring kickers belonged to the #15, 16, and 17-ranked offenses, that being Jason Sanders (MIA, 185 ADP), Younghoe Koo (ATL, 167 ADP), and Greg Zuerlein (DAL, 180 ADP). FGs equal points, so go with kickers whose offense will get them to the Red Zone but won’t be able to punch it in.
Hopefully this helps you out in your fantasy draft and if you have any hate mail, direct it to my ex-wife.
*Yes, I purposely misspelled this.