If you are drafting this weekend, here's your opportunity to learn from all of us who have spent time in the draft rooms.
Running Backs are Still King
With the exception of Superflex leagues, look for 9 of the first 12 picks in your draft to be running backs. Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce are the first non-RBs to be taken here, and each still makes for a safe and solid first round pick as long as you pair him with a running back in Round 2. The first two tiers at RB will be gone before you know it, and statistically, you may find yourself struggling to reach the playoffs without at least one solid RB each week.
Ezekiel Elliott just can't seem to garner any love from fantasy analysts this year. We've seen Saquon Barkley go before him in several leagues, and that just boggles our mind. With Dak Prescott ready for Week 1 and a healthy offensive line, Zeke is worth drafting as early as 5th overall. Before Prescott's injury, Zeke was scoring at least 20 fantasy points per game. Conversely, Barkley is coming off a season-ending injury last year, is questionable for Week 1, has one of the league's worst offensive lines, and the Giants pose virtually zero threat in the passing game. We're struggling to find logical rationale for taking Barkley over Zeke this year.
Jonathan Taylor's stock slipped a bit this preseason when Carson Wentz got injured, but Wentz is trending in the right direction and has the potential to play Week 1. Even if he doesn't, he'll be back sooner than originally estimated. That's great news for JT who should continue to shine as an RB1. If you got pick 6 or greater in your draft, JT should be on your radar.
Once the studs are off the board, look for guys like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, David Montgomery, Chris Carson, James Robinson, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, and D'Andre Swift to be targeted. CEH managed to produce RB2-type numbers as Le'Veon Bell ate into his workload just enough to be bothersome, but with Bell gone, we expect his touches to rise. James Robinson rises up in the ADP after Etienne was lost for the season. The guy we really like here though is David Montgomery. With Tarik Cohen likely to be on the PUP list a bit longer, Montgomery showed last year how productive he could be without Cohen.
The next batch of running backs features a guy that we're more bullish on than others. Mike Davis steps into an Atlanta backfield that is essentially his. The Falcons signed Wayne Gallman off waivers and that is likely to eat into Davis' workload, but we still anticipate at least 200 touches for Davis this season. Given his current ADP, he's likely to be a flex play for you that can return RB2 numbers on a weekly basis. That price/value combo is attractive.
Wide Receiver is DEEP This Year
The wide receiver position is very deep this year. Look for Calvin Ridley, Stefon Diggs, and DeAndre Hopkins to come off the boards after Davante Adams & Tyreek Hill. If you go RB/RB in your draft, it's the next batch that you're going to want to target. Keenan Allen, Terry "F1" McLaurin, and Allen Robinson are the top guys to target next. All are fantastic picks and clearly the top options in their respective offenses. You'll find Robert Woods, DJ Moore, Cooper Kupp, Tyler Lockett, Julio Jones, and the Bucs receivers Mike Evans & Chris Godwin coming off the boards next. Any one of these guys will deliver consistent weekly points for your team.
The WR that we've found ourselves targeting frequently here is Diontae Johnson whose volume alone warrants it. In the games where played at least 30 snaps, he posted Top-10 WR numbers. This is a talented receiving corp with JuJu and Claypool, but Johnson is the guy we want to roster. He has set-it-and-forget-it ability.
Once you hit the 7th round, the gap between the running back depth and wide receiver depth becomes painfully obvious. If you don't have two or three solid running backs by this time, you're likely going to struggle this season with options like Raheem Mostert and Leonard Fournette. Conversely, there's a ton of value to be had at WR here. Robby Anderson, JuJu, Jerry Jeudy (great target at his ADP), Tyler Boyd, and Devonta Smith are all guys that will flirt with 1K yard seasons. Antonio Brown becomes a legitimate pick here, but if you're willing to gamble just a bit, Jaylen Waddle presents an interesting option. Given that the Dolphins traded up to get him with the 6th-overall pick in the NFL draft, he's likely to see a healthy role here. He already has rapport with Tua Tagovailoa given their time together at Alabama, but what really excites us is the strong likelihood that Waddle emerges as the top passing option on this offense. At this point we probably sound like a broken record preaching the price/value approach, but Waddle absolutely fits this mold.
Tight End is an Odd Position Once Again
After Christian McCaffrey comes off the board, Travis Kelce is in play. We would not fault you for taking him anywhere in the first round as the guy is literally in a tier by himself. Darren Waller, George Kittle, and Mark Andrews tend to fall next, and that's when things start getting interesting. The next grouping involves T.J. Hockenson and Falcons' rookie TE Kyle Pitts. Hockenson may be the safer play simply because we have a pretty good idea as to what to expect from him, but Pitts is the intriguing play here. Historically, rookie tight ends don't excel, but we've never seen a rookie tight end go so early in an NFL draft. He truly is a generational talent, and the Falcons have been lining him up all over the field during preseason action in order to create mismatches. He's fast, has solid hands, and will likely be behind only Calvin Ridley for targets. Our only concern with Pitts is his fourth-round ADP. That pick is all about potential. He may find it difficult to produce that kind of value come December, but a gamble like that is the fun part of fantasy football isn't it?
If you didn't land any of the tight ends that we've referenced, then you can wait several rounds. You'll find Logan Thomas, Jonnu Smith, Tyler Higbee, Robert "Baby-Kittle" Tonyan, Noah Fant, and other serviceable tight ends that you can plug in each week available in the 8th round. All have their pros and cons. For example, Tonyan finished as the 3rd-best fantasy TE because of his incredible 11 touchdowns - a feat that is sure to see some regression in 2021. While Tonyan will still be a great pick, the guy that we would target here first is Logan Thomas. He finished 6th last year among tight ends in fantasy points and 4th in targets per game (6.9). In 2021, he gets an upgrade at QB and should remain a fixture in that offense.
You Can Wait On Quarterbacks
As we highlighted in our Top 10 Draft Tips last month, understanding the difference between price and value is important. Ryan Tannehill was the 20th QB off the draft boards last year, but he finished 7th by the end of the season. We paid an 11th-round price for a 6th-round value. He's not a sexy pick like Mahomes or Allen, but you can still get him in the 8th and 9th rounds. His projections have him finishing as a Top 10 QB. It's the same story for Bucs QB Tom Brady. The GOAT and future Hall-of-Famer can be had in the later rounds, and with a strong offensive core surrounding him should finish as a Top 10 QB once again. Part of the price you pay for a Mahomes or Allen must include the lost opportunity cost of passing on an AJ Brown or Joe Mixon.
Sleepers, Sleepers, Sleepers
One of our favorite late round picks could surprise folks this year. Bears QB Justin Fields will not be under center at the start of the year, but it's difficult to imagine HG Matt Nagy not getting him onto the field this season. Andy Dalton is a known quantity. He's a safe QB but lacks the dynamic upside that Fields brings. In a lot of ways, Fields is similar to Jalen Hurts who came on late to deliver Top-5 production over the last month of the season.
Broncos rookie RB Javonte Williams is another player that won't pay off immediately, but like any good investment, will pay off over time. Melvin Gordon is fully expected to lead this backfield at the start of the season, but based upon a strong showing this preseason, Williams has flashed the kind of explosiveness that could move him atop the depth chart at some point this season. Royce Freeman and Mike Boone (short-term IR) are not threats, so we'll be watching the timeshare between Gordon and Williams with keen interest.
Rams RB Sony Michel traded coasts and will play in a backfield where he has a chance to seriously outperform his ADP. There's very little competition after Darrell Henderson who only saw more than 15 touches in a game once last season. With Stafford under center, this is a great situation for Michel to find himself in. He'll be in a timeshare with Henderson, but if Darrell were to miss any time, Michel could literally run away with this job. His current ADP is fantastic for a late round flier.
Jets WR Elijah Moore will also vie for your attention as a late-round flier...and for good reason. The praise being dished out for the rookie by analysts since OTAs in June has been deafening. Moore led college football in catches and receiving yards per game as a junior. His transition to the NFL may not be that difficult, and in relatively little time, he should easily play opposite Corey Davis in this offense. As long as Zach Wilson continues to progress steadily, Moore could be a late round lottery ticket that pays off.