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Fantasy Football: Early round drafting

Pete Davidson
August 24, 2018 - 11:54 am

Early round drafting gets more attention than any other part of fantasy football.  It makes some sense in that the best players get taken first. Then again, it’s hard to set yourself apart early on as everybody is taking great talent, with the possible exception of the homers who take their local players first.  

Do not be that GM, unless you are taking Gronk. Gronk we’ll forgive, because he’s just that freaking good and that far ahead of his peers.

I have one primary tenet of drafting, that you’ll probably remember if you are a regular Rotobahn reader.  

“Draft players who can drastically outperform their draft position.”  

That’s the crux of my approach.  

When I make a pick in the fourth round for example, I focus on finding the player who can post digits that you would normally find in rounds one or two.  Always aim high. Some players who I’ve taken in round four this year include Kenyan Drake, Amari Cooper and Jay Ajayi.

In the fifth round it’s the same paradigm.  I look for players like Evan Engram, Chris Hogan, Sammy Watkins and Josh Gordon.  I’ll have an article on Rotobahn next week that focuses on which players I am targeting in each round based on ADP.  I’ll tweet out a link to that article as soon as it’s posted. Follow me @Rotobahn to keep pace with all of my fantasy football content.

So we want players who can outperform their draft slot.  Sounds good, but it’s a little tough in round one, right?  Can Todd Gurley outperform the number one overall pick? Not really. You just hope he lives up to it. This is why some folks will say things like, “you don’t win a league with a first round pick, but you can lose it.”  It makes sense and there really is some truth to it.

Look at it this way.  Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara are rightfully first round picks because they were league-winning players last year, but there’s a catch.  Neither player was being taken in round one last year. Kamara wasn’t being drafted at all in smaller leagues and Gurley was coming off of a horrendous year playing for the Jeff Fisher Rams.

The key to winning leagues is, more often than not, about finding the great values in the middle to later rounds.  In round one, it’s about building a foundation—taking the players who can support a winning team week in and week out.  If you fail to do that, then getting a Gurley or Kamara later on may not even pay off.

How much would that suck?  

Trust me, there are players out there who can tell you exactly how much it sucks.  Just ask the folks who used a round one pick on Jordy Nelson last year. Odell Beckham and David Johnson drafters also understand, though they got smacked down by injury more than anything else.  Still, you can see the impact. So we need to build that foundation before we find the great values. If you can do both, you have a very good chance at winning your league.

In round one and to some extent round two as well, you must draft great talent, but it’s just as important to avoid the whammy. There are a few first round players who I’m wary about this year. Le’Veon Bell leads the way because he’s coming off of a massive 2017 workload and because he’s missed all of camp due to a holdout. He’s also playing under a new offensive coordinator. I’m more likely to take David Johnson or Antonio Brown than I am to take Bell in full PPR scoring. I’m also very hesitant to draft Dalvin Cook, who I see being taken at the turn (12 or 13 overall.)  I love Cook as a player, but I’m going to let other GMs take that risk, because Cook’s coming off of a serious knee injury.

Let’s take a look at the top 17 players—the elite, broken down into tiers.  If you are drafting this weekend and need more information on more players, feel free to check out my full rankings and cheat sheets at  It’s all free.

Tier One (1-5)

Todd Gurley

David Johnson

Zeke Elliott

Antonio Brown

Le’Veon Bell

Why are they in the elite tier?  Because they are all proven, healthy, hugely talented and are locked into massive workloads, target shares or both. If a player does not check all those boxes, they shouldn’t be up here.

Tier Two (6-9)

Odell Beckham

DeAndre Hopkins

Saquon Barkley

Julio Jones

Beckham and Jones are easy inclusions because they are truly elite Hall of Fame level talents. Beckham has some contract concerns and a questionable quarterback situation, otherwise he is in tier one. Julio doesn’t get enough red zone love to be up with Antonio Brown, but in PPR scoring, he’s a very safe round one option. Hopkins is a great talnet, but I have mild concerns about the offensive line in Houston and subsequently, the health of quarterback DeShaun Watson. Otherwise, he’d be in tier one. The reason I have Barkley here is simple. His team has already gone all-in on him. He is going to touch the ball a ton and he’s an absolutely fabulous receiver. That makes him a potential stud in all scoring formats. It also means that bad game scripts will not take him out of the mix. That’s huge, because the Giants are a team that could struggle depending on how things shake out.

Tier Three (10-17)

Kareem Hunt

Leonard Fournette

Alvin Kamara

Melvin Gordon

Christian McCaffrey

Michael Thomas

Keenan Allen

Rob Gronkowski

This is the final elite tier, and that’s crucial to understand in my view. No way should you be drafting anybody else until all of the top 17 players are gone. All of these players can make strong arguments to be included in tier two, and none are candidates for tier four.  These are special players who will help you win. It’s also important to understand that passing on these players helps your competition immensely. Do you want the GM who drafted David Johnson or Todd Gurley to also land Gronk or Christian McCaffrey? No way. So be careful about grab-bagging in round two. Take the top shelf talent and save the guesswork for the later selections.