This offseason I’ve already written close to 50 different fantasy football articles.
And of course, this entire time, you’ve been asking for just one article in particular — this one.
How am I approaching 2020 drafts? Where are my rankings? Who are my top draft-day targets?
Without further ado, here’s the answer to all of those questions. And the one article you’ve been waiting for.
Note1: It’s important to mention that, while we as a staff probably agree on 90% of the content we put out, it’s impossible for everyone to be completely on the same page. So, I want to make it clear that this is my unique draft plan, and the players to target here are, like the title illustrates, “my guys.”
Note2: PPR scoring is assumed throughout.
Game Theory Optimal
Before we dive in, I just want to highlight three articles I’ve written this offseason.
If you want to be a Game Theory Optimal (GTO) fantasy player, you’ll want to read these articles:
True story: With a single e-mail I have helped multiple people – who have never watched a game of football before (Super Bowl excluded), let alone played fantasy football before – win (actually, dominate) their fantasy football leagues.
Here’s the e-mail I sent:
1) I’ve attached my rankings. Print those out.
2) Since you’re drafting on Yahoo!, I’ve also attached their ADP. Print that out as well.
3) As players are drafted, cross out names from both lists. Physically cross them off with a pen.
4) When drafting, consult both lists. The first list (my rankings) is basically ranking how good each player is. The second list tells you when you should expect those players to be drafted. If you only consult my list you’ll do alright, but try to look at both lists. If I have a guy really high, but he’s a lot lower on Yahoo!, you should draft him later. That way you get more value and give yourself an even bigger edge.
5) Don’t draft a QB too early. Try to be the last or second-to-last team to draft a QB. Load up on RBs and WRs early. Draft a K with your second-to-last pick, and a DEF with your last pick.
Once the season actually starts, be sure to read our Waiver Wire article every week to know who to add and who to drop. And when setting your lineup, use our rankings to know who to start and who to bench.
Really, that’s about all it takes. And this is basically how I draft as well, except I’ll do this all on Excel, rather than printing anything out.
For the savvier players (pretty much everyone reading this article), I’d go a step further. Contrast your two lists before the draft (my rankings, your draft site’s ADP). You can do that in Excel. Or you can do that manually. Find the biggest values, and plan your draft accordingly around them.
Last year, on NFL.com, that would have meant circling Lamar Jackson on both sheets you’ve printed out, and therefore knowing you shouldn’t take a quarterback too early. And, it would have meant circling Dalvin Cook in Round 2, Aaron Jones in Round 3, Josh Jacobs in Round 4, and Kenyan Drake in Round 6. Knowing there was that much value out there, perhaps you would have felt justified taking Michael Thomas in Round 1.
Of course, this is also what I’m going to be doing for you in today’s article.
In a 1-QB league, ‘Late Round QB’ is king.
It is king. And, I assure you, it is even more aristocratic and kingly than however kingly you might think it is.
Which is to say, QB is even more worthless than you think it is. It is the deepest, least-scarce, and most-replaceable of the big four positions. It’s also the least-predictable of the four, meaning you’ll get the worst returns on cost (by ADP).
And even when you’ve hit an absolute home run – drafting 2018 Patrick Mahomes or 2019 Lamar Jackson in the double-digit rounds – it’s still not worth anywhere near as much as you think it is. In real terms, it’s not worth much more than owning the top team defense.
All of this is explained in more detail in Anatomy of a League-Winner.
What am I trying to say here?
Seriously, don’t sweat the QB position too much. Over the past five seasons, the difference between QB6 and QB12 is 1.7 fantasy points per game (FPG). In the broad scheme of things, 1.7 FPG is basically nothing — it’s the same difference between RB8 and RB10. Factor in the cost, and it’s easy to realize you’re paying a lot for very little. By ADP, QB6 is being drafted in Round 6 while QB12 is being drafted in Round 10. Even better yet, by streaming the position, it’s not unrealistic to assume mid-to-low-end QB1 production. Meaning, your true floor isn’t 0.0 fantasy points, it’s actually closer to the numbers Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan put up last year. Meaning, it’s clear we should wait on the position and draft for upside.
And especially this year, because this feels like one of the deepest QB years in recent memory.
General Positional Strategy
In a typical year, I’m really looking to test the limits of the ‘Late Round QB’ strategy.
Although suboptimal, your league-mates will feel uncomfortable drafting bench players before addressing the QB position, so the first 11 QBs (assuming a 12-team league) will typically go off the board fairly quickly. Or, at least, more quickly than they should (as it relates to positional value).
And then there’s a lull. Teams will draft their starting QB before addressing much of their bench, but they know better than to draft a backup QB for at least a few more rounds.
This is usually where I’m drafting my QBs. In that lull, or soon after.
Sometimes I’ll take the 11th or 12th QB off the board. Usually, I’ll wait until one or two backup QBs are drafted, and so I’m taking the 14th or 15th QB.
Really it all depends on where the tiers fall in any given year.
2020 Strategy / Who to Target
Last year, in this exact article, I wrote:
“The single greatest fantasy value in current drafts (at any position) is Lamar Jackson (ADP QB15), my single-highest-owned player this year. Dak Prescott (QB18) is also grossly mispriced and one of my highest-owned quarterbacks, whether as my QB1 or QB2.”
So, everyone wants to know, who is my Lamar Jackson this year? Or even my Dak Prescott?
Good question. I wish I knew! There probably isn’t. Correctly predicting the league’s MVP at 90:1 odds? Yeah. That might be a once-in-a-decade type of call.
To me, the tiers are pretty obvious. There’s the big two in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. Then another tier with Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, and Russell Wilson. All of these quarterbacks are great, with at least a little bit of Konami Code-upside as an added bonus. All are strong favorites to finish top-six, but, at the end of the day they’re still just lowly QBs, and, as such, probably aren’t going to be on any of my teams.
The next tier is far more enticing to me, and where the bulk of my exposure lies. In order, it’s Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, and then Drew Brees, but I’ll typically just draft the cheapest of the three (waiting until one or two of them go off the board). On NFL that’s Brady (ADP: QB16), on Yahoo! It’s Wentz (QB11), on ESPN it’s Brees (QB11).
But yes, a 43-year-old Tom Brady is likely to be my highest-owned QB this year.
Landing one of those three is ideal, but if I miss out, I’m still not sweating things. But now I’ll really push the limits of the LRQB strategy.
In some sort of order, I’d be looking at Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield, and Ryan Tannehill.
A number of these quarterbacks could go undrafted in a 12-team 1QB league. And remember, that’s where your true floor lies. It’s not 0.0 FPG. It’s whoever the best player on waivers is, and as we showed several paragraphs ago, he’s not much different than a low-end QB1. QB is much deeper than any other position, and thus, far more easily replaceable.
Matt Ryan and Josh Allen aren’t necessarily bad choices, but I’d rather just wait the extra rounds, and load up on flex-eligible players in that range.
I usually don’t recommend drafting two quarterbacks in a 1-QB league, but I’m fine with that if missing out on one of the QBs in the first three tiers. But I’m still only ever taking that second QB in the last few rounds of the draft. And, really, your main focus should be on the waiver wire. Make sure you’re always active and on the lookout for who the next breakout QB might be.
Last season, Tannehill led all quarterbacks in passer rating and PFF grade, and he ranked behind only Lamar Jackson in fantasy points per start. He was free last year. And he’s free this year.
You have far better odds of finding a starter off waivers (and especially, high-end starter) at the QB position than RB, WR, or TE. And, again, this is the deepest I remember QB being in a long time.
So, yeah, don’t stress the QB position too much. In Superflex leagues, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are fine picks. But typically, I’m looking to add at least one QB in Tier 3, at least one QB in Tier 4, and then Tyrod Taylor is a terrific late-round grab. Ryan Fitzpatrick too to a slightly lesser extent.
Highest-Owned: Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Drew Brees
If you win or lose your league, it’s probably because you drafted the right or wrong running backs, more than anything else.
General Positional Strategy
What’s our running back strategy? It’s not Robust-RB. And it’s certainly not Zero-RB. It’s “Bell Cow or Bust.”
2020 Strategy / Who to Target
Who am I drafting in 2020? The running backs named in order on the Bell Cow Report.
Because that article includes exactly where I have each player ranked and why, it shouldn’t be too hard to build a draft strategy around the best values. For instance, on Yahoo, my No. 4, No. 6, No. 13, No. 18, and No. 19 running backs rank (respectively) 10th, 12th, 18th, 33rd, and 28th by ADP. That’s some insane value.
And, if you’re using these rankings, it’s clear you’re never going to be drafting players like Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones, Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, Mark Ingram, Devin Singletary, James White, Marlon Mack, etc.
Don’t feel like reading that article? No worries (it’s actually fairly outdated now anyway). I’ll give you the TLDR here.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Miles Sanders, and Kenyan Drake are sometimes being drafted in Rounds 2 and 3 on Yahoo and NFL, which is immensely stupid. Edwards-Helaire is my No. 4 overall player. Sanders ranks No. 6 and Drake No. 8. These are must-draft players. Full-on league-winners. Try to finesse them as ADP values if you can, but, really, they shouldn’t leave Round 1.
James Conner is another glaring value. He sits at RB12 in my rankings, though he’s being drafted 18th or later on all three major sites. Conner is a name to circle after printing out your sheet.
In a similar ADP range, Melvin Gordon was just about neck-and-neck with Conner for most of the offseason. But I’ve since swapped them in my rankings, based on reports that he’s lost his grip on the bell cow workload we were promised earlier in the offseason. Chris Carson is a “solid” pick depending on which site you’re drafting on, but he’s certainly not a must-draft option like….
Cam Akers is being drafted in Round 9 on NFL, which makes no sense at all. And at Round 7 on Yahoo!, he’s still a ludicrous value mispriced by multiple rounds. Akers has easy league-winning upside and a much higher floor than most people realize. He feels very Exodia-ish. Akers was my mid-round Exodia for much of the offseason, but now Antonio Gibson rivals him, and they’re neck and neck in my rankings, both well above their current ADP. They’re both just about the ultimate “Upside Wins Championships” plays at the position. Current ADP has Gibson mispriced by about five rounds (depending on the site you’re drafting on), but that will soon change after the team released Adrian Peterson. Before this most recent edit, I wrote this about Gibson: "Gibson, meanwhile, is an easy must-draft reach-a-round player at current ADP." That’s still the case, even though he’s surely more expensive now.
Fellow rookies D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, and Zack Moss are also solid upside plays depending on your preferred site. Swift definitely shouldn’t be drafted over Akers or Gibson, but I think he does have decent upside even if Detroit does claim to want an RBBC. It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t receive the lion’s share (pun unintentional) of the snaps by season’s end. Dobbins’ upside is probably capped in Year 1, but he’s still a little too cheap. I’m extremely confident he out-scores Mark Ingram by season’s end (though Ingram currently sits two rounds higher by ADP), but I don’t think he has the Year 1 upside Swift has. Moss is a great pick at ADP (RB47) with both a higher floor and a higher ceiling than people realize. I typically lean more towards a quality-over-quantity-approach at the RB position, and won’t end up with a lot of RB sleepers on my bench. But there are a few obvious sleepers and valuable handcuff types in the latter rounds of drafts this year.
Highest-Owned: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Miles Sanders, Kenyan Drake, James Conner, Cam Akers, Antonio Gibson
For the most part, WR gets overrated in terms of positional value. But it’s still easily the second-most important position in fantasy. And it’s even more valuable (though still well behind RB) in leagues where you start a minimum of three wide receivers (rather than two) plus a flex.
ADP is pretty good at the WR position, but, because it’s so deep, it’s not uncommon to find a high-end starter off waivers early in the season. For instance, 2019 league-winners like D.J. Chark, A.J. Brown, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker were all UDFAs in a number (if not the majority) of leagues. This is a big reason why we draft for upside. And that’s especially true with the WR position.
General Positional Strategy
When I’m not drafting RBs, I’m typically drafting WRs. Drafting exactly only one QB and one TE is optimal, so it’s not uncommon for the entirety of my bench to be comprised of high-upside RBs and WRs. And I’ll always end up with more WRs than RBs, because it’s easier to take a “quantity over quality” approach there than RB. (The more early-round draft capital spent on RBs, the more WRs I’ll end up with on my team.)
With that in mind, in any given season my strategy is the same – and far less complex than with RB – I just try to grab the best values that I can.
2020 Strategy / Who to Target
The top three wide receivers are obvious: Michael Thomas, Davante Adams, and then Tyreek Hill. Then there’s another smaller tier ending with Mike Evans. And then there's a very deep tier that ends with Amari Cooper. And then another deep tier. And then another deep tier. Because these tiers are so deep, I never feel forced into taking a WR. In the earlier rounds, just sort of follow along with my rankings. It seems like not too many players really stand out too much by ADP, and everyone is sort of tightly packed together in big tiers. I definitely seem to like Mike Evans more than most. Adam Thielen is going a round too late on ESPN, and Yahoo! should feel ashamed for having Robert Woods so low (ADP WR25). Those are three guys I’m higher on than most in the earlier rounds. After that…
Marquise Brown and Diontae Johnson have been must-draft players for me all offseason. Both have jumped a round or two by ADP since the start of the offseason, so it’s a little less easy to reach for them, but they’re still glaringly two of my top values. These are two guys to circle. AKA, build-your-draft-around type guys. AKA Exodia plays.
I’ve been pounding the “Draft for Upside” drum all offseason, so of course I like Will Fuller at ADP. In Round 9 on Yahoo and NFL, he’s all upside and no risk.
Draft DeSean Jackson in every draft. Every single draft. He’s a screaming value with a good amount of upside. I like Jalen Reagor quite a bit too, and am still adding him even after his recent injury.
Unless you play in a short-bench league, Antonio Brown still feels like a must-draft player for me. I don’t care that he’s suspended 8 games. So was Kareem Hunt last year, and Brown has far more upside and an ADP of free. He has legitimate league-winning upside, even without the benefit of knowing which team he’ll play for. There’s a strong possibility he goes full-Exodia in the second-half when it matters most (the fantasy playoffs). I have him on almost every single one of my teams. Even if you don’t draft Brown, that’s fine, I’ll forgive, but make sure you add him onto every team by at least Week 5 (barring any unforeseen developments like an extended suspension). If you don’t we can’t be friends anymore.
Preston Williams, Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, and Jerry Jeudy are all pretty strong targets for me in the later rounds as well. Golden Tate and Brandon Aiyuk aren’t too far behind either.Trent Taylor is a great ultra-deep sleeper.
Highest-Owned: Mike Evans, Marquise Brown, Diontae Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Brown
Tight end is much closer to QB in terms of value than it is WR, but it is still far more valuable than QB. Like QB, it is deep and replaceable. Just slightly less deep, and slightly less replaceable.
Over the past five seasons, the difference between the No. 2 and No. 13 TE was worth 6.4 FPG. Or, 1.5X the difference between the No. 2 and No. 13 QB. The difference between the No. 6 and the No. 18 TE was worth 4.5 FPG. Or, 1.5X the difference between the No. 6 and No. 18 QB. Do you see what I’m hinting at?
And streaming has been proven to be more effective with the QB position, where you can hope to cobble together mid-to-low-end QB1 production with whatever’s on waivers. But with the TE position, mid-range TE2 production might be most likely.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is if you’re going to spend valuable draft capital on a onesie position, make it TE and not QB. Oh, and chase upside. Like with QB, a low-end TE1 isn’t worth anything at all. Historically, the TE12 averages 10.0 FPG, which is less than a full point more than the TE16 (9.1). It’s not uncommon for the TE16 to be found on waivers, or for an owner to cobble together TE16-level production via streaming. And, better yet, it’s not uncommon for a high-end TE1 to start the season off on waivers. This is why high-risk / high-reward players like Tyler Higbee and Rob Gronkowski are going to rank highly in our rankings despite a median projection much lower than what their ADP might imply.
But with that said, you’d certainly be better off being weak at tight end than at running back or wide receiver. And, full-on punting the position has proven to be highly effective.
General Positional Strategy
Historically, your best bet has been drafting one of the Big-3 TEs or punting the position outright.
In each of the past three seasons, and despite high draft capital, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz were among the league leaders (at all positions) in win-rate. However, over the same period, there have been eight different tight ends to be drafted after the top-12 tight ends and still finish top-six at the position. That’s 44% of all top-six finishers.
In 2019 it was Mark Andrews and Darren Waller. In 2018 it was George Kittle, Eric Ebron, O.J. Howard, and Jared Cook. In 2017 it was Evan Engram and Jack Doyle.
Historically, your best bet has been drafting one of the Big-3 TEs or punting the position outright. But each season is its own unique snowflake, and this year the Big-3 feels like a Big-5 or a Big-6. But it also feels especially deep, with a number of young high-upside talents being drafted in the last few rounds (or not at all) who could be this year’s Andrews or Waller.
2020 Strategy / Who to Target
The TE position is weird this year.
Travis Kelce, then George Kittle, then Mark Andrews, then Zach Ertz, then Darren Waller, then Evan Engram. That’s how nearly every site has them, and that’s how I have them. And they all feel like they’re deserving of their own tier.
All of these players are excellent options. In ESPN leagues (10 teams, Start: 2WR, 1 Flex), there’s a good chance Kelce beats all wide receivers in WAR, as he did in 2018. Kittle is maybe my favorite player in the NFL. Andrews broke the PFF record for YPRR last year, and he did it spending half of the season on the injury report. I’m convinced we haven’t yet seen his true potential. But, all of this being said, I’m really fine with waiting on the position. In fact, I usually like my teams more the later I’ve waited on taking a tight end, and that’s been true for a number of years now. Of these names, I have by far the most exposure to Andrews. I’d be happy to land Waller or Engram too, but I usually only grab them when they’ve fallen well past their ADP.
In the next tier, Tyler Higbee stands out on NFL (ADP: TE12). He’s one of the most interesting players in drafts this year. The chances he beats his ADP may only be (for argument’s sake) 35%. But that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad pick. In fact, if there’s even just a 20% chance he is exactly who he was at the tail-end of last year (20.0 FPG) he might be a great pick. I’ll draft him on NFL, and in other leagues when he falls. And then I’m almost always fading the Hurst-Hooper tier right after him. (Though the rest of our staff is rightfully very high on Hurst.) So who are my most-owned tight ends?
In this space last year, I wrote: “I’d be more than happy with Delanie Walker as a TE1 (TE13), and a few rounds later adding one or two of (in order) Mark Andrews (TE16), Darren Waller (UDFA)…”
Walker didn’t hit, but both Andrews and Waller surely did. Who is my Andrews and Waller this year?
As we said, TE feels especially deep this year, so there’s a number of names to choose from.
My favorite bets for this year’s Andrews or Waller are Jonnu Smith (ADP: TE21), Chris Herndon (ADP: TE22), and Irv Smith Jr. (ADP: TE29). I’m almost always fading the Hurst-Hooper tier to grab one or more of these three TEs. All are excellent high-upside homerun swings.They’ve been basically free all offseason, when they should rank as high-end TE2s at worst. Don’t worry too much about the specific order, because I seem to reorganize them in my rankings every week.
Irv Smith Jr. has the highest ceiling and the lowest floor, but remember… ceiling does matter more than floor. Jonnu Smith and Chris Herndon are much safer but with good upside in their own rights. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant (lower within that tier) might be more talented, but their ceilings are somewhat capped in far more crowded offenses.
If I miss out on one of the top-10 TEs, I’m happy to draft two of these players. And if I missed out on one of the top-5 TEs, it’s also likely I’ll draft one of these three. Again, they’re basically free.
But most importantly, be active on the waiver wire. If it’s clear early on that one of these names doesn’t have the high-upside role we had hoped, they should quickly be dropped. Always be on the lookout for the next breakout TE. There’s a number of quality high-upside TEs who will go undrafted, but could prove viable, or could even be a league-winner (as we’ve seen over the past three seasons).
Consider Will Dissly. He averages 15.0 FPG in games started and finished throughout his career. For perspective, 15.0 FPG would have ranked behind only Travis Kelce and George Kittle last year. And in spite of that upside, I doubt I’ve seen the oft-injured Dissly drafted in a single league this year. Trey Burton was one of my favorite deep sleepers, but, nursing an injury, he’s a player to add to your waiver wire watch list rather than draft.
Highest-Owned: Mark Andrews, Jonnu Smith, Irv Smith Jr., Chris Herndon
Kicker / Defense
In most leagues, I’m typically not even drafting a kicker or a defense. Instead, I’ll be drafting high-upside flex-eligible players. And then right before Week 1, I’ll drop the two worst players on my team, and pick up whichever K and DEF I like best on waivers.
If that isn’t an option, or if I’m drafting particularly late in the offseason, I’ll always draft a kicker and then a defense (in that order) with my last two picks.
Who am I taking? It really doesn’t matter. Usually whichever K ranks highest in our projections (or ADP) and whichever DEF has the best Week 1 matchup.
We’re really bad at identifying ex-ante who the top kickers and defenses are going to be in a given season. K and DEF are also extremely deep, very replaceable, and not worth very much at all in terms of winning you games. In real terms, you have a much better chance at returning top-three production by streaming DEFs than you do of drafting the first DEF off the board. All of this is explained in more detail here. (TLDR: Last year I -- very easily -- returned top-three production by streaming defenses.)