NFL Redraft: The Four Draft Strategies
Flexibility is a key factor in excelling during draft season, but going in with some kind of plan is important. An overarching idea should dictate your selections for as long as its viable, ideally all 18 rounds.
Here a four popular strategies, one for each major position (apologies to defense/special teams and kickers). These concepts should help you formulate a plan that can be adjusted based on when and where players go off the board. It’s possible these strategies may not be fully realized in a draft if complications arise, so don’t be afraid to audible if necessary. It’s also possible to incorporate more than one of them.
Pay close attention to the draft pick guidance at the end of each section, as that should weigh heavily into your strategy. You may be set on Zero RB going into the draft, but end up with the first pick, at which point it would be wise to alter your strategy and select one of the top running backs.
Late Round Quarterback
Fantasy football’s oldest strategy, it provides the framework for successful teams. In 2019, late round quarterback looks as relevant as ever. With Baker Mayfield and a hoard of other productive rookies entering the league last year, the position looks deeper than any year in recent memory.
The crux of the late quarterback strategy focuses on supply and demand. Unlike other positions on the football field, quarterbacks receive a similar touch distribution on a week-to-week basis. While variations occur, quarterback scoring is typically flatter than other positions. For example, while Patrick Mahomes may lead the position in scoring by a decent margin, the difference between Mahomes and a player like Mitchell Trubisky isn’t great enough to warrant an early pick on Mahomes.
Similarly, individual quarterback scoring varies tremendously from season to season. In just the last few years, Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton have led the position in scoring. With the exception of Rodgers, none of these signal callers came off the board in the early rounds of drafts, and Mahomes and Ryan were taken well into the double-digit rounds in some leagues.
Draft position note: It doesn’t matter when you’re picking for this one, just wait as long as possible. A run of quarterbacks might make for itchy trigger fingers, but try to hold out as long as a few of the aforementioned names are still around.
Zero Running Back
The zero running back strategy focuses primarily on pass catchers in the early rounds under the concept that star running backs suffer injuries at a higher rate than elite wide receivers. This strategy is sometimes referred to as the anti-fragile approach, bypassing a vulnerable position for one that is historically more stable.
Digging into the specifics, a team implementing this strategy should leave rounds 1-5 with only one running back and three or four pass catchers. While leaning on the elite wide receivers guarantees production, it remains important to secure touches in the running back slots as well, so it’s not necessary to completely ignore the position. After taking a single running back early, target a few pass-catching running backs in the middle rounds, as these players can provide production without the volume of feature rushers.
It’s imperative teams using this strategy scour the waiver wire for running backs who may secure touches. The entire concept is based on the fragility of the position, so striking when injuries occur makes sense. Capitalize on the fragility. Drafting one or two backs with the size and speed to take over a lead role is also a solid idea.
Draft position note: This strategy is best when selecting outside of the first four picks. Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott are widely accepted as the top four players regardless of format, and each would be an excellent cornerstone to any team. From pick No. 5 onward, fire this one up.
Robust Running Back
Conversely, landing a workhorse running back can also elevate a fantasy team. While running backs endure more injuries, they also come with a higher touch projection. A select few also work as receivers and goal line backs, making them well worth the injury risk. Unlike zero running back, this strategy embraces fragility.
In order to land one or more of these backs, drafters need to target the position early. At the top of drafts, Barkley, Elliott, McCaffrey and Kamara deservedly come off the board in the first four picks. However, backs with elite upside can often be found throughout the early rounds as well, pairing nicely with these studs.
When looking at running backs in the early rounds, it remains important to target backs with receiving ability and feature back size. These traits help a running back stay on the field for all three downs and remain in the game during goal line situations.
Productive wide receivers are easily found in the middle and late rounds once a stable of high-volume running backs are secured. Players with elite opportunity or ample upside fit well in this strategy (or any strategy).
Draft position note: This strategy is ideal when selecting early in drafts, typically in the first four or five picks (David Johnson is a viable addition to the aforementioned studs). It can also work if other drafters lean toward a zero running back strategy, leaving several high-volume backs on the board well after their ADPs.
Early Tight End
Perhaps the largest edge in all of fantasy football is the elite tight end. Just last season, three tight ends recorded target shares of 26%, with no other player closer than 20%.
The cast occasionally changes, but there are typically two or three elite tight ends. Last season, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle easily paced the position and produced on par with the league’s elite receivers. Having the ability to play one of the league’s elite receivers in the tight end slot creates a huge advantage.
Not only are there just three standouts at the position, tight end thins out quick. Useful running backs and wide receivers can be found in the later rounds of drafts and plucked off the waiver wire, but not tight ends. Most tight ends taken in the double-digit rounds or found on the waiver wire are touchdown-dependent and difficult to trust week to week.
Candidates: Kelce, Ertz and Kittle
Draft position note: Like robust running back, this strategy requires early round draft capital. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a first-round pick. Ertz and Kittle often fall into the late second and early third round, so a hybrid strategy mixing in zero running back or robust running back is possible. Kelce is a borderline first-rounder, but even he can fall to the middle of the second round.