Mike Clay

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Maximize Your Starting Lineup

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

I know. I know.

You should never go into a fantasy football draft with a set plan as to when you will target certain positions. That’s true.

You should, however, have a gameplan penciled into place as a guideline for when you intend on targeting certain positions. Instead of focusing on the absurdly impressive numbers put up by Aaron Rodgers and Rob Gronkowski last season, look deeper down the ADP list and consider the relative value of those players compared to players with similar ADPs at other positions. Gronkowski sounds great as a guy who will hold down your tight end position all season, but what if that leaves you with DeAngelo Williams as your RB2? Consider that Fred Davis’ ADP is one slot after Williams. Would you prefer Gronkowski and Williams or, say, Trent Richardson and Davis? Your gut should be telling you to get the premier tailback and a study of Value Based Drafting (VBD) would tell you the same.

Today, I’m going to look at ADP and examine the players being selected in the first nine rounds of a 12-team league. Here’s the twist. Instead of starting with the first round, I’m going to work backwards. This way, we can find value picks later in the draft, making earlier selections easier. This will help maximize what you can get out of your starting lineup (plus one reserve for good measure).

For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume a starting lineup that includes 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, and 1 Flex. Scoring will be standard across the board, including no PPR.

Round 9

Best Available:
QB: Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman, Carson Palmer
RB: Donald Brown, Toby Gerhart, Ronnie Hillman, Pierre Thomas, LeGarrette Blount
WR: Santonio Holmes, Greg Little, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Santana Moss
TE: Jacob Tamme, Tony Gonzalez, Dustin Keller, Brent Celek, Greg Olsen

Here’s where our strategy begins. Ideally, your starting lineup is completely full at this point, but considering the lack of depth at running back, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re selecting your starting tight end or third wide receiver here. The way our draft will work out, we’re simply looking for bench depth here.

Looking at the best available, we see one name that really stands out among the rest: Donald Brown. Brown is easily our best value pick considering the drop from him to the other remaining running backs. Unless he loses the starting gig, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be available this late come August. Nonetheless, his availability here tells us that it’s not the end of the world if you need to wait a bit to fill your flex position with a capable tailback. For the sake of this article, he’s our pick.

By the way, in our current format (2 RB, 3 WR, Flex), it’s important that you target a running back as your Flex. In 2-2-1 formats, the RB3 and WR3-level players are pretty equal in points scored, but when you add that extra dozen wide receivers, our projections will show a clear advantage to running backs. In this example, (Teaser Alert) we end up grabbing three early backs, but Brown’s late availability gives us a strong fourth option at a very important position.

Other options here include Jacob Tamme and Santonio Holmes. Four of our top-12 rated tight ends are still on the board, which shows the drop-off after the top-eight. Had Brown not been available, Tamme would’ve been an easy pick (which would’ve changed our eighth-round pick). Holmes is a back-end WR3, so you wouldn’t be getting great value had you been forced to settle on him.

Roster Progress: Donald Brown (Bench)

Round 8

Best Available:
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Robert Griffin III, Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Joe Flacco
RB: Donald Brown, DeAngelo Williams, Mark Ingram, Stevan Ridley, David Wilson
WR: Denarius Moore, Santonio Holmes, Greg Little, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree
TE: Fred Davis, Jacob Tamme, Tony Gonzalez, Dustin Keller, Brent Celek

Entering the eighth round, this is the point in the draft where you’re relatively relaxed. Your starters are pretty much set in stone and you’re a round away from only having to worry about grabbing a few handcuffs and upside bench stashes.

Of course, before we start filling the queue with lottery tickets, we still have that one last starter to pick up. We’re already seeing the depth of each position outside of running back. Roethlisberger is our No. 12 quarterback, but as we’ll see next round, the drop-off from No. 8 is very small. There are a few appealing running backs here, but mostly upside guys you’d feel better about on your bench (Ingram, Wilson). Denarius Moore is our only “addition” at wide receiver and he isn’t a terribly better option than Holmes. The standout here is Fred Davis. Our eighth-ranked tight end is a bit of a drop-off from the top-seven, but he’s an absolute value two rounds after Jermichael Finley came off the board. He’s the pick.

Remember, had Donald Brown not been available, we would’ve wanted Tamme in the ninth round. That would’ve eliminated Davis here. The best alternative would’ve been to go with a fourth wideout (Moore) or, because he’s not much better than the next handful of wideouts, another running back (Williams, Ingram, Ridley, Wilson all worthy). The project we’re doing focuses on maximizing your starting lineup, but, as mentioned earlier, don’t feel like you can’t grab a value running back and wait on your tight end or third wide receiver.

Roster Progress: Fred Davis (TE), Donald Brown (Bench)

Round 7

Best Available:
QB: Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger
RB: Donald Brown, DeAngelo Williams, Mark Ingram, James Starks, Peyton Hillis
WR: Pierre Garcon, Torrey Smith, Robert Meachem, Denarius Moore, Santonio Holmes
TE: Fred Davis, Jacob Tamme, Tony Gonzalez, Dustin Keller, Brent Celek

Tight end is eliminated and Donald Brown still paces the best-available running back list. That leaves us looking to maximize our roster at either quarterback or wide receiver. Starting with the former, we see four options we won’t have next round. Although being the team that starts a run is often a good idea, it’s not here. The five quarterbacks shown are very close in value and a pretty steep drop from Tony Romo, who we should be targeting a round earlier.

Instead, we’ll grab our eventual third wide receiver. The best available here is Pierre Garcon, but there are several strong options to choose from, including Torrey Smith and Robert Meachem. We rank these guys as middle-of-the-pack WR3 options, so they’re all fine choices. Because he’s top-ranked on our list, Garcon is the pick.

Roster Progress: Pierre Garcon (WR), Fred Davis (TE), Donald Brown (Bench)

Round 6

Best Available:
QB: Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan
RB: Jonathan Stewart, C.J. Spiller, Willis McGahee, Donald Brown, DeAngelo Williams
WR: Brandon Lloyd, Eric Decker, Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon
TE: Jermichael Finley, Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, Fred Davis, Jacob Tamme

The fifth and sixth rounds really highlight why the selection of running backs early on is the right decision. As we enter the sixth round, we start to see some very strong options at the quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end position. Meanwhile, Donald Brown is still the fourth best running back option, while top running back options Jonathan Stewart and C.J. Spiller are stuck in legitimate committee attacks.

Meanwhile, our No. 4 tight end (Jermichael Finley), No. 8 wide receiver (Brandon Lloyd), and No. 7 quarterback (Tony Romo) are all available. Passing on running back early would force you to skip out on these great values at other positions. Because we’re already finished at tight end, Finley is out. Lloyd vs. Romo would’ve been tough, but the good news is that both are also available in the fifth round. Because Romo’s ADP is later than Lloyd’s, he’s our pick here.

Roster Progress: Tony Romo (QB), Pierre Garcon (WR), Fred Davis (TE), Donald Brown (Bench)

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Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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