Mike Clay

Draft Analysis

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Maximize Your Starting Lineup

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Before I get started, a disclaimer:

Heading into a fantasy draft, your strategy should be built to allow flexibility. You need to be prepared to react to your targets coming off the board earlier than expected. You also must be ready to adjust when a star falls further than they should have. That much is true.

You should, however, have a gameplan penciled into place as a guideline for when you intend on targeting certain positions. While you’re busy licking your chops thinking about an Aaron Rodgers-Randall Cobb battery in rounds two and three, your opponents are looking deeper down the ADP list and considering the relative value of those top players to players with similar ADPs at other positions.

Rodgers sounds great as a guy who will hold down your quarterback position all season, but what if that leaves you with Rashard Mendenhall as your RB2? Consider the following list of quarterbacks who are being selected after Mendenhall in most mock drafts: Matt Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Tony Romo.

Would you prefer Rodgers and Mendenhall or one of the aforementioned quarterbacks and one of Stevan Ridley, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, or Frank Gore? Your gut should be telling you to get the premier tailback and a quick study of Value Based Drafting would tell you the same.

Today, I’m going to look at recent ADP and examine the players being selected in the first eight 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.

Editor's Note: For the latest rankings, projections, mock drafts and more, get the Rotoworld Draft Guide. Plus, follow @rotoworld_fb and @MikeClayNFL for all your fantasy football news and advice on twitter.

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 8

Still Available:
QB: Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler
RB: Jonathan Stewart, Ben Tate, Bryce Brown, Mark Ingram, Fred Jackson
WR: DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin, Stevie Johnson, Kenny Britt, Josh Gordon, Mike Williams
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Jared Cook, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley

If anything, this list of available players shows us how deep fantasy football is these days. Romo is a viable back-end starting quarterback. Rudolph, Finley, and possibly Cook will make for solid starting tight ends this year. I cut the wide receiver list off at six, but I could’ve listed, at least, another half dozen wideouts who will flirt with WR3 status this year.

The position that’s notably drained at this point in the draft is running back. This is extremely important to note if you’re in a league that requires you to start a flex or third running back. You still need to find an every-week starter in the eighth round. If you wait to fill your flex, you’re going to end up disappointed with both your running back depth and your flex situation. As we learned in a study I did previously on the ideal way to fill your flex position, you should always be eyeing a running back for your flex in non-PPR leagues.

Now that you’re aware that the top available backs in and after the eighth round are backups or involved in a committee, it’s time to consider where to go with this pick. Romo is a capable QB1, but it still leaves you with one of the worst situations at the position in the league. Rudolph was a touchdown machine last year, but you can get similar players later in the draft and, as we’ll soon learn, there are better values earlier on.

That leaves us with easily the deepest fantasy position of 2013: wide receiver. I have Williams as the best player available at the position in the eighth round. He was fantasy’s No. 18 wideout in 2012 and is in nearly the exact same situation in 2013. Still, he’s available as late as the ninth round in 2013. You can’t beat that value. And, hey, maybe Williams isn’t your cup of tea? No problem. The likes of Gordon, Jackson, and Johnson will also be available. If you’re lucky, Cecil Shorts or Danario Alexander could fall out of the seventh round and give you even more options.

The best part about waiting this long to fill out your wide receiver unit is that you’re able to easily hedge your bets. Williams, Jeremy Maclin, and Lance Moore can be had in the ninth round. Justin Blackmon, Denarius Moore, Emmanuel Sanders, Vincent Brown, and Michael Floyd (a personal favorite) are available in Round 10.

Roster Progress: Mike Williams (WR)

Round 7

Still Available:
QB: Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Eli Manning
RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Daryl Richardson, Andre Brown, Jonathan Stewart, Ben Tate
WR: Greg Jennings, T.Y. Hilton, Anquan Boldin, Cecil Shorts, Danario Alexander
TE: Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph, Jared Cook, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley

I’m going to work my way backwards through the positions this time. We see that only one tight end (Pitta) is available that won’t be there one round later. As good as Pitta is, we’re starting to see here that the middle tier of TE1 candidates is spread over several rounds. An astute drafter will catch that and take advantage if still looking to find a tight end at this point.

We see five new fresh faces at wide receiver, but none are major improvements on the players available in the next few rounds.

Three new backs are available here, but only one is worth discussing. Richardson is a guy I and Evan Silva like a lot, but there’s plenty of risk. He’s far from assured a starting job in St. Louis and only has 98 career carries (albeit impressive) to his name. That being the case, he’s a value in round seven, but not the best value.

That leaves us with quarterback. Three new very impressive names were added to our list in sophomores Griffin, Wilson, and Luck. All three showed a ton of promise in 2012 and each would make for a strong pick in the seventh round. My favorite of the bunch is Griffin, but those who disagree have alternatives to choose from. Quarterback is very deep this year. The smart move is to wait and take advantage of a seventh round value.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), Mike Williams (WR)

Round 6

Still Available:
QB: Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck
RB: Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Daryl Richardson, Andre Brown
WR: Antonio Brown, Eric Decker, Tavon Austin, Steve Smith, Greg Jennings
TE: Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez, Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph

If not for (Spoiler Alert) Rob Gronkowski’s injury, we’d probably be eyeing the tight end position in the sixth or seventh round. Witten usually comes off around the fifth/sixth round turn, so he’s risky to wait on. Davis and Gonzalez, however, can usually be had in the sixth. That’s solid value.

Stafford and Kaepernick are a pair of solid additions to the quarterback pool, but they’re not much better than Griffin, who we grabbed a round later. Bernard and Vereen are potential breakout candidates, but they’re both better in PPR and very risky options for the flex spot.

That leaves us addressing wide receiver again. Witten aside, Brown, Decker, Smith, Jennings, and even aforementioned Shorts are the best available players at this spot. I believe Decker will put up top-20 numbers again this year, so he’s my pick, but as mentioned earlier, there are plenty of alternative options. Those options include Brown, who is a candidate for 80-plus receptions.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), Mike Williams (WR), Eric Decker, (WR)

Round 5

Still Available:
QB: Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III
RB: Ahmad Bradshaw, Ryan Mathews, Eddie Lacy, Rashard Mendenhall, Giovani Bernard
WR: Danny Amendola, Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, Pierre Garcon
TE: Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez, Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph

Okay, we’re in the fifth round here, so that means, during an actual draft, you’d already have four players rostered. If you’re one of the many people who think it’s silly to spend three of your first four picks on the same position (specifically running back), the underwhelming names on each of our first four lists of available running backs should cause you to reconsider. If you wait until the fifth round to fill your flex in a non-PPR league, you’re going to have to start an underwhelming and/or risky player like Bradshaw, Mathews, or Lacy each and every week. That’s not much to get excited about.

No tight ends were added to the list, so that’s a clear message to avoid the position in the fifth round. Ryan and especially Brady are intriguing quarterback names, but neither are as good a value as what we landed in the seventh round.

That leaves us to address our third (or first, depending on how you want to look at it) wide receiver slot. My top-ranked player here is old man Wayne, but there are tons of players to get excited about. Nicks and 100-catch candidate Amendola really jump off the page, but Smith and Garcon are also candidates to flirt with WR1 value.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), Reggie Wayne (WR), Eric Decker, (WR), Mike Williams (WR)

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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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