What is the most important thing to know when drafting? — Justin S.
The number of players who got away from each position. I usually level my running backs and wide receivers. My tiers are basically No. 1 fantasy WR/RB, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 — so four tiers. I always take the player to a higher level when it’s my turn to pick. I have nothing to do with the player or the byes. I really don’t care one ounce about playoff schedules. If it’s a tournament or if you have a big total points prize, I might try to stack the WR and QB. Maybe WR, QB and TE. I usually pick kickers with late byes because I don’t want to think about the kicker. I stream D/ST based on the opposing offense, mostly.
Between RB and WR, which position has more value in the tier 3 to tier 5 range? Or which of those positions is it more important to prioritize landing a top player in that position? — Jonathan H.
My fifth level is just filling out the cheat sheet when everyone ranks players like me. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten into the fifth level of a draft. I always draft my tier 3 the whole time and only touch tier 4s. I usually draft WRs very aggressively. I don’t play Flex 9. I only play Flex 10, Flex 11/SuperFlex really. Deeper formats. What this means is three WRs and one flex (Flex 10) versus two WRs and one flex (Flex 9). I like three WRs and two flexes (Flex 11). I mostly crushed the queue of WR every round. Except for the first round, where I’m tempted to take a top RB, I’m leaning towards drafting WRs every early-round pick. Again, if you’re Flex 9, forget it. I get a Top 5 RB and/or as many of the Top 25 WRs (basically tier 1 and 2) as I can muster. The tier-three RBs are the clear backups who have some active role even if the starter is healthy/effective, but who are one injury away from being a real difference maker. There are just not many of these types. This is why the waiver wire is usually ripe with one or two backs who can play at least that week, every week. Samaje Perine is an example of this level-three RB. Also, AJ Dillon and Jamaal Williams.
I thought I was going to get some high quality RBs after the norm this year. Derrick Henry in the second round, Joe Mixon in the third, and Dalvin Cook even later. Should I be targeting WRs and QBs earlier than usual because of this? — Joseph K.
You don’t need to target QBs early. I know there is data that says this was a winning strategy last year. But in most years, QB1 is the QB drafted out of at least 10 or 11 QBs in the draft. Remember, QB touches are pretty uniform. Separating the field is much more difficult. As for running back values in the second round or later, I’m out of this market. If you think the guy could be a Top 5 RB, well, go for it. But I’ve done the historical data for a hundred different seasons and you’re just leaving so many expected points on the table that every second, third, fourth, and even fifth round RB is taken by a WR. This is why you count. At some point, WRs will pass on running backs to the number selected and that’s when the tiers tend to be relatively small. Hopefully you’ve had four or five WRs before.
Who are the under the radar rookies drafted on Day 3, or not drafted, who do you want long term at QB, RB, WR, and TE? — Michael P.
No. Don’t do it. Rookies drafted on Day 3/undrafted are up for waivers. If a guy has a starting job on the eve of your draft, great (if the price is right). Typically third-day rookies aren’t revealed as fantasy assets until the season begins. The speculation as to who they are is pure guesswork. Math is really bad. Basically, three percent of WRs and RBs taken on day three or later have any significant fantasy relevance. It only counts WRs and RBs, and only the drafted ones because the undrafted ones are too numerous to count. Even if we back out all the cuts in our drafts on average, we still get maybe a 10% hit rate even at low scoring levels.
New TEs that don’t go for me in redraft leagues. I always bet on the base rate, and the math on rookie TEs is spotty. As I wrote in our fantasy football magazine: “Kyle Pitts is the only rookie tight end to score more than 170 points as a rookie in the past five seasons and he’s whiffed at 176.6. He’s the -four overall picks in real life and a second-round fantasy pick, too. Another one scored more than 150 points.” So a generational prospect has little rookie relevance and is primarily you get a bupkus from even the other very drafted. It’s just a hard pass for me.
Which QB2 do you see jumping into QB1 territory? — Chris L.
Obviously Aaron Rodgers, because of his averages over the last three years is 35 TD passes and seventh overall in QB scoring. Maybe he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder and see if that’s the case, historically. Also, I think the Jets WR talent is at least as good as Rodgers’ in Green Bay, that’s how highly I view Garrett Wilson as a talent. But the point is you wait for a QB because someone from the bottom half of the QB queue is almost certain to be a difference maker. And if you miss that guy, it’s not lame because you can always get another QB. You have to lean on steal points later in your draft and you have to be disciplined, structurally, to do that at QB.
Which rookie running back do you expect to make the biggest fantasy splash, other than Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs? — Alexander B.
I don’t expect anyone. I hope someone does and that’s it for the later rounds and the waiver wire. But I can almost guarantee that the rookie who will matter in a fantasy sense when the chips are on the table will be someone drafted and dumped in most leagues. Second-round rookie RBs have about a 25% hit rate. It goes double for first-round picks. You only get about two each year, although there are many more depending on the year.
I like following your zeroRB strategy last season. Who are your early favorites for the 2023 draft strategy? — Phil L.
Maybe zeroRB will turn people off. “We have to run, genius!” they said. I’m tired of explaining that this does not mean “no RBs.” What about “WR-focused drafting.” Basically, unless you’re just running out of someone at another position, your focus on every premium pick should be, “What WR can I get here?” That’s your drafting bias. That is the structural strategy you should follow. Again, I can’t stress enough that this is for Flex 10 and 11, and not Flex 9. If you have two WRs and a flex, even in full PPR, you need to prioritize the RBs more aggressively .
Do you think Lions rookie TE Sam LaPorta will be a Top 10 player at his position? —David H.
Of course I don’t. Look, rookie TEs are pretty much worthless. Try making a bank in another way. You’re just wasting your time even trying to ferret these people out.
Can Travis Kelce continue to crush the TE position at age 33? Is this a year to pay off Kelce, or can we find value with Mark Andrews/TJ Hockenson/George Kittle in tier 2, or fill the position with Pat Freiermuth or another young TE late ? — Jonathan H.
Now this is interesting. I did research. I looked of the top TEs at age 33 and age 34 scoring. How did the 33-year-old top scorer stand at the age of 34? Takeaway: Two are improved. Gonzalez is down 17%. That would put Kelce at about 262 PPR points. But again, two prime-age-33 guys are on the mend, so you can’t do him. Kelce should be a Top 8 pick again. There is no getting around it. He could be the No. 1 to choose, cautious of value, even given the great content he gives in a position you have to play. You can’t pass on Kelce in the back half of Round 1. I’m not tempted for a second by the likes of Saquon Barkley or Austin Ekeler over Kelce. I can easily see things going for both of them more than Kelce. Ekeler is older at RB than Kelce is at TE. Barkley is averaging 14.9 points in all PPR over his last seven games. Snoring.
(Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)