Fantasy Football Draft: Strategy navigating picks 9-12

What is the optimal draft strategy to employ when picking near the back end of the first round? PFN's James Aguirre has the answers.

When it comes to approaching your fantasy football draft strategy, everyone loves to discuss first-round picks. Who should be taken at 1.01? I draft ninth, who should I choose? The reality is, you’re not going to win your league in the first round. These players are first-round picks for a reason. Most of them at least. 

You shouldn’t be looking for the home run in the first round. Instead, you should be looking for safety. Look for someone who will not lose your league for you. It is tough to whiff on a first-round pick. Doing so, however, will have you drawing dead far sooner than you realize.

First-round picks are also crucial for, what I find, is an under-discussed reason: it dictates the rest of your draft strategy. The first few rounds should be spent targeting “safe,” low-risk players who will not lose your league for you. The players you pick are important, but so is your roster construction. 

In the first four rounds, I like to walk away with at least two running backs and two wide receivers. The bell-cow running back is a dying breed in today’s NFL. While they don’t matter all that much in the real game, their volume is unmatched in fantasy football. Volume reigns over all else, which is why you want your running backs early. 

Every draft is different, and you need to be able to react to every draft individually. Optimally, though, I’m looking at two running backs in the first four rounds. With that general draft strategy rant out of the way, let’s get specific. Here is the draft strategy I like to employ when drafting between picks nine and twelve.

**ADP is based on fantasydata.com

**Amendments**

With all of the news we received on Saturday, changes had to be made for the players impacted.

Chiefs Backfield

The biggest news involved the Kansas City Chiefs acquiring LeSean McCoy. Our own Jason Sarney wrote a quick reaction piece this morning. McCoy will make $3 million guaranteed, while Damien Williams is making $1.7 million. It is not suitable for Williams, who now can not be considered in the late second or early third. McCoy will command some workload in the Chiefs backfield. I see this as a running back by committee scenario. Williams should theoretically get most of the passing down work, while McCoy figures to be used on early downs and could still garner some targets as well.

I wouldn’t take Williams as anything higher than middle to low-end RB2, and that may not be low enough. It puts a little more emphasis on taking an RB in the 1st round, in my opinion. I know McCoy had a bad 2018, but that was with a Buffalo Bills team that isn’t nearly as offensively inclined as the Chiefs will be.

As for McCoy, he is worthy of a high-end RB3 share, in my opinion, with a possibility for more. You will probably be able to get him at a value as people will be slow to react to the news. If he gets the early-down work in Kansas City, he should definitely be on your radar.

Regarding Darwin Thompson, you can remove him from the tier I had him in before. He is nothing more than a late-round stash now, who will need an injury to either Williams or McCoy to have fantasy relevance.

Bills Backfield

The McCoy departure gives a little bit of clarity, but it most likely will still be an RBBC. Frank Gore never seems to die, while T.J. Yeldon figures to handle passing-down work and potentially goal line carries as well. I wouldn’t overreact and draft Devin Singletary as the Bills RB1. That isn’t likely to be the case. It’s a situation I’m staying away from myself.

Texans Backfield

I don’t think the acquisition of Carlos Hyde will affect Duke Johnson all that much. My guess is the Texans just wanted a veteran body in the backfield to back up Duke. He might see some early-down work, but Johnson is still the back to own in Houston. I stand by my assessment of him that you’ll see below.

Stills

Kenny Stills was also on the move yesterday. He joins what is now a loaded receiving corps in Houston. I think the impact on Will Fuller and Deandre Hopkins is minimal, if at all. Who it hurts is KeKe Coutee. Still played 32% of his snaps from the slot lat season, while Coutee played in the slot 73% of the time. It seems like Houston wanted insurance for Coutee, who is already dealing with an ankle injury that could keep him out in week 1.

Coutee was more productive in the slots according to PFF’s yards per route run metric. Coutee averaged 1.88 YPRR from the slot, while Still averaged 0.88 YPRR.

I think both have WR4/5 appeal, though I could see a scenario where they cut into each other’s workload. To start, I would favor Stills seeing as he is healthy. Either player will make for an interesting Daily Fantasy tournament dart if the other does not play that week. Still has been added to the list of late-round targets at the bottom.

Draft Strategy Rounds 1 and 2

When I have been in this range during the summer, I have gone wide-receiver/running-back with my first two selections. I have seen several analysts suggest a two wide receiver strategy in this range. While I understand the appeal of getting two top tier receivers, I value running backs more for their volume and positional scarcity.

In a format with a top-heavy prize structure, it makes sense to employ a draft strategy which starts with two receivers and hope to land some high upside running backs who will smash their ADP. For your standard ten and twelve man leagues, however, you only need to beat your opponent every week, and the best way to do that is by locking in volume. 

With that in mind, I am also a fan of going two running backs to start. This draft strategy gives you more leeway with your roster, as you have two RB1’s to anchor your squad. You can then pound wide receiver in the next rounds and take advantage of the weekly volatility at the position. 

Targets

As far as players to target, I would go after James Conner, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon and Le’Veon Bell for the runnings backs, and Julio Jones, JuJu-Smith Schuster, Tyreek Hill, Mike EvansOdell Beckham Jr. and Michael Thomas for the wide receivers. 

Is Elliott worth the risk?

If Ezekiel Elliott were to fall to you, I would advise against drafting him. I have had a gut feeling since his holdout started that he would not miss a game this season. It is just a gut feeling, but it is backed up by Jay Glazer’s most recent article at the Athletic. Glazer was all over the Beckham trade before it happened, and was wary of the Andrew Luck situation as well. It is good news to see he thinks Elliott won’t miss a significant amount of time. 

That being said, there is a chance he does miss significant time due to the holdout. Late Thursday night, Jerry Jones mentioned he is accepting that the Cowboys will play some games without Elliott. I guess my gut was wrong.

I talked about avoiding risk in the early rounds, and not drafting Elliott is a prime example of that. There are plenty of worthy first-round picks in this range that we know will be on the field week one.

If you’re fine taking that risk, go right ahead. I advise against it myself.

Kelce?

I think Travis Kelce is a fine place to start as well. I’m personally selling out for O.J. Howard a few rounds later, but if you prefer the best tight end in the league on the best offense in the league, I have no issues with Kelce. For full transparency, I have not drafted Kelce in any draft I have done so far, but I have no problems with it. 

A draft strategy I would not feel comfortable employing is pairing Kelce with a receiver. Again, I want that volume at the running back position, and it might not be there when it comes back to our pick in rounds three and four. 

To Gurley or not to Gurley?

You’ll notice a certain running back with arthritis in his knee missing from my targeted players. I think Todd Gurley is not draftable at his ADP. He is nowhere near any draft strategy I look to employ. Let’s take a look back at what the Los Angeles Rams have told us about their confidence in Gurley’s knee. 

Something else no one wants to talk about is they lost their starting center from last year (John Sullivan) and guard (Rodger Saffold).

I preached about safety in your draft strategy up top, and how you can lose your league in the first few rounds. Gurley is one of the ways that the doomsday scenario can come to fruition. I get the argument that “75% of Gurley would still have been an RB1 last year.” That is great. That means you are drafting him at his absolute ceiling at the back end of the first, beginning of the second round. I will pass. The running backs I mentioned above have no current health concerns and are in line to be the primary back on their respective teams. There is no reason to take the risk on Gurley this year. 

If you take anything away from this article, let it be this. DO NOT DRAFT TODD GURLEY.

Targets: RB Conner, Cook, Chubb, Mixon, Bell
WR Jones, Schuster, Hill, Evans, Beckham, Thomas, Kelce.

Rounds 3 and 4

Your picks in these rounds will depend on what draft strategy you employed in rounds one and two. If you started RB/WR, you are free to do almost anything you want. If one of Leonard Fournette, Damien Williams, Chris Carson or Aaron Jones were to fall to you, I would snap pick them with my third pick. That is not likely, however. 

That said, all four of those players should be gone. If that is the case, I don’t mind going WR/WR here. According to fantasy data, you’re looking at Amari Cooper, Stefon Diggs, Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Chris Godwin. My preference is to take Godwin over all of those names. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense figures to be one of the highest volume passing attacks in the league. Bruce Arians has hinted how he wants to use Godwin like he did Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. The arrow is pointing nowhere but up for Godwin. He is one of my primary targets to walk away with after my draft.

Tight End here?

Zach Ertz will also be available and is fine from a floor perspective. Here is a situation where I think you are drafting him at his ceiling as the TE2 or TE3. Instead, I would prefer to double-dip at wide receiver and target TE with my next round of picks. If George Kittle were to fall in this range, I would draft him over Ertz.

Targets based on rounds 1 and 2

If you started RB/RB, taking a WR is a necessity in this range. Any of the above players mentioned is perfectly suitable as your WR1. 

If starting WR/WR, Joshua Jacobs is the perfect compliment to that. While you won’t get a whole lot of upside, his projected volume is that of a bell-cow RB. You won’t fall too far behind with your RB1, and you should have the edge in the WR match up every week.

David Montgomery is another popular choice in this range. I outlined why I would stay away from him in an article a few weeks ago. He makes sense from a projected volume perspective; however, I don’t like that you are drafting him at his ceiling in this spot. He is not an impressive athlete according to Player Profiler, while his most comparable player is Carlos Hyde. Either Jacobs or Montgomery being your RB1 is why I prefer to grab an RB in the first two rounds. 

I prefer Sony Michel to Montgomery, and I think it is close between him and Jacobs. Michel is not going to make it back to you in rounds five and six, so if you’re looking for an RB1 and don’t like the two rookies mentioned above, I’m okay with Michel as your RB1.

Worthy reaches

I preached safety in the beginning and not going for the home run early. I am going to somewhat contradict that by saying I am okay drafting O.J. Howard in this range, as he is likely not to make it back to you. When drafting near the turn, you are going to make some reaches as guys will not make it back to you. With that in mind, I would gladly reach for Howard. 

Targets: RB Fournette, Williams, Carson, Jones (if still available), Michel, Jacobs
WR Cooper, Diggs, Edelman, Cooks, Godwin, Woods
TE Ertz, Kittle, Howard

Rounds 5 and 6

If your draft strategy has led you to not taking a tight end yet, now is the time to pounce. Howard being available would be a snap pick if you did not reach on him earlier. If not, Hunter Henry and Evan Engram should be your primary targets. After the top six tight ends, there is a substantial drop off. If you fail to land one of them, I would wait for a few rounds to target our next tier.

Running Backs 

I’ll start off with the elephant in the room: Melvin Gordon.

Gordon

I have no idea when Gordon will return from his holdout. He is dead set on getting paid, while the Chargers have historically been a cheap franchise. I don’t see an end to his hold out coming any time soon.

Having preached safety in the opener, I can’t recommend drafting him. He will most likely miss the first half of the season, and I am willing to bet you need that roster spot sooner rather than later. It is a high upside stash, but one which is uncomfortable for me.

Draft him at your own risk. I am advising against it.

The running backs in this range are all players I am fine targeting. Miles Sanders, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson and Austin Ekeler all figure to be available. I would rather draft Matt Breida later, but, am not opposed to Coleman as your RB2. There is one caveat with Sanders. I am confident he takes over as the primary back for the Philadelphia Eagles at some point in the season; however, I don’t know when that will be. 

If you have just one RB by this round, I would double dip with Sanders and another one of these players, as I don’t trust Sanders to be my RB2 to start the season. Coleman, Johnson, and Ekeler are all solid as your RB2, while you’re in excellent shape if you land any of these players as your RB3. Johnson has legitimate RB1 upside in the Houston Texans offense, which is why I am okay with missing out on the RBs at the three-four turn. That will change if Houston signs someone of significance.

Wide Receivers

My preferred draft strategy, however, is to grab my third WR before my third RB. If you have two RB’s and two WR’s by this time, I prioritize TE and my third WR in this range. There is one WR in this range that I would pounce on; D.J. Moore. He is projected to be Cam Newton‘s top receiver and faces one of the easiest pass defense schedules in the league. As teammate Curtis Samuel has received some well-deserved hype, Moore’s stock has taken a dip. Grabbing Moore as your WR3 leaves your starting corps in excellent shape. 

The other target I am most excited for is Josh Gordon. He was fantastic in a limited sample with Tom Brady last year, and I expect that chemistry to be even better this year. 

Other than Moore, it is thin in this range for WR. If Tyler Boyd or Calvin Ridley fall to you, I wouldn’t hesitate to take either of them. I’m not high on Mike Williams myself, which makes him a begrudging pick for me. Dede Westbrook and Allen Robinson would be a reach at the top of the sixth, but I prefer both over Williams.

Green

A.J. Green is a name you will encounter somewhere in this range. I am not of a fan of drafting players who are already injured, as they are likely not to get healthier as the year does on. Green is over 30 and had a severe ankle injury. They “hope” to get him in time for the first half of the season. That is a wide range to project.

Sorry if it is annoying, but I advise against draft him. If you do, know the risk you’re taking.

Up to this point, my ideal draft strategy would have two RB’s, three WR’s and a TE to start my roster.

Targets: TE Howard, Henry, Engram
RB Sanders, Coleman, Johnson, Ekeler
WR Moore, Gordon, Boyd, Ridley, Williams, Westbrook, Robinson

Draft strategy rounds 7, 8, 9 and 10

This range is the earliest I would consider drafting a quarterback. Late round QB is a proven winning draft strategy. The QB position is so deep this year that there is absolutely no reason to take a QB early. I happily pass on Patrick Mahomes in the third because it is the most replaceable position when it comes to fantasy scoring. The founder of late-round QB, J.J. Zachariason, defines the strategy as extracting value out of the QB position, not necessarily waiting until a particular round or being the last person to draft a QB. 

Quarterbacks

Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan would be my preferred targets, but again, I would rather wait. Jameis Winston, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray are my targets at the 9-10 turn.

Tight Ends

If you failed to land one of the top tight ends, Vance McDonald and David Njoku are suitable targets as your TE1 in this range, along with Austin Hooper at the nine-ten turn. 

Wide Receivers

If you wish to continue stockpiling RB’s and WR’s (which is my preferred draft strategy) Christian Kirk is available according to Fantasy Data’s ADP. Will Fuller, Samuel, Sammy Watkins (though he could fall to round nine) and Allen Robinson are also solid targets.

Sterling Shepard is intriguing as well. He will be the top wideout for the New York Giants. The only concern with him is if he can play outside. As your potential WR4, it is a risk worth taking, in my opinion.

Targets to consider in rounds nine and ten are Dante Pettis, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Corey Davis. You won’t ever find a receiver with a target share as high as Davis had last year this late. 

Michael Gallup is a receiver I would aggressively target outside of his ADP. He has been criminally under drafted all season, and there is no reason for that.

Running Backs

As for running backs, there is one final tier I will touch on in a second. Derrius Guice is not in that tier but is intriguing as a potential bell-cow in the seventh/eighth round. I would shy away, but understand the appeal in taking him here. 

The tier mentioned above consists of Darwin Thompson, Tony Pollard, Justice Hill, and Matt Breida. All three rookies and Breida have a massive potential to outperform their ADP.

**Thompson has been removed in light of the McCoy acquisition.

Hill

Hill projects to be the primary target out of the backfield for what should be one of the run-heavier offenses in the league. The Baltimore Ravens unique offense will keep Hill on the field, even though he is not the primary ball carrier. It is also feasible to see the rookie earn more carries as the year goes on once they realize how much more explosive he is in comparison to Mark Ingram.

Breida

Matt Breida is arguably a better talent than Coleman. While I think Coleman is an okay pick, I would rather have the discount on Breida. I think this will be a 60-40 timeshare between the two, favoring Coleman to start. However, it would not surprise me in the least to see Breida get more touches as the season goes on. Considering the passing options in San Francisco, outside of Kittle, the 49ers could support two fantasy viable running backs. 

Pollard

Pollard is the most intriguing of the bunch. He has been compared to Alvin Kamara by himself, Stephen Jones and several fantasy analysts. That said, the comparisons are well deserved. Cowboys Hall of Famer Gil Brandt thinks the rookie will play a significant role in the offense, regardless if Elliott is playing or not. I think Pollard has stand-alone value, with league-winning potential should Elliott miss substantial time. It is why I have Elliott ranked fifth of the top tier RB’s, even if he had signed yesterday. 

Freeman

Royce Freeman has not been mentioned with the above running backs, but he too is a value in this range. I think the Denver Broncos want to make Freeman their primary RB and limit Phillip Lindsay‘s snaps.

Try to leave with one

I would try to leave my draft with one of the five running backs mentioned above. I am not as high on Thompson as the other three have stand-alone value without an injury, but he is a potential league winner should Williams suffer an injury. Be sure to check your site’s ADP before taking one of these backs in the eighth or ninth round. For example, Hill’s ADP on Fantasy Data is 130.6. I mentioned these four together because I think they belong in this range. If you can get them at a discount, however, that is the draft strategy you should employ. 

Targets: QB Wentz, Ryan, Winston, Wilson, Jackson, Murray
TE McDonald, Njoku, Hooper
WR Kirk, Fuller, Samuel, Robinson, Shephard, Watkins, Pettis, Davis, Scantling, Gallup
RB Guice, Pollard, Breida, Hill, Thompson, Freeman

Late-round draft strategy

Your draft strategy should conclude with drafting as many high upside players as you can get. That is why I preached safety in the early rounds so that we can take those homerun swings with our late-round picks.

You will want a QB at some point if you haven’t taken one yet. Dak Prescott is the preferred target if you have waited this long. He has finished as a QB1 each of his first three years, and now has a full year with Amari Cooper, Gallup, his starting center returning and a new, innovative offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore

One last note regarding tight end draft strategy: If you missed out on all of the above targets, I would employ the “bridge to Herndon” strategy suggested by Evan Silva. You draft a late-round, stop-gap tight end to get you through the first five weeks while Chris Herndon serves his suspension. This involves drafting and stashing Herndon as well. It is a way to have year-long upside at the TE position, even if you miss out on the above targets. 

One final note I would like to add: don’t draft a kicker or defense if your league doesn’t require it. Use those roster spots on some high upside handcuffs instead. You would just have to add a kicker and defense before the games lock on Sunday.

Rest of draft targets: Anthony Miller, Jamison Crowder, Keke Coutee, Mecole Hardman, Mark Andrews, Damien Harris, Ito Smith, Chase Edmonds, Miles Boykin, DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills, Robert Foster, Rashard Higgins, Dare Ogunbowale, Darren Waller

James Aguirre is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering Gambling and Fantasy Football. James is also featured on the Against the Spread podcast for PFN. You can follow him on Twitter @PFN_James

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