When it comes to fantasy football draft strategy, it is very advantageous to know your draft position before your draft so you can hone in on players likely to be in your range. While there is no one correct way to draft your fantasy team, having a foundation of knowledge can allow you to navigate the draft and come away with a successful — and hopefully — championship-winning team.
To make things simple, this article will be based on a 12-team league, but the same logic can certainly be used for 8 and 10-team leagues.
What’s the best slot to draft from in fantasy football drafts?
From a purely analytical standpoint, the first draft slot is the most advantageous in the traditional snake-style fantasy draft. When you look at the available talent and probability using Value Over Replacement (VOR), the order in which you want to draft goes first, second, third…and so on.
It is also why leagues like the Scott Fish Bowl, the premier Pro-Am charity fantasy league, have implemented a third-round reversal (3RR). Doing so helps to shift the value across all 12 draft slots, eliminating the advantage of the first overall pick.
Now, just because the numbers suggest it is the best spot doesn’t necessarily mean you will have your best results from it. In the end, it comes down to whatever fantasy football draft strategy produces the most consistent results for you.
Many people do not like the first pick because of the feeling of always needing to reach for specific players, given the long span between picks. If this sounds like you, drafting from the fourth to fifth slot might be the better option.
In 2021 fantasy drafts, that means you are guaranteed one of Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, or Saquon Barkley. If you do not feel there is a discernible difference in their fantasy outlooks and are in the same tier, take the fourth spot and enjoy that value.
There is no one “correct” fantasy football draft strategy or way to play. It all comes down to what you feel creates the best overall lineup.
In what order should you draft positions in fantasy football?
For this, it all comes down to the league’s format. The value can drastically change based on required starters. The best rule of thumb is to target the positional scarcity early.
For example, in a 1QB format, I tend to hammer the running back position early and often. Ideally, I am selecting one of my top RBs in Round 1 and then grabbing two more by Round 4.
At running back, the upside falls off the cliff quickly as fewer and fewer teams have “workhorse” three-down backs. Just last season, only 27 running backs averaged more than 15 opportunities per game, with only 22 seeing 15+ touches per outing.
While there will be players like James Robinson or Mike Davis who end up being league winners who came out of nowhere, finding starting-caliber RBs mid-season is rare.
Where this draft strategy differs is in a superflex fantasy football league. This is where the positional scarcity drives up the value of QBs immensely. While not required, you need to be starting two quarterbacks every week in your lineups.
As an example, the QB24 in 2020 (Daniel Jones), averaged 13.6 points per game and scored a total of 190.2 points (four points per TD). Only 11 RBs scored higher than this in total and 16 in ppg. For receivers, it was 16 in total points and 11 in per game average.
Thus, if I do not walk out of a superflex draft with three starting-caliber QBs, I feel at a massive disadvantage. With only 32 starting NFL QBs, that means not everyone in the draft can pull this off. Not only are you increasing your weekly upside, but you create an advantage while others struggle with bye weeks and the inevitable injuries that pop up in the most inopportune times.
Who is the best rookie to draft in 2021 for fantasy football?
This one is difficult, but three rise above the rest in my eyes for 2021.
One of them has to be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round pick, Najee Harris. Harris has been my RB1 for well over a year now and is the most complete back of the 2021 NFL Draft class. He has no competition for touches with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland and should factor in the passing game.
It is well within reason for Harris to see 280+ touches as a rookie. But there is the glaring concern of the offensive line, which got even worse with the release of David DeCastro. Harris is still an RB1 for me, but this did not help his outlook at all.
The next would be Cincinnati Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase. Not only is he one of the best receivers we have seen coming into the NFL in recent years, but he is reunited with his former LSU QB Joe Burrow. On top of this, the Bengals are going to throw a ton in 2021. It may not be the 770 attempts Burrow was on pace for in 2020 through Week 10, but it’s going to be a lot.
It is well within reason to see Chase with a stat line around 135 targets, 90 receptions, 1,200 yards, and 7 touchdowns as a rookie.
The third rookie would be the unicorn himself, Kyle Pitts. Yes, I know that rookie tight ends never deliver (two top-12 TEs since 2010), but the game has changed. There is a case to be made that Pitts was the WR2 in the NFL Draft and just so happens to be designated as a TE.
With Julio Jones now in Tennessee, the Atlanta Falcons head into 2021 with 35.2% of their targets vacated from the year prior (213), the seventh-most in the NFL. Matt Ryan is still playing solid football, and with Calvin Ridley set to dominate, Pitts could smash every single rookie tight end record.
I would not be surprised to see Pitts receiver 115 targets in Year 1, a total that only two TEs topped last season (Travis Kelce and Darren Waller). Pitts is my TE6 and represents a sizable tier break at the position.
How many running backs should you draft in fantasy?
If you ask me, there is never enough. Okay, maybe not, but you get my point.
As with most things, it depends on your format. Ideally, I like to base it off how many I could potentially start. Say my starting lineup has two running back spots and two flex spots. My minimum then would be set at four reliable running backs. Now, I will not sacrifice my depth at other positions such as receiver, but it is a benchmark in my head.
As an example, let’s use the 1.01 draft. The clear RB1, in my eyes, is Chrisitan McCaffrey. When it snakes back to me at the 2.12, my ideal scenario would be one of Austin Ekeler or Harris. To me, that is the perfect combination of volume, upside, and coveted passing utilization in PPR formats.
For at least the next four rounds, I’m likely to go RB and WR with both of my picks and then look for the value that falls to me — targeting players like Kareem Hunt (52.9 ADP), Myles Gaskin (66.7), Mike Davis (81.6), Trey Sermon (110.3), and Gus Edwards (121.7) along the way.
If I can walk out of a draft with three of those running backs, I am ecstatic. While I have and will continue to preach being flexible with any fantasy football draft strategy, going into it with some kind of plan is a must to avoid panic when on the clock. We have all been there, and it does not end well.
Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football and a member of the FSWA (Fantasy Sports Writers Association). You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.