In snake drafts, draft order is destiny.
This does not mean you are destined to win or lose based on where you pick. It means the shape of your roster will be determined by this. If you catch a Top 6 pick, you can plan to implement a 1EliteRB strategy — basically a variation of zeroRB, where you take a plausible top-scoring running back with your first pick, then target wide receivers and tight ends with your other premium picks. (Note: We are assuming a format with three wide receivers and a Flex – 10 starters.)
The math behind getting a late pick
However, if you are handed a late pick, you’re probably going to have to audible. My data suggests if you make the RB8 or RB10 your first-round pick, you should expect to be 50 points behind everyone unless that running back just crushes it (which is unlikely). So this is a Top 1-5 WR/Top TE slot (factoring in the immediate second rounder). You’re going to have to scramble for running backs, hope to catch lightning (or at least something serviceable) on the waiver wire early, then stream backs who happen to be starting that given week. But at least you’ll have as many, or more, expected points after two rounds as all your league-mates.
From 2019 to 2021, the 10th-best running back in points per reception (PPR) finishes the year with 231 points on average versus an expected 285 for the fifth-best wide receiver (and you will be able to draft two, probably, at the turn — or opt for the likely TE1s in Travis Kelce/Mark Andrews). Yes, I know drafting the WR4 and WR5 doesn’t guarantee Top 5 wide receiver scoring (that guy might be WR25 for all we know). But we’re just drafting expected points, not players. You might have to lie down after reading that, but this is the core principle of fantasy analytics.
Plus, the variance is much greater at running back than at wide receiver. The data shows running backs are less likely than wide receivers to meet their average draft position (ADP) and more likely to be a complete bust when you compare end-of-season rankings to ADP.
Maybe Nick Chubb falls to you in the second round and you think he can be the RB1. If that’s the case, draft him. But if you’re taking the RB11 hoping he’ll be RB11, you’re losing a lot of ground. The default pick in the second round is a wide receiver or a top tight end, just like the default pick in the first round is a running back.
Considering a tight end early
“Premium tight end” is a winning strategy. We can pretty much guarantee it’s going to be Kelce or Andrews. Maybe George Kittle if he stays healthy (unlikely). Maybe Kyle Pitts if the quarterback play is serviceable (unlikely). Those last two guys are fine, but they’re not going to be 300-point scorers like Kelce and Andrews are likely to be. If you draft one of them, you have your league in a stranglehold at the position; you’ll likely destroy them at tight end week in and out. Historically (2019-21), TE1 equals WR5. TE5, though, equates to just WR30. So if you don’t get Andrews or Kelce, I’d sit the position out and try to take two guys at TE10-15 who might rise, something you can do deep into the draft (the tight end finishing the year third in points scored is generally the 10th to 15th tight end drafted). Tight end is basically “go big or go home.” I get that Pitts is an ethereal talent, but he doesn’t have the QB or the offense, so the receivers where he’s being picked are probably going to beat him.
Of course, in a one-quarterback league, you don’t want to take a quarterback early, meaning not in the first five rounds. Looking at the data, on average, QB5 is a 300-point player and QB10 finishes with 270 points. You’d rather have the former than the latter, of course. But at what price of draft capital? QB10 can be had about 75 picks/five rounds later. And QB10 (think Jalen Hurts, for example) can easily end up as QB1. You know who’s not likely to be QB1? The top drafted quarterback. That hasn’t happened once during the past decade.
The middle and late rounds
Once you have a running back, three or four wide receivers and a tight end locked up, it’s time to swing for the fences. You can’t do this on every pick. Maybe with your second running back you want someone with a clear role but little path to bell-cow status, like Chase Edmonds. Taking WR50 because you think that’s his floor is a losing approach. Don’t focus on floors when the rounds approach the double digits. Think instead about players who can shatter projections, traditionally younger players with established roles who play with top quarterbacks (like Allen Lazard).
Even at quarterback, why take Derek Carr for his floor when you can swing for the fences with Hurts? If you’re wrong, so what? You can pick someone safe (Kirk Cousins, who can lead the NFL in passing yards) with your other quarterback pick.
Why am I telling you to take two quarterbacks in a one-quarterback league? Well, Yahoo research I pulled when I wrote there said that across its platform, teams draft 1.9 quarterbacks per team — and they roster slightly more on average each week of the season. If this isn’t your league, draft one quarterback. If it is, you have to protect yourself with a second pick because your streaming options are going to be severely limited. This data even persuaded one of the industry’s leading advocates of streaming quarterbacks that you have to adapt to your league’s reality:
“That 1.92 number is … something else,” said C.D. Carter, co-host of the “Living the Stream” podcast that is built around punting quarterbacks. “Hard to believe that many people find it necessary to have a damn backup QB. That would change my approach a bit. I would be compelled to take someone in the 10th- to 12th-round range unless there were screaming WR or RB values there because so many people used so much draft capital on QB.”
Of course, you could just convince your league to go with a SuperFlex option and then have a quarterback position that somewhat reflects its importance on the real gridiron.
But we play the fake game, an upside-down one in which running backs are lusted for, quarterbacks are meaningless and you can never have enough receivers who command the football.
(Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)