As always, you can chart out a strong draft strategy by consulting our annual fantasy football perfect draft, which offers insight into value picks, sleepers and players to avoid.
A reminder about our definition of “perfect” for this exercise. Perfect means getting the optimal value at each draft spot. In other words, all the rosters in the draft below should outperform an average team in any given week, with most performing at a playoff-caliber level.
The methodology starts with each player’s consensus draft ranking from the experts surveyed at Fantasy Pros and ends with a projected season-long fantasy point total that is adjusted for injury potential, strength of schedule and draft scarcity. Adjusting performance for various factors and then comparing that to a baseline allows us to see where positional scarcity affords fantasy owners the opportunity to go after players from the top tier of their position rather than settle for a selection from a lower grouping. A more in-depth explanation of our methodology can be found here.
I will caution you that some players come off the board in this “perfect draft” at significantly different slots than their average draft position would suggest. This is a feature, not a bug.
Remember: This is the perfect draft based on our 2020 projections, so some players will have more or less projected value than the public perceives. Use this to your advantage. You can also consult our beginner’s guide, which charts out the first three picks for every draft slot. Here’s an explanation for why Christian McCaffrey should be the top overall pick, along with the rest of the top projected picks. Finally, here is our list of riskiest potential picks by round.
The picture of perfection in the draft grids below was crafted for a 12-team, point-per-reception (PPR) league using the following starting lineup: one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex player (RB/WR/TE), one defense, a kicker and seven bench players.
The projections below is updated based on reports of player health and anticipated roles as of Aug. 31.
Running backs are the most important position in this year’s draft. In a 12-team league that starts two RBs plus a flex player, as many as 36 running backs could be in lineups on any given week. Yet a quick look around the league shows there are maybe 40 viable fantasy running backs, once you account for running backs by committee and third-down backs catching passes out of the backfield. In other words, almost all of the usable players at the position will be in a weekly starting lineup, and certainly all of them will be on an active roster. That could leave you fighting with everyone else on the waiver wire for any RB that gets moved up the depth chart.
That’s why there will be a run on running backs from the beginning of most drafts, starting with the consensus top pick, Christian McCaffrey. Ten of the first 12 names called are expected to be running backs; so are 15 of the first 24 picks. However, that might be an overreaction. Wide receivers Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill all have a case to be first-round picks based on their projected 2020 production. But if you start with a receiver, you must follow up with at least one running back in the next two rounds.
And forget about utilizing the Zero RB strategy, which focuses on wideouts and tight ends at the expense of the running back position. The projected fantasy output of backs taken in Round 3 or later will be significantly lower than those from the first two rounds, making the position a high priority earlier than usual.
More takeaways from the perfect draft:
The quarterback position is deep
Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are the consensus picks to be the best passers of 2020. Yet not everyone will have a chance to draft them. If you miss out on one of them, or if they’re taken earlier than expected, don’t panic and start a run on the position. The fifth-best quarterback is only expected to be outscored by two fantasy points per game by Jackson, projected as the second-best passer. And the difference between No. 2 and No. 10 is only projected to be around four points per game. In fact, the projected difference between QB6 and QB12 is so negligible you might as well wait until the eighth or ninth round to select your quarterback.
Wide receivers have more value than owners are giving them credit for
The early parts of most fantasy drafts are going to be teeming with running backs, but that will create value among the wideouts. You are better served selecting one of the best wideouts over a running back ranked between 11th and 20th at his position. Why? Because more and more teams are using a running-back-by-committee approach rather than relying on one rusher to assume the majority of the workload.
There are a dozen wide receivers projected to be selected in the first three rounds of a 12-team PPR draft, yet the projected point totals suggest there should be as many as 16, perhaps at the expense of drafting quarterbacks Mahomes and Jackson too soon.
Get a jump on the waiver wire
Sleepers have traditionally been late-round picks who blossom into full-time starters or otherwise exceed expectations. However, social media and a 24/7 news cycle make it much tougher to find such diamonds in the rough. Assume everyone knows everything and draft accordingly. That means not waiting until after the draft to snag a potential breakout candidate or running back handcuff.
Alshon Jeffery, Hunter Renfrow, Parris Campbell and Dede Westbrook are all going undrafted this season yet should be viable fantasy players in 2020. Renfrow, the Raiders receiver, ended the 2019 campaign with 49 catches on 71 targets in 13 games as a rookie; that per-game production extrapolates to 60 catches for 745 yards and five touchdowns over a 16-game season. Campbell could see an uptick in volume in the slot with Philip Rivers under center in Indianapolis.
Who else? Gio Bernard is behind Mixon on Cincinnati’s depth chart, but the 28-year-old saw as many red-zone targets as Mixon did last season (seven). Unfortunately for Bernard, he was one of four running backs who failed to score despite getting seven or more red-zone targets in 2019. That type of bad luck doesn’t always carry over to the next season.