You don’t win your fantasy football league at the draft, but you can make it harder to build a championship team if you neglect to establish a solid foundation with your first three picks. Why focus on the first three rounds? Because that’s where you get the players who produce the most weekly fantasy points. Over the past three seasons, a running back drafted in the first three rounds produced an average of 17 fantasy points per game, five more than those drafted in Rounds 4 through 6. Wide receivers (17 fantasy points compared to 13) and tight ends (16 and 12) see similar declines from the first three rounds to the next three.

With that in mind, here’s a round-by-round road map of the three most important picks for every slot in a 12-team, point-per-reception (PPR) league, including some contingency plans if a specific player isn’t available. To figure out how likely a player is to be available at a specific draft position we use percentages from the Fantasy Football Calculator’s scenario calculator, a dynamic look based on where players are being selected in mock drafts. Players were ranked using the same methodology that fuels our top 200 projections.

For more advice, see our projected perfect draft, a longer explanation of who to take at the top of the first round and some easy-to-use fantasy tiers to help make draft day a breeze. Also, here are the riskiest players being taken in every round, according to mock drafts.

Pick 1 (1st, 24th and 25th picks)


Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey is the consensus No. 1 overall pick for good reason. He led the league with 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns last season, and new head coach Matt Rhule has a history of using his running backs in the passing game during his college coaching days.

It will be a long wait until your next two picks, but selecting two wideouts, such as Kenny Golladay of the Lions and possibly Allen Robinson of the Bears, is a great start to your roster. Golladay will get a boost with the return of quarterback Matthew Stafford (his fantasy production dropped from 17.6 to 13.6 points per game without Stafford under center last year), and Robinson is one of the best wideouts against man coverage.

Why two wideouts in Rounds 2 and 3 and not another running back? This beginner’s guide is designed to maximize your first three picks, and there simply won’t be many high-profile running backs available by the time you get to choose.

Pick 2 (2nd, 23rd and 26th)


Saquon Barkley gets the lion’s share of the carries (80 percent) for the New York Giants — only Leonard Fournette had a higher share of designated runs in 2019 — and he will have the benefit of running behind a retooled offensive line that Pro Football Focus says “could sneak into the top half of offensive line units” for 2020.

With your second-round pick, target new Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley. Yes, there are injury concerns (knee), but Gurley has virtually no competition for touches in Atlanta’s backfield. Chris Carson or James Conner in the third round will further solidify that position on your roster, allowing you to concentrate elsewhere for the next few rounds.

Pick 3 (3rd, 22nd and 27th)


Ezekiel Elliott plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and gets enough carries inside the 5-yard line (18 in 2019, third most in the league) to give him a high floor for 2020. Your next pick should be one of the top two tight ends, Travis Kelce or George Kittle, in that order. Kelce has been among the top three tight ends in red-zone targets each of the past three seasons and led the position in that category in 2019.

If Carson is not available in the third round, look for James Conner. Conner got 13 red-zone carries in 10 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season (producing four touchdowns), and almost half of those occurred inside the 5-yard line, where he had five carries for two touchdowns.

Pick 4 (4th, 21st and 28th)


Alvin Kamara has led the New Orleans Saints in share of red-zone touches over the past three seasons, making him a fine start to your roster. Carson or Conner in the second round will help set a solid foundation for your squad.

In the third round, focus on a wide receiver. Robinson would be great, but you could also look for JuJu Smith-Schuster or D.J. Moore. Smith-Schuster will have Ben Roethlisberger back under center in 2020, giving him a better chance to thrive in Pittsburgh’s passing game. Moore was one of five players to make at least four plays of 50 or more yards last year, which in some leagues are worth bonus fantasy points.

Pick 5 (5th, 20th and 29th)


You’re going to zig when everyone else is zagging by selecting wideout extraordinaire Michael Thomas with your first pick. Thomas set the NFL’s receptions mark for a single season (149) last year and thinks he can break it again in 2020.

In Round 2, keep zigging by taking another wideout, Chris Godwin if available. According to Matt Harmon of Yahoo Sports, Godwin finished 2019 in the 87th percentile for success against man coverage and is the perfect complement to Mike Evans, Tampa Bay’s other top wideout. If someone has already selected Godwin, try for Robinson.

In Round 3 you’ll need to get a running back. Carson was available in almost two-thirds of mock drafts at this point and would be a solid choice. He ranked fifth in rushing attempts last season and had 39 red-zone carries for Seattle. No other player on the team had more than 12.

If he isn’t available, go with Conner or Melvin Gordon, who could become a workhorse for the Denver Broncos in 2020.

Pick 6 (6th, 19th and 30th)


In order, you’re looking for Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Dalvin Cook with your first pick. Edwards-Helaire is a three-down back set to make a big impact as a rookie for the Chiefs. Kansas City General Manager Brett Veach said the first-round selection is “on pace to have a big year, to be our primary ballcarrier." Cook’s value might be depressed because he threatened to hold out for a new contract, but he reported to training camp and all seems fine. If you can get him, you’d be adding a running back who finished 10th in the NFL with 1,135 rushing yards last season and fourth with 13 rushing touchdowns despite missing two games.

Your second pick will be whichever of the top two tight ends, Kelce or Kittle, is available followed by a wide receiver such as Robinson, Smith-Schuster or Moore. If that trio is gone, don’t hesitate adding Odell Beckham Jr. of the Cleveland Browns. The electrifying wideout caught 74 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns in 2019 and seems healthy despite the groin and hip pain that plagued him during the season.

Pick 7 (7th, 18th and 31st)


Your strategy from this spot is easy: running back, running back and then running back. Take any of Edwards-Helaire, Cook, Henry, Mixon or even Kenyan Drake, a league winner from last season who blossomed after a trade that sent him from Miami to Arizona. After joining the Cardinals in Week 9, Drake saw his fantasy output improve from 6.6 to 17.5 points per game in point-per-reception leagues.

In the second round look for Aaron Jones. He is at the top of the Green Bay Packers’ depth chart and plays behind the projected fourth-best offensive line of 2020, per Pro Football Focus. Rookie A.J. Dillon could impact Jones’s fantasy value a little bit, but it is unlikely the team will tinker with Jones’s effectiveness near the goal line. He scored 14 of his 16 rushing touchdowns in the red zone last season, plus added a red-zone touchdown off a passing play.

In the third round select any one of Carson, Conner, Gordon, Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson.

Pick 8 (8th, 17th and 32nd)


Drafting later in the first round often necessitates drafting two running backs early. In the unlikely case that Edwards-Helaire, Cook, Henry, Mixon and Drake are all unavailable, turn your attention to Josh Jacobs. As a rookie for the Raiders, he finished 2019 with 1,150 rushing yards (seventh in the league) despite missing three games to injury. In the second round, target Austin Ekeler or Jones.

In the third round, switch it up with a receiver. Maybe Beckham is still lurking on the draft board, which could provide excellent third-round value. You could also look out for Smith-Schuster or Moore.

Pick 9 (9th, 16th and 33rd)


Go with Edwards-Helaire, Cook, Henry, Mixon, Drake, Jacobs or Miles Sanders early to get at least one running back, then focus on wideouts. DeAndre Hopkins is not as attractive after his trade to Arizona, but he will still be in an up-tempo offense where play volume could help make up for a dip in target share.

2019 Arizona Cardinals
Target share
2019 Houston Texans
Target share
Larry Fitzgerald
21 percent
DeAndre Hopkins
29 percent
Christian Kirk
20 percent
Will Fuller
14 percent
Pharoh Cooper
9 percent
Kenny Stills
11 percent
Damiere Byrd
9 percent
Keke Coutee
7 percent
KeeSean Johnson
8 percent
DeAndre Carter
3 percent

In the third round look for a receiver again. Not to sound like a broken record, but Beckham, Smith-Schuster and Moore would each be a nice addition here.

Pick 10 (10th, 15th and 34th)


Sanders should be available at this spot for your first pick, assuming Henry, Mixon, Drake and Jacobs are not. The rookie averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and 10.2 yards per reception last season for the Philadelphia Eagles plus had just two fumbles for the season, completely negating a weakness he had in college. In the unlikely case he and the above running backs are all gone, you could take a quarterback first and a running back second.

That quarterback, of course, would be Super Bowl winner Patrick Mahomes. The former MVP saw his numbers fall from their previously absurd heights, yet he was still the second most valuable passer in the league, per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating. His floor is stable (he was the seventh-best fantasy quarterback last year despite missing two games), and his ceiling is close to his MVP-winning year of 2018 (5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns).

For your third pick, look for a running back. Gordon is probably your best bet, although Bell and Jonathan Taylor of the Colts might also be options.

Pick 11 (11th, 14th and 35th)


Julio Jones should be available here. If not, someone else in your league is probably using our Top 200 rankings. While this is higher than Jones will be taken in most drafts, Jones and the Falcons will face a below-average secondary (per Pro Football Focus) in 10 games in 2020, potentially giving him enviable matchups almost every week.

For your next two picks, you’ll want to add two running backs. Sanders, Jacobs, Nick Chubb and Ekeler are second-round options, while Gordon, Bell, Taylor and Mark Ingram II will be potential third-round targets.

Pick 12 (12th, 13th and 36th)


The first choice is a running back, probably either Jacobs or Sanders, although one of the bigger names could drop. Your second choice is a wideout: Jones, Tyreek Hill or Godwin. For your third pick go with another receiver, likely from among Amari Cooper, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Calvin Ridley or A.J. Brown.

Cooper gets the benefit of playing the New York Giants and Washington Football Team twice each, giving him a chance to exploit the projected sixth- and seventh-worst secondaries of 2020, per Pro Football Focus. Dallas will also play Atlanta (third-worst) in Week 2.