Planning the perfect draft: 12-team league

Planning the perfect draft: 12-team league

Draft Strategy

Planning the perfect draft: 12-team league

Your first three picks in a 12-team league define your draft and your team. Aside from taking productive players, each pick is critical because the player pool is ever shrinking. You could build entirely different teams based on what positions you take and in what order. Respecting how drafts typically raid positions places you in a better position to build an optimal team.

To follow are sample three-round drafts for 12-team leagues. They use either standard performance scoring, performance plus a point per reception or “QB Heavy” leagues where you can start two of them. Those three formats cover all but a few “esoteric scoring” leagues. They are all serpentine with reverse order of drafting every other round (1-12,12-1,1-12, etc.)

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The names are less important than the positions because each draft slot has its own unique situation. Just as important is your future picks and what you must do after three rounds. Let’s examine where each team is after three rounds and what they should be considering.

Performance scoring leagues

Pick Round 1 Pick Round 2 Pick Round 3
1.01 RB David Johnson 2.12 WR Allen Robinson 3.01 QB Aaron Rodgers
1.02 RB Le’Veon Bell 2.11 WR T.Y. Hilton 3.02 RB Ezekiel Elliott
1.03 WR Antonio Brown 2.10 RB Lamar Miller 3.03 RB C.J. Anderson
1.04 WR Odell Beckham 2.09 RB Dalvin Cook 3.04 WR Amari Cooper
1.05 WR Julio Jones 2.08 RB Leonard Fournette 3.05 WR DeAndre Hopkins
1.06 RB LeSean McCoy 2.07 WR A.J. Green 3.06 RB Ameer Abdullah
1.07 RB DeMarco Murray 2.06 TE Rob Gronkowski 3.07 WR Brandin Cooks
1.08 WR Michael Thomas 2.05 RB Isaiah Crowell 3.08 WR Davante Adams
1.09 WR Jordy Nelson 2.04 RB Jay Ajayi 3.09 WR Kelvin Benjamin
1.10 RB Devonta Freeman 2.03 WR Dez Bryant 3.10 RB Doug Martin
1.11 RB Melvin Gordon 2.01 RB Todd Gurley 3.11 WR Doug Baldwin
1.12 WR Mike Evans 2.01 RB Jordan Howard 3.12 TE Travis Kelce

The generic plan with no reception points is to own two running backs by the end of the third round. Quarterbacks also become more valuable relative to the other positions in most leagues as well. Early wide receivers still offer advantages but the mid-draft receivers lose a lot of luster without that reception point.

Team 1: RB David Johnson, WR Allen Robinson, QB Aaron Rodgers
Starting with the best RB1 feels great but wideouts no longer have any low-risk players by the 2.12. Taking Rodgers is an advantage but not a huge one. But going RB or WR in the third round produces just an average player that still exists with next two picks. Had to take the best wideout with the second pick or would be a disadvantage at the position that likely has the most starters.

Team 2: RB Le’Veon Bell, WR T.Y. Hilton, RB Ezekiel Elliott
Like Team 2, needed to go with a wideout in the second or third round. But the third pick, in this case, is the wildcard of Elliott who at the time of this draft was suspended but on appeal. Elliott is a Top-3 player if his suspension is held off. If he gets the full six-weeks, even this high is still a reasonable risk since this fantasy backfield would be huge from midseason onward. Will need to consider any of the other starting positions next but has to take third running back soon since he’ll be at least a six-week starter due to Elliott.

Team 3: WR Antonio Brown, RB Lamar Miller, RB C.J. Anderson
Even without reception points, cannot ignore the advantage that Brown offers as a first pick. Spending that initial pick on a wideout meant having to consider a running back next and Miller was best available. Taking Anderson with the third settles the backfield early though both Miller and Anderson carry a mixture of risk and reward. Next picks have to consider a wideout at least once if not twice. Quarterback and tight end can be cherry picks whenever.

Team 4: WR Odell Beckham, RB Dalvin Cook, WR Amari Cooper
With the top running backs gone, taking Beckham makes some sense and at least gives your wideouts some firepower. Needed a running back next and Cook is a reasonable risk with a high upside. Cooper made some sense in that upper tier of wideouts were almost drained and he too has upside. Must look at running back at least once in the next two rounds plus grab Latavius Murray to back up the Cook pick.

Team 5: WR Julio Jones, RB Leonard Fournette, WR DeAndre Hopkins
Taking Jones is a coin flip here without reception points. He’s an advantage at wideout to be sure and may have more touchdowns this year. But taking him meant needing a running back with the second pick and Fournette offers up exciting upside. Hopkins also has upside to be sure but now the next two picks should likely be running back. The nicety is that having two top wideouts means you can leave that position alone for three or four rounds at least.

Team 6: RB LeSean McCoy, WR A.J. Green, RB Ameer Abdullah
With the top three wideouts gone, taking the next best running back is a no-brainer. Mid-round pick still accessed Green for WR1 but then went for the safer play with Abdullah. That frees up the next several rounds for cherry picking other positions. Abdullah is an injury risk so cannot ignore running back too long.

Team 7: RB DeMarco Murray, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Brandin Cooks
Ah yes, the Patriot team. Murray is a solid add for RB1 and then taking Gronk in the middle of the second round makes sense in this format that offers so little for difference-making tight ends. That forced the WR1 pick in the third round and if you had to own any Patriots, Gronk and Cooks are likely the best aside from Brady. Need a running back next and likely end up with a later quarterback to fill out the wideouts better and get running back depth.

Team 8: WR Michael Thomas, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Davante Adams
This deep in the draft almost any pick could be argued. Certainly, a back like Devonta Freeman or Melvin Gordon also makes sense. But Thomas was a monster even as a rookie. That forced the RB1 pick in the second but still reached Crowell. The  Adams pick makes sense since he was a touchdown machine last year. Still could reach an RB2 like Carlos Hyde, Bilal Powell, Christian McCaffrey or Joe Mixon next.

Team 9: WR Jordy Nelson, RB Jay Ajayi, WR Kelvin Benjamin
Not much different from Team 8. Nelson at WR1 was the biggest touchdown hog for Packers. Still came with Ajayi for RB1 and then opted for one of the final upper tier wideouts with Benjamin instead of an RB2 which will definitely consider next. Despite the late start in the first round, the team is at least solid. As with all teams, just needs to land a sleeper or two.

Team 10: RB Devonta Freeman, WR Dez Bryant, RB Doug Martin
Freeman was the top choice for RB1 since the next two teams could have gone RB-RB for all you know. That still allowed Bryant at WR1. The wrap back on round 4 is only four picks later so the guess here has to be what those two drafters are most likely to want. Taking RB2 is rarely a mistake and Martin offers upside (again) with some risk (again). And his three game suspension means you must grab Jacquizz Rodgers before anyone else will. But the next two picks can go anywhere that value seems highest and don’t have to be a running back.

Team 11: RB Melvin Gordon, RB Todd Gurley, WR Doug Baldwin
Backend teams have to make strategic decisions knowing just how long they have to wait to pick again. And it is a balance between not missing out on decent players in a position and risk building a team that just follows all runs and never has a difference maker. In this case, went with Gordon as RB1 and then with Mike Evans gone, preferred the safety of Gurley over the riskier Dez Bryant.  But that meant by the 3.11 pick only Doug Baldwin was there for a WR1. Will need to hunt for sleepers wideouts sooner than later but can go anywhere with the RB-RB base in a non-reception point league.

Team 12: WR Mike Evans, RB Jordan Howard, TE Travis Kelce
Drafting last is tough and yet a very unique place since you pick twice in a row each time. Evans was a great WR1 and Howard should be just as solid at RB1. This may be the WR-WR spot with reception points but without them, it is almost always RB-WR. Going RB-RB means have two good ones and all other positions are probably going to be average at best. Taking Kelce would be interesting to gain an advantage although at the weakest position. The very next pick would be an RB like a high upside rookie (McCaffrey or Mixon) or veterans like Bilal Powell or Carlos Hyde.

Point per reception (PPR) leagues 

Pick Round 1 Pick Round 2 Pick Round 3
1.01 RB David Johnson 2.12 WR Brandin Cooks 3.01 RB Dalvin Cook
1.02 RB Le’Veon Bell 2.11 WR DeAndre Hopkins 3.02 WR Doug Baldwin
1.03 WR Antonio Brown 2.10 RB Leonard Fournette 3.03 TE Rob Gronkowski
1.04 WR Odell Beckham 2.09 RB Isaiah Crowell 3.04 WR Demaryius Thomas
1.05 WR Julio Jones 2.08 RB Jay Ajayi 3.05 WR Golden Tate
1.06 RB LeSean McCoy 2.07 WR A.J. Green 3.06 WR Davante Adams
1.07 RB Devonta Freeman 2.06 WR Amari Cooper 3.07 WR Michael Crabtree
1.08 WR Michael Thomas 2.05 WR Dez Bryant 3.08 QB Aaron Rodgers
1.09 RB DeMarco Murray 2.04 WR Allen Robinson 3.09 WR Kelvin Benjamin
1.10 WR Jordy Nelson 2.03 RB Todd Gurley 3.10 RB Lamar Miller
1.11 RB Melvin Gordon 2.01 RB Jordan Howard 3.11 WR Alshon Jeffery
1.12 WR Mike Evans 2.01 WR T.Y. Hilton 3.12 RB Ezekiel Elliott

Thanks to that reception point, the generic approach is to have two wideouts from the first three rounds. It elevates them to be equals with quarterbacks and running backs. And most leagues require more starters from this position than any other making them more important to take early.

Team 1: RB David Johnson, WR Brandin Cooks, RB Dalvin Cook
I’d love this team. Johnson is a huge advantage and then Cooks brings major upside as the main wideout for Tom Brady. Then getting high upside Cook could prove a coup. At worst this an average start and if it hits, it could be very competitive. Next pick has to consider wideout if not the next two but a strong start. Has to consider Latavius Murray once backups are taken to ensure the Cook pick.

Team 2: RB Le’Veon Bell, WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR Doug Baldwin
This is a natural enough plan after securing Bell as RB1. The results maybe don’t look as impressive though with Hopkins needing to return to form and Baldwin a solid choice but no real advantage. Need to consider higher upside players and running back is an obvious need in Round 4. Bell is nearly two backs by himself so Round 4 could cherry pick a great quarterback or tight end if they fell that far.

Team 3: WR Antonio Brown, RB Leonard Fournette, TE Rob Gronkowski
Like all Gronkowski teams, this looks great after three rounds. Brown a huge advantage at wideout, then upside pick of Fournette at least feels great so far and then Gronkowski for another major advantage. The reality is that any rookie running back is a risk and if Gronk has injury woes again this team takes a major hit. Also delays either RB2 or WR1 a full round by taking a tight end so early. But next two picks should be running back and wideout before the quality starts to plummet for them.

Team 4: WR Odell Beckham, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Demaryius Thomas
This is starting to have that middle-round problem of building an average team. Beckham is always an advantage and then scooping up an RB next produced Crowell who should be lower risk than the rookie backs. But then the third pick of Demaryius Thomas has almost no chance of being great thanks to their quarterback situation in Denver. Now sets up for a running back pick in the fourth or maybe two in the fifth and sixth while using the fourth for cherry picking a quarterback or tight end.

Team 5: WR Julio Jones, RB Jay Ajayi, WR Golden Tate
Jones was an obvious pick with reception points and still managed to reach Ajayi as RB1. Taking Tate with the third pick seemed prudent but as with Thomas before, he’s certain to be good without ever being great. The plus is that reaching Jones gives this team a definite advantage but the next two picks were safe ones with minimal upside.

Team 6: RB LeSean McCoy, WR A.J. Green, WR Davante Adams
While this was the reverse of the first two rounds from Team 5, it showed that the result seemed better. McCoy is a top back and may catch more this year as well. That allowed reaching Green for WR1 and the promise of several big games. Adams could be a good pick as well for WR2 though he’ll do well enough just to match his 2016 production. Has to consider running back next but has the core of wideouts so could go anywhere for next several rounds as long as a running back is at least one of them.

Team 7: RB Devonta Freeman, WR Amari Cooper, WR Michael Crabtree
Once again, a decent mid-round plan. Freeman should be golden especially with reception points included and then Cooper offers upside as WR1. Crabtree is a solid WR2 with little chance of doing much more but he fills a need. Leaving the third round with two wideouts again means focusing on a running back soon. If three wideouts are started, the WR3 could wait and take some upside players mid-round and figure out the best of them to start.

Team 8: WR Michael Thomas, WR Dez Bryant, QB Aaron Rodgers
This year in reception point leagues, going eighth is not as bad as years past since starting out WR-WR allows a top wideout like Thomas. You can still reach another potential WR1 quality player as your WR2. This team opted to take Rodgers for an advantage at quarterback and it all feels good for now. But the next two picks if not three have to be for running back before the risk overtakes the upside in the position. Need to swing for the fence once or twice with a rookie back or one that is returning from injury like Adrian Peterson.

Team 9: RB DeMarco Murray, WR Allen Robinson, WR Kelvin Benjamin
This start in what I consider the worst draft slot all makes sense even if the results are less than spectacular. Murray is a solid pick at RB1 with the hope he continues the success of 2016. Both Robinson and Benjamin need to meet greater expectations for this season in order for this to work out. And needs to consider running back at least in Round 4 if not the next two. This could be a great core for wideouts but neither are guarantees of returning to form.

Team 10: WR Jordy Nelson, RB Todd Gurley, RB Lamar Miller
Starting with Nelson is still an advantage in the position even this deep in the first round. This is the opposite of Team 9 but it might work out better if only because there is more depth in wideout than in running backs left to raid. Gurley and Miller bring some baggage along admittedly and both could disappoint. But other options at the position exist and starting in Round 4 the risk/reward remains more positive with wideouts than with running backs. Nearing the end of the round, this is not a bad plan.

Team 11: RB Melvin Gordon, RB Jordan Howard, WR Alshon Jeffery
Nearing the end of a round, doubling up on a position can work well. While RB1 is not a big advantage, the RB2 Howard is and in combination competes with those early drafters. This team opted for running back and ended up with the sixth and seventh best in the position. Starting with the wideouts so late only netted Jeffery. The next two picks need to consider wide receivers with an eye for upside players.

Team 12: WR Mike Evans, WR T.Y. Hilton, RB Ezekiel Elliott
This is the other way to end the round. In this case, netted the sixth and seventh best wideouts and then still reached the major risk-play with Elliott. That mandates taking running back the next two picks and also grabbing Darren McFadden before anyone else gets cute and steals him. This is the primary plan for a reception point league and having two top wideouts makes up a lot of lost ground.

Quarterback heavy leagues

Pick Round 1 Pick Round 2 Pick Round 3
1.01 QB Aaron Rodgers 2.12 TE Rob Gronkowski 3.01 RB Melvin Gordon
1.02 RB David Johnson 2.11 WR A.J. Green 3.02 QB Kirk Cousins
1.03 RB Le’Veon Bell 2.10 WR Amari Cooper 3.03 QB Cam Newton
1.04 WR Antonio Brown 2.09 QB Russell Wilson 3.04 RB Jordan Howard
1.05 WR Odell Beckham 2.08 WR Dez Bryant 3.05 QB Derek Carr
1.06 QB Drew Brees 2.07 WR Allen Robinson 3.06 WR DeAndre Hopkins
1.07 WR Julio Jones 2.06 QB Andrew Luck 3.07 WR Doug Baldwin
1.08 QB Tom Brady 2.05 RB DeMarco Murray 3.08 WR Brandin Cooks
1.09 WR Michael Thomas 2.04 WR T.Y. Hilton 3.09 QB Dak Prescott
1.10 QB Jameis Winston 2.03 WR Mike Evans 3.10 RB Todd Gurley
1.11 RB LeSean McCoy 2.01 WR Jordy Nelson 3.11 QB Philip Rivers
1.12 RB Devonta Freeman 2.01 QB Matt Ryan 3.12 WR Demaryius Thomas

The reality with starting two quarterbacks that you really need at least one from the first three rounds. Some teams will actually take two by then if not make the position their first two picks. That greatly impacts all other positions though. Strong recommendation – take at least one in your first three picks. The draft also considered a reception point since the majority of all  2QB leagues use them.

Team 1: QB Aaron Rodgers, TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Melvin Gordon
No-brainer pick of Rodgers who becomes the rock star in this format. This team went all out on difference makers with Gronkowski in the second round. Those first two picks look great and could still land Gordon as RB1 with the 3.01 pick. The first wideout will be in the area of Tyreek Hill/Sammy Watkins/Martavis Bryant which is weaker. But at least running backs and wideouts last longer in this format that seeds in quarterbacks so early. That next swing has to be a wideout and maybe two.

Team 2: RB David Johnson, WR A.J. Green, QB Kirk Cousins
Went with Johnson to start for huge advantage at running back and then still accessed Green as WR1 with the 2.11 pick. Had to take Cousins (or Cam Newton) so that QB1 is not a big disadvantage. Cherry pick the position from here on out but consider the second quarterback within the next three rounds.

Team 3: RB Le’Veon Bell, WR Amari Cooper, QB Cam Newton
Bell is a great pick at RB1 and then still accessed Cooper for WR1. This is essentially the same as Team 2 and took Newton for QB1. Like that team has the core of starters and can value pick from here on out. A weaker QB1 means the need for a stronger QB2.

Team 4: WR Antonio Brown, QB Russell Wilson, RB Jordan Howard
Nice balance to start and even still accessed Wilson for QB1 in the second round. Howard was pushed out far enough to still be there as an RB1 with the 3.04 pick. A strong start can go anywhere taking best value from here on out.

Team 5: WR Odell Beckham, WR Dez Bryant, QB Derek Carr
This doesn’t look as strong starting out WR-WR but so long as both Bryant and Carr meet expectations, this would be at least an average team. Problem is that running back is a big need but cannot wait long on QB2 either. Wideout is set but it is the deepest position. Next three picks have to net a QB2 and both running backs.

Team 6: QB Drew Brees, WR Allen Robinson, WR DeAndre Hopkins
Hard not to like starting out with Brees even with his advancing age. Went the WR-WR route with two high-upside/high-risk wideouts. That locks up the core of the wide receivers that can be left alone for at least three or four more rounds. And running backs exist out longer in this format so a hot rookie back or solid veteran should be out there in the next two rounds.

Team 7: WR Julio Jones, QB Andrew Luck, WR Doug Baldwin
Middle round pick takes Jones as a Top-3 wideout and then goes with Luck at QB1 who may be golden and yet may be a big disappointment depending on his health. Taking Baldwin in the third wraps up wideouts but seems more safe pick than trying to field the highest scoring team. That safety allows for riskier picks later on so it is not a wasted pick. But as with all mid-round drafters, have to avoid building an average team.

Team 8: QB Tom Brady, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Brandin Cooks
Someone watched the Super Bowl. Brady feels great at QB1 and Murray is an advantage at RB1. Taking Cooks is a risk that not only could play off big but doubles up with Brady as the starter.  A bit Patriot-heavy to be sure but has firepower and upside here. Can use next three rounds to follow the same sort of pattern.

Team 9: WR Michael Thomas, WR T.Y. Hilton, QB Dak Prescott
The dreaded ninth spot has the No. 4 and No.7 wideouts so a definite advantage there.  Had to go with Prescott at quarterback since three more could be gone by the fourth round pick. That next pick likely has to consider running back. At least in this format running backs fall more.

Team 10: QB Jameis Winston, WR Mike Evans, RB Todd Gurley
This is a generic approach to the format. Winston at QB1 controls the position knowing that two more quarterbacks could be gone by the second pick. Evans is a very nice WR1 and then opted for the safe play with the upside of Gurley at RB1. Balanced and able to cherry pick from the positions from here on out. Going QB-WR-RB may be the optimal path again.

Team 11: RB LeSean McCoy, WR Jordy Nelson, QB Philip Rivers
A solid start and has balance though the order pays less homage to the reception point and starting rules (2QB). This is still workable and allows freedom to pick best players for rest of the way.  Starting QB1 at the end of third round means QB2 needs to come earlier – say within the next two rounds or be at a disadvantage with the highest scoring position.

Team 12: RB Devonta Freeman, QB Matt Ryan, WR Demaryius Thomas
Balanced approach at the end of the round. Freeman is a strong RB1 and Ryan is better than most at QB1. Taking Thomas at WR1 fills a need without much upside. But picks again and could go with Jay Ajayi or Marcus Mariota. Knowing there are 22 picks before you go again means grabbing Mariota or Ben Roethlisberger to secure QB2.

Fourth round and beyond considerations

Quarterbacks – Quarterbacks continue to be devalued unless in a 2QB league. While Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees offer advantages, it may not be that much in most leagues. There are serviceable quarterbacks still there in the middle of drafts. You can tell how long they will last by tracking when the fourth one is taken. Most teams are waiting until the sixth round or better.

Running Backs –  There are only about a dozen low-risk backs and the position is slowly drained for most of the draft. There are options in the middle rounds and some sleeper types to be sure. After the Top 10 are gone, the risk goes up sharply for all of them.  This is a year where you can grab three or four in the middle rounds and come away with a starter or two.

Wide Receivers – This is the deepest position but high quality and low-risk players are not going to last until the fourth round. By then, expect to start seeing the #2 wideout for their NFL team start to be taken.  There are roughly three decent wideouts per team available (12 team league). Taking your third before other teams will grant an advantage. But as always, the position has at least some quality from the first fifty drafted.

Tight Ends – Rob Gronkowski is once again the rightful king. Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce typically are taken in the first five rounds. But the rests are waiting until the sixth round or much later.  The Top 8 carry far less risk and more reward and they last a long time.  If you miss the first eight, then get your second tight end earlier in case you need him.

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