Reviewing the best ways to draft a PPR team

Reviewing the best ways to draft a PPR team

Draft Strategy

Reviewing the best ways to draft a PPR team

(Bob DeChiara, USA TODAY Sports)

The “Zero RB Theory” draft strategy is nothing new. While it comes with its risks and rewards, this season is especially suited for drafting a wide receiver-laden squad in point-per-reception drafts for owners who pick late in the first round. In some cases, it also applies for earlier draft slots, which we’ll examine later.

Most veteran drafters will admit being flexible to the fluidity of a draft is the real strategy. Never enter a draft with a singular mindset of a chosen strategy as the only way to successfully pick a team. This is mostly a recipe for missing out on key value buys. Think of drafting this way in comparison to living your life with such rigidity. Steadfastly resist opportunities and you’ll miss out on experiences. Hardly an earth-shattering concept. Fantasy football isn’t much different. Gamers who say they always pick two running backs to start a draft, or must pick a quarterback before Round 3, etc., can miss out on game-changing value.

We could yammer for weeks about the pitfalls of stubbornly adhering to one way of draft, and for as much fun as it would be, we all have something better to do with our time. Instead, focusing on specific draft slots and how to pivot a draft plan from each one is more entertaining.

Picking 1st or 2nd

Picking in the first two spots effectively locks you into either David Johnson or Le’Veon Bell now that Ezekiel Elliott has been given a timeout by the NFL. Someone may slide OBJ or Antonio Brown into the first two spots, but we’ll stick with how the majority of drafts unfold. Back to Bell and Johnson: This is not an issue in PPR since these players have so much value as receivers out of the backfield. Look at PPR running backs as easy points, regardless of where you find them in the draft.

Coming back with your second-round pick should change train the sights on a wideout since Johnson and Bell are that much better than every other running back. You’ll have either the very next pick or have two wait to more before selecting again, which should also be a receiver in most situations.

As mentioned, having a stud PPR running back provides an opportunity to wait into Round 4 or Round 5 to land a pass-catching type as your second back. The purpose is to maximize the PPR element of the league scoring. Again, nothing genius here … just a reminder of something many owners seemingly forget when the big day arrives. This brings Danny Woodhead and Ty Montgomery into consideration. Counting exclusively on either to be there is risky, and it could lead you to gambling on rookies Dalvin Cook or Joe Mixon. In most scenarios, one of these four will be here.

Not comfortable with any of these guys as your No. 2? Understandable. Don’t be afraid to take a third receiver, provided your league’s parameters permit starting three or more. It is even more important if you can start four WRs in a lineup. Coming out of Round 5 with two running backs and three receivers is not necessarily ideal in PPR setups this year.

Drafting 10th-12th

You pick in the final three spots of the first round, which brings your team back on the clock in the late third. The first two players you choose must be receivers, unless the fantasy gods bestow a gift upon you with a running back who has fallen.

Two WRs it is. Remember those easy points? … Christian McCaffrey. Take a shot on him, but if he is gone, this third pick should be another wide receiver. Starting out with three straight receivers requires discipline and confidence. You’ll be tempted to take a mediocre running back just to fill out the position, but have the confidence in knowing your first three receivers will carry this team. It is easier to make up the difference at running back later in the draft.

ADP suggests Lamar Miller, Marshawn Lynch and Isaiah Crowell would be the more palatable picks, but they largely lack in the receiving department. Receivers Demaryius Thomas, Keenan Allen, Tyreek Hill, Allen Robinson and Davante Adams all could be in play for you here.

Say you follow this path and draft three receivers in as many rounds. What are you looking at for running back? Now we are in the territory of obviously taking risks and also being comfortable with accepting this team won’t have prized names at the position. Expect both choices to be running backs here. Mike Gillislee, Ameer Abdullah, C.J. Anderson, Bilal Powell, Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin — all of these guys have to be in play. Being PPR, my preference is Powell. The New York Jets could throw his way north of 80 times. Gillislee and Peterson won’t offer much as receivers, but TDs are cool, too, you know. Ingram and Abdullah are sneaky places to look for catches. While were are at it, Theo Riddick is a worthy reach at this point. He won’t be there when you are back on the clock.

Want to get a little crazier? Take four receivers in the first four rounds but only if the league permits starting three plus a flex. Most of my best lineups in recent memory have fielded four starting receivers. Take the per-catch points and don’t care so much about how the team looks on paper. This route requires owners to load up on speculative running back picks in the later rounds. Players who are one injury away from showing the world their ability … think of guys like Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jamaal Williams, Joe Williams, Marlon Mack, Jonathan Williams, D’Onta Foreman, Alvin Kamara, DeAngelo Washington and Jalen Richard.

This version of composing a lineup invites disaster to your front door. It also has a high degree of boom factor. Know what you are getting into with this one, and realize it isn’t for the faint of heart or owners unwilling to work harder at waivers during the season.

Stuck in the middle

Picking in the No. 3-9 range gives more flexibility most of the time, making it more realistic to come away with a better balanced team. Unfortunately, an evenly constructed squad isn’t always as explosive.

Assemble the best first three picks you are provided to be the nucleus of the offense. Drafting Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady is also easier to pull off without sacrificing your RBs and WRs in this model. Dozens of mock and real drafts this season have led me to the conclusion that picking in this range is also the clearest path to mediocrity

It is easy to to make the safer picks in these draft spots and doesn’t force owners to challenge themselves or the overall notion of a player’s perceived placement value. Steve Gallo masterfully displays the pitfalls of assumed value in his “Don’t be a slave to ADP” analysis.

That flexibility you speak of

Our focus now turns to nuances that make all of the difference in knowing when to become a strategy contortionist. Look, we all have played enough fantasy sports to realize drafts NEVER go the way we expect they will. I have drafted so many teams this year in the same format and several times with the same groups of people … the only thing you can count on is not being able to bank on consistency from draft to draft once the first few picks have come off the board.

Flexibility is multilayered. You first must be willing to accept you cannot control anything in the draft outside of picking the best players at each given opportunity. Gamers also need to recognize when to pounce on a falling stock just as they must be willing to ignore fears or ridicule and choose someone of their liking before the herd tends to select said player. Much like with anything else, we’re talking within reason. Just because you wont a bet thanks to Stephen Gostkowski’s leg last year, it doesn’t mean he is worth a fourth-round pick as repayment. Eye on the prize, unless 12th place is your goal.

The most common situation that requires flexibility is when you’re several picks away yet, focusing on the next WR or RB that has to be your choice. All of a sudden, a player at a different position, whom you never would have expected to be available, is a pick away. Your pulse accelerates. That clicking finger gets twitchy. As luck would have it, this player actually makes it you. Surprise turns to panic as the timer ticks away and you start to second guess if deviating would screw up weeks of methodical draft planning. Your ironclad strategy that “always” wins says this guy can’t be the pick. Do you jump ship or stick with the tried-and-true formula?  You have been dogmatically programmed if this question needs an explanation.

Nothing serves flexibility better than the skill of impartially recognizing how strong of a team you have cobbled together. Routinely successful players know when they have to take chances by immediate roster assessment. Brutally honest evaluation. It takes practice, experience and objectivity. Knowing your prized sleeper target has more down than upside is being objective. Taking the chance on him anyway is fine, but realizing the risk is real is imperative. An example of this would be the strategy of taking four straight wideouts to open a PPR draft. Make no mistake, it is extremely perilous if not properly executed. The willingness to accept the team may come in dead last is helpful. Fear of losing makes owners err on the side of caution in drafts.

Exercising each scenario

This is a general look at what to expect if you loosely follow ADP trends. Don’t focus as much on the specific players but as the blending of positions in relation to overall talent drop-offs. To be clear, this is not me saying, “Draft exactly in this order!” … just an illustration of what could happen.

The second player listed per pick shows other possibilities owners tend to consider in these situations. Each scenario will presume the drafter is waiting until Round 8 to choose its first starting quarterback. Every situation also drafts only three running backs in the first seven picks. Yes, RBs are more volatile, but wideouts produce more consistent value in PPR when all things are equal. RB-heavy still works fine in total points races, but in formats requiring owners to win games each week to make the postseason, consistent production trumps all.

Owning the 1st pick

Rnd (Ovr)
Player
Pos
1 (1)
David Johnson/Le’Veon Bell
RB1
2 (24)
Doug Baldwin/T.Y. Hilton
WR1
3 (25)
Brandin Cooks/DeAndre Hopkins
WR2
4 (48)
Danny Woodhead/Joe Mixon
RB2
5 (49)
Jarvis Landry/Golden Tate
WR3
6 (72)
Emmanuel Sanders/Jamison Crowder
WR4
7 (73)
LeGarrette Blount/Paul Perkins
RB3

Loading up on wideouts could result in:

Rnd (Ovr)
Player
Pos
1 (1)
David Johnson/Le’Veon Bell
RB1
2 (24)
Doug Baldwin/T.Y. Hilton
WR1
3 (25)
Brandin Cooks/DeAndre Hopkins
WR2
4 (48)
Jarvis Landry/Golden Tate
WR3
5 (49)
Julian Edelman/Larry Fitzgerald
WR4
6 (72)
LeGarrette Blount/Paul Perkins
RB2
7 (73)
Theo Riddick/Derrick Henry
RB3

Drafting last in Round 1

Rnd (Ovr)
Player
Pos
1 (12)
Michael Thomas/Jordy Nelson
WR1
2 (13)
Amari Cooper/Dez Bryant
WR2
3 (36)
Ty Montgomery/Dalvin Cook
RB1
4 (37)
Tyreek Hill/Allen Robinson
WR3
5 (60)
Bilal Powell/C.J. Anderson
RB2
6 (61)
Mark Ingram/Adrian Peterson
RB3
7 (84)
Eric Decker/DeVante Parker
WR4

Above is a more even blend of the positions, whereas the next table shows a forsaken running back plan.

Rnd (Ovr)
Player
Pos
1 (12)
Michael Thomas/Jordy Nelson
WR1
2 (13)
Amari Cooper/Dez Bryant
WR2
3 (36)
Tyreek Hill/Allen Robinson
WR3
4 (37)
Danny Woodhead/Joe Mixon
RB1
5 (60)
Bilal Powell/C.J. Anderson
RB2
6 (61)
Mark Ingram/Adrian Peterson
RB3
7 (84)
Eric Decker/DeVante Parker
WR4

From the No. 6 hole

Once again, focusing on a more even assembly:

Rnd (Ovr)
Player
Pos
1 (6)
LeSean McCoy/Devonta Freeman
RB1
2 (19)
Dez Bryant/Amari Cooper
WR1
3 (30)
Demaryius Thomas/Keenan Allen
WR2
4 (43)
Danny Woodhead/Joe Mixon
RB2
5 (54)
Julian Edelman/Larry Fitzgerald
WR3
6 (67)
Adrian Peterson/Doug Martin
RB3
7 (78)
Pierre Garcon/Jeremy Maclin
WR4

Taking running backs twice in the first three, which works best when both picks are pass-catching first (Lynch wouldn’t be an ideal candidate, hence being listed second).

Rnd (Ovr)
Player
Pos
1 (6)
LeSean McCoy/Devonta Freeman
RB1
2 (19)
Dez Bryant/Amari Cooper
WR1
3 (30)
Christian McCaffrey/Marshawn Lynch
RB2
4 (43)
Davante Adams/Michael Crabtree
WR2
5 (54)
Julian Edelman/Larry Fitzgerald
WR3
6 (67)
Jamison Crowder/Brandon Marshall
WR4
7 (78)
Theo Riddick/Derrick Henry
RB3

This last one might be the most intriguing of constructions, but the second chart for the No. 1 draft spot has to be the most consistently explosive build.

Drafts can be mixed and matched a number of ways, and all of this gets blown apart if Aaron Rodgers is staring back in Round 4 or 5 … Gronk is begging to be taken in the fourth, etc.

Much like with how we discuss ADP data at The Huddle, all of this information is meant to be used as a general guideline and not to be taken as drafting gospel.

For even more detailed draft strategy, sign up for The Huddle to see David Dorey’s Perfect Plan for drafting a dominant team.

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