1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002
Picking Players That Score the Most Points - 2003
by David M. Dorey
August 6, 2003
  Part of the fun of fantasy football is getting to spend so much time researching NFL players and projecting what their upcoming season will be. Doing that - or relying on someone else who did - is obviously critical to your chances of drafting a successful team. A productive team. A championship team.

As we have discussed in the two companion articles for this, you can greatly aid your cause by understanding your league's scoring rules (Analyze Your League with LAG) and by tiering the players on your cheatsheet (Blood, Sweat and Tiers). This article will refer to concepts and findings in those two articles.

What you need in your draft is not just an ability to recognize the best available player, but to be able to understand what the best available player truly is for your team. The reality in fantasy football drafts is that you are trying to build your team while eleven or so other teams are doing the same thing. You are also not trying to draft, in order, the highest scoring player or you would end up with all quarterbacks and kickers. You are building a team of players from which you will be starting some select number of players per position each week. The highest scoring bench gets you nothing, the highest scoring set of starters gets you a championship.

Kudos on all your preparatory work, but you still have to draft. And the big factor here is that you have to go in some order. Almost all drafts use serpentine order meaning you get the reverse slot every other round. Pick #1 becomes pick #12 and then back to #1 and so on. Pick #6 becomes pick #7 the next round and then back to pick #6 in the next and so on.

Those draft picks ARE NOT for picking players that score a lot of points..

Those draft picks ARE for building your team by choosing the right mixture of players so your TEAM can score a lot of points. Make that the most points. Of anyone. Like better than when you go bowling.

Your Draft Slot

What draft slot you have is critical because it controls what players are available to you and how you will be able to build the optimal team considering only those guys still available at your draft slot. You may think that Terrell Owens, Jeremy Shockey or LaDainian Tomlinson will have monster years in 2003. It really does not matter if you never had a chance to draft them. The draft is about getting the best value out of what is available and building a team - not just picking players. Your draft slot is your final tool to use. It both limits and enables your team.

There is no bad draft slot and there is no good one either. Everyone loves the earlier picks since they allow the best access to superlative players but there is a price to pay for that in waiting so long for your next pick. Picking last in the first round may seem like a disadvantage since you have the 12th best player. By the same token, you will have two of the best 13 players. Any slot can win, any slot can lose. It is all about how you approach your picks in a plan to build a team and how well the individual players contribute to your team.

For the rest of this article, we will be considering the most common scoring scenario where touchdowns are all six points except passing scores are three. All yardage is divided by ten except passing yardage which is divided by twenty. Since defenses and kickers normally fall more deeply in drafts (and appropriately), we will not discuss those because we will be looking at your first picks based upon your draft slot. We will also consider a twelve team league that starts QB, 2 RB, 3 WR and a TE.

The first picks are critical since they build the nucleus of your team and in almost all championship teams, at least four of them end up as major contributors.

The reality of pick analysis is that it changes for each draft pick because after the first selection, the rest of the picks are controlled by what the others have left you. There is an obvious and significant difference with what you can do with the #12 and #13 picks, as opposed to what you can get with the #1 and #24 picks. Knowing in advance the realities of your draft slot will allow you to build the best team and using tiers, recognize where undervalued players are still left on the board. You have to enter into the draft with a plan. It may change, but at least you have a starting point with flexibility.

Enough of the text - we're better served by examining this year's crops of fantasy players as they match up to the draft slots and building a team considering the starters. Let's take a look at how we can select players based on draft position with a plan on how we can build a team. I'll be using the most current Huddle rankings for this demonstration but will not be updating it every time we change our rankings during this month. This is to give you a look at the thought process behind putting together positional value, tiering, understanding what other drafts have indicated this season and draft slot management.

First - here is what I have to work with based on my research and analysis considering the first round:

Running backs are going faster than a bag of french fries on the way back to the George Foreman's house. Since I know that runningbacks are scoring higher than any other position except quarterback (and even higher than them in some cases) I am certain the first seven picks will clear out my top tier of Tomlinson, Williams, Portis, Holmes, Faulk, Alexander and McAllister. The only question is the order they go. If any other player is taken in the first seven selections, I see the #8 pick getting a present.

This season is a little different since the tier one is not the standard three players. While I do consider Tomlinson, Portis and Williams as definitely less risk with good production than the other four, there is no reason to break this tier down since it should be the first seven picks in the draft anyway.

I have four backs in my second tier that would be nice to match up with a first tier back for a powerful backfield. I have six more backs in my third tier which are decent backs with some upside but likely a bit more risk. That makes 17 running backs that I would really like to have on my team and with 24 picks in the first two rounds, I pretty much expect that all will be gone by the third round. If not, they will be snapped up quickly in the third. The next tier is 13 backs deep and are players that I might be willing to settle for as my RB2 as long as I can get a RB1 and a top WR or QB. If I make my first two picks be from tier 2 and tier 3 for RBs, I have immediately set myself up for an average season, have no difference makers and will always behind the curve taken top positional players.

Quarterbacks are being taken later this season than any I recall in the past decade. I picked up Culpepper in the third round in one draft. I have regularly seen NO quarterback taken until the second half of the second round. No way I would take a quarterback in the first round this season and with the perceived depth I see in them, I'll probably wait until at least half a dozen are gone and maybe longer. I know from my tiers that there are a top five for quarterbacks, and while they will score well, the next seven quarterbacks will do pretty well and I can always get value later with a QB if I see better picks for WR, RB or TE.

Wide Receivers are actually being taken earlier than quarterbacks in most drafts, at least the top three which mirrors my first tier. Harrison, Owens and Moss - what's not to like? All three have shown great productivity and consistency over a long period of time in a position that is normally neither. I want those players pretty bad actually, since I know my running back tiers in advance, I can see what I leave myself with if I take on in the first or second round. The position does not score as well as RB or QB, but top guys with consistency are a major benefit.

Knowing this, here is how I would draft the first round by position and what the implications and plan would be:

  Pick     Pos   Player Why and What's My Plan?
1 RB LaDainian Tomlinson WHY?: Tomlinson is the first pick because there is absolutely no questions revolving around him of any kind. Great size, youth, speed, power, durability, offense built around him, no sharing, etc.. By taking LT, I can feel pretty good that I will end up with a very highly productive RB that should last the whole season.
THE PLAN: By the time the second pick rolls around, I expect that Tier 1,2 and 3 RB's will be gone. If not, I take a RB for a great 1-2 and then look for my early 3rd pick to be a top WR or QB depending on who is left when I finally pick again 22 slots from now. I have to wait a long time between picks and with the "swing" or double picks I get from here on out, I need to be watching for either early value in a position that has not yet been raided or watch for important tiers that are quickly clearing out. Since I have the #1 player, I can take more calculated risks later on. I am thinking of starting out RB-WR-QB maybe - no need to get too concrete with so long to wait.
2 RB Clinton Portis WHY? I love the explosive nature of Portis. He is a little small but is young and so far durable. And he can turn in monster games that can win my weekly matchups almost by themselves. I am happy to have a RB with such tremendous upside.
THE PLAN: I am still too far away from my #2 pick to have a very concrete plan. Same as above, hope that someone from the Tier 3 RB's is still left for me but if not, I would likely consider a QB or WR. With such a good RB already, I am a little less concerned with getting two RBs for my first two picks and can always use my third pick to either grab a Tier 4 RB or a Tier 1 QB. Maybe a Tier 2 WR - still hard to say so far away from my next pick.
3 RB Ricky Williams WHY? Williams was a huge benefit for Miami and will be for my team as well. Certainly anyone of the top 3 players could be argued to be first, so I like this spot. It's like getting a #1 player and yet I get to pick two slots earlier in the second round. I am still in the vein of hoping for a Tier 3 RB to fall to me and it is becoming more possible for it to happen. Since there are 17 RBs I like in those first three tiers and three WR I love in their first tier, and knowing that I go again in 18 picks, all I need is for one person to take a player outside my tiers to ensure that I get that RB or WR that I really want the most. That almost always happens.
THE PLAN: It is looking pretty favorable that I will get to start RB-RB or RB-WR with that WR being a stud. I think my third pick will probably be a top QB or a top WR if I get that RB for my second pick.
4 RB Priest Holmes WHY? Holmes hip and contract squabbles drops him to this spot - if he had been healthy all last year and happy with his salary, it would be pretty hard not to consider him a top pick so while I assume some risk here, I am also looking at potentially getting the best player in the draft with a #4 pick - a risk I am happy to take. This pick will probably force me into taking his backup, and makes my selection for RB2 need to be a little safer than usual but considering what I may be getting here, I can live with that.
THE PLAN: Not only will I be able to reach a Tier 3 RB, with the higher risk I am taking here it is probably a good idea. The worst I get is Holmes not 100% but at least another RB to rely on as well. The best I get is the hottest 1-2 in RBs for the league. Since I will be going RB-RB, I know I need to get a QB or WR with my #3. Since I am starting 2 or 3 receivers each week, chances are best that I will be taking a WR with my #3 and then grabbing a QB and more WR in the following rounds. It is getting less likely I will reach a great QB with my 3rd pick.
5 RB Marshall Faulk WHY? This spot is maybe better than the first four - I not only get Faulk who could obviously lead the league again, but I am mid-round and get to go again in 14 picks. Like Holmes, Faulk too means I would be best served by taking his backup, but unlike Holmes I feel much better that his backup (Gordon) will be very productive. Long as I snag Gordon late, I do not really have the same need for a "safe" RB2 and can gamble a little more.
THE PLAN: I am looking at grabbing either a great WR if a top 3 falls to me or at the worst, a RB that will be Tier 3 or maybe even Tier 2 since all I need is for one or two teams behind me here to get whacky with their first picks to help my cause. It is very likely I am going RB-RB and then using my 3rd on a top WR or QB.
6 RB Deuce McAllister WHY? Knowing my scoring scenario, I am still in the RB-hog club. There is just not the same bang for the buck with a top WR as I know from my league analysis. Deuce was a tremendous player last year and both runs and catches. I am a little leery about his schedule, but he played very well in only his first starting season.
THE PLAN : I love the fact that I am here in the middle of the rounds and able to get a relatively low risk/ high reward RB and still be in the middle of each round to scoop on any undervalued players that fell and never getting caught when a run develops on WR, TE, PK or DEF. About the worst that will likely happen is that I end up with a good instead of great player at those positions and that's fine. I get to take a top RB here and then in the 2nd, I think I will take another RB from the Tier 3 pack and may even get to make my choice from a couple there. I'll start RB-RB and then scoop a WR or QB with my #3 depending on which I think offers the greatest value.
7 RB Shaun Alexander

WHY? I have come to love this spot this season. With the #7 pick I take Shaun Alexander who is the final RB in Tier 1 and a player that has turned in big seasons the last two years. He should be even better this season though the holdout of OT Walter Jones bothers me enough to keep him at #7. The last of the top RBs is mine here and I am well positioned in every round to get value and players that fall. What's not to like?
THE PLAN: in Tier 1 and this late, I get to scoop on my second RB next round from a Tier 3 and maybe Tier 2. I would love to get a strong RB-RB set and then start attacking WR and QB from then on. In most drafts so far this summer, this spot has been great for allowing a top team to be built.

8 WR Marvin Harrison

WHY? That top tier of RBs just finished and the #1 WR and #1 QB is available. But QBs are dropping hard this year and yet WRs are still going early. I know I can get a decent RB with my second pick - and I probably should do just that - but I cannot reach for a lesser RB when the best WR is still on the board.
THE PLAN: Taking a WR first pretty much locks me into take a RB with my second pick and maybe even with my third. It is great to have a top WR like Harrison who is almost no risk and pure production, but I am taking it in the shorts for getting top RBs. I can reach a decent RB with my second pick and then I have to either use my third on a unexciting RB2 or scoop a good WR or QB and know I need to get lucky with my RB2 in the fourth round. This is not a great season for later sleeper RBs but you never know and at least I have the best receiver in a position that normally is not consistent or that productive. I can be a little more risk tolerant on RB since I have a no risk receiver.

9 RB William Green WHY? Now that the top receiver is gone and all the Tier 1 RB as well, I have to decide - take a Tier 2 back or the second WR in the draft? I see just a little more risk with Owens than Harrison since he is in a new offensive scheme with a new coach. Owens is a great receiver, obviously, but with a slight question. I have my Tier 2 RBs starting out with William Green who too is a risk, but with upside considering his great second half of 2002.
THE PLAN: If I take Green, I can still reach either Owens or Moss or at worst a decent Tier 3 RB for a nice RB-RB start. Solid with some upside in the highest scoring position. I will be going WR or QB with my third pick depending on the greatest value I see. The problem I know is that by taking a RB here, I can not have a top QB or WR likely unless I take one with my second pick. But if I do, my third pick on RB is so deep that I will be building a team with average players. My best bet right now looks like I should take RB here, then RB in the second, and then probably a QB in the third since I will reach a pretty good one or a top WR will fall. As bad as starting out with two unspectacular RBs seems, this draft spot means that I have to accept that my 4th player is not going to be very attractive and if that has to happen, I will likely make the pick a WR in the 4th leaving a QB for me to take in the 3rd. At least if I have to make up a position and land a sleeper, it is easiest with a WR.
10 RB Edgerrin James

WHY? The next available RB is Edgerrin James and the best WR is Terrell Owens. Like Green, I see tons of potential in James and yet slightly more risk since he has not performed well since 2000 due to injury. This is a risky pick to be sure but with undeniable upside. I am taking a chance here that I could see Moss and Owens gone before my #2 pick, but RBs score a lot in this scoring system and James gives me a homerun swing for a top RB all the way back here in the 10th. I am willing to take that risk since I am going to be either getting a Top WR in Moss or Owens, or I will get a solid RB to pair with James to give me a safety net with my RBs.
THE PLAN: Take my RB here and hope that Owens or Moss falls to me. If not, I get to take my pick of Tier 3 RBs. If I get a WR at my #2, I hope that my #3 sees a RB fall or I will need to get lucky. If I take a RB in round 2, I can use my #3 and #4 for the best available WR and QB. I might even go WR-WR at the 3-4 if QBs are dropping more than normal which I can assess by my #4 pick.

11 WR Terrell Owens WHY? As I see it, the two risky upside guys in James and Green are now gone and I have to choose between safe guy Barber or Owens. Since my chances are much slimmer I can land a top RB now, I may as well get a top WR and prevent that guy at #12 from taking both Moss and Owens. I can either take Barber here - 'yawn' - and let him decide what WR I get with my #2 or I can take my choice of WR (Owens) and still get a Tier 2 RB anyway.
THE PLAN: Since I have a top WR now, I pretty much will need to go RB with my #2 and get someone solid. That will allow me to evaluate my 3rd pick as to whether it will be a RB, WR or QB since much will happen by then and players falling through the cracks can be shagged by me. Since I will already have RB-WR, I am free to make "best player" decisions instead of needing to take a position.
12 RB Tiki Barber WHY? Because I am pretty unhappy right now. The two best WR's are gone and the best nine RBs too. I get two picks here in a serpentine and I need to make them count because it will feel like three years (and 22 players) until I get to go again. I know I am taking Moss - why not? The only top tier WR left which I will take with my #2 and I go with Barber here as a safe, productive pick at RB. Barber will not be a huge difference maker but at least gets me decent points - something I cannot assume I can get with my RB taken back in round #3.
THE PLAN: I take a safe, solid RB with this pick and pair him with the final WR from Tier 1 in Randy Moss. That gives me a great WR and a solid RB and sets me up in March, 2004 when I finally get to go again with my 3rd pick. At least then I can look for value picks and take a RB at either my #3 or #4. Probably a riskier player with upside like Anthony Thomas or Correll Buckhalter. Who knows? But at least I can take advantage of what is still there and not have to take a positional pick. The swing pick is normally more fun than this year is making it be, but the way QBs are dropping this summer in drafts, I may be okay waiting on QB anyway and land some prospects at RB and WR.

This leaves me with the following rankings/tiers on my personal cheatsheet for positions I would consider in round two (gray means already taken):

Tier   QB
1 1 Culpepper, Daunte
2 Manning, Peyton
3 Vick, Michael
4 McNabb, Donovan
5 Gannon, Rich
2 6 Brooks, Aaron
7 Warner, Kurt
8 Garcia, Jeff
9 Hasselbeck, Matt
10 Green, Trent
11 Favre, Brett
12 McNair, Steve
3 13 Pennington, Chad
14 Bledsoe, Drew
15 Maddox, Tommy
16 Collins, Kerry
  6 More QBs
Tier   RB
1 1 Tomlinson, LaDainian
2 Portis, Clinton
3 Williams, Ricky
4 Holmes, Priest
5 Faulk, Marshall
6 Alexander, Shaun
7 McAllister, Deuce
2 8 Green, William
9 James, Edgerrin
10 Barber, Tiki
11 Green, Ahman
3 12 Dillon, Corey
13 Lewis, Jamal
14 Taylor, Fred
15 Davis, Stephen
16 Henry, Travis
17 Garner, Charlie
Tier   WR
1 1 Harrison, Marvin
2 Owens, Terrell
3 Moss, Randy
2 4 Robinson, Koren
5 Burress, Plaxico
6 Moulds, Eric
7 Holt, Torry
8 Horn, Joe
9 Johnson, Chad
10 Ward, Hines
11 Booker, Marty
3 12 Coles, Laveranues
13 Driver, Donald
14 Mason, Derrick
15 Price, Peerless
16 Boston, David
  13 More WRs

For purposes of how I would conduct round two and a look down the road for each draft slot, let's complete one more round as I would see it and plan it. This is based on if the first round actually went as described above.

Pick Pos Round Two Pos Already Have The Plan for #3 and #4
Randy Moss
Tiki Barber Going to need a RB with my 3rd and then value pick WR or QB for 4th.
Ahman Green
Terrell Owens Have to get a RB then probably a WR unless a Tier 1 QB falls that far.
Corey Dillon
Edgerrin James Solid start - probably a WR next unless a Tier 1 QB falls which would make my #4 be the WR.
Jamal Lewis
William Green Another solid start for RB - likely get a WR and then WR again unless I see a QB I love.
Fred Taylor
Marvin Harrison Need a RB and a safe pick at that with Fragile Fred. Probably looking at going RB and then maybe even RB again unless a WR fell I loved.
Stephen Davis
Shaun Alexander Solid start - looking for a good WR or a Tier 1 QB to fall here. In a position to grab best value.
Travis Henry
Deuce McAllister Solid start - looking for a good WR or a Tier 1 QB to fall here. In a position to grab best value.
Daunte Culpepper
Marshall Faulk This is a "go for the throat" risk play. I can take the best QB here, have a chance to have the best RB in Faulk already, and then use my #3 to get a Tier 4 RB followed by my #4 for a WR.
Charlie Garner
Priest Holmes With a little risk right now in Priest Holmes, I am happy to get the final Tier 3 RB on my team and a safe pick at that. Garner may not replicate 2002, but he will offer something every game. This allows me to look for the best value in WR or QB in the 3rd and 4th rounds.
Peyton Manning
Ricky Williams with the Manning pick, I am staking claim to two top, extremely solid players in the two highest scoring positions. This forces me to take a RB from Tier 4 with my #3, but then likely to WR with my #4. This strong a start lets me grab value, not positions.
Michael Vick
Clinton Portis Now that I have two of the most exciting players in the two highest scoring positions, I can grab a Tier 4 RB or a Tier 3 WR with my next pick, though most likely I will need to get that second RB knowing how drained they will be by my #5 pick.
Donovan McNabb
LaDainian Tomlinson I take a Tier 1 QB to match with the #1 RB on my board. I like Tomlinson so much I would likely take a top WR with my #3 pick for an impressive 1-2-3 start. I would need to find some RB with my 4-5 swing picks, but can take the chance and would likely grab my second WR then as well.

This has shown not the way your draft will go, but the way that different draft slots can work out, knowing what the scoring scenario does to positions, what other drafts are like this summer and using tiers to keep me alert to positional depth in an easy manner. Draft slot management is critical in those first four or five picks since teams will follow positional plans as they try to build a set of starters. After that - it's mostly about getting sleepers and strategic picks considering bye weeks, the NFL teams already on your roster (avoiding loading up on, say, ARZ players) and respecting the relative scoring values of TE, PK and DEF in your league.

Before we end, let's take a general overview of ways to build your team positionally and what it most likely would mean to your team. I am only considering the first picks as a RB or WR because this season I see no reason to take a QB in the first round. Remember - different tactics take on different results depending on the draft slot used.

Strategy What it means
RB - RB - RB The classic Stud-RB start means you better be very good with WR and QB, cherry picking sleepers to make up for some lost opportunity early. You just took only two starters with your valuable first three picks. Feels good but puts a lot of pressure on the team in later rounds. Can strategically hurt other teams that waited on their RB2.
RB - RB - QB Normally a solid start - filled the three highest scoring starter slots with your first three picks and likely with great value. Now then - can you pick a couple of good WR after the first 15 are gone?
RB - RB - WR As long as that WR is a Top 3, this makes great sense. Plenty of QBs left and you start out solid on RB with a great WR. Plenty of time to get value picks from WR and QB in later rounds.
RB - WR - RB As long as that WR is a Top 3, this makes sense. Plenty of QBs left and you start out solid on RB with a great WR. Probably a little weaker than the RB - RB -WR unless receivers are valued higher than most leagues.
RB - WR - WR This can be deadly effective but only if you get a sleeper RB. This year seems to be less abundant in them but then again - we always say that. You have wrapped up two great starting WR in a position that is the hardest to get right. Good start but good luck on that RB2.
RB - WR -QB This works well only when you have top tier players from all the positions. If you do, then you are in a great spot to take the players that fell in the draft. If you got one of these wrong, you can be hurting your chances to compete.
RB - QB - WR Same as RB - WR - QB but likely a bit less workable since QBs are falling this year in drafts. Likely lost some opportunities by going this route and will need to get lucky from here on out.
RB - QB - RB This is fine if your QB scoring is well above the other positions. Probably stronger if your RB1 is a big stud player since your RB2 will be Tier 4 and your WR's will be weak unless you get lucky with sleeper WRs.
WR - RB - RB Starting with a top tier WR is a decent idea if you draft late in the first round and you can get enough value with RBs to make a solid start that can address value picks later.
WR - RB - QB As tempting as this may seem, taking a top tier WR and following it with a Tier 3 or 4 RB means you have set your team up for about average scoring so far in your first two picks. Taking a QB had better be a Tier 1 QB and even then, chances are good you would have been better off overall waiting on QB.
WR - WR - RB Only when you make the play to grab two Tier 1 WRs because you were drafting at the end of the first round and they fell. You have two great WR in a normally inconsistent position. You can always get a QB later of some note, and you get a Tier 4 RB for something solid. Just need to land one RB sleeper to make this work.
WR - TE - PK We told you not to drink before the draft. Someone run to the bank and cash his check now.

So after all of this, I am here to say that the above is well thought out and in no way applies 1:1 to your draft. But is does give reason to what your plans are in the draft and a basis for building a team - not just picking players.

This is the application of the previous concepts discussed in the other articles Analyzing Your League where you can determine the value of positions in your scoring rules and how they play out in your particular league. Only when you understand the effects of the scoring in your league can you understand player value. Then all those cheatsheets come to life as you understand how it all comes together to build an optimal team.

Once you know your players and their relative importance between positions, you can use tiering to create a roadmap during your draft as discussed in the article Blood, Sweat and Tiers . This helps you to prepare in advance what you want to accomplish and allows you to make faster decisions when the draft does not happen as you planned or when that player you loved is snapped up in the pick before you. Just keep going in the right direction knowing the tiers you have still available.

Above all - have some fun in your draft! If you really want a player - take him early. There is nothing as fun as landing your sleeper and being correct. No draft will happen like you think and that is what makes it so entertaining. Just prepare for your draft, be armed with a plan, understand positional values and tiers and then dance through your draft like Fred Astaire while all the other Gingers try to keep up. In the end, it all comes down to what U.T. Coach Darrel Royal once said:

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity"

Are you ready for some football?