Welcome to the 2016 fantasy football season and that means say hello to 2015 again. The reality is that nothing impacts summer fantasy drafts more than what happened the prior year. If wide receivers come off historically record seasons, guess who shows up in the first and second rounds? If the running backs collectively did poorly – and they certainly did in 2015 – then expect to see them devalued and lasting far deeper in drafts. Add in the new crop of rookies and each season is different and yet all too greatly respects what made last year unique.
Learn how to navigate your draft this year. Make your draft plans based on current trends and how you can take advantage of them to construct your optimal fantasy team.
2015 was a big year for quarterbacks both overall and individually. They set an all-time record for total passes (18,284), completions (11,519), yards (132,563) and touchdowns (840). The top ten fantasy quarterbacks tied for the all-time high with 334 passing scores. The problem is that there wasn’t much difference between anyone in the top ten. Aside from Cam Newton filling in as the annual superhero quarterback, there was only a difference of about two points per game within the group.
That translates into quarterbacks falling much further than ever. Unless quarterbacks receive six point touchdowns or two can be started, there is just no reason to get an early one. In most 12 team drafts, expect Cam Newton to go around the third round. Then a round or two later, Aaron Rodgers shows up. And after those two, there is little consensus on which player goes next. If you can wait – and you should – know that the top ten usually lasts well into the ninth round when there will finally be a run on them. In a ten team league, that final run on starters happens around the tenth round. Load up on running backs and wideouts since their value drains more quickly and you need to start several of them.
The division of labor in backfields and the emphasis on the passing game serves to devalue running backs more every year. The gold standard of the 300-carry back is nearly gone. Ten years ago there were 10 rushers hitting that mark. Five years ago there were still seven. That fell to only two for 2013 and 2014. Last year – only Adrian Peterson exceeded the threshold. The position set records for the least carries and rushing yards. And yet overall, there had never been more targets, catches, yards and touchdowns as a receiver. The total fantasy points of the top ten backs wasn’t just the lowest ever, it fell off almost 20% from the previous all-time low.
Now the top ten backs taken extend into the third round. Want risk? Adrian Peterson is often the only back drafted in the first eight taken who is not new to the top eight. The handful considered elite have nearly no track record and NFL starters can still be found in your sixth or seven rounds. They are not as valuable anymore and certainly are not difference makers. Aside from the upside of Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ezekiel Elliott and Lamar Miller, there is no reason to reach early for a running back.
Take a cue from 2015. Of the first ten backs drafted, only three produced top ten numbers (Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and Lamar Miller). Half of them failed to end any better than 20th. Just wait on them unless a seriously good value drops. You really can get your second starting back from the fifth or sixth round.
Expect wideouts to go faster than they ever have. Last year saw the position produce records for targets (10,581), catches (6,310) and was only three yards short for the most yardage (82,605) which came in 2014. Best yet, wide receivers accounted for a record 531 touchdowns. That was roughly a 10% increase of the previous best (2012 – 493). Two of the top three single-season records happened last year when both Antonio Brown and Julio Jones ended with 136 receptions. The fourth all-time best was Brown in 2014 (129).
Ten years ago there was just one wideout with over 100 catches. Recent years were up to four or five such players and 2015 served up a record seven. The position has never featured more difference makers. Not only will the top ten be gone by the second round, it may be within the first 15 picks. If you do not have a wideout by the third round, your team will be at a disadvantage that will be very hard to cover. Expect the top 20 to be gone by the end of the third round in leagues using reception points.
Best bet is to plan on taking two in your first three picks. Quarterbacks have minimal differences and running backs have never been riskier or less productive. But wide receivers are the new king and you have to respect that.
No matter that Tom Brady misses the first four games, Rob Gronkowski remains the #1 tight end by a big margin. Expect him to go in the first round of reception point leagues and the second round if otherwise. Next up will be Jordan Reed a few rounds later. Then after a few more rounds, Greg Olsen is drafted which will set off a two round run on the position when team owners admit they need one.
The position produced records in targets (3.841), catches (2,509) and yardage (27,450) last year and yet the top ten was actually down a bit from the two previous years. And there is minimal difference from one tight end to another after the top two.
Gronkowski and Reed were the best two tight ends from 2015 and enjoy that respect again. But there is no consensus on any of the next tight ends taken other than Olsen starts the run. Apparently Delanie Walker, Gary Barnidge and Ben Watson all come off career years that no one expects them to repeat. So the best plan tends to be waiting until the run starts after Olsen is drafted and then just getting one of the top ten. Grab a second one fairly early just to ensure the position is not a liability.
Aside from the eager beaver who must draft Stephen Gostkowski, there is absolutely no reason to take a kicker before your final pick. The difference between most kickers is rarely more than about one point per game overall. And 2016 looks to be a year of historic lows for kickers because moving the extra point to the 15-yard line has many teams openly discussing going for two points much more often. In 2014, there were only eight missed extra point attempts. In 2015, there were 71 whiffs and doinks.
This fantasy position has the most variation in scoring from league to league so when they are taken is less reliable. There is no real agreement on the order they are taken other than the Broncos, Panthers, Cardinals, Texans and Seahawks are generally the first five since they all sport great defenses even if that doesn’t always translate into fantasy points. They usually start around five rounds from the end of the draft and those top five go over the next 20 picks. Then a lull happens before the final two rounds when the rest of the league begrudgingly drafts from the notoriously unpredictable fantasy position.
A little work before your draft pays big dividends. Viewing “The Average Draft” as found on The Huddle and most other fantasy sites will yield a decent feel for when individual players are being taken. Reviewing or participating in mock drafts also shows what is possible and optimal depending on the draft slot being used. And then for a few hours this summer in your fantasy draft – it’s 2015 all over again.