It’s impossible to have an exact fantasy football draft strategy without knowing which pick you have. But it's still important to plan ahead, since the route to a fantasy title looks different depending on where you pick.
This is obvious in the first round: You're never going to land someone like Christian McCaffrey in the back half of the first. Players generally come off the board near their ADP, especially early in the draft. It's usually a bad thing to reach for a player early, but once the draft begins to play out, your own personal draft strategy should start to take shape.
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We continue this series on optimal draft strategy by looking at how to approach any of the middle four picks in 2021 fantasy football drafts. We'll consider average draft position and which players we can expect to be available with later picks.
This exercise assumes a 12-team league with PPR scoring. We won't plan for any dramatic ADP fallers, but it's important to remain flexible and take advantage of opponents' mistakes when that does happen.
Optimal Fantasy Football Draft Strategy Pick:
No. 1 – No. 4 | No. 9-No. 12
Possible Targets: Travis Kelce, Austin Ekeler, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott
The best-case scenario for someone with a pick in the middle of the first round is Kelce falling. The future Hall of Famer racked up the most fantasy points at the tight end position in five consecutive seasons, making him the safest pick of the draft. The gap between him and the rest of the tight ends could even widen if Kelce can increase his target share.
Kansas City lost Sammy Watkins on offense, so Kelce could be a beneficiary of the vacated targets. The team completely reworked its offensive line which, PFF ranks seventh heading into 2021. Kelce has a 25% threat rate over the past three years without pressure, but that falls to 22% with pressure. A better offensive line will keep Mahomes from being pressured and allow more time for him to target his star tight end.
If Kelce is off the board, taking the top available running back is a fine consolation prize. Ekeler will be available in most drafts in this range, as his ADP is near the end of the first round. Ekeler should be a top-five running back this season despite his lower ADP.
Round 2, Picks 17-20: Draft a Tier 3 or Tier 4 RB
Possible Targets: Joe Mixon, Najee Harris, Gus Edwards, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
The second round is perfect for targeting the best available back regardless of how the first round goes. It’s too early for a quarterback or a tight end other than Kelce. There should be plenty of strong wide receiver options in Round 3, but the depth at running back will be thin by then. In this range, it's still possible to secure an every-down running back who is expected to have a big workload — that's harder to do in the third.
Mixon and Harris are the ideal backs to target here because they could end up finishing first and second in offensive snaps at the position. The Steelers and Bengals don't have players behind these two who are worth putting on the field the starting back needs a rest. The only thing pushing these potential Pro Bowlers into Round 2 of fantasy drafts is their surroundings. Both of their teams are in the bottom quarter of our offensive line rankings. And running back efficiency has more to do with the line than the back.
Luckily, running often typically leads to better fantasy results than running well. Both of these backs are both projected to be in the top 10 in rushing attempts.