News & Analysis

Lessons from the earliest 2018 fantasy ADPs

Dec 17, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Amid the flurry of activity kicking off the NFL offseason, including the rookie combine and the start of free agency, there are fantasy drafts already happening, involving the most dedicated of players. These early drafts can offer insight that will shape draft trends for the masses, whether it’s which positions are being gobbled up or which players might offer some late-round value. There’s a lot to glean from these drafts. Below are observations while utilizing the ADP tool on I looked at PPR leagues and offensive players only.

Maybe don’t wait on tight ends

Despite Rob Gronkowski having an ADP of 14th last year, it’s this year’s crop of tight ends that are showing that waiting may not be an option. Sure, none of them are going in the first two rounds of most drafts, but once they go, they start flying. Led by Travis Kelce with an ADP of 27, followed by Eagles tight end Zach Ertz at 37, with Gronkowski checking in at 38 and Giants tight end Evan Engram at 43. The fourth tight end last year wasn’t taken until almost a round later with Jimmy Graham at 53. In fact, tight ends overall are just going quicker.

Draft Year 2017 2018
TE1 Average ADP 81 71
TE1 ADP Range 14-135 27-111

So not only is the average ADP of the first 12 tight ends taken almost a round earlier this year but, if you do choose to wait, the last of the first 12 tight ends would be gone two rounds earlier. That shift is interesting enough but more so when you consider the shift in points scored among TE1s from the prior seasons.

Season 2016 2017
TE1-TE12 Standard Scoring Range 136-87 155-80
TE1-TE12 PPR Scoring Range 221-146 236-134

The range of scoring outcomes widened from 2016 to 2017 which means the need to get a top tight end is even greater. However, while there is no one tight end going a full round earlier than the others as was the case with Rob Gronkowski last year, there are still plenty of options which caused runs in their ADP.

Rookie running backs aren’t as popular after No. 1

Currently, Saquon Barkley’s ADP is ninth, the sixth running back taken. It’s not quite as high as Ezekiel Elliott’s final ADP was his rookie year in 2016, when he was sixth, but it’s far higher than last year’s top rookie, Leonard Fournette, who had an ADP of 21. Of course, Barkley hasn’t even been drafted yet so it’s subject to change. If he were to be drafted by a team that has a history of using a bell cow and has no obvious competition for pass-catching duties, his ADP could go even higher.

As far as other rookies, I was actually surprised at their current ADPs. For example, the next rookies taken — Derrius Guice, Sony Michel, and Nick Chubb — have ADPs of 30, 51, and 54, respectively. So a third-round pick and a couple of fifth-rounders. The next three rookies taken in drafts last year, after Fournette, were Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, and Kareem Hunt, with ADPs of 24, 26, and 41 — so a second-, third-, and fourth-rounder, and all higher than their 2018 counterparts. So while the top rookie of 2018 is far ahead of 2017’s, the tier as a whole last year seems to be ahead.

What’s happening in the first round?

The first round is what most fantasy players will spend most of their time fretting over. Do they go zero-RB and avoid rushers like the plague? Or maybe they think an elite receiver is the way to fantasy glory? Or do they just go best player available and allow the draft results to determine their route? Below is a breakdown of how the first rounds look so far in 10-team, 12-, and 14- leagues.

Position 10 teams 12 teams 14 teams
Running backs 6 7 9
Wide receivers 4 5 5

The number of backs off the board does seem high so far. Of course, there are several elite options in that category including fantasy MVP Todd Gurley plus a few rookies that burst on the scene in Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara. And that’s not even including potential bounceback seasons from Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson.

Let's also compare 2018 to how the first round looked in 2017:

Position 10 teams 12 teams 14 teams
Running Backs 5 6 7
Wide Receivers 5 6 6
Tight End 0 0 1

So there’s a slight shift toward more running backs in the first, with 60 percent of first-round picks being rushers including many of the backs mentioned above. Compare that to it being an even split between running backs and wide receivers last year.

Quarterback popularity isn’t really changing

It’s actually almost eerie how similar the ADPs of signal-callers are at this point this year compared to last year. For example, the first three quarterbacks off the board in 2017 had ADPs of 17, 26, and 31, respectively. This year, the top three signal-callers — Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, and Russell Wilson — went 24, 25, and 32. The 12th quarterback in 2017? They had an ADP of 71. In 2018? 75. Further proof:

Draft Year 2017 2018
QB1-12 Average ADP 48 52
QB1-12 ADP Range 17-71 24-75

For some, it’s natural to zig when others zag. In this case, taking anything other than a quarterback once the run starts. But in this scenario, it makes sense, since the top options should be gone shortly after.

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