News & Analysis

Fantasy football mock drafts: Small-league strategy

By Dan Schneier
Jun 15, 2018

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Dec 17, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) with the ball in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

At PFF Fantasy, we’ve attempted to provide a full scope of the fantasy football landscape this offseason for owners of leagues in every and any format. After breaking down a 16-team PPR mock draft with our staff and a few other fantasy legends recently, we shift focus in this piece to a 10-team PPR mock draft. The 10-team PPR draft featured all PFF fantasy staffers.

In a 10-team draft, every roster naturally looks better, but what I found most interesting is how the strategy for roster-building remained mostly the same. In a 10-team league, the previously popular zero-RB strategy is more plausible, but that didn’t lead to a flux of staffers jumping on board for the strategy. Instead, it was quite the opposite, as we’ll focus in our breakdown of the first two rounds (20 picks). The zero-RB strategy was initially made popular because the fantasy community was drafting too many running backs early, and after several breakout seasons for rookie running backs and a down year for wide receivers as a whole in 2017, the strategy could once again become popular after the 2018 season if running backs continue to fly off the board early and often.

The first two rounds

Pick Owner Player Position Team
1.01 Scott Barrett Le’Veon Bell RB PIT
1.02 Dan Schneier Todd Gurley RB LAR
1.03 Tyler Loechner David Johnson RB ARZ
1.04 Mike Castiglione Ezekiel Elliott RB DAL
1.05 Tyler Buecher Antonio Brown WR PIT
1.06 Scott Spratt DeAndre Hopkins WR HOU
1.07 Jeff Ratcliffe Alvin Kamara RB NO
1.08 Walton Spurlin Michael Thomas WR NO
1.09 Daniel Kelley Julio Jones WR ATL
1.10 Michael Moore Odell Beckham Jr. WR NYG
2.01 Michael Moore Kareem Hunt RB KC
2.02 Daniel Kelley Keenan Allen WR LAC
2.03 Walton Spurlin Saquon Barkley RB NYG
2.04 Jeff Ratcliffe Leonard Fournette RB JAX
2.05 Scott Spratt Melvin Gordon RB LAC
2.06 Tyler Buecher Dalvin Cook RB MIN
2.07 Mike Castiglione Mike Evans WR TB
2.08 Tyler Loechner A.J. Green WR CIN
2.09 Dan Schneier Rob Gronkowski TE NE
2.10 Scott Barrett LeSean McCoy RB BUF

There were 11 running backs selected in the first two rounds, compared just eight wide receivers. If we expanded this to a 12-team PPR draft, there would have been 15 running backs selected in the first two rounds (or 24 picks). The days of zero-RB dominating industry-league drafts are numbered. The shift in strategy has a lot do with the success of top-end running backs vs. top-end wide receivers in 2017. League-winning rosters often didn’t consist of a single wide receiver drafted in the first four or five rounds as targets and production was dispersed at the position last season. Another factor in the decision to load rosters up with running backs early on is the ADP of some potentially high-volume wide receivers as we’ll now jump right into.

You can get targets late

It’s easy to select a running back with your first few picks when you can still get potential triple-digit target hogs like Allen Robinson (No. 33 overall), T.Y. Hilton (No. 34), and Larry Fitzgerald (No. 41), among others, in the middle rounds. It’s even easier to make this decision when potential high-volume receivers who may have lost their fantasy luster like Randall Cobb (No. 72), Emmanuel Sanders (No. 82), Marquise Goodwin (No. 113), and Kelvin Benjamin (No. 115) continue to hang around in the mid-to-late rounds. Fantasy owners no longer have to scramble to grab targets in PPR leagues with the majority of their premium picks.

Late-round QB strategy is amplified in 10-team leagues

In 10-team leagues, the late-round quarterback strategy gets taken to another level because only 10 players start at the position every week. Aaron Rodgers came off the board first but not until the end of Round 4 (No. 38 overall). The next quarterback (Russell Wilson) didn’t come off the board until the last pick in Round 7 at No. 70 overall. Three teams ended the draft with just one quarterback on their roster and they waited to draft him. I grabbed Drew Brees at No. 99, Tyler Buecher grabbed Kirk Cousins at No. 105, and Scott Spratt waited all the way until pick No. 135 to grab his only quarterback — Jimmy Garoppolo.

The RB-early-and-never-again strategy

Scott Barrett’s roster
Position Player Team Pick
QB Tom Brady NE 9.01
QB Ben Roethlisberger PIT 13.01
RB Le’Veon Bell PIT 1.01
RB LeSean McCoy BUF 2.10
RB Christian McCaffrey CAR 3.01
RB Doug Martin OAK 16.10
WR Alshon Jeffery PHI 4.10
WR Larry Fitzgerald ARZ 5.01
WR Robert Woods LAR 6.10
WR Chris Hogan NE 7.01
WR Pierre Garcon SF 11.01
WR DeSean Jackson TB 12.10
TE Delanie Walker TEN 8.10
TE Tyler Eifert CIN 10.10
K Greg Zuerlein LAR 15.01
DST LA Chargers 14.10

Here’s what a roster looks like after you spend the first three draft picks on running backs and never use another pick at the position until a cursory 16th-round toss at Martin. If you’re going to use this strategy, I think it works best in Scott Barrett’s position here with one of the first few draft picks because it allows you to get three running backs in the first 21 picks overall. All three players project to have massive volume overall and in the passing game which is paramount in PPR leagues. This strategy allowed Scott to grab upside at quarterback, the potential target hogs in the middle at wide receiver and stack a very balanced roster overall.

The edited version of zero-RB

Daniel Kelley’s roster
Position Player Team Pick
QB Matthew Stafford DET 12.02
QB Andrew Luck IND 13.09
RB Rashaad Penny SEA 4.02
RB Mark Ingram NO 5.09
RB Royce Freeman DEN 6.02
RB C.J. Anderson CAR 7.09
RB D’Onta Foreman HOU 10.02
RB Giovani Bernard CIN 15.09
WR Julio Jones ATL 1.09
WR Keenan Allen LAC 2.02
WR Doug Baldwin SEA 3.09
WR Randall Cobb GB 8.02
WR Kenny Stills MIA 11.09
TE Kyle Rudolph MIN 9.09
K Harrison Butker KC 16.02
DST Jacksonville 14.02

Our fantasy editor Daniel Kelley came the closest to implementing something like the zero-RB strategy. He spent his first three draft picks on wide receivers and almost every team had already filled their RB2 position before he drafted his first back. However, Kelley put a spin on zero-RB when he proceeded to draft a running back with four straight picks starting in round four. This hybrid strategy netted him four running backs in the first 30 drafted overall.

There is a lot of faith in the Browns offense

For an offense that has the same offensive scheme that struggled over the last 32 games, there seems to be a lot of buzz surrounding the Browns offense and it’s carrying over to early drafts. The biggest issue with investing in the Cleveland offense is that they never replaced All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Former third-round pick Shon Coleman, who was just our 68th-ranked right tackle in 2017, is the only player with any experience in the NFL competing and at this point starting at left tackle. Although Browns players aren’t coming off the board with premium picks, six Browns players came off the board within the first 91 picks overall and that includes three different running backs. On the flip side, Tyrod Taylor went undrafted. I’m not sure the Browns offense is ready to support three fantasy-relevant running backs with question marks at both offensive tackle positions, a new quarterback, and an offensive scheme that has struggled to move the ball over the past two seasons.

Conclusion

Running backs were king in the 10-team PPR draft just like they were in the 16-team PPR draft we concluded earlier this month. If you wait too long at running back in your drafts, you’ll end up with a lot of potential (especially if you follow the Kelley strategy), but question marks from a volume standpoint. Meanwhile, you can find volume in the middle and late rounds at wide receiver.

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