The following is a round-by-round blueprint of how I plan on drafting in my fantasy football leagues this summer.
Keep in mind that depending on the circumstances, you might not be able to completely follow this strategy once your draft begins. There could be a run on a certain position; an unexpected player could fall; or another owner may take one of the key sleepers early. You have to be able to play a lot of it by ear, but having a strategy going into the draft helps a lot.
Also, most of this assumes a 12-man league with two running backs, two receivers and a flex (ESPN standard). If your league makes you start two quarterbacks or three receivers, you'll need to adjust (though I've made some notes for three-receiver leagues below).
ROUND 1: If I'm lucky enough to draw a top-three pick, I'm going to take the best running back available between Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy. With Arian Foster hurt and Chris Johnson holding out, those are the top three players in my 2011 Fantasy Football Top 150 Cheat Sheet.
ROUNDS 2-3: Ideally, I should be able to get a running back and a receiver here. Running backs I'll be targeting are Frank Gore, Matt Forte, Felix Jones, Steven Jackson and LeGarrette Blount.
As for receivers, I'd love to get Greg Jennings or Hakeem Nicks late in the second round, but I'd also settle for Vincent Jackson and Mike Wallace.
Note: In leagues that force me to start three wideouts, I think I'd go receiver-receiver in Rounds 2-3 if I could get two of the four names listed in the paragraph above.
Also, if I'm in a league that only starts two running backs and two receivers (no flex), I'll go after a quarterback with one of those two picks if I can get Tom Brady or Drew Brees. The lack of a flex spot makes those running back and receiver positions a bit less important.
ROUNDS 4-5: Unless a top quarterback magically falls to me, I'm going with the same running back-receiver combo again. By the time I've taken my fifth player, I should ideally have three running backs and two receivers, or two backs and three wideouts. There's no way I'm picking a tight end here unless it's Antonio Gates.
ROUNDS 6-7: If I don't have a quarterback yet, I'm definitely taking one in these two rounds; waiting until the bottom of Round 8 is way too risky.
Whether I'm taking a quarterback in Round 6 or 7 really depends on the situation. If the few guys drafting after me in Round 6 don't have quarterbacks, I know they're going to take one, so I'd rather take my pick in Round 6. If they already have quarterbacks, then I can wait until Round 7.
As for the other selection, I'd love to get some of the following players here: Tim Hightower, Chris Wells, Steve Johnson, Mario Manningham, Mark Ingram, Kenny Britt, Knowshon Moreno.
ROUNDS 8-9: If I picked Matthew Stafford in Round 7, I'm taking a safe signal-caller here. Perhaps Josh Freeman or Sam Bradford.
Outside of that, I'm taking the best running back, wide receiver or tight end available. I would love it if I could get Jimmy Graham this late.
ROUNDS 10-11: I'm taking a tight end here if I haven't already. I'm also picking a backup quarterback here if I don't have one.
If I still have a pick left over, I'll be looking at the top running back or receiver available. I'd love to get James Starks, Nate Burleson, Mike Tolbert, Julio Jones, C.J. Spiller, Earl Bennett (PPR), Danny Amendola (PPR) or Davone Bess (PPR) at this spot.
ROUND 1: If the top three backs (listed above) are off the board, I'm going for the following guys in this order: Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Andre Johnson and Aaron Rodgers. I list four guys in this five-pick span because I'm assuming someone will take the overdrafted Jamaal Charles. Also, note that I will not consider Andre Johnson if my league only starts two receivers (no flex).
*** The following assumes I take Andre Johnson with the No. 6-8 Pick (if you go with a running back, it'll be the same as Drafting Early):
ROUNDS 2-3: I'd love to pair Andre Johnson with Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or Roddy White, especially in leagues where starting three receivers is required. Either way, I'm taking the best available running back and receiver with each selection.
It's unlikely, but if Tom Brady is available in the middle of Round 3, he might just be too good to pass up.
ROUNDS 4-5: Once again, best available running back and receiver, unless you can get Antonio Gates, Drew Brees or Philip Rivers. If I have two running backs going into Round 4, I may target two wideouts and vice versa.
THE REST: The rest of the draft will follow the drafting early strategy.
*** The following assumes I take Aaron Rodgers with the No. 7-8 Pick:
ROUNDS 2-3: It's the best available running back and/or receiver with each selection. I'd ideally like to grab one of each, but I am not going to reach to do that.
ROUNDS 4-5: Same as above. I'd love to have two running backs and two receivers by this point, but once again, I'm not going to reach. Also, I don't think I'd consider Antonio Gates in Round 4; having both Rodgers and Gates would probably mean that I'm going to be really thin at running back and/or receiver.
THE REST: Keep taking running backs and receivers. Grab a tight end between Rounds 6 and 10. Don't take a quarterback until Round 11; it's not like you're going to platoon him with Rodgers, or anything.
Drafting Late: Picks 9-12:
ROUNDS 1-2: I'd take a shot on Arian Foster and his bum hamstring down here. Otherwise, I'm going Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, Matt Forte, or the other injury-risk running backs, Darren McFadden or Frank Gore.
If this is a 3-WR league we're talking, I'm probably targeting two wideouts, ideally Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald (Roddy White PPR).
If I'm in a 2-WR, no flex league, I'm going with two backs unless I can grab Rodgers.
ROUNDS 3-4 (Rodgers): Apply the same scenario as Drafting Middle with Rodgers.
ROUNDS 3-4 (3-WR league): If I took two receivers earlier, I'm definitely grabbing two running backs here unless Tom Brady is available.
ROUNDS 3-4 (2-WR, no flex league): If I went with two running backs, I'm probably targeting the best player available between a quarterback, receiver or Antonio Gates. If a stud running back falls to me, I'll go with the value and select my third player at that position.
ROUNDS 5-6 (3-WR league): I'm definitely taking my third receiver here unless I'm forced to reach. With my other pick, I'd go with either a quarterback or running back, depending on who happens to be available. Remember to check my 2011 Fantasy Football Top 150 Cheat Sheet.
ROUNDS 5-6 (2-WR, no flex league): I'm not taking a quarterback any later than this. I'll also have three running backs after these two selections. The other two players will be either two wideouts, or a receiver and a tight end.
ROUNDS 7-8 (3-WR league): Definitely a quarterback if I don't have one. Otherwise, the best players available between running back, receiver and tight end (if I don't have one yet). I wouldn't mind having four wideouts by the time I take my eighth player.
ROUNDS 7-8 (2-WR, no flex league): After these picks, I'd like to have one quarterback, three running backs, two receivers, one tight end, and one other running back or receiver.
THE REST: The rest of the draft will follow the Drafting Early strategy.