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.
ROUND 1: If I'm lucky enough to draw a top-four pick - last year I selected sixth, ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th in my five leagues, and I've already been given the Nos. 9 and 12 choices in two leagues this summer - I'm going to take the best running back available in my 2013 Fantasy Football Top 250 Cheat Sheet. Choose whomever you like best.
ROUNDS 2-3: I'm always a fan of taking the best player available. Based on what I've seen in the mock drafts I've done - click here for my most recent 2013 Fantasy Football Mock Draft - you should be able to get players like Jimmy Graham, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Maurice Jones-Drew there.
I know quarterbacks are deep this year, but I would definitely grab a signal-caller at this spot if Rodgers or Brees are available. Both of those guys are reliable and won't let you down, whereas a running back has a high chance of busting. You could argue that you can just get a quarterback later, but the young signal-callers like Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford all carry some risk.
I should note that if I'm in a league that only starts two running backs and two receivers (no flex), I think I'd go RB-QB-RB/RB-RB-QB unless Graham slid to me. Conversely, if I'm in a 3-WR league, I'm definitely picking at least one wideout.
ROUNDS 4-5: If you didn't take a second running back earlier, do so now. Same goes for quarterbacks if you can nab Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Otherwise, fill out your starting lineup with the top players available in the cheat sheet. Eddie Lacy, Reggie Wayne, Danny Amendola, Chris Ivory, Pierre Garcon and Andre Brown all make sense.
ROUNDS 6-7: If, for some reason, you don't have a quarterback yet, you should definitely take one in these two rounds; waiting until the bottom of Round 8 is way too risky.
If you already have a signal-caller, then you should just fill out your starting lineup and top backup positions. Tony Gonzalez, James Jones, Darren Sproles, Daryl Richardson and Cecil Shorts would be good targets.
ROUNDS 8-9: I'm selecting the best running back, wide receiver or tight end available with these two picks. However, if Robert Griffin and/or Russell Wilson fall to me and I don't have a rock-solid quarterback (i.e. if I snagged a Colin Kaepernick in Round 6), I'd consider taking my second quarterback as insurance. Quarterbacks are deep this year, but they're still the most important position in fantasy because they produce the most points. If you don't have a good fantasy quarterback, you're screwed.
At any rate, if you're looking at skill-position players, consider Shorts, Josh Gordon, T.Y, Hilton, Ben Tate, Bernard Pierce and Kyle Rudolph.
ROUNDS 10-11: I'm selecting a tight end here if I haven't already (Rob Housler, Jordan Cameron, Coby Fleener, Owen Daniels and others have been available in mocks). I'm also picking a backup quarterback here if I don't have one unless I think E.J. Manuel can fall to me at the end of Round 12.
If I still have a pick left over, I'll be looking at the top running back or receiver available. I'd love to land Marcel Reece, Kenbrell Thompkins or Chris Givens.
ROUNDS 12-13: Nothing but high-upside players for me. Check out my 2013 Fantasy Football Sleepers for a list of players to consider. Oh, and don't choose a defense or kicker yet. That's just lazy.
ROUNDS 14-16: Round 14 is my final skill-position player - a super-high-upside long shot. Round 15 is my kicker. Round 16 is my defense.
ROUND 1: Keep going with running backs. There are seven backs I would take before Calvin Johnson (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller). Thus, this "draft middle" section will be a lot like the "drafting early" segment.
ROUNDS 2-3: Chris Johnson would be my target in Round 2. If I can't get him, I'd hope for a top wideout like A.J. Green, Dez Bryant or Brandon Marshall. Worst-case scenario, grab Jimmy Graham, or maybe even Aaron Rodgers if you think your league members will go for signal-callers early. Knowing the tendencies of other players in your league is very important.
If you think the other owners will wait on signal-callers, perhaps you'll be able to land Rodgers or Drew Brees in Round 3. If not, you should be looking at Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White or Le'veon Bell.
ROUNDS 4-5: Best-available player in Round 4. Take Tom Brady or Peyton Manning here if you didn't acquire a quarterback. Bell, Eddie Lacy and Ahmad Bradshaw are decent RB2 options if you haven't obtained one. You should also be able to find a quality receiver.
Solid fifth-round choices include Lacy, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Shane Vereen, Reggie Wayne, Danny Amendola and Vernon Davis.
THE REST: The rest of the draft will follow "Drafting Early."
Drafting Late: Picks 8-12:
ROUNDS 1-2: This assumes the top seven running backs - Peterson, Charles, Lynch, Foster, Rice, Spiller and Richardson - are all of the board. In that case, pick Calvin Johnson. If Megatron is gone, go after one of the "lesser" backs and one of the top wideouts. A pairing of Chris Johnson and A.J. Green is promising.
Once again, know whom you're drafting with. If you're in a league that constantly goes quarterback-heavy, consider Rodgers of Brees in the second round. There are 12 legitimate QB1s this year, but you want sure things with your top two selections. Drafting busts early all but cements a poor fantasy season.
If you're in a 3-WR league, I would strongly consider going WR-WR. Starting off with Green and Dez Bryant will ensure that you get great production out of a position that's pretty scarce in your format.
ROUNDS 3-4: If Rodgers or Brees somehow falls to you, don't even hesitate. Just make your pick and move on. There's nothing to think about.
I would still consider Brady or Manning in the fourth round. I'd also take the best running back or receiver available. Victor Cruz, Le'Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb and Roddy White are all ideal options.
ROUNDS 5-6: You might be in a tough spot if you waited on an RB2. Perhaps Andre Brown, Chris Ivory or Eddie Lacy are there. If so, take one of them.
If you already have two starting running backs, go with the top players available. There should be solid receivers still on the board. Options would include Antonio Brown, Danny Amendola, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Eric Decker.
Oh, and if your team still doesn't have a quarterback, take care of that position via Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Andrew Luck.
THE REST: The rest of the draft will follow the Drafting Early strategy.