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 accordingly.
ROUND 1: If you have the luxury of choosing where you draft, I would not want to be selecting in the initial couple of picks this year. I don't think there's much of a difference between the top players and those you can draft toward the end of the opening round. Even worse, you'll have a difficult time obtaining a second-tier receiver at the end of Round 2. Wideouts are a very thin group this year, so I recommend targeting them early.
That said, I would still select one of the top five running backs - Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, Le'Veon Bell - in the early portion of Round 1.
ROUNDS 2-3: As mentioned, it'll be difficult to land a second-tier receiver in Round 2, but if Michael Thomas, Julio Jones or Keenan Allen falls to you, don't hesitate to pick them up. I would also consider Davante Adams and A.J. Green, but would be less excited about them.
Absolutely make sure you obtain at least one receiver in the first three rounds. You won't get a good one in Round 4. Two wideouts are ideal as long as you don't reach. Otherwise, select a running back like Joe Mixon or Jordan Howard.
I would avoid all quarterbacks in Rounds 2-3. Rob Gronkowski would be under consideration atop Round 3, and most definitely in the 3.03-3.05 range.
ROUNDS 4-5: I wouldn't take any quarterbacks yet. I also would avoid the tight ends as well. Make sure you target running backs and receivers, as they are far scarcer than the other positions. Viable Round 4-5 running backs include Kenyan Drake, Kerryon Johnson and Jamaal Williams. Some receivers you may want to consider in this range are JuJu Smith-Schuster, Larry Fitzgerald and Will Fuller.
ROUNDS 6-7: If you don't have a quarterback yet, I wouldn't worry. You can almost certainly draft a comparable one at the end of Round 8. There's no need to panic, as waiting on a signal-caller seems like the right move this year. That said, if Deshaun Watson falls to you in the sixth round, I would definitely take him. I'd avoid tight ends as well unless either Zach Ertz or Travis Kelce happened to slip.
Otherwise, the correct course of action is to keep adding running backs and receivers. Solid running backs who can be obtained include Kerryon Johnson, Sony Michel, Mark Ingram, Dion Lewis and Carlos Hyde. Correct receiver choices include Will Fuller, Robert Woods, Kelvin Benjamin, Corey Davis and Robby Anderson.
ROUNDS 8-9: If you don't have a quarterback yet, take one now. It's too risky to wait any longer because owners will begin drafting backups. Andrew Luck, Jimmy Garoppolo, Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan would be my targets at this juncture.
I wouldn't worry about a tight end yet. There are so many decent ones who are being drafted in Round 10-12.
In terms of the other positions, I would look into players like Carlos Hyde, Peyton Barber, Tarik Cohen, Mike Williams, D.J. Moore and Marquise Goodwin.
ROUNDS 10-11: It goes without saying that you absolutely need to nab a quarterback and a tight end if you haven't already. A backup signal-caller would also be fine. I'm a big proponent of securing a quality reserve quarterback. If your starter gets hurt or inexplicably regresses, you could be screwed because the players at that position put up the most points.
As mentioned, solid tight ends are available at this juncture. Good ones include Ricky Seals-Jones, David Njoku and George Kittle.
Otherwise, it's time to begin plucking players off the 2018 Fantasy Football Sleepers list. Check out that list for players to consider. You need to swing for the fences in the double-digit rounds, as your league could be won with a great value selection or two in the final third of the draft.
ROUNDS 12-13: More sleepers. Again, take high-upside players beginning in Round 10-11; doing otherwise would violate what I used to call the Wayne Chrebet Rule. Chrebet, a former Jets receiver, was a very good player in real life, but was only a WR5 (an average year for him would be about 900 yards and six touchdowns). Yet, people would draft him even though as a possession receiver, he would offer no upside. You could always add someone like him on the waiver wire, so try to hit a home run with your late picks.
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 defense. Round 16 is my kicker. If you don't have to draft a kicker, don't. Select another high-upside player instead and wait until the final days before the regular season. That way, you maximize your chances of landing a great sleeper, as you can get rid of a player who gets injured.
ROUND 1: You almost certainly will not be able to select one of the top five running backs. If, however, one falls to you at No. 6, follow the "Drafting Early" advice, and be happy that you'll have a better chance of landing a second-tier receiver in the second round. Follow this advice if you choose Saquon Barkley as well.
Otherwise, you're taking a receiver with your top pick. The three elite wideouts this year are Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. I would not pass on them at this juncture, as they're better than the remaining running backs. They're also safer players, as receivers bust less frequently than running backs.
ROUNDS 2-3: Ideally, I would select one running back and one receiver with these two picks. The only exception is if Rob Gronkowski falls to you in the middle of the third round, or if you get great value at receiver in Round 3. I definitely would not mind a WR-WR-WR start. I don't think that's horrible considering the dearth of talent at wideout beyond the top three tiers this year. There has been a run on receivers in Round 3 in every mock draft I've done this summer. Don't miss the wave.
That said, I think WR-WR-RB makes sense if you can land Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen or Julio Jones in Round 2. If not, take Dalvin Cook or Joe Mixon, then target someone like Stefon Diggs or T.Y. Hilton in the third frame. JuJu Smith-Schuster wouldn't be a bad choice either, but I'd rather have in Round 4.
ROUNDS 4-5: My fourth-round pick will be the best running back or receiver available because none of the quarterbacks provide value, while Gronkowski will surely be off the board. Options include Alex Collins, Kenyan Drake, Jay Ajayi, Kerryon Johnson, Jamaal Williams and Smith-Schuster. Make sure to check out my updated fantasy football cheat sheets to see who the best-available players are.
Round 5 is likely to go toward a running back or receiver as well, with the exception being if Travis Kelce drops to you somehow. That's not likely to happen, so continue to fill out running back and receiver, which, as I mentioned, is super thin this year. Possible options are Kerryon Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Mark Ingram, Dion Lewis, Larry Fitzgerald, Jarvis Landry and Will Fuller.
ROUNDS 6-7: I don't like any quarterbacks in the sixth-round range unless one of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson falls, and it's too early for a tight end not named Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, so keep stocking up on running backs and receivers. Some possibilities are Dion Lewis, Sony Michel, Carlos Hyde, Kelvin Benjamin and Robert Woods.
ROUNDS 8-9: If you don't have a quarterback in Round 8, take one. The signal-callers I mentioned in Rounds 8-9 for the "drafting early" portion all make sense unless a better one falls to you. Check my Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings for more. Otherwise, continue to take running backs and receivers. I'd pass on tight ends until Rounds 10-11.
ROUNDS 10-11: Running backs and wide receivers are now acceptable, but I would make sure to lock in a solid backup quarterback and a starting tight end if you haven't already.
THE REST: The rest of the draft will follow "Drafting Early." Check out my 2018 Fantasy Football Sleepers list for some ideas on whom to select late in your draft.
Drafting Late: Picks 10-12:
ROUNDS 1-2: I've decided to group these picks together because you're probably not getting one of the elite running backs or receivers I referenced earlier. It's possible that Odell Beckham Jr. could slip to this portion of your draft, and if he does, take him in a heartbeat. If not, I still think you want to take a receiver. In fact, I would double up on wideouts if you can get Beckham, Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and Keenan Allen. Again, receivers are extremely scarce this year, so you won't get a quality tier-three wideout at the end of Round 3, and that's a big deal.
If you can't get two of those receivers for some reason, try a running back like Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook or Kareem Hunt.
ROUNDS 3-4: I would definitely take Rob Gronkowski at the end of the third frame, but he is unlikely to fall that far. Thus, you're looking at running backs and receivers at this juncture, though it's highly possible that all of the third-tier receivers are all off the board by the time you're on the clock. If the likes of Stefon Diggs and T.Y. Hilton are gone, target running backs such as Alex Collins, Jamaal Williams, Kenyan Drake and Jay Ajayi.
ROUNDS 5-6: The earliest I would select one of my top two quarterbacks - Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson - is the end of Round 5, but neither is likely to be there. If they and Travis Kelce are off the board, keep adding to your running back and receiver stables. Good options include Kerryon Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Dion Lewis, Will Fuller and Larry Fitzgerald.
ROUNDS 7-8: Make sure you grab your starting quarterback at this juncture; waiting any longer would be too risky. You don't need your starting tight end here, as you can easily obtain a decent one in the 10th or 11th round. There are some appealing running backs and receivers as well, including Carlos Hyde, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Williams and Corey Davis.