Aug. 12, 2021.
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 requires you start two quarterbacks or three receivers, you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
Drafting Early: Picks 1-6:
ROUND 1: There are six running backs I have way above everyone in my Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet, so select one of them. Don’t overthink things because you’ll be able to land a stud receiver in the second round.
ROUNDS 2-3: Running back is extremely thin this year. I know I’ve been saying that every summer over the past decade, but it’s worse than ever this season. You must walk away with two running backs in the first three rounds unless you get crazy value with two receivers. Using your initial three draft choices on running backs is a viable option as well if all of the top-tier wideouts are chosen. I consider DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs and Justin Jefferson to be the top-tier receivers you can obtain in the second frame. Get one of them if you can.
Otherwise, runners like Miles Sanders, J.K. Dobbins and D’Andre Swift make sense at the turn.
If you opt for two running backs, your third selection should probably be a receiver. Quarterbacks and tight ends are extremely deep and very matchup-dependant, so you can address those positions much later. Third-round receivers include CeeDee Lamb, D.K. Metcalf and Keenan Allen. That said, if Patrick Mahomes were available to me in the 3.04-3.06 range, I don’t know if I could resist.
ROUNDS 4-5: You must have at least three running backs at this junture. You might be able to land Kareem Hunt or Javonte Williams in this area.
The most appealing part of this range is the great receiver value. There are tons of excellent wideouts you can obtain in Rounds 4-5, including Terry McLaurin, Allen Robinson, Chase Claypool, Dioante Johnson and Adam Thielen.
I still wouldn’t worry about a quarterback. Don’t touch the position unless everyone in your league is using the same strategy guide and Patrick Mahomes has fallen to you. I would think about Kyler Murray or Josh Allen in the 5.04-5.06 range, but I’d probably go elsewhere.
ROUNDS 6-7: You should have at least four running backs by now because it’ll be difficult to find good depth at the position later in the draft. Damien Harris, Michael Carter and Trey Sermon are some of the players you might be able to obtain in this area.
Meanwhile, there are still going to be great receiver options. Brandon Aiyuk, D.J. Chark, Tyler Lockett, Mike Williams and Tee Higgins are all excellent options.
Running back and receiver are the only positions worth considering at this juncture unless Kyler Murray or Josh Allen fall to you. There won’t be any viable quarterback options until later.
ROUNDS 8-9: After seven rounds, you should have three running backs and four wide receivers, or vice versa, unless you struck gold with some amazing value at quarterback or tight end. This is where you’ll want to target a quarterback if you don’t have one already. Don’t take a backup at the position. That is not necessary whatsoever.
Running backs I like in this range include A.J. Dillon, Zack Moss and Alexander Mattison. Good receiver options are Tee Higgins, Will Fuller, Michael Gallup and Devonta Smith.
ROUNDS 10-11: Get your quarterback now because idiots in your league will begin to draft backups for no reason. It won’t do them any good, but their stupid strategy will hurt you if you don’t have a starter yet. Tight ends, meanwhile, now become options. After the first few tight ends, all of whom are being overdrafted, all of the players at the position are practically the same. I like playing matchups with tight ends, as there are some NFL teams that cannot defend the position whatsoever.
Otherwise, it’s time to begin plucking players off the 2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers list. Check out that list for players to consider. You need to swing for the fences in the double-digit rounds because your league could be won with a great value selection or two in the final third of the draft.
And lastly, I’m going to put this in caps because I can’t emphasize this enough: DO NOT DRAFT A KICKER OR A DEFENSE YET!!!!!
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 can always add someone like him on the waiver wire, so try to hit a home run with your late picks.
Oh, and once again, don’t choose a defense or kicker yet. That’s just lazy.
ROUNDS 14-16: In leagues that require each position to be chosen, 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. You can simply get rid of a player who gets injured.
As far as defenses are concerned, you don’t have to draft one either. Seriously, select as many high-upside players as possible and worry about a defense later. If you need to pick a defense, I love playing matchups. Go to my 2021 Fantasy Football Defense Rankings for details.
Drafting Middle: Picks 7-9:
ROUND 1: You’re still drafting a running back with one of these picks if one of the top six players fall to you. If they’re all gone, however, the next three players on my cheat sheet are all receivers: Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs. Hopkins and Diggs are being chosen in the second round on average, so you might be able to gamble and get one of them there. However, I’m not in love with the remaining running back talent, so I would just secure one of these elite wideouts if given the choice.
ROUNDS 2-3: I have no issue going receiver-receiver if you can obtain two of the three players mentioned in the previous paragraph. Otherwise, you’ll want to select a running back like Antonio Gibson, Saquon Barkley or Joe Mixon.
The third round is trickier, as what you do will dictate based on which running backs and receivers are available. I would pick Chris Carson, Keenan Allen, Mike Evans, D’Andre Swift and D.K. Metcalf in this range. However, I would be tempted to select Patrick Mahomes in the unlikely event that he were on the board as well.
ROUNDS 4-5: You should continue to target the best running backs or wide receivers available, with the possible caveat of George Kittle falling to you in the fourth round, or Kyler Murray or Josh Allen being available in the fifth frame. If you don’t obtain one of them, don’t reach for other players at those positions. It’s not crazy to have four running backs in the first five picks. Once again, make sure to check out my updated fantasy football cheat sheets to see who the best-available players are. Some who stand out as options are Kareem Hunt, Terry McLaurin, Chris Godwin, A.J. Brown and Allen Robinson.
ROUNDS 6-7: I don’t like any quarterbacks in the sixth- or seventh-round range unless Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson falls to Round 7, and it’s too early for a tight end not named Travis Kelce, George Kittle or Darren Waller, so keep stocking up on running backs and receivers. Some possibilities are Jerry Jeudy, Chase Edmonds, Brandon Aiyuk, Damien Harris and D.J. Chark.
ROUNDS 8-9: If you don’t have a quarterback, you should probably take one before people begin drafting backups. Otherwise, continue to take running backs and receivers. I’d pass on tight ends until Rounds 10-11.
ROUNDS 10-11: This should be the latest you take a quarterback. Tight ends can be obtained at this juncture as well. Good options are Tyler Higbee, Robert Tonyan, Cole Kmet and Mike Gesicki. Otherwise, keep scooping up running backs and wide receivers.
THE REST: The rest of the draft will follow “Drafting Early.” Check out my 2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers list for some ideas on whom to select late in your draft.
Drafting Late: Picks 10-12:
ROUNDS 1-2: The top six running backs will likely be off the board, but the top three receivers I mentioned earlier – Hill, Hopkins and Diggs – might be available. If so, follow the Drafting Middle section. However, if most of the people in your league are following my rankings – a common occurrence in my leagues – you won’t have a chance to select one of the top running backs or receivers. If so, there’s no need to panic because there’s good value in this area.
Ideally, I’d like to walk away with one running back and one receiver from the first two rounds. Austin Ekeler, Aaron Jones, Antonio Gibson and Saquon Barkley are all great running back choices. As for receivers, Davante Adams and Justin Jefferson are my favorite options.
ROUNDS 3-4: As mentioned, you need to come away with two running backs in the first three rounds unless you get mega value elsewhere. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to snag Chris Carson or D’Andre Swift in the third frame. If not, don’t reach. It’s OK to walk away with two receivers or one of Mahomes or Kelce/Kittle.
You should have at least one receiver after four picks. Keenan Allen, Mike Evans, Terry McLaurin, A.J. Brown and Allen Robinson are all excellent options.
ROUNDS 5-6: More running backs and wide receivers, of course. Chris Godwin, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson and Jerry Jeudy are all great options in this range. Javonte Williams, Mike Davis and Damien Harris are solid running back choices.
ROUNDS 7-8: You can probably wait on a quarterback until Round 9 unless you can get a great value like Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers. Otherwise, keep picking running backs and receivers like Jeudy, Chase Edmonds, Gabriel Davis, Brandon Aiyuk or Michael Carter.
ROUNDS 9-10: You’ll want to draft a quarterback before the dumb people in your league pick backups. Definitely don’t take a tight end with the other pick though. Get another running back or a wide receiver.
ROUNDS 11-12 AND THE REST: Find your tight end in Round 11-14. The rest of the draft will follow the Drafting Early strategy. Make sure you look at our cheat sheets. We have regular fantasy football cheat sheets and new customized fantasy football cheat sheets. Also, keep up to date with the rest of our Fantasy Football Rankings.
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