Aug. 6, 2023.
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, three receivers, two flexes, etc., you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
Drafting Early: Picks 1-3:
ROUND 1: Last year, I talked about seven running backs I would draft at the very beginning. Things have changed greatly, as my two preferred players are Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. Christian McCaffrey will also be chosen with a top-three pick, which is why I’ve designated the drafting early section as “1-3.” I’d select one of the two elite receivers because they their bust rate is much lower than any running back, including McCaffrey.
ROUNDS 2-3: Despite running backs having a high bust rate, I would hope to grab two in the first three rounds because the position is very shallow once again. Runners like Josh Jacobs, Rhamondre Stevenson, Travis Etienne, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Alexander Mattison should be available in this range.
That said, don’t back yourself into a corner and select a running back if a great value at receiver is available. I’d scoop up someone like Garrett Wilson or A.J. Brown if they fell back to me. For more, consult the Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet.
ROUNDS 4-5: You must have at least two running backs and two receivers after five rounds. Your fifth player could be a third running back, a third receiver, or a great value quarterback. I would avoid the quarterbacks this early unless you land a surprise player, like Josh Allen in Round 4 or Patrick Mahomes in the fifth frame. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll land either there, but that’s fine. Taking a quarterback too early is a big mistake because playing matchups at the position is so easy, plus quarterback is much deeper than running back and receiver. Also, I have no interest in any tight end thus far besides Travis Kelce unless you can get Mark Andrews in the fifth round.
Running backs I like in the fourth or fifth rounds include Dameon Pierce, Miles Sanders, and Mattison (depends on the strength of your league). Receivers I’m targeting in this range are Keenan Allen, Calvin Ridley, Terry McLaurin, and Jerry Jeudy.
ROUNDS 6-7: It would be a huge mistake not to have at least three running backs after Round 7. You should also have three or more receivers. It’s still early for a quarterback unless you receive a mega value like Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields, or Joe Burrow in this range. I have no interest in any tight end in this area unless someone crazy falls to you. I can’t stress this enough: It’s extremely important to accumulate as many running backs and receivers as possible.
Running backs who make sense here are James Cook, James Conner, and Isiah Pacheco. My favorite receivers hare are Drake London, Brandon Aiyuk, Mike Williams, and George Pickens.
ROUNDS 8-9: Quarterbacks and non-elite tight ends are now in play, though I’d still try to wait on the latter. I’d be interested in Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson or Daniel Jones as my quarterback, though you can probably wait on the latter unless you live in the New York area.
Running backs and receivers should remain the priority. My favorite players in this range are Khalil Herbert, A.J. Dillon, Pickens, Jahan Dotson, Treylon Burks, and Brandin Cooks.
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 serious options. After the first few tight ends, 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 2023 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 fantasy 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 2023 Fantasy Football Defense Rankings for details.
Drafting Middle: Picks 4-8:
ROUND 1: There might be a chance you can land Ja’Marr Chase at No. 4 or 5. If you do, follow the Drafting Early strategy.
However, if both Chase and Justin Jefferson are off the board, you should target a running back with your first pick. My favorite running back this year is Nick Chubb. With Kareem Hunt gone, and Jack Conklin in better health, there’s a good chance he’ll lead the league in rushing. He’ll also catch more passes with Hunt gone. If Chubb is off the board, I’d consider Tony Pollard, Austin Ekeler, and Saquon Barkley.
ROUNDS 2-3: You want to make it out of the first three rounds with either one running back and two receivers, or two running backs and one receiver. The only exception is if Travis Kelce falls to you in the middle of Round 2, which will almost certainly not happen.
Do not leave Round 3 with all running backs or all receivers. Running backs have a greater bust rate than receivers, but they also have a higher ceiling, so you’ll be capping your team’s potential if you draft all receivers. You need to draft at least one running back, and two could be ideal. If you select two running backs, don’t take another one until Round 7 or so unless you get a tremendous value. The reason for this is that you can mitigate the risk you’ve already accumulated by bolstering your receiving corps.
Players I like in Round 2 include A.J. Brown, Davante Adams, Garrett Wilson, CeeDee Lamb, Jonathan Taylor, and Josh Jacobs. Players I’d target in Round 3 are Jahmyr Gibbs, Rhamondre Stevenson, Travis Etienne, Jaylen Waddle, and Chris Olave.
ROUNDS 4-5: Again, if you drafted two running backs in the first three rounds, you should target receivers in these rounds. Otherwise, you should continue to pursue the best running backs or wide receivers available unless you can get a mega-value quarterback like I discussed in the Drafting Early section. 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 Tee Higgins, DeVonta Smith, Keenan Allen, Drake London, and Isiah Pacheco.
ROUNDS 6-7: I don’t like any quarterbacks in the sixth- or seventh-round range unless you can get one of the names I mentioned in the Drafting Early section. It’s too early for a tight end not named Travis Kelce or Mark Andrews unless a second-tier player falls to you in the seventh frame. So, keep stocking up on running backs and receivers. You can draft your third running back if you went with two in Rounds 1-3. Potential running back and receiver targets include Christian Kirk, James Cook, Christian Watson, Brandin Cooks, and Samaje Perine.
ROUNDS 8-9: If you don’t have a quarterback, you should probably take one in the ninth round 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 Pat Freiermuth, David Njoku, and Dalton Schultz, but I’d actually rather wait until Rounds 12-13 when you can nab Tyler Higbee, Dalton Kincaid, or Chig Okonkwo. Otherwise, keep scooping up running backs and wide receivers.
THE REST: The rest of the draft will follow “Drafting Early.” Check out my 2023 Fantasy Football Sleepers list for some ideas on whom to select late in your draft.
Drafting Late: Picks 9-12:
ROUNDS 1-2: This range is similar to the Drafting Middle portion, except you likely won’t have access to my favorite running backs (Nick Chubb, Tony Pollard, Austin Ekeler). However, there are still running backs worth drafting in this range, and they would include Saquon Barkley and Bijan Robinson.
Ideally, I’d like to walk away with one running back and one receiver from the first two rounds, but going double running back is OK. As for receivers, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Garrett Wilson, and Ceedee Lamb are my favorite options.
The main difference between Drafting Middle and Drafting Late is Travis Kelce, who becomes a viable option at the turn. I normally hate drafting tight ends early, but Kelce is effectively the Chiefs’ No. 1 wide receiver. I would select him with my second pick, but there’s still a good chance that he won’t be available.
ROUNDS 3-4: You should ideally come away with two running backs in the first three rounds unless you get mega value elsewhere. I’d consider taking Kenneth Walker or Joe Mixon as a second running back. Receivers I like here are Tee Higgins, D.K. Metcalf, and Chris Olave.
I would not consider any quarterback or tight end in this range.
ROUNDS 5-6: More running backs and wide receivers unless Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen falls to you. As stated in the Drafting Middle section, if you used two of your first four picks on running backs, I’d wait until Round 7 or later to obtain your third running back in order to mitigate risk. Load up on receivers instead. If you came away with one running back in the first four rounds, go with your second running back here.
Running back options include Alexander Mattison, Cam Akers, and Alvin Kamara. Receivers you can target are Jerry Jeudy, Drake London, and Mike Williams.
ROUNDS 7-8: You can probably wait on a quarterback until Round 9 unless you can get a great value like Jalen Hurts or Justin Fields. Otherwise, keep picking running backs and receivers like Brandon Aiyuk, Isiah Pacheco, James Cook, George Pickens, and A.J. Dillon.
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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