Author: Henry Faversham (Weinberg ’22)
It’s that time of the year again. We’re less than one week away from the start of the opener of the 2020 NFL season between the Texans and Chiefs. Nevertheless, here’s NSAG’s macro and round by round draft guide using FantasyPro’s average draft position ranking, ESPN’s standard team format (1QB, 2RB, 2WR, 1TE, 1RB/WR/TE, 1K, 1DST, 5 bench spots) and there’s no emphasis on PPR or non.
Before going into players round by round, it’s important to explain my macro strategy as it heavily influences my player analysis. Generally, running backs and wide receivers are the most valuable positions to draft as they fill the most roster spots and they have higher points above replacement value than other positions, like TE and QB. Points above replacement value means if you were to draft the best quarterback, the amount more he’d score than a waiver wire pickup (“the replacement value”) is much less than the best wide receiver would score than his replacement value. With this in mind, it’s smartest to spend your high draft capital on RBs and WRs.
So we know we want to be spending our draft capital on RBs and WRs, but do we just want to choose the best in each round? Not necessarily. Average draft position research shows that as picks go on, we are much better at identifying high scoring wide receivers than high scoring running backs. When we’re sitting in the first round, we have to put on emphasis on the running back position because we know we’ll need to draft receivers, the positions we’re good at guessing the value of, in later rounds. This way we’re accurate with both our running backs and wide receivers. Otherwise, if we take WRs first, then we’d only be accurate in our WRs and have to take very speculative running backs in the middle rounds.
At this point we’ve taken one or two running backs (in the first or second round), three or four receivers (in the second to fourth/fifth round), and we’re exiting the 4/6 round. It may be time to draft QBs or TEs, but not necessarily. The points above replacement value is still much higher for the RBs and WRs- the positions where teams beat other teams – so it’s generally still smart to focus on these. We have good WR depth and value already so now it’d be smart to pick up running backs that have high upside. These are running backs that may be injury prone, in a battle with two others or just a backup who’s one injury away from league domination. Whatever it is, you just want to make sure there’s a real chance these guys put up huge numbers for you, no matter the near-term circumstance. If you fill out your bench with these picks, only one of the 4 or 5 have to hit for you to become a heavy favorite to win your league. Remember, you already drafted well in the first RB slot, the WR and Flex spots, so if this hits you’ll be extremely strong in all positions that have high points above replacement.
Not mentioning QBs and TEs to this point has been purposeful. Generally, if a good one falls hard in the early rounds it’s worth looking at. Otherwise, the replacement value is extremely low and there are plenty of sleepers so you mostly want to wait till later to get these positions.
Kickers and DST will be taken last. Bears DST was appealing last year and look how they performed. Don’t be a donkey and take Patriots this year. Greg “the leg” Zeurlein was taken first last year and look how he performed this year. Again, don’t be a donkey and pick Justin Tucker.
With all of the boring macro talk out of the way let’s get into the players and which draft picks will win your league this year.
CMC goes first. There were questions if he should’ve gone first last year but surely those have been put to rest following a historic 1,000/1,000 season. Following him you should either snag Zeke or Saquon, two workhorse backs with less receiving opportunities than CMC but expected top-5 finishes barring injury. After that, Kamara, assuming the trade talks aren’t a concern, is a lock, as he has a little smaller workload than prior picks but great efficiency and pass catching ability. After these four, the table becomes more nuanced.
I aim to get a running back in the first round, but if you’re sitting in the latter half of round one with Michael Thomas, Davante Adams or Julio Jones in front of you, there’s nothing wrong with taking these lock WR1s. My RB choices after the first four are Miles Sanders and Joe Mixon, with preference to the former. The Eagles have employed committee backfields in the past but there’s no sign of that this year and Miles Sanders is set to explode playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Joe Mixon doesn’t have Sanders’ upside, but this is a guy who finished as the RB11 in non-PPR last year, despite playing on one of the worst teams with an even worse offensive line. Now they get Joe Burrow, AJ Green and last year’s first round pick O-lineman back, making Mixon’s floor a top ten finish.
I’m worried about the other three RBs being taken in the first round: Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb. Derrick Henry was operating at crazy efficiency last season and without pass catching opportunity he’s unlikely to provide good value in losing games, something that was prevalent early last season. Dalvin Cook is good and Gary Kubiak likes to run the ball, but they’ll be a worse team this year, potentially decreasing the amount of carries he sees a game. Finally, there’s Nick Chubb who saw a big drop-off in points per game once Kareem Hunt entered the picture in week 9 last season. I’m not confident he can produce premier RB1 value with Hunt in the picture.
Avoid the premier QBs in this round, but taking Kelce or Kittle towards the latter half is a viable pick as they produce at the level of a WR1.
I want to fade just about all RBs in this round except for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. He has the upside, just ask Kareem Hunt two years ago. The thing I’m worried about is the Chiefs had said Darrell Williams, the backup, will have a role, which raises questions about CEH’s early season usage and production. Josh Jacobs worries me because he didn’t catch a lot of passes last year, so when the Raiders go down in a game, which they will, he won’t be an effective back. Aaron Jones is an ABSOLUTE fade in round two. He scored an insane 17 touchdowns on 285 touches, making him a prime regression candidate. Furthermore, he was way more efficient when Davante Adams was hurt and he appears to be healthy this year. All of this is along with the fact that they drafted another running-back to their committee. This is a player you’ll regret taking here.
Tyreek Hill and Godwin are the receivers you want in this round. Tyreek Hill is catching passes from the best QB in the NFL and Godwin fits the perfect Brady/Arians receiver archetype. I don’t like Evans here as Brady was far from a deepball maestro last year and Deandre Hopkins scares, as he’s likely to see a decrease in volume with a new QB on a team that uses 4-WR sets.
If you went safe in the first two rounds, the players I recommend to draft here are Odell Beckham Jr. and Juju Smith-Schuster. These are high-upside plays, both in explosive offenses and likely to see a lot of targets. The conditions they face this year gives them top-5 WR potential. Todd Gurley is also a good speculative pick, but too speculative for my liking. The coaching staff said they’re giving him at least 15 touches a game, something that would make him a great pick this round. However, as you’ll see below, there’s a much safer RB waiting.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you went high upside first two rounds, Allen Robinson, Adam Thielen and Chris Carson are great picks- they’re even good if you went safe the first two rounds. Both Allen Robinson and Adam Thielen are extremely talented receivers on extremely boring offenses. The thing is, their QBs have absolutely no one else to throw to. This will lead to an insane amount of targets, like the 154 Robinson saw last year, thus locking them into low-end WR1 production. Same goes for Carson. He’s not an exciting, explosive back but the Seahawks are a good football team, love to run the ball and you can expect 20 carries from him each game. This makes him a steal of a RB in the third round.
Here, a must fade for me is Johnathon Taylor. Sure he was a beast in college, but coaching staff said he won’t even be the starter to begin the year. You’re taking on way too big of a risk for the third round.
Calvin Ridley and James Conner are my favorite picks in this round. Calvin Ridley was receiving elite targets once Mohammed Sanu left for the Patriots last year. This year, he’s shaping up to be a high-end WR2, but with how bad the Falcons are and how much they are throwing, there’s real potential for both him and Julio to be top-8 WRs. James Conner is locked into a workhorse load in the Steelers offense, so as long as he can stay healthy and Ben Roethlisberger plays well, we have a strong fourth round running back on our hands.
The remaining running backs in this middle round, like talked about in my macro piece, aren’t worth the speculation. Ravens drafted JK Dobbins making Ingram’s workload questionable. The Broncos said Melvin Gordon will have to split carries with Phillip Lindsay, and Raheem Mostert is one of the many interchangeable RBs in the 49ers offense.
Another middle round, another time to take a receiver. If you’re going for a straight, unquestioned WR2 without a ton of upside, Robert Woods is your guy. Other good WR picks with a little more upside but not expected to be as good as Woods are Lockett and DK Metcalf. DJ Chark is a good pick here if you’re going for upside- the situation he’s in puts him in the potential for a measly WR3, but he’s extremely talented and commands a large workload so he could also see WR1/WR2 numbers.
Teammates Devin Singletary and Stefon Diggs are going in this round, both of whom I’d fade due to workload concerns. Furthermore, Leveon Bell, Keenan Allen and Devante are in the same boat- talented but probably won’t see the workload.
Terry McLaurin is a magnificent pick here. You’re essentially getting DJ Chark in a later round, which is perfect because your roster is mostly filled out and his high-upside will hit big if it pays off. Another great pick, especially if you’re in PPR, is Kareem Hunt. He can score RB2/Flex points and fill your RB2 slot in the short term, and if a Chubb injury happens he’ll be a bonified RB1 on your roster.
I need to address Cam Akers, as he’s been getting a lot of hype, but I wouldn’t buy it. He’s running behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league, playing on a team that will be losing a lot and stuck with Darrell Henderson syphoning carries. The rest of the picks in this round are bleak with minimal upside.
Tyler Boyd and Brandin Cooks are both great picks in this round- underrated WRs with sneaky upside. Boyd now has an upgraded QB and he plays the position that Burrow targeted most in college: the slot. People have been hyping up Will Fuller a lot this year but seem to be forgetting about the better, more established Brandin Cooks. If you think Deshaun Watson will play well this year, which he will, who do you think he’s going to throw the ball too? Will Fuller will get deep ball targets when he’s healthy, but I’m betting on the perennial top-24 WR to put up numbers catching from a top-5 QB.
Here are the juicy high-upside RBs with short-term flex potential. JK Dobbins and Phillip Lindsay are two excellent players to take, both working alongside veterans that have a lot of miles on them and very well could miss games throughout the year, giving you an elite RB play in Dobbins and Lindsay. Marlon Mack is a great RB to extract short-term value out of. Johnathon Taylor will be the RB in the long-run, but we don’t know how long. We just know before that happens Marlon Mack Will be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. These are RBs that can be taken in earlier rounds too.
This is also a place in the draft where I wouldn’t be afraid to take a QB or TE. I’d prefer to wait a little longer, but it looks like Carson Wentz goes around here and he finished as a top-10 QB despite having no receivers. This year he should finish at least there and if not within the top-6.
Again, here you shouldn’t be afraid to grab a QB or TE. Matthew Stafford is an appealing pick. Another one, who actually goes in the next round but I’m too bullish on to not include here, is Hayden Hurst. Austin Hooper was a top-6 TE last year despite missing four games, yet the Falcons let him walk this summer to the Cleveland Browns. Why? Because they know his production can be reproduced by Hayden Hurst, a player who was overshadowed by the extremely talented Mark Andrews in Baltimore, but one who the Falcons coaching staff are extremely excited about. Emmanuel Sanders is a sleeper I like here too, who proved he could still produce in San Francisco last year and now has the chance to take a load off of Michael Thomas’ back.
Latavius Murray is going in this round, but he should be going a lot earlier. In 2017, both Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara finished as top-10 RBs. Last year, Murray wasn’t able to produce with Kamara on the field in part because the Saints were throwing the ball a lot more last year. With an extremely strong team, I expect them to be running more and Latavius Murray to have legit RB value with Kamara on the field. Not only that, but the two weeks Kamara was hurt, Latavius scored over 25 points both weeks. His high-upside in the case of a Kamara injury and his standalone value makes him a pick you’re getting multiple rounds before where he should go.
Zack Moss is a great pick here- he represents the same situation as JK Dobbins with a little less upside. Don’t be afraid to take him a little earlier. Jamison Crowder is in line to receive massive workload making him a solid upside pick in the eleventh, especially for PPR.
Alexander Mattison and Duke Johnson are great backups to injury prone starters. They are just one injury away from being a league winning back. Remember, it’s round twelve, you’re not getting any starters. That’s why here it’s important to focus on players with high-upside that can be a great starter, not a boring WR who will get no more than 5 targets a game.
For TE and QB, Mike Gesicki is a great upside pick here and Garappolo is a safe QB who will likely improve from last year’s fantasy performance.
The best players to snag here are actually both Eagles. Jalen Reagor is the only healthy WR on a really great team and could provide strong immediate value. Boston Scott is the backup to Miles Sanders, and showed in week 17 of last season that he has RB1 value if anything happens to Sanders.
Tony Pollard and Chase Edmonds are the best picks here. Both will be a top-10 RB if Zeke or Kenyan Drake were to get injured, making them excellent players to stash on the end of your bench.
That is all, a round by round recommendation on how to optimize your chances to win your fantasy football league. I didn’t mention kickers or DST in any round because, well, you shouldn’t own them before the season starts. These are positions best streamed where no draft capital should be spent on and you should only drop your bench players for them once the season starts. Good luck with your league and we hope you take down the gold this year!