Surprise. Kickoff to the 2020 season is less than two weeks away. If you're drafting this weekend, we've put together some final draft notes before you head into the draft room. We've broken down our notes by position and then some final thoughts at the end.
Assuming that you can only start one quarterback, there's no need to reach here. The QB position is very deep this year. Don't be surprised to see Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson go in the second or third round. These two are elite and are projected for nearly four points more per game than the next best QB on the board. If you want either guy, you'll need to pay up for them and be extra vigilant on your RB/WR picks. Drafting Mahomes or Jackson means passing on guys like Travis Kelce, Chris Godwin, and Aaron Jones who are all available at that spot. The danger to that approach is that the next TE, WR, or RB that you are able to pick up will likely be a significant step down. Given the depth of the QB position this year, it's OK to pass on the elites.
The next tier of quarterbacks offers a ton of upside at a more attractive price. Dak Prescott averaged almost 24 fantasy points per game last year and still has his top receivers. Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen present additional value with their legs and each is projected for 18 or 19 fantasy points each week. Murray and Allen could easily be more-affordable versions of Lamar Jackson. Add Deshaun Watson to this group and you've got solid floors every week for sixth and seventh round picks.
If you wait a bit longer, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady are available in the eighth round. Both guys can be reliable contributors to your team. Just think of all the RB's and WR's that you could be stocking up on in the first seven rounds - that's your starting lineup, flex, and depth.
If you play in Superflex leagues, your strategy will be different. In that format, you're going to want to have a Top 10 QB early, and either pair him with another solid QB for a high weekly floor, or wait and take a chance on a QB that you think will outperform his ADP (ie, Cam Newton, Gardner Minshew, etc).
The only player we'd recommend taking in the first round of redraft leagues that isn't a running back is Michael Thomas. We'll talk more about him in the next section, but it's fair to say that the running back position is king once again this year.
The running backs in the first two and three rounds are all solid options that will help anchor your championship team. Expect them to come flying off the draft board. Once Damien Williams opted out of the season, we saw Clyde Edward-Helaire's ADP rise. He's now our 7th-ranked RB in an offense that produces a ton of fantasy points. Being a rookie, he carries some risk simply because he doesn't have a track record in the NFL. Keep in mind that Saquon Barkley didn't have a track record either and he was exceptional in his rookie year.
We would not be surprised to see championship teams in Week 16 who drafted RB-RB-RB. There are some intriguing options for RB2 and RB3 this year. Jonathan Taylor is another rookie that may surprise everyone. He will likely start slow given that there wasn't even a preseason to get used to taking NFL hits and he still sits behind Marlon Mack on the depth chart, but by mid-season, he could be not just the starter, but a fantasy stud.
Some names on the draft board will be very recognizable in the fourth and fifth rounds. Guys like James Conner, Le'Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, David Johnson, and Mark Ingram all make fantastic RB2/FLEX options. One guy that's worth targeting as your flex is Kareem Hunt who will likely be available near the end of the fifth. Last year he had nearly as many receptions as he did carries, averaging 10 touches per week but never having more than 10 carries in a game. If his role stays the same, his PPR upside is well-established, but any alteration by the new coaching staff could diminish his production. Of course, if Nick Chubb were to miss playing time, Hunt would immediately become a Top 10 guy - great upside for a flex!
Once you start getting into the RB3 territory, the variances between players becomes much greater. If you missed out on a top RB or subscribe to the Zero-RB strategy, your options become limited. Cam Akers, James White, Ronald Jones, Tarik Cohen, and Jordan Howard all make fantastic flex options, but if you're banking on them to be your starting RB, you're going to struggle to find the fantasy playoffs.
Our suggestion is to load up on running backs early. You'll have plenty of time to find receivers later.
Perhaps no other position is as deep this year as the wide receiver position. It all starts with Michael Thomas, and even with an expected regression in targets, receptions, and touchdowns, no other wide receiver holds as much safe potential as he does. He won't likely duplicate his record-setting 2019 season, but there's no reason to think that he won't be the top fantasy option at the WR position come December. He's projected for nearly 2.5 points more every week than the next highest-ranked WR.
The next tier of guys is talented and provides a safe floor. Davante Adams, Julio Jones, Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, and Chris Godwin are safe picks. Godwin presents an interesting option. He finished last year as the 2nd-best wide receiver behind Thomas. This year he has a new QB under center, and assuming he lines up the majority of his snaps at the slot position as is expected, he could once again outperform his ADP and draft rankings.
Wide receivers ranked 7th through 18th are projected to deliver between 14.2 and 15.1 fantasy points each week. That's less than one fantasy point difference between them. Receivers ranked 19th through 29th also share a one point fantasy difference per week. This position is deep. You can sit on the WR position for multiple rounds and still get essentially the same value. If you know that going into your draft, there's less potential for reaching.
Every receiver has a number of caveats that accompany them - some good, some bad. For a positive example, let's look to Minnesota. With Stefon Diggs moving out to Buffalo, Adam Thielen's targets should see a boost this season. The best part is that we've already seen what Thielen can deliver when he gets 10 targets in a game, and that's exactly what we want to see for a guy being drafted as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2.
In Cleveland, Odell Beckham Jr has a chance to redeem himself. OBJ played the entire 2019 season with a core-muscle injury that required surgery in January. Now that he's healthy, in his 2nd season with QB Baker Mayfield and playing under a more competent coaching staff, Beckham is an obvious bounce-back candidate.
Another guy that could bounce back nicely is JuJu Smith-Schuster. His early draft rankings had him as a WR2, but as we've learned more about Ben Roethlisberger's health, his ranking has shot up and he just cracked the Top 10 at the position. The hope is that JuJu returns to a high-volume role where he averaged 10.4 targets per game as he did in 2018, not the 5.8 targets per game that he had in 2019. You can feel good if JuJu is your WR1, but feel even better if he's your WR2.
Once you get into the WR4 territory, the projected point differential between players is negligible. At that point, you're simply looking for upside. At that point in your draft, be bold. Don't be afraid to ditch the safety of known quantities like Golden Tate and Preston Williams for guys like Jalen Reagor, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson - guys who have the potential to really surprise us and deliver later in the season. It's assumed that you've addressed safety with your first WR picks, so a WR4/WR5 should be all about upside.
The tight end position is an odd one this year. Once the two elite guys (Travis Kelce and George Kittle) are off the board, likely in the first three rounds, you'll find a secondary tier of Mark Andrews, Zach Ertz, and Darren Waller. Andrews is Lamar Jackson's most reliable receiver, and with Hayden Hurst dealt to Atlanta, Andrews could very well see another 100+ target season. Ertz has one of the easiest schedules of all players this year. He struggled a bit last year largely due to the increased role of Dallas Goedert, but Ertz remains a top TE talent. Finally, last year's breakout season puts Darren Waller in Top 5 TE contention. He may regress a bit given that teams now know how to plan for him, and the Raiders added Henry Ruggs III, Bryan Edwards, and Jason Witten to the receiving corp.
If you don't land Kelce or Kittle, and the next tier is gone, the position opens up to a lot more nuance. The safety of a consistent floor is gone. You'll end up rolling the dice with guys like Evan Engram and Hunter Henry who are as touchdown-dependent as they are injury-prone. Hayden Hurst makes for a nice target as he'll absorb much of the targets in Atlanta vacated by Austin Hooper.
The tight ends ranked 8th through 14th are all projected to score either 8 or 9 fantasy points each week. You can wait on a tight end once Evan Engram comes off the board.
Some value plays that every fantasy owner should consider includes the aforementioned Hurst, Mike Gesicki, Austin Hooper, and Jared Cook. All present solid value for where they're being drafted. If you don't land a top TE talent, these are guys that you can plug into your lineup right away.
One guy that has name recognition is Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is back, but he carries the kind of risk that is both well known and difficult to overlook. While he's being reunited with Tom Brady so rapport isn't an issue, he'll be 31 when the season starts, sharing the field with the best talent at receiver he's ever played with in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Arians doesn't feature the tight end in his offense, and Gronk hasn't actually played a full season in years. Still, we know the upside when Gronkowski is on his game. If you have to have him on your team, he's a great fantasy backup.
Look to load up on running backs early and often. Once the top 24 are off the board, the dropoff is noticeable. Looking at last year's championship rosters, it was rare to find any that had to depend upon an RB3 to get them into Week 16. Sacrificing the RB position is a risky play.
Conversely, the quarterback and wide receiver positions are so deep that you can afford to focus on running backs in the early rounds. Remember that Lamar Jackson was drafted in the 10th round of most drafts last year. It's not hard to land a Top 10 QB so it doesn't pay to reach - no matter how much you might want to. The point differential between receivers is small for many rounds at a time. Why pull the trigger in the 7th when you can get essentially the same value in the 8th?
The tight end position is a crap shoot once the top four guys are gone. Fortunately, there are a number of potential breakout candidates to choose from.