Fantasy Football First Round Redraft Strategy

As your Fantasy Football drafts approach, go over some first round strategy.

Fantasy Football First Round Redraft Strategy

2018 Redraft Strategy

Half Point PPR, 12 team

Andrew Cooper

1st round

Intro

First off, I just want to get this out there that this is a strategy meant for competent fantasy football players.  Now, I’m not saying you need to be Nick Caserio but this type of approach likely isn’t going to work for the guy who drafts straight off printed out rankings and makes 5 waiver moves a year.  That guy only wins by catching lightning in a bottle.  You aren’t that guy or gal which is why you are here but I wanted to make that clear up front.  We aren’t going to be chasing lightning bugs with our early picks.  You are the lightning. This series of articles will help you unleash it.

The main theme of this strategy is to be conservative and aggressive.  “But wait a second dude aren’t those, like, the opposite?”.  Well yeah – it’s a bit of an oxymoron but what we are doing is being aggressive about making conservative picks.  The difficult part is that you might need to reach past the shiny convertible for the Toyota at times in the early rounds.  Which you will be happy to have when you need to get to work in the winter during the fantasy football playoffs.  Don’t worry though, there will be plenty of time to go after those splashy high upside guys in the mid to late rounds.  In fact, the strategy requires it.  If you just take safe guys all draft you can wind up in “middle of the pack purgatory”.  So what we do is build a nice safe foundation early that allows us to stack up a bunch of high ceiling guys later and shoot for the moon.  So first, let’s talk about the kind of guys you want to take as a foundation piece and which guys we’re avoiding because they could crumble and bring the whole temple down on our heads.  Because, like they say, you can’t win your league in the first round but you can lose it.

For simplicity sake these articles will be based off a 12 man, half point PPR league starting 1 QB, 3 WR, 2 RBs, 1 TE, and 1 flex.  The rankings honestly wouldn’t change much for standard vs PPR or 10 vs 14 man.  Do what you want with kickers and defenses, just don’t draft them when real players are on the board.

First 4 Picks

Picking your fantasy team is never easy but this year the first 4 picks in my opinion are.  Over the 18 years I’ve been playing this I’ve tried every absurd new hipster strategy and the one that proved to be most consistent in the early rounds is the simplest – pick the safest possible player.  What you want here in the first is a guy with a proven track record who is consistent but also has the ceiling of “best player in fantasy”. Below I’m going to group them by how I feel they break down and then rank them within the groups.

 

Picks 1, 2: Todd Gurley, LeVeon Bell

In my opinion you can’t go wrong with either of these horses right now so it’s up to you.  For me it’s a slight nod to Gurley since LeVeon has some bad contract related blood with the team (which might make them want to test out James Conner or Jaylen Samuel to prepare for a possible departure) plus he has a history of injuries.  We all know what LeVeon is capable of though so I have no qualms with him at 1.  The important thing for these two is that nothing has dramatically changed for these players’ scenarios from when they were the best of the best.  Like I said, easy picks at the early spots, so let’s save the critical thinking for tough decisions later on.

Pick 3: David Johnson

David Johnson falls to 3 for me but not because of the injury. A broken arm is more of an accident than an injury in that there’s no more likelihood of re-occurrence with proper rest. Which he’s had.  The fact he hasn’t played in a year and could be rusty is looming but more importantly he is playing with a brand new QB in Sam Bradford and a new offensive coordinator in Mike McCoy.  We want things to be what they were in 2016 – with DJ being the star.  And he likely will be which is why we take him at 3.  But here is a precautionary tale for you: from 2006 to 2010 Frank Gore averaged 51 receptions a season. Over that 5 years the least he had was 43 in only 14 games.  Fantasy stud.  Then San Fran named Greg Roman offensive coordinator.  Over the next 4 years Frank caught only 18 passes a season despite not missing a game.  Went from 61, 53, 43, 52, 46 receptions over 5 years to 17, 28, 16, 11.  Which still led their RBs in receptions so it wasn’t like the RB catches were being poached by a 3rd down back – they just weren’t there.  And if you think it was because of declining skill; when he went to the Colts in 2015 Gore caught 34, 38, 29 over those 3 years.  He simply got schemed out of about 50 points a season in half point fantasy receiving production a year.  New coach, new coordinator – not his fault.

Frank Gore career stats – via Pro-Football-Reference.com

Now I’m not saying its going to happen to David Johnson.  He could be even better in this offense.  Or maybe they decide Chase Edmunds deserves to eat into some touches.  The point is that we don’t know what the new offense will look like.  We don’t know how Bradford will play or how healthy he will be. Or if Rosen will get a shot.  It’s the unknown vs the known.  And that variability puts DJ behind the safer Bell and Gurley.

Pick 4: Ezekiel Elliot

Now this one comes down to one thing for me and that’s usage in the passing game.  Zeke’s overall stats aren’t even terrible when you consider he’s caught 2.32 passes a game over his career so far which comes out to a reasonable 37 rec a season. Neither is his 10.9 yards a catch which people might point to and say “bah gawd – that’s better than Bell and Gurley!”.  It’s only when you investigate his game logs that you realize that a literal 1/4th of his career receiving yards have come on 2 plays – a 72 yard catch in 2017 and an 83 yard one in 2016.  That’s 155 yards of a 632 yard receiving career.  Compare that to LeVeon who has had 3 catches of 30 yards or more over the last 2 years (long of 42) yet had 655 yards last year and 616 yards.  That’s consistency.  Take Gurley last year as well – if you take away his 53 and 80 yard TD catches (since it’s not fair to just do that to Zeke) he still had 655 receiving yards.  That’s more than Zeke has had in his 25 game career.  And that’s without even talking about the obvious downgrade for the Cowboys passing game with no Dez or Witten which is going to gum things up a bit in the middle.  That being said, Zeke is obviously an incredible value at 4 and you should be amped to get him here.  Just look at his rushing stats and you’ll remember why you aren’t trading back from 4.  He could easily be the top scoring player in the league but he simply has a lower floor than the 3 above if the Cowboys find themselves in a lot of negative game scripts.

 

Picks 5 through 9

These picks are grouped together for me because I’d once again be okay with getting any one of them at any spot here once the 4 RBs are gone.  Any of these 3 WRs or 2 RBs.  And you will likely be able to get them with your first rounder, even at the end of the round, because there are some notable omissions compared to other experts.  I’m going to group the WRs together and then do the RBs but you may decide to take an RB over a WR or vice versa depending on your league mates and their tendencies.  I know I will in some instances but it will definitely be one of these 5.  You have to be fluid and use all your resources before making a choice.  This is yet another resource and here’s my rationale on why these guys need to go next.

 

Picks 5, 6, 7: Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham JR

This is where we start to diverge from other rankings and you might need to use some willpower to avoid the shiny, risky pick.  The WRs are going first because, much like the first 4 RBs, these are the ones I consider most capable of being the WR1 overall and a legitimate league winner.  Antonio Brown’s track record speaks for itself and the offensive starters are largely unchanged.  They do have a new offensive coordinator which is an idea we know we dislike but no philosophical change is going to stop the Ben to Brown connection from happening.  They aren’t going to all of a sudden stop throwing or make JuJu Smith-Schuster the focal point.  We should expect more of the same and Brown is a guy you draft early until he actually doesn’t put up numbers for once.

On the flip side, DeAndre Hopkins has been tremendous despite having to deal with constant change throughout his career.  Watson doesn’t need to be a world beater like he was last year since we saw Hopkins continue to do his thing without him down the stretch – he caught passes from 4 different QBs last year.  With Bill O’Brien still calling the offense, no major changes to the roster, and a healthy Watson coming back, there’s no reason Hopkins won’t be ready to ball out once again.  Hopefully the emergence of Will Fuller will take some pressure off DeAndre – the dramatic catches while draped with defenders are fun but, as a fantasy owner, I like a nice, easy waltz into the end zone every now and again.

Then of course we have Odell Beckham JR.  Arguably the most talented receiver in the league right now, the only cause for concern are injuries.  Nagging soft tissue injuries can be the bane of a fantasy player’s existence.  The only thing worse than a WR who is out is a WR who plays the whole game as an injured decoy (looking at you AJ Green).  These are the injuries that we worry about (as opposed to DJ’s “accident”) and Beckham has had well documented hamstring problems to go along with his issues from last year.  But when Odell Beckham is healthy he is phenomenal and you can’t discount him farther than WR3 by simply saying “maybe he will get hurt”.  3 seasons averaging 1,375 yards and nearly 12 TDs is what happens for special players when they have a grasp for the game and are in their prime – not their first 3 years.  Guys like Antonio Brown, DeMaryious Thomas, Dez Bryant didn’t blow up for big seasons until their 3rd year in the league when they were 25.  Odell is 25 right now.

Picks 8, 9: Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette

And this is where some people might get triggered.  No Alvin Kamara? No Kareem Hunt? No Saquon Barkley?? Do I even watch football??  Yes, I do.  I love football.  I love fantasy football.  And I love the readers.  So I’m doing this to protect you from yourself.  Those other backs are the shiny sports cars that might get you a date before they break down but these are the guys who are going to bring you, your family, and your fantasy football trophy to grandma’s for Christmas dinner.  Much more on that later when we get to where I have those guys listed though.  For now let’s talk about the seemingly unsexy pick that I will be making in many, many leagues named Melvin Gordon.Sometimes as high as 6th overall after the 4 horseman and Antonio Brown.  As we’ve discussed, the biggest predictors of fantasy success are consistency and opportunity.  Here are 2 players and their total stats over the last 2 seasons combined.

2 YearGamesRushAttRuYardsRuTDsRecRecYardsRecTDs
Player A315572,190191071,1156
Player B295382,10218998956

 

Player A is Todd Gurley.  And player B?  Melvin Gordon.  If you smooth Melvin’s numbers out for the 2 less games they are pretty damn close total-wise.  Now for RBs we know game script has a huge impact on fantasy productions.  Both players had worse years in 2016 than 2017 on awful teams as the Rams were 4-12 and the Chargers were 5-11.  Last year the Rams obviously had a phenomenal season while the Chargers were a middling 9-7.  Vegas odds currently have LAC at a win total of 9 ½ for this season so the experts are predicting them to be at least as good as they were last year if not better (Rams are currently at 10 games with Vegas).  The Chargers lost 4 games by a field goal or less last year so they are a team that can certainly be in the mix.  If the Chargers can have a great season with lots of positive game script then there’s no reason Melvin can’t go from RB5 last season to a spot in the top 3 this year.  People might scoff at you passing on Hunt, Kamara, Barkley etc. but they would have laughed if you picked Gurley in the first round last year.  And you would have probably won your league.

If you’ve been paying attention, Leonard Fournette is another obvious choice based on our strategy of grabbing the safest, most conservative players available.  If we are talking rushing attempts per game (and excluding Adrian Peterson for his small sample size) you had Zeke with 24.2, LeVeon at 21.4, Fournette at 20.6, then Gurley at 18.6.  Even more impressive considering he battled ankle and quad injuries throughout, having a game with as little as 12 touches while questionable.  As we’ve discussed with multiple players here, the Jags depth chart stayed largely unchanged with the positive exception of the second leading rusher, Chris Ivory (112 carries), leaving to join the Bills.  That leaves Yeldon as a pass catching back and Corey Grant as a change of pace back assuming undrafted FAs Tim Cook and Brandon Wilds don’t carve out much of a role (spoiler alert – they won’t).  To recap – the Jaguars led the league with 527 rushing attempts last year and 112 of them are gone.  Fournette could potentially crack 300 carries and even last year’s least efficient rushers like Jonathan Stewart (3.4 YPC) would post over 1,000 yards with 300 rushes.  That’s quite a floor and we know he’s better than that.

Picks 10, 11, 12 Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Hunt/Kamara swing

In all likelihood, if you are picking at 10, 11, 12, then you are going to be getting one of the 9 guys I listed above.  Looking at the ADPs of Kamara (5), Barkley (7), and Hunt (8) it would be very unlikely that at least one of them wouldn’t be drafted before now.  If all 3 are gone as is the case on average then you are already thinking about your next pick.  That being said, let’s operate as if the draft went according to this article, the 9 guys above are gone, and Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Kareem Hunt, and Alvin Kamara are glaring you in the face.

 

If all my guys are gone, pick 10 is where I would be okay selecting Saquon Barkley, fantasy football’s Chosen One.  Coming from a guy who preaches conservativeness and track record in the early going, it seems insane to draft a 21 year old player with 0 track record in this league.  For me, this pick is more about the lack of trust I have with Cook, Hunt and Kamara.  That being said, you’ve got a guy that checks all the boxes, says all the right things, and has immense draft capital that makes him almost required to be featured heavily in the offense (4th overall pick in 2017 draft instantly makes him a top paid RB in the league).  If this unlikely scenario played out where the 9 guys above were gone, I would be okay finally taking a somewhat risky player at 10 since you know that there are still 3 other high upside/risky RBs available as well as your 4th and 5th ranked WRs, one of which will come back to you at the 15th pick.  That being said, he’s never played at this level so in all likelihood someone else will roll the dice here so you don’t have to.

Obligatory picture of the Saquads

And finally, the last pick of consequence for me, the 11th pick, I would take Dalvin Cook.  Another player who would seemingly go against our risk averse strategy but let’s take a look at the perceived risks.  The glaring one obviously is he’s coming back from a torn ACL.  But unlike the news surrounding Jamaal Charles’s ACL a couple years ago, everything coming back is positive.  The GM Rick Spielman was quoted as saying he was going to be “right where Adrian Peterson was coming off his knee injury” and we saw what happened there.  He got hurt early in the 4th week and he’s slated to participate in preseason games.  The ACL isn’t nearly the death sentence like a torn patellar tendon can be even guys like Jimmy Graham are starting to come back from those so I give him the benefit of the doubt here until we see what he looks like.  The second question is what the offense will look like behind Kirk Cousins though this looks like a rare instance where a team bringing in a new QB is an immediate upgrade, not a project.  You look at what Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon were able to get done in that offense and you can’t help but be excited about what the superior player in Cook will be capable of (especially now that McKinnon is gone).  Ideally I’d love Cook as a second round pick but, if everyone else is playing it the way I plan to, I’d pull the trigger on Cook at 11.

So now time for what we’ve all been waiting for.  In reality, the rankings alone have priced us out of having to make this decision or these picks.  Hopefully at the swing you are smiling to yourself as you take some combination of Gordon/Fournette/Cook/Odell.  If it somehow came down to it though or you are in a 14 or 16 man league, I would finally be okay taking Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara with the 12/13 picks.  And here are the issues that I have with them.

I personally find Kareem Hunt to be a safer pick than Kamara so I would go to him first if he were somehow there at the swing/2nd round.  Anyone that watched him knows that he’s a tremendous talent.  But based on our philosophy so far here there are multiple red flags going into next season.  Namely – team composition.  First, the most obvious, is the return of Spencer Ware.  How many other first round picks listed above have a guy coming back to the team who compiled 1,368 yards from scrimmage in 14 games last time he was healthy?  “But Coop, he’s just going to be backup to Kareem? Who cares?”.  Well, we know the adage about not losing your job to injury isn’t really true in this league so he probably is behind Hunt on the depth chart.  That being said, he’s had over a year to recover from his injury so he will be working in and a big giveaway about his usage is that Spencer Ware just underwent a very interesting contract restructure.  Essentially he was due $1.45M in base salary and they converted it to $700K salary and $750K in incentives.  Which some may suggest is the result of the team going to him and saying “hey, restructure or you’re cut”.  But he’s a 4 year vet so the veteran minimum to sign on elsewhere is $705K plus guys like Alfred Blue and Terrance West signed for more than $700K so why would he agree to do that if he didn’t think he would hit the incentives?  Based on the RB market there is no doubt he would have gotten at least a million so cutting him likely was never on the table.  What the Chiefs really did here was convert as much of the salary to incentives as possible because incentives don’t go against the cap unless they are “likely to be hit”.  Since Ware was out all of last year, his threshold for “likely to be hit” is lower than it would be had he just been coming off his 2016 yet he’s still going to need to get work to hit those numbers.  So essentially what happened here is the team said “look, we need this cap space – you convert this salary to incentives and we’ll make sure you hit your incentives”.  He is still going to be paid $1.45M but doing this also guarantees him a certain number of touches to showcase his skills and get a new deal next year.  Now, we don’t know what those incentives are exactly (and I will update this article if/when they become public) but it’s alarming nonetheless that he’s not only back but seems virtually locked into a minimum number of touches.

Beyond that you have a first time QB coming in to lead this offense.  Patrick Mahomes is widely touted as an upgrade over Alex Smith but there is that variability we talked about, especially with a guy who has started 1 game with no TDs and a pick.  Last year Kareem Hunt score 21.53 fantasy points in half point PPR in the 10 games the Chiefs won. In the 6 losses? 9.15.  And most of those losses were close games where the RB can still be involved – they didn’t lose a single game by more than a touchdown.  If the Chiefs fall on hard times this year it could be hard times for Kareem.  And as Mark Cuban would say – for those reasons, I am out.

You after not picking Kareem Hunt

Last but not least for this particular article we have Mr. Alvin Kamara.  I want to make it clear this is not hate for these players – I love Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt as they dragged teams of my kicking and screaming into the playoffs last year.  This is hate for their ADPs.  Many people have already touched on the efficiency of Kamara and the likely “regression” so I’ll spare you that while we talk about something seemingly completely different.  The 2016 Atlanta Falcons.  The Falcons that year had an unprecedented offense generating 2 viable RBs in fantasy in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.  The two combined for a whopping 19 rushing TDs and 5 receiving TDs for 24(!) touchdowns between the two of them.  Of course the following year Devonta Freeman was a fantasy darling going in the mid 1st while Tevin Coleman followed up in the mid rounds as a solid RB2.  The Falcons then did what they were supposed to in 2017 by going 10-6 and making the playoffs.  But wait – how then did Devonta Freeman finish as fantasy RB14 after another successful season?  I think at this point everyone knows where I’m going with this.  The 2016 Falcons season was not impossible but having 2 runningbacks on the same team combine for 24 touchdowns is all the way at high end of the results spectrum in today’s pass heavy league.  Even higher on that spectrum is combining for 20 rushing TDs and 5 passing TDs for a total of 25 RB touchdowns like the Saints did last year.  The Saints went 11-6 last year and Vegas has them at 9 ½ wins this year.  We’ve seen a team go 10-6 and score 16 RB touchdowns combined in the Falcons in 2017 with neither of Freeman or Coleman being an RB1.  And now the same people who were saying “well Devonta Freeman will take over the bulk of that load” are the same people saying Kamara will do the same.  But Ingram is missing the first 4 weeks of the season – not the whole season.  If he were guaranteed to miss the last 4 weeks of the season, then you would have my attention.  But we are building a juggernaut that will win a fantasy championship, just like the Saints are trying to win a Super Bowl, and you better believe they will use every capable player including Mark Ingram along the way.  By taking Alvin Kamara with your first round pick, what you are essentially doing is guessing that the Saints will either A. ignore Mark Ingram, a player with a $6.245M cap hit coming off literally his best season ever or B. have a duel headed RB season that will be on par with 2 of the best duel headed RB seasons we’ve seen in recent years.  For me, fantasy is a game of skill so those aren’t the kind of gambles I take.  Of course there is an outside chance Kamara does put produce last season but our strategy is to the the methodical poker player picking our spots – not the roulette player who puts it all on black and potentially walks away with nothing at all.

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