Depending on your league size, rules, and scoring format, there are several roster construction strategies that can lead to a successful fantasy football draft.
In order to stay flexible during fantasy football drafts, it's important to analyze and understand tiers at every position.
I’ve won season-long re-draft leagues using all of these strategies in the past: zero RB (not taking an RB until after round 5 or 6), anchor RB (taking RB in rounds 2 or 3 then waiting until after round 6 for another), hyper-fragile, taking an early quarterback, waiting on a quarterback, taking a premature tight end, waiting on tight end… the different winning roster construction list goes on and on.
Whats important is to understand that every season is different, and every draft is a dynamic, living eco-system. The sooner we pigeon-hole ourselves into one strategy, the quicker we become victims of league mates “sniping” players and foiling our plans because they had the same or similar strategy. This is another critical reason why understanding the tiers are so important.
This article is about creating flexibility by identifying an adaptable “if-this-happens -then-do-this” strategy by understanding who your targets are round-by-round, so you know when to wait for positional value and when to get aggressive.
A good mindset to have is “Don’t hate the player, hate the average draft position (ADP)” as this mindset helps fantasy managers obtain value throughout drafts by targeting the right positions at the right time depending on where the most upside is available.
Here is a breakdown of my general strategy in full point-per-reception (PPR) formats in 12-man leagues, analyzing the strategy in every round for three subsets of draft positions:
Early position: First-round picks 1-4, second-round picks 21-24, third-round picks 25-28, etc.
Middle position: First-round picks 5-8, second-round picks 17-20, third-round picks 29-32, etc.
Late position: First-round picks 9-12, second-round picks 13-16, third-round picks 33-36, etc.
Early position strategy: Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Taylor, Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson are my clear-cut top-four players thanks to their mix of ELITE talent and (especially) massive projected workloads.
Middle position strategy: Jefferson/Ja’Marr Chase are auto-picks if they slide; otherwise, target the next tier of elite running backs.
Late position strategy: Travis Kelce comes into play after the big-six running backs and big-five wide receivers. Targeting Kelce before taking whichever RB/WR falls into early-Round 2 is my preferred route at the turn.
Don’t be a hero in the first round, as ADPs are generally at their sharpest in the early rounds of fantasy drafts. Take advantage of pretty much anyone that falls four-plus spots.
Targets at ADP: People will always find a way to chastise the idea that McCaffrey should go before Taylor in full-PPR scoring, but nobody in the history of football has averaged more PPR points per game than CMC. He’s my 1.01 due primarily to the fact that it’s much easier to predict workloads than future injuries. Of course, running backs are notoriously a bit more injury prone than wide receivers, so I’m happy to take Jefferson/Kupp/Chase before any running back other than CMC or Taylor.
Fades at ADP: Joe Mixon and Austin Ekeler are priced more because of what they did in 2021 as opposed to what they are expected to do in 2022. Both are great players in great offenses, which is a good start, but Mixon (lack of targets) and Ekeler (rushing usage capped) simply don’t have the same sort of projected three-down workload as Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, and even James Conner, who are available much later. I’m comfortable targeting Ekeler because he is still my seventh-player overall, but I have a hard time taking him ahead of Derek Henry, Jefferson and Chase. Mixon is a tough sell for me at the turn, as I’m far more in line with his projection of RB12 as opposed to his current ADP (RB7).
Early position strategy: Consider Mark Andrews if there is a clear dropoff at both running back and wide receiver. If available I prefer Fournette or Barkley.
Middle position strategy: Alvin Kamara would be an easy first-round pick without any legal issues hanging over his head. While a 2022 suspension is possible, I’m comfortable embracing the risk in the middle of Round 2.
Late position strategy: Take the best RB/WR available or Kelce. Ideally Stefon Diggs or CeeDee Lamb fall.
It’s tough to find much of a problem with anyone inside the top 24, but Kamara's suspension, or lack thereof, could swing leagues. Kamara won’t have his much-anticipated court hearing until September 29. There are a lot of factors that go into a potential suspension, but the extended timeline makes it more and more possible that no discipline is handed down before 2023.
Top targets: The upside of nailing the Kamara situation is tantalizing, and I’m shooting for the moon – especially if he somehow falls to the third round. Diggs, Lamb, Fournette and Barkley, in particular, stand out as players with second-round ADPs yet first-round-level workloads.
Top fades: Full-PPR scoring wasn’t made for Nick Chubb, as his status as the RB10 isn’t as egregious as him going as the 18th overall player off the board. I greatly prefer more PPR-friendly options — such as Aaron Jones, Fournette, and Barkley.
Early position strategy: No need for a quarterback when there are still grade-A baller wide receivers like Mike Evans, Tee Higgins, and the Los Angeles Chargers’ duo available. A three-down running back is also fine.
Middle position strategy: James Conner is a third-round back who may have a first-round-level workload. There’s a dropoff after him, so if he's off the board, take the best wide receiver available.
Late position strategy: Kyle Pitts is awfully intriguing after the top-12 or so wide receivers are off the board considering he has similar projection ranges to the next crop but plays tight end.
I’m out on Josh Allen in the third round, as there are still target-hog wide receivers and three-down backs available in addition to Pitts. There will still be elite tier 1A/1B quarterbacks available in Rounds 5-6.
Top targets: Conner is a great RB1 in lineups that are devoid of running backs after the first two rounds. Evans (real chance to lead the NFL in touchdowns) and Higgins (truly every bit involved in the offense as Chase) are ideal. Don’t be afraid of Pitts either, as Delanie Walker was just fine with Marcus Mariota under center.
Top fades: Allen is my QB1, but I’m not comfortable drafting him before Round 4. The same goes for any other quarterback in the NFL. Ezekiel Elliott and Cam Akers also carry enough respective risk to be better Round 4 targets. Conner is the only running back usually available in this round who I’m actively targeting.
Early position strategy: Don’t reach on a dead-zone back or deeply flawed WR2 if Darren Waller or George Kittle are still available.
Middle position strategy: Still a bit too early for a QB, so this is a good range to take an upside WR2 — such as Mike Williams, Michael Pittman Jr. or Terry McLaurin.
Late position strategy: Travis Etienne, Elliott and Akers present gaudy best-case workloads for a running back if available this late. If gone, take your favorite upside WR2 or Waller/Kittle.
There is still plenty of great running back and wide receiver value here, while Waller and Kittle's depressed price tags are also enticing. There’s a fairly steep dropoff across the board after this round, so I generally wait just a bit longer for a quarterback.
Top targets: I rank Williams as a back-end second-round pick, so he’s an auto-draft target whenever available in Round 4. Etienne going this late is a gift from the fantasy gods, as his potential projection — even with a healthy version of James Robinson (not a given) — is as the AFC version of D’Andre Swift. My favorite wide receiver in this range is McLaurin, who will (sadly) be playing with the best quarterback of his career and has as much high-end target upside as any player in the league. Kittle is in play at the end of the round, as he could put together a truly special season with a year of good health.
Top fades: Josh Jacobs and Antonio Gibson might have three-down talent, but each projects as nothing more than an early-down committee back – and even then, there’s a new rookie in town for both who could threaten that work, too.
Early position strategy: Lamar Jackson is ideal for teams that added Andrews in the second round, and Kyler Murray is also in play. Receiver needy teams can look to Chris Godwin and Brandin Cooks.
Middle position strategy: Quarterback is firmly in play here if the shoe fits. Otherwise wide receivers — such as Marquise Brown, Godwin and Cooks — provide the most bang for their buck.
Late position strategy: Tap draft as fast as possible if Jackson is still available; otherwise, strongly consider Murray or Jalen Hurts before taking the best-WR available next round.
Coming away with one of the top-six quarterbacks by now – or having a plan in place to get one in Round 6 – is strongly advised. Otherwise, the wide receiver talent available trumps many of the dead-zone running backs flooding this round.
Top targets: Godwin stands out as the player who will have the largest positive leap in ranking once fully healthy. Cooks, Brown, Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy are also plenty viable if you don’t manage to land on one of Jackson, Murray or Hurts.
Top fades: Elijah Mitchell and J.K. Dobbins both suffer from a lack of targets and fantasy-friendly goal line carries due to their respective offense’s dual-threat quarterbacks as well as committee-friendly coaching staffs. Dalton Schultz has no business ranking this high overall, though his standing as the TE6 is fair.
Early position strategy: If the top-six quarterbacks are off the board, look to scoop up any lingering upside WR2 value (Jeudy, Gabriel Davis, Allen Robinson Michael Thomas) or A.J. Dillon.
Middle position strategy: Bypass the dead-zone ADP backs — such as Miles Sanders, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Damien Harris — in favor of upside WR2s, such as Robinson, Davis and Thomas.
Late position strategy: Murray and Hurts are auto-picks if still available on rosters without a QB. Dillon is also a viable zero/hero-RB target.
The main reason why I prefer selecting multiple running backs inside of the first few rounds is because of this middle area of the draft where there are still so many great options at quarterback and wide receivers available. Additionally, there are still upcoming pockets of value at running back to exploit.
Top targets: Murray in Round 6 should be illegal, but until I’m told otherwise, I’ll keep hitting draft when he’s there. The only running back I’m especially cool with in this range is Dillon thanks to his potential to work as the de facto No. 2 option in the Green Bay Packers offense. The most value can be found at wide receiver, as I have Jeudy, Robinson, Davis and Thomas ranked far higher than their respective sixth-round ADP.
Top fades: Harris, Sanders, and Edwards-Helaire are more dead zone backs who I’d rather not deal with when there are still high upside quarterbacks and wide receivers available. Joe Burrow has a solid enough case as the QB7, but his lack of a rushing floor makes his Murray-esque ADP puzzling. T.J. Hockenson could feasibly be the offense’s No. 4 pass-game option by November, but I prefer Dallas Goedert a round or two later.
Early position strategy: Thomas is an auto-draft here if available. Otherwise, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kareem Hunt offer weekly low-end RB2 value at a reduced cost.
Middle position strategy: Patterson and Hunt are great targets here on RB-needy rosters. Otherwise, Thomas and Rashod Bateman stand out as two of the few remaining No. 1 wide receivers available.
Late position strategy: Teams still looking for a quarterback should consider Russell Wilson, just like tight end absent squads should take a long look at Goedert. Otherwise, Hunt, Patterson and Bateman are great options.
This is when we dip our toes back into the running back waters with receiving-friendly backs such as Patterson and Hunt. There is also still potential for low-end WR2/upside WR3 types to fall a bit, so don’t be afraid to follow the flow of your draft.
Top targets: Hunt has supplied low-end RB2 value in each of the last two seasons and would be a potential upside RB1 if Chubb missed time or the Cleveland Browns decided to trade him to the right suitor. Patterson is one of the cheapest starting running backs in all of fantasy football at this point, and murmurs about a more WR-centric role would only help matters in full-PPR scoring. Bateman looks locked in as the Baltimore Ravens’ No. 2 passing-game option (at worst) in an offense that could be forced to throw more than expected based on the current health of their backfield.
Top fades: Devin Singletary has had a hard enough time providing consistent fantasy value without a pass-down back stealing away his fantasy-friendly target share. Rashaad Penny is another back lacking targets, but he has even more early-down competition in an offense fully expected to work as one of the league’s bottom-10 scoring units.
Early position strategy: Zach Ertz is just about the last TE1 who doesn't need a high-end backup; otherwise the final upside WR3 group or Chase Edmonds will do.
Middle position strategy: DeAndre Hopkins makes a lot of sense for rosters that don’t feel great about the overall upside of their wide receiver room at the moment.
Late position strategy: Upside WR3 types — such as DeVonta Smith, Elijah Moore and Drake London — are enticing, but RB-needy rosters should look to Edmonds or Melvin Gordon.
This might not be a bad spot to target Trey Lance aggressively, if available, as he’s my QB7 but presently carries a consensus QB13 ADP. If he’s not needed, there’s ample available talent at running back (Edmonds and Gordon), wide receiver (Hopkins, Moore and Smith) and tight end (Ertz) to help patch up any remaining holes on the roster before things start getting thin across the board.
Top targets: Edmonds is one of the cheapest starting running backs in all of fantasy and carries an ideal explosive pass-catching profile. Gordon should see far more standalone usage than Javonte Williams-truthers will admit and also carries underrated sky-high handcuff potential. Hopkins will be a consensus top-20 wide receiver after Week 6, but that is far from a guarantee for anyone else going this late.
Top fades: Both Penny and Kenneth Walker should suffer from the same problems: minimal target and scoring upside. Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers deserve to be ranked ahead of Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins, but I prefer taking more shots at the upside WR3-types in this round while taking the latter quarterbacks in the next few rounds, if needed.
Early position strategy: Lance makes a lot of sense if still available; otherwise, Kadarius Toney, Chris Olave and Brandon Aiyuk stand out.
Middle position strategy: Lance and James Cook are reasonable QB/RB targets; otherwise, the upside wide receivers in this range are tough to ignore.
Late position strategy: Cook is one of my favorite zero-RB options; otherwise, beat the field and take Toney here.
This is one of the last rounds where fantasy managers can still get a top-15 quarterback. Otherwise, there’s ample value at both running back (Cook and Michael Carter) and wide receiver (Toney, Olave and Aiyuk).
Top targets: Cook doesn’t need 200-plus carries in order to thrive inside of the Buffalo Bills’ juggernaut offense, as he’s one of the last remaining backs with legit RB2-standalone upside. Toney is truly electric with the football in his hands and has as much high-end target potential as anyone else in this range.
Top fades: Robert Woods isn’t someone I’m all that excited to reach on due to a combination of age, injury recovery and volume concerns. Rhamondre Stevenson isn’t a terrible bet here, but fantasy managers should be wary of his rising ADP. Nothing is guaranteed in the New England Patriots‘ backfield.
Early position strategy: I’m far more drawn to wide receivers like Toney, Garrett Wilson, Russell Gage and Tyler Boyd than any other available position here.
Middle position strategy: This is a round where the wide receiver talent trumps all.
Late position strategy: This is one of the last few chances to get wide receivers that you still feel good about — Toney, Wilson, Gage and Boyd are all in play.
The borderline WR4 range is the story of this round. Toney, Wilson, Gage, and Boyd all have tantalizing best-case scenarios. Skyy Moore is another few good reports away from joining this group. This is also probably the last round to get Cousins if you’re into the late-round quarterback type of thing.
Top targets: Boyd is being priced at his floor without an injury to one of the Cincinnati Bengals’ big-two receivers. He’d be push for immediate top-24 treatment if that aforementioned unfortunate circumstance were to occur. Wilson is a value at this point in the draft by virtue of being the 10th overall pick. It’s tough to get somebody with high-end talent and opportunity inside of a great offense this late in the draft, so don’t be afraid to throw darts at guys who are at least definitively elite in one of these categories.
Top fades: Mike Gesicki has more competition than ever in the slot with Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson in the fold. Whether or not he can earn an every-down role as an inline tight end remains to be seen. James Robinson projects more as the “Jamaal Williams” while Travis Etienne is more of the “D’Andre Swift” in this likely better, but still bad, Jacksonville Jaguars offense. Throw in the potential for Robinson’s 2021 Achilles injury to impact his availability and/or effectiveness, and he’s just not someone I’m looking to take inside the position’s top-40 players.
Early position strategy: There are several zero-RB targets in play here between Nyheim Hines, Ronald Jones, Isaiah Spiller and Darrell Henderson. Prioritize Skyy Moore otherwise.
Middle position strategy: Moore and Marquez Valdes-Scantling stand out as my two-two values of the round, but Hines/RoJo/Spiller/Henderson are in play at running back
Late position strategy: Quarterback (Justin Fields), running back (Henderson), and wide receiver (Moore and MVS) are all in play.
Fields is the last viable fantasy quarterback with a realistic path to an upside QB1 season available in drafts. If set, I’m picking the best running back available between Hines, Jones, Spiller and Henderson, or one of the Kansas City Chiefs‘ wide receivers depending on the strength of the existing fantasy roster.
Top targets: Henderson is too cheap for his potential handcuff value, let alone if Sean McVay holds true to his assertion that he plans on keeping both of his running backs plenty involved. Fields is an arbitrage version of Jalen Hurts and Trey Lance. The pecking order inside of the Chiefs offense is a complete unknown, but I’m far happier to take Moore or Valdes-Scantling at this price as opposed to JuJu Smith-Schuster in Round 6.
Top fades: Justin Tucker apparently is usually drafted here. Tua Tagovailoa and Fields each have four career top-12 fantasy finishes, and the former quarterback needs to be a world-beater in passing efficiency in order to make up for his lack of a rushing floor.
Early position strategy: Vastly prefer Jahan Dotson and Rondale Moore to the already-injured wide receivers available.
Middle position strategy: Prioritize Dotson or Moore at wide receiver and Henderson at running back.
Late position strategy: Don’t be afraid to reach just a tad on either Dotson or Moore.
There are inexplicably some decent enough handcuff running back options still available in a few rounds, and I love tacking on another wide receiver here in the form of Dotson or Moore. This is also probably the last chance to get Fields.
Top targets: Dotson is priced so far behind the draft’s other first-round wide receivers seemingly because draft analysts considered the pick a reach. The rookie is one of fantasy’s cheapest wide receivers with realistic triple-digit target upside. Kliff Kingsbury has been adamant all offseason that Moore would step in and work as the Cardinals’ starting slot receiver. This expected role will immediately boom him up draft boards in full-PPR scoring once confirmed.
Top fades: J.D. McKissic just doesn’t have much of a best-case scenario, as an injury to Antonio Gibson would be far better news for Brian Robinson. Trevor Lawrence shouldn’t be anyone’s first quarterback, and in most one-QB re-draft formats, it’s not necessary to use a roster spot on a second signal-caller. I’m more comfortable throwing darts at running backs and wide receivers all throughout these later rounds as opposed to taking a chance on any of the quarterbacks available after Fields.
Early position strategy: Tight end needy rosters can target Hunter Henry or David Njoku. Otherwise, Dotson, Moore and DeVante Parker darts are preferred.
Middle position strategy: Henry and Njoku are in play at tight end. I like the wide receiver darts (Dotson, Moore and Parker) more than any running backs in this range
Late position strategy: The wide receiver and tight end pickings are strongest, and Jamaal Williams is the next-best running back to consider.
The final four rounds of drafts are where we’ll really look to target some final running backs, but Williams’ combination of standalone potential and handcuff upside makes him worthy of a slight reach. Otherwise, the round’s tight end (Henry and Njoku) and wide receiver (Dotson, Moore, Parker) value stand out the most.
Top targets: Parker sure looks like he was brought into New England to be the guy that N’Keal Harry failed to be, and a Year 2 leap from Mac Jones could certainly result in this offense enabling a few highly fantasy-relevant receivers. Njoku will be a weekly top-12 option if/when Deshaun Watson is under center. That’s a reasonable risk for the ADP TE17 on rosters that largely punted the position.
Top fades: Noah Fant might have first-round pedigree, but the Seattle Seahawks love Will Dissly, and Fant’s familiar quarterback problems persist. Raheem Mostert and Marlon Mack each boast a combination of uncertain standalone value and likely negligible handcuff upside in offenses that aren’t exactly guaranteed to be any good.
Early position strategy: No kickers of DST unless you have to. Even then, wait until the last two rounds. Handcuffs targets: Jamaal Williams, Khalil Herbert and D’Onta Foreman.
Middle position strategy: No kickers or DST until you have to. Williams, Herbert and Foreman are quality handcuffs while Joshua Palmer, Jalen Tolbert and Isaiah McKenzie are ideal late-round receivers.
Late position strategy: Wide receivers: Palmer, Tolbert and McKenzie. Handcuffs: Williams, Herbert and Foreman. Please don’t draft a kicker or DST until you have to.
Don’t take a defense or kicker if you don’t have to, as backup running backs such as Foreman, Hassan Haskins, Matt Breida and Boston Scott (among others) are one injury away from zooming up draft boards and can safely be cut before Week 1 if not. If you do need to take a defense or kicker: For the love of God, don’t do it until the last two rounds.
These final few rounds are definitive dart throws so try to focus on players who are only one injury or decision away from booming up draft boards as opposed to those who need a myriad of issues to go right. A good general rule of thumb at this point in the draft is to chase talent over opportunity.
Top targets: Williams is expected to see double-digit touches per game inside of an ascending Detroit Lions offense, and he’d be in the RB2 conversation if D’Andre Swift is ever forced out of action. The most likely answers if Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry get hurt are Foreman and Hassan Haskins. Tolbert is at risk of the Dallas Cowboys adding a veteran wide receiver, but even then, he’s expected to start in three-WR sets. Palmer might just beat out Jalen Guyton for full-time No. 3 WR duties but if not, he’s still a rare handcuff receiver with underrated upside should either Keenan Allen or Mike Williams miss any action. McKenzie might just have the inside track on the Bills’ starting slot receive role — a job that yielded 100-plus targets for Cole Beasley in each of the past three seasons.
Top fades: I can’t stress enough how useless it is to draft a kicker or DST before you have to. They are the most replaceable positions in all of fantasy from a streaming standpoint while also being far more difficult to predict. Higher-upside backups are great final-round targets so if no injury occurs before Week 1, fantasy managers can simply cut them and pick up the kicker/DST that you were probably planning on drafting anyway.