Drafting your fantasy football team is all about evaluating risk and ranges of outcome. The better you can do that, the more successful you will be, and the more weeks you will win.
The reality though is when you look at your list of rankings from your favorite source, you’ll find that many of the players you are considering at a given position in each round have season-long points projections separated by less than 10 points. That’s less than one point per week in fantasy football.
So how do we separate them?
On draft day, build a solid core early with players in offensive situations with high floors. In other words, low risk players.
As you get deeper in drafts, chase more and more high ceilings. In other words, players with wider ranges of outcomes, that if things go right, can massively outperform where they are being drafted.
Looking at average draft position across all fantasy platforms, these are the players in each round of a 12-team draft that make my Must-Draft List.
David Johnson - RB - Cardinals
Obviously, the top-four backs in fantasy this year are Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara. What do we do after that? For me, it’s David Johnson over the rest.
Arizona’s bellcow running back finished as a top-10 fantasy RB last year, despite playing in a horrific offense. The Cardinals O ranked dead last in points per game and total offense, and only Miami ran fewer plays per game.
With Kliff Kingsbury now head coach, Arizona should be nowhere near the 56 plays per game it ran last year and closer to 70 per game with his tempo offense. Baltimore was first in the NFL with 70 plays per game in 2018.
Adding volume to Johnson’s efficiency will only boost his fantasy production.
JuJu Smith-Schuster - WR - Steelers
#TeamJuJu was fourth in the NFL with 166 targets last year en route to a WR8 finish last year. Now Antonio Brown is gone, and it’s not crazy to think Smith-Schuster could lead the NFL in targets.
Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus noted only Randy Moss has scored more fantasy points before turning 23 years old. He’s as rock solid as they come, and his availability in the second round is why I’m passing on a WR in Round 1.
Kerryon Johnson - RB - Lions
From Week 3-11, when he Johnson took over as the starting running back in Detroit, he was RB13 in total points. That’s despite a bye week in that span.
The Lions cut Theo Riddick this preseason, who averaged 78 targets over the past four years, creating a huge opportunity for Johnson in the passing game.
New Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell was the Seahawks OC from 2011-2017. The Lions had 404 rush attempts last year. In four of his seven seasons as Seattle OC, Bevell’s offenses had more than 500 rush attempts.
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Julian Edelman - WR - Patriots
Edelman was a top-12 wide receiver from Week 5-16 last year after his suspension, averaging nine targets per game. Rob Gronkowski has now also retired. Despite these factors, Edelman is being drafted outside top-12 WRs.
His preseason broken thumb injury is not a concern and should keep his average draft position reasonable.
Tyler Boyd - WR - Bengals
Boyd has huge target upside. AJ Green is injured to start the season and is expected to miss a couple games rehabbing his ankle.
Plus, 67% of Boyd’s snaps last year came in the slot, and he was the most productive slot WR in NFL last year through 13 weeks, leading the league in slot yards. Back-up QB Jeff Driskell played last 4 weeks.
Boyd recently signed a contract extension and new head coach Zac Taylor is Sean McVay disciple. Yes, the McVay that turned Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp into household fantasy names peppering the slot with targets.
Boyd had 108 targets last year, and there’s plenty of room to improve on that on a bad team that will need to throw more in negative game scripts.
Hunter Henry - TE - Chargers
Round 6 is the latest I want to wait on a tight end this year. I’m tempted by O.J. Howard and Evan Engram in 5th, but Henry is in the same tier for me and going a round later.
Don’t leave your draft without one of these three or take one of the elite tight ends earlier (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle)
Miles Sanders - RB - Eagles
Sanders is getting glowing reviews in training camp, with RADIO.COM Sports NFL Insider Eliot Shorr-Parks recently reporting the likelihood of Sanders leading the Eagles backfield in touches Week 1 grows by the day. His first-team reps are increasing.
The Eagles haven’t selected a back this high in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft since LeSean McCoy a decade ago. The rookie out of Penn State is competing with Jordan Howard for playing time, who is a poor pass catcher.
This situation reminds me of Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb with Browns last season. At some point, the superior rookie talent is going to win out in a big way.
Latavius Murray - RB - Saints
Sanders’ ADP may go up if he performs well in preseason. A good back-up plan is Murray. The Saints have been league leaders in rushing TDs each of the past two seasons. Sean Payton does not want to give Kamara bellcow volume. Murray is in line to be a rock solid weekly FLEX/RB2 with RB1 upside if Kamara gets hurt.
Marvin Jones - WR - Lions
I’m not married to anybody in this range. It feels like a good spot to take the best Available quarterback if you are comfortable with your RBs and WRs. Carson Wentz and Kyler Murray jump out.
But if you want to keep waiting on a QB, like I usually do, Marvin Jones is a great value. Golden Tate and Theo Riddick are gone, leaving 143 targets vacated. Jones had more than eight targets per game before a season-ending injury last year right as Golden Tate was phased out and traded mid-season. That’s a 130+ target pace
Jones is a far better price than drafting teammate Kenny Golladay in the 4th round.
Austin Ekeler - RB - Chargers
Melvin Gordon’s holdout is for real since he has already accrued four years in the NFL and can hit free agency next year. Gordon can sit out half the season and still reach free agency next year. Ekeler would carry fantasy teams to the playoffs if that happens.
Curtis Samuel - WR - Panthers
Samuel has received rave reviews this preseason, and the possibility exists he is Panthers WR1 over DJ Moore. Like Marvin Jones and Golladay, Samuel’s price in the 9th is far better than Moore’s in 6th.
Carlos Hyde - RB - Chiefs
Damien Williams has never had more than 50 carries in NFL career as he enters his sixth season. A hamstring injury in training camp made head coach Andy Reid voice his frustration with the backfield situation. Carlos Hyde took all first-team reps in Williams’ absence.
This offense is far too explosive to not take a chance on a piece of this backfield, especially in the double-digit rounds, when the projected starter is an undersized, career change-of-pace back, and Hyde has been the bell cow in the past for the 49ers. Take the gamble. The upside is too great here.
Dak Prescott - QB - Cowboys
Prescott is the 18th QB off the board in fantasy drafts. His fantasy finishes among QBs: 10th, 10th and 6th his rookie year. In games WR Amari Cooper was a Cowboy last year, Dak was QB6 at 19 fantasy points per game.
Duke Johnson - RB - Texans
The Texans clearly weren’t happy with their running back room, trading for Johnson this season, one of the premier pass-catching backs in the NFL.
Lamar Miller has been average in recent years, and the team cut D’onta Foreman.
Duke’s metrics are enticing. He was the best RB from 2015-18 in Scrim Yards/touch. Johnson also ranks second among the league's RBs since 2015 in forced missed tackles per reception, per Pro Football Focus. Plus, Johnson has converted 44 percent of his receptions into either a first down or touchdown – the fourth-highest percentage in the league.
Did we also mention Houston ranked top-six in rush attempts three of past four years?
Fantasy football is a game. Have fun! Don’t be afraid to take a guy you like a round earlier than where he’s going in average draft position. It won’t make or break your season. #TreatYoSelf