Prime Number Drafting
By Jeff Pasquino
July 14th, 2010

Today is the day - Draft Day. You've prepped all offseason - you know who you are picking in the first round. It doesn't matter what draft spot you get tonight, because you are tuned in and you have read everything on Footballguys.com about Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and Maurice Jones-Drew. You have your stud running backs ranked from 1 to 12 and you are set to go once the draft order is announced. Bring on the draft!

Pssst. Did you remember that you have 19 more rounds to go?

Wow, did you forget about the rest of the draft? Are you too focused on which stud running back to take first that you haven't had a chance to run a mock draft and see who to take next?

Well, maybe this is not a good description of you. You have already run 20-30 mock drafts and you know who goes in which round this year. You know your ADPs better than your ABCs. You have a list of 40-50 guys to target and two dozen different sleepers that are begging to be picked for your team. But wait - is that too many? How am I going to get all that talent on my roster?

OK - don't panic. I got you covered. It is called Prime Number Drafting.

What is Prime Number Drafting?

Prime Number Drafting is a way to break down the draft into milestones. These milestones mark steps along the path to a dominant fantasy football franchise.

This method of breaking down your draft gives you several opportunities to look back at your team and see how you are doing in real time. It lets you evaluate your team and make sure you are on track to building a playoff caliber squad. If you get to Pick X, what positions would you want to have by then? What would your team look like, and would you be happy with that outcome?

Step 1 - Find Your Primes

Take a piece of paper and just write down the numbers from one to however many rounds you will be drafting. For simplicity, I will assume you have a 20 round draft and that your lineup will be a standard one - 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 Defense. That's nine starters and 11 reserves.

Now, circle the prime numbers - I'll give you a hand here - 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, and 19.

These are the picks that we will focus on. The rest of your team will fall into place based on your actions at the Primes. Couple this simple sheet with an ADP list of when most players are getting drafted this year and you have everything you need. Let's get started.

First Three Primes - 2, 3, and 5

Rounds 1 through 7 represent the core of your team - most teams will have 3-5 running backs and 2-4 wide receivers after your first seven selections. You already know who you will pick with your first choice no matter what pick you get, so now you need to turn your attention to building a solid foundation for a dominant fantasy team with your next four picks.

The first three Primes (2, 3, and 5) will dictate the flow of the rest of your draft. Decide what players you want with these three selections, and quite a few of your decisions will be made for you. Take a good look at your overall ADP list. Look at the Top 50-60 players and decide which three that you really want this year. Don't worry about position, just pick three, but also don't get greedy. You won't be drafting a trio named LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Steven Jackson with these three choices, so just stop right there. Focus on one player in the Top 25, another who is close, and one in the 40s or 50s on the list.

Take those three names and write them down on your list as Round 2, Round 3, and Round 5 selections. Double-check that your draft pick number is close or better than the player ADP in all three cases. For example, if you covet a wide receiver who has an ADP of 40, Round 3 is perfectly fine, but he will likely not make it to Round 5.

Review your first three prime players list - are any of those likely to be a committee running back, or an "either/or" situation? Joseph Addai? Brandon Jacobs? Felix Jones?

If this describes your list, again fill out your sheet with the other committee or strong complimentary running back (of that committee) at about 1-2 rounds above their ADP. I fully expect many teams this year to have this scenario, so prepare for it. Even if it means that you are taking the second back in the Top 5-7 rounds, don't worry. It will work out fine.

Now - if you subscribe to the handcuff theory of backing up your first and / or second running back, find the name of the player on your ADP list and write him down on your sheet for later reference. We'll slot him into your picks a little later.

As for QB or TE, only consider the quarterback position if you are in a QB heavy (6 point for touchdown passes, for example) league. Tight end used to mean "Gates or nothing" early in the draft, but there are plenty of other options as TEs have caught up to him and Gates has also regressed back to the pack. Only take a TE early if you really see a big value (such as Witten slipping to Round 6). Otherwise, RB and WR are your focus here. Most of all, it is probably a bad idea to take both a TE and a QB so early. That can really hurt your team at RB and WR, so don't do that to your team unless you have big confidence in your later round RB and WR choices.

Milestone Check - End of Round 5 Pick

Your team has five solid players that will make up the majority of your team's core. This is the foundation of your squad. Make sure that you are happy with these five names, and let's continue.

Prime Four - Completing Your Core - Round 7

The plan for the fourth prime number, Prime Number 7, is for rounding out your core roster. The two picks immediately after Round 5 will round out your running back and wide receiver starters. If you think you are light on running backs or wide receivers, take the best one available. The same holds true if you have not filled in your Round 6 pick yet.

This point also represents a transition in your draft. Take a hard look once again at your team. If you took a break in your draft and reflected on your roster after seven rounds you should have at least 3-4 RBs and 2-3 WRs, and possibly a TE or a QB stud. Your team still needs some starters and depth, but the shape of your team is now visible. From Round 8 on, you will now be focusing on depth and positions that have not yet been addressed. Now it is time to change gears.

There is a special circumstance this year, and it revolves around stud backups. In the past I called this the "Michael Turner Effect" for when he backed up LaDainian Tomlinson. A few years ago it was all about Chester Taylor in Minnesota. These stud backups are huge values if the star in front of them gets injured and misses time. These stars-in-waiting are capable of stepping right in and putting up big numbers. If you have a backup running back for a stud RB1, take them before their ADP gets too close for comfort. Right now it appears that this year there are no big choices for this scenario, but the closest example would be Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson. Taking Greene in Round 2 comes with the additional price tag of grabbing Tomlinson to lock in the New York Jets' ground game. Draft Tomlinson in Round 8 if you have Shonn Greene because he may not last until Round 9 based on his current ADP. Just consider this as the price you pay to own the Jets' ground game (and yes, it is worth it).

Autopilot - Rounds 8 - 10

Here is where you switch the draft engine over to cruise control. Rounds 8, 9 and 10 share something in common - none of the numerals are prime numbers. Here is a chance for you to catch your breath and reflect once again on your core players. Check out bye weeks, handcuff running backs to get, and plan for the back half of the draft.

How can you afford to do this? Well, here is the time within your draft that you can address positions you have been ignoring and still get values. With these three picks, you know that there is depth at both QB and TE, so the particular player you get does not matter terribly much - as long as you get that position covered.

Depending on your pick, you should likely be selecting quarterbacks with consecutive picks at the 8/9 or the 9/10 portion of the draft - whichever set of picks are closer together. This will often trigger a quarterback run amongst other owners, opening yet more opportunities for you.

The third choice in this area of your draft will probably be a tight end, provided you don't have one already. Just take the highest one left on your list and don't look back. If you already have one, switch over to another wide receiver, again selecting the highest one on your list.

Prime Numbers 5 and 6 - Lucky 11 and 13

Remember that name we told you to write down earlier - the handcuff to your primary running back? It's time to put him on your shopping list. Check your ADP chart one more time and see if he is either above or below 168 overall (the last pick of Round 14). If he is under 168, jot his name down at Round 11, otherwise circle him for Round 13.

Why so early? Well, he represents the most value to you as the owner of the starter in front of that RB, so he is worth the most to you. Also, there is bound to be at least one other owner that is looking for any ray of hope for his stable of running backs. Don't let him have a shot at the guy you need. Your need outweighs his want, and you will be kicking yourself if you don't get your handcuff. You will see later this "reach" is well worth it, so go ahead and take the running back early. Have confidence that you will still find a few more skill position players to add more depth to your very good team and make it a great one.

Remember - this is for a true handcuff back we are talking about here, not a committee back like Ahmad Bradshaw or Thomas Jones. They have to be selected in the higher rounds as I said earlier. Be careful. Round 11 is meant for the guys who only have big upside if their team's feature back gets hurt, like Jonathan Dwyer in Pittsburgh or Bernard Scott in Cincinnati. Plan accordingly.

The other Prime (11 or 13) draft pick should be used for the best available running back or wide receiver on the board to build depth once again. There are plenty of values still available at wide receiver, and it is likely that you need a couple more. Take a Top 60 WR that you believe will outperform his ranking.

What about Round 12? Clearly the goal now is best player available. If you have any fears about losing your Round 13 guy, go ahead and make the switch. Cruise control through Round 12 does give you another chance to take a breather, but this your team, not mine.

Auto Pilot Redux - Rounds 14 - 16

Round 13 is over and you find yourself again with one last breather. You should have 2 QBs, 1 TE, and 4-6 RBs and 4-6 WRs by now. Do you like how this looks? You should. Now you are ready for the final stretch.

Looking at your roster, something is missing. You have running backs, wide receivers, quarterbacks and tight ends. Oh yeah, that's right - you still need some defenses or kickers. A little more depth and a second TE might not be bad either.

Here is yet another chance for you to make this team your own. In love with a defense early? Can't wait to draft Garrett Hartley? Have at it then - now is your chance.

Selecting a defense and a kicker at this point may seem early, but bear in mind that everyone else will be thinking the same thing you are in the later rounds, which is to grab their first (and possibly second) kicker and defense. This year, the Vikings and the Jets are probably long gone by Round 12, so the defenses are certainly "in play". You have a deep list of sleepers, right? So take the kicker and defense and zig while everyone else zags. You may even start yet another run on a position you hardly care about anymore and can go get your top choices from your list.

One more valuable asset to get here is your second tight end. This year, there seems to be a good number of starters, but the backups are thin. Again, strike while the iron is hot and get your second TE before anyone else.

Prime Numbers 7 and 8 - Final Rounds - Dark Horses and Sleepers

You have your list of sleeper guys, just like any good owner. Just one word of caution - don't be the "All-Star Sleepers" owner guy. Trying to impress everyone at your draft that you know a player that would have even Mel Kiper Jr. scratching his head? That is NOT the goal of your Draft Day. Sure it is nice to know a name that the rest of your league doesn't, but don't fall into the trap of having too many sleepers. After all, you do need to field a competitive team, and a lineup featuring Tim Tebow, Anthony Dixon and Brandon LaFell may not get it done.

Pencil in on your list two sleepers in Round 17 and Round 19. Reserve your picks in Rounds 18 and 20 for backups, second kickers, second defenses or the best talent that remains. You do not want to be sweating out for your last pick to still be on the board in Round 20. Make that a total upside pick that matters very little if it is a disappointment.

Prime Time

Now you have your plan. You know how to get a dominant fantasy team and are prepared but not overwhelmed by worrying about every last round. You understand the basics of Prime Number Drafting, but let's summarize one last time:

Rnd
Prime
Target
Comments
1
RB1
2
1
Best Player
Top 20-25 Player
3
2
Best Player
Top 40 Player
4
RB/WR
Consider coupling to RB already selected
5
3
Best Player
Top 50-60
6
RB/WR
Consider coupling to RB already selected
7
4
RB/WR
Depending on team need
8
TE1
Can shuffle rounds 8-10
9
QB1
Can shuffle rounds 8-10
10
QB2
Can shuffle rounds 8-10
11
5
RB1 handcuff / WR depth
Use ADP to decide round 11 or 13
12
Best Player
13
6
RB1 handcuff / WR depth
Use ADP to decide round 11 or 13
14
TE2
15
Defense
16
Kicker
17
7
Dark Horse #1
18
Def / PK
19
8
Dark Horse #2
20
Def / PK / Best Player

By focusing on a few select rounds, you have broken the draft down to several milestones to mark your progress and make sure you are on track for the playoffs. All you have to do now is remember your Primes.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.