Navigating The Money Rounds Of Your Fantasy Draft
By Jeff Tefertiller
July 12th, 2010

Fantasy drafts are the same today as they were many years ago. The first few rounds of the draft will decide the fate of almost every fantasy owner. The purpose of round one is to take the safe route and take the best player available. Too many owners take a risky player just because of upside. This leaves one to ask "Why take that type of gamble in the most important round of the draft?" Assuming most fantasy owners will take a solid, safe first round pick, the draft will be judged on the "money rounds". The money rounds are the second through the fifth. This is the area of the draft where the pre-draft plan is executed and most of the starting lineup is selected. These are the players who will score most of the points on a weekly basis. So, how can I best navigate the money rounds? It starts with a plan. This plan will depend on a few variables: league scoring, starting lineups, which draft slot, and most of all what you want your team to look like. It is your draft. The team should resemble players and priorities you like.

A draft plan will be based around a few questions that each fantasy owner should answer. This plan needs to be established going into the draft. We will compare players based on the their respective ADPs. While it is best to remain flexible during the draft, and let the value come to you, a plan is a must in order to succeed. This is the first article of a two-part series, addressing the Quarterback and Running Back positions for the "money rounds".

Do you feel the need to grab a stud quarterback early in the draft?

If you do not draft a passer in the first round, and still want an early round quarterback, here are the options (with their corresponding ADP):

  • Peyton Manning (2.03) - Great option after getting a solid back or receiver in the first round. Taking Manning at this pick is a safe pick. If you are drafting late in the first round, it is best to try to gain advantages, when available, to compensate for not getting an elite ball carrier in the opening round.
  • Tom Brady (2.12) - Brady is not the quarterback he was in 2007 yet he is still drafted as elite. The Patriot passer had a good season in 2009, but still finished as fantasy QB8. Add in the fact that he may not have the services stellar possession receiver, Wes Welker, early in the year and it is easy to see why it may be best to pass on Brady. Drafting at the corner is tricky. It is a long time, with many players coming off the board, in between rounds. If you feel the need to grab a passer at the 2/3 turn, it might be best to "reach" for Romo. He finished higher than Brady last year and the addition of Dez Bryant can only help.
  • Philip Rivers (3.03) - Rivers finished as QB7 last year but could be without Vincent Jackson for some or most of the season. He is way too risky this early on in the draft.
  • Matt Schaub (3.10) - This may be a tad early for a quarterback with one healthy season of his three as a starter. Romo is a safer option with greater upside.
  • Tony Romo (3.11) - Romo in the late third is a tremendous choice for the owner who passed on Manning the round before. Getting the Cowboy passer at this spot still gives an advantage over most of the league. Romo could be in for a big year. He has two Top 6 finishes in the last three years. What a great pick in the third round.
  • It is assumed that Aaron Rodgers (1.09) and Drew Brees (1.10) will already be off the board. So, including Rodgers and Brees, you have seven choices to draft the "stud" quarterback. If you are ok passing on these top-rated passers, you must ask yourself what is the lowest level of fantasy starter am I comfortable with? This is a huge decision. It is perfectly fine to want the safety and security of a top quarterback. Some owners are less risk averse and are comfortable waiting on a starting quarterback while taking plenty of running backs and wide receivers early in the draft. If you wait until after the first five rounds, these are the QBs who should be available:

  • Jay Cutler (6.06) - Cutler will play in the Mike Martz high-octane offense this season. He has high upside, but there is always risk of the streaky Cutler putting together a string of very poor outings as he did last season. Favre might be a better pick at this point in the draft.
  • Brett Favre (6.08) - It is amazing to me how a quarterback who finished as the QB3 last year is now available in the last part of the sixth round. How does that happen? His situation is better this year considering the two young receivers have another year of seasoning. Even if he finishes a few spots below last season, Favre will easily exceed expectations.
  • Kevin Kolb (6.12) - The upside is definitely there. The Eagles have given their young quarterback a cache of great weapons. But, the issue is risk. Do you feel comfortable with Kolb as your every-week starter or prefer a proven option like Eli Manning?
  • Matt Ryan (7.01) - Ryan, and Flacco below, are overdrafted. Why would we select a starting quarterback who has yet to break into the Top 15 of fantasy passers? Let someone else take Ryan (and Flacco) way too early.
  • Joe Flacco (7.03) - Flacco benefits from the addition of Anquan Boldin. But, the Ravens are a running team. It is doubtful that the big, strong-armed quarterback will get enough pass attempts to justify this pick.
  • Eli Manning (7.05) - Peyton Manning's little brother has a lot going for him. He has two very emerging young receivers who could vie for the top-rated duo in a year or two. The running game has faltered. Manning is a nice safe choice as a fantasy starter. He is a good pick this late after loading up on fantasy starters at other positions.
  • Donovan McNabb (8.02) - He struggled to reach this level of production in Philadelphia to justify this pick. In Washington, it might be nearly impossible to warrant a selection this high while playing for the Redskins. Jason Campbell finished as QB15 each of the past two seasons. It might be unreasonable to expect McNabb to top his Philadelphia numbers and crack the Top 12.
  • Ben Roethlisberger (9.06) - The Steelers quarterback is being discounted because he will miss the first four (or six) games of the season due to suspension. His situation has declined with the departure of Santonio Holmes and injury to Willie Colon. At this point in the draft, Roethlisberger makes a great committee member (need to cover the first few weeks) or an average fantasy starter.
  • Carson Palmer (9.08) - Palmer would be tough to rely on as an every-week starter. While he might be acceptable in a committee, the Bengal passer is too big of a drop when compared to some of the options above.
  • If waiting on a quarterback is acceptable considering the choices above, an owner is allowed to load up on the choicest ball carriers and pass receivers during the "money rounds" of the draft. After the fifth round, the talent at those positions thins out considerably.

    Who are the players I consider to be strong fantasy running backs?

    Most of these "studs" get drafted in the first round of the draft. By the time the second round rolls around, the choices are whether to select a back with great potential (and some risk) or a safer rusher with less upside. As you might expect, most of the acceptable options for fantasy starters will be thinned out by the end of the third round. We will look at these rushers below:

  • DeAngelo Williams (2.02) - Williams is a great pick at this point in the draft. He has a great season under his belt (2008) and could repeat. Most discount Williams because of the presence of Jonathan Stewart but that is not a concern if getting the Panther starter this late. He is the last of the "stud" backs. A fantasy owner could have an incredible start to the draft with a solid pick in the first round, Williams in the second, and Romo in the third.
  • Cedric Benson (2.05) - Benson is a great fantasy RB2 option, but is very risky at this spot as a RB1. He finished last year as the RB16.
  • Shonn Greene (2.06) - Greene was awesome last year, but is far from proven with only 109 regular season carries. He will get his opportunity with Thomas Jones now playing in Kansas City. LaDainian Tomlinson and rookie Joe McKnight are not threats to Greene's role as the team's bell cow. He is a risky pick in the middle of the second round, but could finish in the Top 5 at the position if he can remain healthy.
  • Ryan Grant (2.08) - Grant gets little respect. He finished last season as RB8 but still is drafted this low. Like Benson, I am much more comfortable with Grant as a fantasy RB2 as opposed to a top fantasy ball carrier. He is a very solid pick at this point in the draft. A fantasy owner starting the draft with Frank Gore and Ryan Grant would have a very good corps of running backs.
  • Jamaal Charles (3.01) - Charles has seen his draft stock plummet since Thomas Jones arrived on the scene. The speedy tailback still has a good chance to outperform this draft spot. He makes an explosive backfield tandem for those selecting Chris Johnson with the first pick.
  • Chris Wells (3.02) - Wells flashed immense talent last season. He has plenty of upside for fantasy owners. But, there are concerns about his role in the Arizona offense and whether or not there will be enough carries for the former Ohio State Buckeye to live up to an early third round pick. Tim Hightower will have a significant role in the Arizona offense. Wells could be a Top 8 fantasy back this season ... or just a disappointment mired in a committee with Hightower.
  • Knowshon Moreno (3.04) - Moreno was outplayed last season by veteran Correll Buckhalter. While he should get plenty of carries, there are backs later on who carry similar potential at a cheaper price.
  • Jonathan Stewart (3.09) - This is simply too much risk for a third round pick unless you are convinced that Stewart's backfield mate Williams will miss a few games once again due to injury. Stewart is loaded with talent, and coming off a RB11 finish, but he this is a very risky pick if Williams is healthy.
  • Ryan Mathews (3.12) - Mathews was drafted to be the primary ball carrier in San Diego. As long as he proves durable, the rookie will get his carries to be a productive fantasy back. He is a great pick at this spot in the draft.
  • Who are some possible running back fantasy starters I should consider in the fourth and fifth rounds?

    Hopefully by this point, you will have at least one back rostered and looking for a RB2 or RB3. Below are some of the better choices.

  • Joseph Addai (4.06) - Addai is coming off a great season that saw his finish as a RB9 in fantasy leagues. He may yield carries to Donald Brown but is a great fantasy RB2 in the middle of fourth round.
  • Ronnie Brown (4.08) - Brown is a very risky pick here. He struggles with durability and is coming off a Lisfranc injury. Brown does have plenty of upside. One strong angle is to draft Brown in the fourth and teammate Ricky Williams in the fifth or sixth. This move offers insurance, and guarantees a solid fantasy RB2 ... and possibly RB3 for your team. In games both Miami ball carriers played, each was an effective fantasy option.
  • Felix Jones (5.02) - Jones is a very risky pick, but might be worth it in the fifth round. There is cause for concern regarding his role in the Cowboy running game. Marion Barber (below) should get the short yardage carries. If you select Jones in the fifth, he MUST be an every-week starter for your fantasy team. Do you have enough confidence in his durability and role to do so? This is the key question.
  • Brandon Jacobs (5.07) - Jacobs played through injury last year. His statistics sure showed it. As the primary ball carrier in New York, Jacobs is a great pick in the fifth round. Like Marion Barber below, he does not need even 250 carries in order to be a solid fantasy RB2.
  • Jahvid Best (5.11) - The exciting rookie should be a huge asset to the Detroit Lion offense. He will have some monster games this year. For the fantasy owners who want to take a chance, this is a good spot to do so. Best could have a similar numbers to those put up by Jamaal Charles last season.
  • Marion Barber (5.12) - Just like Jacobs above, Barber player through injury last season. These two bruisers have a lot in common in fantasy circles. Both have been given up for dead. Fantasy owners picking late in the first round are able to plan their draft around either Jacobs or Barber. The selection of either this late in the draft means that you can take a quarterback early. By going with our example from above, a fantasy owner would be in great shape in rounds two through five with: DeAngelo Williams, Tony Romo, WR1, and either Jacobs or Barber. If the first round pick was Randy Moss and the fourth rounder was Chad Ochocinco, this team would be in pretty good shape. Running back depth would be the only worry, but there are decent options in the middle rounds.
  • Pierre Thomas, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte are all way too risky at this juncture. All will be sharing considerable playing time. Thomas has yet to carry the ball more than 150 times in a season. McCoy will be sharing time, and likely coming out in short yardage situations. And, Forte will struggle for enough carries to justify this pick.

    We will look at the last three questions in the next article, exploring the options available at the Wide Receiver and Tight End positions. Those questions are:

  • Should I consider a wide receiver in the second or third rounds? If so, who is worth considering?
  • If I load up on backs early, who are some good fantasy wideouts to target in the fourth and fifth rounds?
  • What level of tight end do I comfortable with as a starter?
  • Please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any questions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there.