You don't expect a quarterback to consistently win games by only throwing go routes. So why would you expect one draft strategy to work every time in fantasy football?
Unless you're that person who plays in a local league filled with casual football fans—the ones who are only familiar with the first 10 rounds of a player pool and have given little thought about the strategies that mesh well with the league's specific roster and starting lineup construction—then you wouldn't.
Those folks aren't usually my people.
Experienced fantasy GMs have had success with multiple draft strategies. As a result, the best of them know when to adjust their approach during a draft.
However, even the most experienced GMs can lose sight of the hobby's fundamental maxim: "Draft the right players."
Draft the right players. Easy to say, difficult to do.
Whether it's a redraft, dynasty, or Devy league, it's easy to tilt during parts of your draft in a room full of experienced GMs who know how to manipulate position runs, when to snipe the emerging players just ahead of their ADP, and exploit opponent tendencies to generate value.
The most common way I see GMs falter during their draft is when they are caught near the tail-end of a position run or sniped by a competitor of their desired target, and they respond by drafting for need. Drafting for need can work out, but do it too often, and you wind up with two potential errors per pick—a mediocre or bad player you settled for and passing up that player you coveted who is outperforming his value.
But I can't go into the season with only one [insert position of choice here].
Beyond whatever the rules require for position minimums on a roster, picking the best players is a higher priority for building a good team than drafting by need. As stated in this column annually, the draft is only one leg of a championship table. You can build a sturdy table with one leg, but there are four legs (the draft, waivers, trades, and lineup management) at every fantasy GM's disposal.
If your draft doesn't go as planned and you're left with the choice of abandoning a set strategy with specific position amounts and selecting the best talent, abandon the strategy. After all, strategies only work when it presents you opportunities to get the best players.
There are exceptions, but I trust those of you reading this to know that stockpiling placekickers or team defenses don't work in 99.99 percent of fantasy leagues.
Stockpiling is your tool to generate wealth at a position where your competition lacks it and should give you fair and easy trade opportunities to earn a player you wouldn't have had the chance to acquire through the draft or free agency.
While there are viable opportunities to stockpile effectively in re-draft leagues, dynasty and Devy formats are among the best leagues to use stockpiling as an effective tool for your team-building strategy. So today, we're going to explore which positions are the most effective to stockpile and look at examples where this has proven worthwhile.
Along the way, you'll also learn about specific NFL and college football talents worth stockpiling.
Favorable Conditions for Stockpiling
The simple answer for what to stockpile is whatever positions are most likely to generate a demand based on these factors:
- Dimensions of the League: The essential scenario for any decision to stockpile is the combination of the league's roster sizes and the number of teams. If the league's scoring rules are "standard" (see below), the league should have at least 12 teams and 20 roster spots. The more notable the deviation of the scoring and/or the larger the league in terms of roster spots and team amounts, the more favorable the conditions for stockpiling.
- Standard Scoring Rules: A standard scoring system fits this range of conditions:
- No PPR or an across-the-board PPR value that's the same for each position -- 0.25, 0.5, 1, 1.5, etc.
- The same points awarded for rushing and receiving touchdowns and passing touchdowns are at least two-thirds the value of rushing and receiving.
- Rushing and receiving yardage have the same points awarded per yard and passing yardage is half of the value of rushing/receiving yardage.
- Favorable Scoring Rules for Stockpiling:
- Elevated PPR value for one position: Tight ends with 1.5 PPR versus receivers and backs with 1 point per reception is a common example.
- Penalties for common errors: A sizeable penalty for interceptions thrown that is worth at least two-thirds the value of a touchdown is a great example. Fumbles are not common enough. Dropped passes, incomplete passes, and sacks taken are common errors that I've seen leagues track, although the penalty for dropped passes is harder to do and an uncommon scenario.
- Big-Play Scoring: It's common for leagues to unintentionally favor a position when giving an award for long runs, long receptions, and long completions. Check previous year's stats with your favorite stat provider to determine if there's an inherent and significant advantage for a specific position. For example, maybe your league awards extra points for runs of at least 15 yards, whereas receivers and quarterbacks only earn bonus points for gains of at least 40 yards. IDP leagues often have excellent opportunities to fixate on a position because of its scoring rules.
- Starting Lineup Allotments: Most leagues have figured out how to create flex roles that give teams opportunities to leverage depth at running back, wide receiver, and tight end. Still, it's always worth determining if your allotments favor 1-2 positions more than the rest. In addition, super-flex formats give enough added value to quarterback play that stockpiling the position early on can have value.
The league's format (Devy, dynasty, IDP, and redraft) is also a determining factor. It's always a good idea to look at 2-3 years of scoring history in leagues to see which position has the most players in the top 25, 50, 75, and 100 players. It should give you a good idea of where stockpiling can be most favorable.
What to Stockpile
The positions are listed in my order of preference. Of course, this order depends on the conditions above and your ability to identify talent relative to your competition. However, it's common for fantasy GMs to overestimate their abilities to identify top players at a repeatable hit rate.
Wide Receivers: Because this position is the most liquid on the trade market in most leagues, stockpiling receivers is an effective method despite having similar turnover at the elite level of its year-to-year performance. It's because the position holds its top-24 and top-36 starter value better than running backs when looking beyond the turnover in the top 10-12.
Devy and Dynasty drafters often fixate on that potentially rare, elite player at positions where a hit on that player can create a big advantage. Defensive end, defensive tackle, and tight end are the common annual targets where GMs think there's the next J.J. Watt, Aaron Darnold, and Travis Kelce sitting in the pool. Because there are 1-3 players usually earning that buzz at each position every year, that's 3-9 picks that benefit you to continue focusing on one position rather than positions of need.
Wide receiver is one of the easiest to stockpile because NFL teams are spreading the field, and there are 2-3 more options with fantasy production potential on every team--sometimes 4-5 -- than there are runners, passers, and tight ends. Although we know most teams will only field 1-2 options with true starter potential, the perceived value that many GMs have of 3-4 others on each team generates a higher demand.
Quarterbacks: Devy and dynasty league formats inherently favor quarterback and tight end stockpiling because there is less year-to-year turnover with the elite or near-elite performance at these two positions compared to running back and wide receiver. These may not be the most valuable positions in scoring and/or lineup allotments, but with the right strategy, you can stockpile these and/or other positions to your advantage.
Linebackers: The wide receiver of the defensive side of the ball, there are 1-2 more linebackers per team with legitimate fantasy value than there are quarterbacks, running backs, and tight ends. Weakside and middle linebackers generate significant value on a per tackle basis. Outside linebackers can be as valuable as any player in big-play scoring leagues due to sacks, fumbles, tipped passes, and or pressures in addition to tackles. They're like mobile quarterbacks in that regard.
If your league allows you to start 3-4 linebackers and there's big-play scoring, stockpiling at linebacker and receiver at the expense of running back, cornerback, and safety is advisable.
Tight End: This is a deceptive position for stockpiling. It's a popular idea to stockpile at this position, and Devy drafts are, by far, the most effective approach and arguably, the only advisable method if you're aiming to draft multiple tight ends in a year. Rarely is a draft class stacked with top options. Unless you're in a 1.5 PPR format and already have 2-3 excellent tight ends due to good drafting/luck over a period of 4-5 years or inherited a roster with this situation, it's unlikely that you'll be in a position to stockpile talent effectively.
However, you don't need as many quality options to have a stockpile at the tight end position. If you have two of the three elite scorers and a third starter, you actually have a stockpile if the league only allows you to start one option in a 1.5 PPR format at the position. I've had this happen enough to leverage value from the situation.
The value of this situation is that you can make tight end one of two positions to stockpile during a draft with another position where the number of quality prospects is inherently smaller, such as quarterback. Or, if you already hit on an Aaron Donald and/or Chris Jones at defensive tackle or you have a stacked unit of defensive ends and hope you can get yet another option of value so you can trade away one of your vets.
These scenarios allow for you to target athletic tight ends with little or no playing experience at a high level and hope you get the next Antonio Gates, Robert Tonyan Jr, or Logan Thomas. Sammie Reyes, Zach Davidson, Jacob Harris, and Adam Trautman are recent options with that kind of upside and late-round value.
Defensive Ends and Tackles: Big-play IDP leagues can elevate the value of a pass-rushing end and/or tackle, and I'd approach this position similar to tight end.
Running Backs: This can be an effective tactic in rookie and Devy drafts but inadvisable for dynasty startups and redrafts. It's difficult to stockpile runners because of the high turnover of production and viability of the players at the position and the high demand for teams to acquire starters and depth.
Unless you strictly draft running backs in every round for the first 5-7 rounds of a draft and return to drafting them during the final 3-5 rounds in a startup or redraft format, you're unlikely to acquire value that will generate demand, especially due to turnover at the position. Unless you identify a scoring scenario that favors runners and you're willing to take a huge risk with a unique approach, you're stretching this strategy to its limits.
Dynasty League Example
This league is a dynasty-IDP format with 40 roster spots, no practice squad, and limited IR spots. It's a PPR format with 1.5 PPR for tight ends. The league mandates 19 starters: 1 QB, 1-2 RBs, 3-4 WRs, 1-2 TEs, 1K, 1-2 DTs, 2 DEs, 3-4 LBs, 2 CBs, and 2 S.
The popular stockpile targets are the receiver, tight end, and linebacker positions. This team has been to three semifinal rounds and two championship rounds -- earning a title -- during the past three years. It did so without a top-end running back.
My advantage was stockpiling receiver talent during the early part of my rebuild through the draft, waivers, and trades and then stockpiling quarterbacks during rookie drafts as my team earned positions in the second half of rookie drafts.
Instead of trading up and giving up picks and players that I needed, hoping I could hit the bull's eye with a running back, linebacker, or defensive end, I continued taking the position that fell to me, which was the quarterback.
I had Russell Wilson from the 2012 draft. As my team became more competitive, I continued taking shots with Jared Goff and Lamar Jackson. This league also allowed stealing a player from a team's practice squad (when we had them). If the player's team didn't respond to the steal attempt, you earned the player at the cost of a pick one round higher than his rookie draft spot. So Patrick Mahomes II cost me a future first-round pick.
With three of the top-five quarterbacks on my roster and a fourth with starter production, suddenly there was a demand for quarterbacks during the two years I went to the championship round.
Last year, I traded Wilson and picks to get running backs I valued: Nick Chubb and Jonathan Taylor. Because I have stockpiled depth at quarterback and receiver, it freed me up to trade future picks. This also helped me get Myles Garrett.
If Chubb and Michael Thomas didn't suffer injuries earlier in the year, this team would have earned a first-round bye and likely a better shot at a championship run in 2020. It's still in a position to make a run in 2021.
The big lesson here is that stockpiling one position (receiver) can help you get competitive to land in the bottom half of the draft. Then, stockpiling another position (quarterback) can put you over the top.
Devy League Example
This IDP-Dynasty-Devy format is my favorite league. It has performance-based scoring that elevates the value of linebackers to that of offensive skill position players. It also has a four-year time limit for a player's eligibility to be on a team.
We have a rookie draft and college draft every year, so the emphasis is on drafting players who make an early impact and, ideally, getting them before they are eligible for the NFL Draft. In the college draft, we're only allowed to draft one player from each freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior class. It's a challenging format.
This left my roster with these notable situations: no startable quarterback, one startable runner, three startable receivers, and one excellent linebacker. There are teams in this league that have to field starting lineups without a position because of the challenging nature of the rules.
During my first year in the league, Mahomes was sitting behind Alex Smith, and it left me with Teddy Bridgewater for only part of the year as my starter. I almost made the playoffs without a starting quarterback that year. Fun league.
Our rookie and college drafts have been ongoing in recent weeks. With the last pick in the rookie draft, I couldn't land a starting quarterback. Most of them were already claimed in previous years from our college drafts. I picked Sam Ehlinger, hoping he'd take another step forward. He didn't and is now fighting for a reserve role with the Colts. I had Brett Rypien as a waiver acquisition for bye-week depth when he was starting some games.
Instead of taking my chances there in this 10-round rookie draft, I took linebackers Jamin Davis, Derrick Barnes, and Jabril Cox in the first, third, and sixth rounds to bolster my depth chart of Devin White--the No. 18 overall fantasy option in this league last year--Ja'Whaun Bentley, and the hopefully promising Logan Wilson.
There were five linebackers among the top-32 fantasy options in this league last year, and that's the norm. High-volume tacklers like White, Darius Leonard, and Roquan Smith are the best options. Davis, Barnes, and Cox all have the potential to eventually be middle linebackers or high-volume tacklers at the weakside, where they are free to roam with their athletic ability.
While focusing on linebackers, I made tight end my secondary focus, adding Harris and Davidson to my roster of Harrison Bryant and Adam Trautman. I especially liked Harris because there's a possibility he could eventually be labeled a wide receiver, and I could get a starter at a mid-round investment.
The hope here is that I can have enough linebacker depth to trade for a running back if my mid-to-late sleeper picks don't emerge. This is the same tactic I used with my wide receiver depth to get a quarterback.
After the draft, I traded away Laviska Shenault Jr for Mac Jones. Shenault is a hot commodity right now, but I also have Jerry Jeudy and Justin Jefferson. Although I had Jarvis Landry and Cooper Kupp in recent years, I continued to stockpile wide receivers, which put me in a position to trade for a quarterback without killing my depth long-term at receiver.
Especially when considering that I also have Purdue's David Bell and Alabama's John Metchie III, these are two top prospects at the position who should earn top-100 picks in the NFL draft this year or next. Both win the ball against tight coverage, run technically sound routes, and win all over the field. I expect to see starter production from these two while I still have Jefferson and Jeudy.
I added Metchie this year with the second overall pick in the college draft ahead of available quarterbacks like Carson Strong and Malik Willis because as much as I find those passers intriguing, I drafted J.T. Daniels as a freshman at USC and believe he'll pick up in 2021 where he left off at Georgia last year. If so, Daniels will be a first-round pick and an immediate starter in 2022. This affords me to continue stockpiling receivers and maybe get a shot at a quarterback later in this college draft.
This potential receiver stockpile, especially if Devin Duvernay and/or Byron Pringle builds on strong minicamp performances this year, also gives me another source of value to acquire a second quarterback or running back.
I could have drafted Isaiah Spiller, Tank Bigsby, or Jahmyr Gibbs. All three are options still available at the point I drafted. However, only Spiller is eligible for the NFL Draft in 2022, and that means I'd have to wait 2-3 years for the players I coveted most to produce for me. At that point, my current receivers are either leaving my team or one year away, and I have no depth to work with.
I also didn't find Spiller as appealing as Bigsby or Gibbs. He works in an option system with a lot of gap runs, and I wasn't as impressed with his footwork efficiency as I was Bigsby and Gibbs. He has the size-speed combination, but the lack of zone experience is a minor concern when comparing him to the safety of Metchie's value, adding to a potential stockpile, and trading for a back that I want who is eligible now.
The Win-Now Dynasty (Faux Redraft) Stockpile
This is the Super-Flex Dynasty Auction format I profiled last week. Because of my competition and the auction format, I approached this league with a win-now mentality. The result is a lot of talent between the ages of 26-30 who have more time left than my ageist peers may think but aren't as prized as those younger than 26.
The stockpile with this roster is wide receiver and youth at tight end. While Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and (potentially) Robert Woods won't be seen as viable trade bait for all but a team in serious contention, Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, and Brandin Cooks still have multiple years of perceived value.
If Brown and/or Wood perform at a high level and I'm in contention for a title, I might be in a position where I can afford to trade Evans, Hill, or Cooks for picks that will help my team get younger and either limit or eliminate the voids that aging players could generate in the next 2-3 years.
I labeled this the "Faux Redraft" scenario because this team was built in a redraft style to win this year. If this were a one-year format, it's less likely that I'd get this strong of a collection of talent. Still, I've seen it happen in auctions because GMs become more skittish with the idea of investing top-dollar on older players or top options coming off down years.
While 50 percent of my roster isn't wide receivers, my 11 players (39 percent of the roster) have 6 options with recent top-12 fantasy value and 3 of them with recent elite performances. That's enough to consider it a stockpile situation that I can leverage for short-term help at running back, tight end, or quarterback.
I may not earn a long-term value in return for a receiver that I trade away, but if there's a Gardner Minshew or backup runner with one-year starter value who can shore up my depth chart to keep me in contention at the expense of an aging player, stockpiling becomes my salvation.
Stockpiling can be your salvation, too. Evaluate your format, scoring rules, lineup allotments, and your rosters. If you're in a league with GMs whose drafts leave you thinking that you must draft for need as a reaction to their work, consider stockpiling now and trading for exactly what you want later.