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Middle Pick Draft Slot Strategy (Fantasy Football)

by John Ferguson | @FantasyFerguson | Featured Writer
Jul 24, 2019

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the few mid-first round selections over the last few years not to bust

The first-round draft spots in the middle of the first round have long been one of my least favorites to wind up with every year. I have actually had some solid success with this spot in the past though, so I thought I would share some strategies that have worked well here. We are also going to look at some historical first-round draft picks from the middle of the first round and how they have performed. When we are talking about middle picks, we are looking at picks five through eight in the first round of drafts and picks four through seven in the second round of snake drafts. For league builds, we are basing this off of standard 12-team leagues and 15-round drafts with a PPR scoring format.

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Predicting Picks
My biggest beef with this draft spot has always been the fact that you never get two picks close to each other as you do in early or late draft slots. Usually, you are trying to decide between a couple of different players with each pick, and when you have closer picks together, it’s easy to land two guys you like who are being drafted around the same average draft position. That’s not in the middle slot.

In the middle draft slot, you get one guy, and you wait. You get another, and you wait. Call me impatient, but it’s hard not to see that as a slight disadvantage on draft day.

However, it really isn’t in reality. ADP isn’t an exact science and as long as you keep your cool when getting constantly sniped on both ends of the draft, you can still land a solid team.

One of the silver linings of getting a mid-round draft slot is the fact that you can at least have a better shot at trying to predict which players or positions will be taken before your next pick. Looking ahead at the teams in front of you and how they’re building their team is the best indicator in attempting to predict which players might fall to you in the next round and how you should be building yours. If the teams have built heavy at running back in the early rounds, you know that there is probably value on the board with wide receivers falling so they will likely go for wide receiver soon and vice versa.

You can get one step ahead of your opponent by trying to predict how they’re going to pick next. Looking at the players you want in the next two rounds and how you think they’ll fall compared to how the other teams around your draft spot have built is clutch. If there is one WR you feel like you must have who is at a later ADP than maybe two or three backs you like, and the teams ahead of you are thin at receiver, then you know it’s best to grab that wideout and just hope whichever one of the tailbacks that are left hopefully fall to you in the next round.

Historical First-Round Picks and Performance
So much thought and pressure is put onto your first-round pick, so I feel that it is worth diving into deeper than the rest of the draft. Once you get through the first four or five rounds of a draft, anything can happen and draft slot doesn’t matter quite as much as your overall strategy and landing players who are able to outperform their ADP. Here is a look at the players whose pre-draft rank or ADP fell in the fifth through eighth slot range over a four-year span thanks to FantasyData.com and how they actually finished.

2018

ADP

Final Overall Rank

Final Position Rank

Antonio Brown (PIT)

4.7

15.0

WR5

Alvin Kamara (NO)

5.7

6.0

RB4

Saquon Barkley (NYG)

6.9

2.0

RB1

Leonard Fournette (JAC)

8.8

222.0

RB40

2017

ADP

Final Overall Rank

Final Position Rank

Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)

6.2

12.0

RB12

Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)

6.4

212.0

WR83

Devonta Freeman (ATL)

7.0

55.0

RB13

LeSean McCoy (BUF)

7.8

18.0

RB7

Mike Evans (TB)

7.9

52.0

WR17

2016

ADP

Final Overall Rank

Final Position Rank

Todd Gurley (LAR)

6.3

68.0

RB15

A.J. Green (CIN)

6.4

86.0

WR34

DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)

6.4

69.0

WR26

Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)

8.3

5.0

RB2

2015

ADP

Final Overall Rank

Final Position Rank

Jamaal Charles (KC)

4.5

177.0

RB51

Julio Jones (ATL)

6.2

3.0

WR2

Dez Bryant (DAL)

7.6

198.0

WR81

Marshawn Lynch (SEA)

8.6

210.0

RB61

 

This table here explains to me a little more why I have always hated the mid-round draft slot. There have been some serious busts in the past with this pick, whether due to injury or just flat out underperforming.

2018 wasn’t too bad with the exception of Leonard Fournette being a first-round bust. None of the 2017 mid-first round picks really performed at a level worthy of a first-round selection. LeSean McCoy finishing as RB7 is borderline first-round quality, but 18th overall would put him in the second round technically. McCoy was also drafted as the RB5 with six total running backs going in the first round that year, so him finishing as the RB7 isn’t a huge dip in value, but a dip nonetheless that would also put him in the second round.

In 2016, Ezekiel Elliott was the only player to outperform his draft slot and one of the only players in this four-year sample to do the same. Julio Jones did the same in 2015 finishing the season as the only safe pick in the middle of the first round in fantasy drafts. What is a little more interesting about this list compared to the early draft slot is there are more receiver busts here than we saw in the early slot where the only busts were backs. There were also a lot more wide receivers in general in the mid-slot sample compared to the early-round sample, though.

Second Round and Beyond
Once you get through the pressure of selecting your first-round pick, you’re off to the races. The strategy from here on out really can vary and, as always, the best advice you can ever be given in this situation is to be flexible. Let the draft come to you.

Don’t force a strategy that just won’t work. If you came into the draft set on going running back heavy in the early rounds, but the rest of your league had the same idea, then it’s time to pivot. Wide receivers will likely be falling where they shouldn’t in this situation.

As I mentioned earlier, looking at the teams around you and anticipating their next move if the best way to get a beat on the players you really want for your squad. Don’t be afraid to reach a round early for a player you want. If the team ahead of you has a similar need, there is a good chance that player you really want won’t make it back to you. There is a lot of luck involved in having your guys fall to you where you want them. Be aggressive in the middle of drafts and always be keeping a close eye on the teams ahead of you to make the smartest picks possible.

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John Ferguson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from John, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyFerguson.

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1Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
2Dalvin Cook (MIN)RB
3Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
4Josh Jacobs (OAK)RB
5Leonard Fournette (JAC)RB
6Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
7Tyreek Hill (KC)WR
8Nick Chubb (CLE)RB
9Marlon Mack (IND)RB
10Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
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11Michael Thomas (NO)WR
12DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
13Tevin Coleman (SF)RB
14Le'Veon Bell (NYJ)RB
15James Conner (PIT)RB
16Mike Evans (TB)WR
17Mark Ingram (BAL)RB
18Damien Williams (KC)RB
19Julio Jones (ATL)WR
20Brian Hill (ATL)RB
21Devin Singletary (BUF)RB
22Chris Godwin (TB)WR
23Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
24Amari Cooper (DAL)WR
25Cooper Kupp (LAR)WR
26Travis Kelce (KC)TE
27Julian Edelman (NE)WR
28Joe Mixon (CIN)RB
29David Montgomery (CHI)RB
30Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
1Ronald Acuna Jr. (ATL)LF,CF
2Nolan Arenado (COL)3B
3Mookie Betts (BOS)CF,RF
4J.D. Martinez (BOS)LF,RF
5Trevor Story (COL)SS
6Justin Verlander (HOU)SP
7Cody Bellinger (LAD)1B,CF
8Trea Turner (WSH)SS
9Alex Bregman (HOU)3B,SS
10Jacob deGrom (NYM)SP
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11Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
12Francisco Lindor (CLE)SS
13Gerrit Cole (FA)SP
14Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B
15Javier Baez (CHC)2B,3B
16Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
17Aaron Judge (NYY)RF,DH
18Juan Soto (WSH)LF
19Anthony Rendon (FA)3B
20Bryce Harper (PHI)CF,RF
21Jose Altuve (HOU)2B
22Xander Bogaerts (BOS)SS
23Starling Marte (PIT)CF
24Walker Buehler (LAD)SP
25Manny Machado (SD)3B,SS
26Anthony Rizzo (CHC)1B
27Kris Bryant (CHC)3B,RF
28Whit Merrifield (KC)1B,2B
29George Springer (HOU)CF,RF
30Paul Goldschmidt (STL)1B
1Anthony Davis (LAL)PF,C
2James Harden (HOU)PG,SG
3Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
4Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)SF,PF
5Kevin Durant (BKN)SF,PF
6LeBron James (LAL)SF,PF
7Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
8Damian Lillard (POR)PG
9Russell Westbrook (HOU)PG
10Nikola Jokic (DEN)PF,C
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11Kawhi Leonard (LAC)SG,SF
12Victor Oladipo (IND)PG,SG
13Joel Embiid (PHI)PF,C
14Paul George (LAC)SF,PF
15Chris Paul (OKC)PG
16Ben Simmons (PHI)PG,SF
17Kyrie Irving (BKN)PG,SG
18Kemba Walker (BOS)PG
19Jrue Holiday (NOR)PG,SG
20Jimmy Butler (MIA)SG,SF
21Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
22Donovan Mitchell (UTH)PG,SG
23Andre Drummond (DET)PF,C
24Rudy Gobert (UTH)C
25John Wall (WAS)PG
26Bradley Beal (WAS)SG
27Kevin Love (CLE)PF,C
28Khris Middleton (MIL)SG,SF
29Devin Booker (PHO)PG,SG
30LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS)PF,C
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