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Early Pick Draft Slot Strategy (Fantasy Football)

by John Ferguson | @FantasyFerguson | Featured Writer
Aug 5, 2019

The early draft slot is one of the most coveted positions out there in fantasy football. You get a guaranteed shot at landing a consensus top-four draft pick that can be considered a potential league winner. How often though have these top-four draft picks actually finished inside the top-four in recent years? Is landing an RB with a top-four pick an absolute must or have we been selecting players in the early part of drafts all wrong? These are some questions I will answer and more as we dive into some early draft slot strategies.

For all intents and purposes, we are looking primarily at standard 12-team leagues for the basis of this article with full PPR scoring as the format. Early draft slots are being considered as a top-four pick in the first round followed by late second/early third-round picks in snake drafts. Historical ADP is being referenced from FantasyData.com.

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Going in with a Plan

This early first-round pick may feel like an advantage over your league-mates, but it doesn’t come without its downfalls since you have to wait for the round 2/3 turn to make your next selection in snake drafts. I have always preferred getting a later first-round pick around the 10 spot so that you still get solid value in the first round, but also have a shot at an early round-two pick as well.

Going into your draft with a solid plan seems pretty basic, but with the early draft slot, you are gifted with the advantage of pretty much knowing exactly how your first round will pan out. Once you get into the mid-and-late round draft slots, it becomes more of a stroke of luck to be assured you will land the player you want the most in the first round and you may have to pivot your strategy immediately based on how the first round plays out.

The most important thing to remember when discussing any type of draft strategy no matter what slot your drafting from is to BE FLEXIBLE. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t force a draft strategy because it’s what you had planned all along. Go with the flow and let the draft come to you. Again, with the early draft slot, you do have the advantage of knowing that you will get a shot at one of your top-four favorite players in the first round. Let’s take a closer look at previous years top-four picks and how they have panned out.

Historical Top-Four Picks and Performances

Here is a look at how the top-four picks have looked over the last few years to give us an idea of positional trends as well as how these picks have paid off at the end of the season:

2018

ADP

Final Overall Rank

Final Position Rank

Todd Gurley (LAR)

1.3

4.0

RB3

Le’Veon Bell (PIT)

3.1

N/A

N/A

David Johnson (ARZ)

3.3

39.0

RB9

Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)

4.6

11.0

RB5

Antonio Brown (PIT)

4.7

15.0

WR5

2017

ADP

Final Overall Rank

Final Position Rank

David Johnson (ARZ)

1.3

408.0

RB115

Le’Veon Bell (PIT)

2.3

3.0

RB2

Antonio Brown (PIT)

3.7

5.0

WR1

Julio Jones (ATL)

5.7

26.0

WR7

2016

ADP

Final Overall Rank

Final Position Rank

Antonio Brown (PIT)

1.2

8.0

WR1

Julio Jones (ATL)

2.8

25.0

WR6

Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)

3.4

13.0

WR4

David Johnson (ARZ)

3.4

1.0

RB1

2015

ADP

Final Overall Rank

Final Position Rank

Adrian Peterson (MIN)

1.8

30.0

RB2

Antonio Brown (PIT)

2.5

2.0

WR1

Le’Veon Bell (PIT)

3.1

160.0

RB47

Eddie Lacy (GB)

4.0

118.0

RB32

 

There are a few interesting trends to point out here in the first round. Over the years we have seen a flow of RB heavy, to WR heavy, then back to RB heavy again inside the top-four. The only players who have been a bust as a top-four pick have been RBs (Bell especially), though the value of nailing that RB pick inside the top-four has paid off with a higher final overall rank for the most part and with the position being more volatile and having less depth, the RB heavy pick early in drafts does make sense. It all kind of boils down to how much risk you want to take in your early pick as well. The Zero RB strategy is a way to go here if you don’t want to take the risk of grabbing an RB early, though it isn’t the most common approach.

Building After the First Round

The first-round pick can help you set the tone for how you want the rest of your draft to go. You have a few choices here as far as the best way to build your team whether it be RB heavy, Zero RB, WR heavy, balanced, etc. With the opportunity to snag a top RB in the first round, you can go with one of my favorite approaches here which are the one-and-done RB strategy. I typically like to grab a top-RB early and fade my RB2 spot until much later in the draft, meanwhile piling up on WRs who still have WR1 type upside in rounds two through four. Locking in an elite TE has also become increasingly popular with the rising trend of TE scoring and is possible here at the second/third round turn.

The QB position has been hit hard with the wait as long as you can method due to the variance in scoring between the top-tier QBs and the mid-tier QBs not being as big compared to the other skill positions such as WR, RB, and TE. Even still, I’m a big supporter of getting your guy and if that means reaching for a QB in the fourth round, go for it. The gap between your fourth/fifth-round picks and your sixth-round pick is quite large and it’s entirely possible to see the QB position go on a run here. If you have your heart set on a certain QB, don’t feel ashamed to grab him a touch early here.

Make Your Team Yours

Being at an early and late draft slot can make it difficult to predict which players and positions will fall back to you. After the first round, you will always have two picks close to each other (unless it’s a straight draft) meaning that at times, you may have to be comfortable reaching for players that you really want ahead of their ADP. The bottom line for this is to build the team that you want. Get your guys regardless of ADP (but, still within reason of course). Going with the flow of the draft is of the utmost importance when you have an early draft slot due to that big wait in turns.

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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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