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How to Approach Early Rounds (2022 Fantasy Football)

by Derek Brown | @dbro_ffb | Featured Writer
Jun 17, 2022
CeeDee Lamb

Building a championship roster is done throughout the draft at every turn. While the fantasy football draft isn’t the only ingredient to hoisting the first-place hardware at the end of the season, it’s still essential to be dialed in. Whether placing your bets on breakouts or expecting repeat stellar production with premium picks, there are various approaches to take with your drafts. In this series, I’ll describe how I’m attacking each stage of fantasy football drafts. From capitalizing on early picks, mining value in the middle rounds, and shooting for upside in the later rounds.

Fantasy Football Redraft Draft Kit

Draft at least two wide receivers in the first four rounds.

This can be approached in various ways depending on how the board falls and your draft position. If you’re blessed with a top-three pick and can secure Christian McCaffrey or Jonathan Taylor, go ahead. Conversely, lean into the wide receiver position if you’re near the end of the first round and none of my Tier 1 running backs fall to you.

This strategy can be utilized in leagues where you start three wide receivers minimum and others where the benchmark is at least two. If you walk away with only two receivers and are required to start three after the top 48 picks, don’t fret. With lineups requiring three wideouts, the WR3 slot can be filled by playing matchups weekly.

The top 48 is littered with wide receivers with paths to 130-plus targets who can outperform their ADPs. As we move further down the board, those scenarios become a tad harder to envision, so securing a high-volume floor with upside is huge. The volatility and injury risk with running backs is higher, and we see running backs come out of the woodwork yearly to lead fantasy managers to titles. Finding a diamond-in-the-rough wide receiver that can draw a sizable target share is more difficult as we move down the board. Since 2019, 65% of wide receivers with 130 or more targets have been drafted inside the top 48 players in fantasy. Overall, we’ve done a good job predicting high-volume wide receivers, so don’t walk away from the top four rounds of your draft without at least two.

Only drafting from my Tier 1 running backs, wide receivers, or Travis Kelce Round 1.

This select list is a culmination of players with the upside to finish as the No. 1 overall player at their respective positions. Yes, some players here can be found outside of Round 1. Add them to the queue and draft them aggressively when or if they fall.

Be liquid.

If you’ve ever completed a fantasy football draft, then you’re no stranger to the pain and panic that comes with being sniped or having your queue wiped out by three picks immediately in front of you. This is why adjusting on the fly is key. “Be liquid” and flow with the draft. It’s a great approach to walk into a fantasy draft with a loose idea or “plan” about how you will approach the draft. Never enter a draft room with a set-in-stone set of players you plan on rostering at each selection.

Each draft is its own animal. It can be unpredictable, which makes this game about a game beautiful. Being willing and able to change your approach on the fly depending on how the rest of your league reacts to the draft is paramount.

The best singular piece of advice I can offer:

“Your Week 1 lineup does not have to be set immediately after the draft.”

This means don’t reach for a position based on perceived “need”. Grabbing an RB2 because “you don’t have one yet” over a superior wide receiver or elite tight end is a painful misstep. Draft a superior player while trading for need later or mining the waiver wire. This is the way.

Be mindful of league size and league settings.

Approaching 10-team leagues versus 12-team leagues can differ in some small ways. In smaller league formats, depth is easier to attain. The real difference-maker is fielding a lineup with elite difference-makers at onesie positions. Filling out tight end or quarterback (especially tight end) with a top-shelf talent can be the difference-maker. While I’m quite comfortable waiting on both in larger leagues, I’m looking to field the best collection of all-stars in one lineup in smaller leagues. That means grabbing game-changers in the draft that can distance themselves from their positional comrades and working many 2-for-1 trades to overload the starting squad.

Lineups where you’re starting two wideouts versus three can be handled in various ways depending on your league size and the depth available on the waiver wire. The wire will be more bountiful in 10-team formats as opposed to larger fantasy leagues. If you’re not bypassing a running back in a higher tier, drafting two stud wide receivers early to fill out your only two starting receiver spots is fine. The opposite can also be true. Approaching your final receiver spot (either WR2 or WR3, depending) with a committee is also plausible if you’re plugged in weekly and targeting advantageous matchups.

Start hammering wide receivers in Round 3.

The dreaded running back dead zone is real. The running back options start getting scary once we get outside the top 36 players, with players like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Antonio Gibson, and Josh Jacobs. They find themselves in frustrating committees where their upsides are likely capped. Or you’re left chasing last season’s production and hoping for a repeat with players like Damien Harris.

The dead zone range is filled with receivers that can crush their ADPs like Courtland Sutton and Mike Williams. Don’t live in the past or invest in running backs that could get the rug pulled out from under them any week.

DO NOT draft a quarterback in the top four rounds.

Yes, I know this sounds like an old hat by now with J.J. Zachariason’s work, which has shown that late-round quarterback is the route to take. It still has to be said because quarterbacks still sneak into the top 50 players. I’m not opposed to the pay-up for quarterbacks if you’re targeting stacks or diversifying in best-ball formats, specifically for tournaments with those. For redraft leagues, though, I’m still willing to wait on the position at least until the middle rounds. Since 2019, 66.6% of quarterbacks to finish top six in fantasy points per game have been drafted after the 66th overall pick.

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