With the earlier set of fantasy football snake draft picks, it’s critical that you come prepared with an optimal and flexible approach. It’s less about deciding which players are good/bad (they are being drafted at the very top of the board for a reason, after all) and more about building a strong foundation for success that sets the standard for your roster throughout the draft. Thinking about your player targets in Round 2 should already be on your mind before you make your selection at the start of Round 1.
That’s why preparing your tier lists – or leveraging FantasyPros’ built-in tiers and rankings – is so critical to success. Knowing you can grab a S Tier WR first overall and follow up with a S Tier running back in Round 2, makes it easy to go WR first overall. However, it won’t always be that simple if you don’t have the number one overall pick.
The biggest question entering the 2023 fantasy football season will undoubtedly be a debate between going RB, WR, QB(!? depending on format), or Travis Kelce at the top end of Round 1 and how that impacts your drafts as the rounds progress. Obviously, your randomized draft slot will make the decision easier for those who are rewarded the 1.01 or 1.02 – as this may be your only opportunity to gain exposure to players with the highest ADPs. But after that, I expect plenty of variance throughout the first round at selections 1.02-1.04.
That’s what I am considering “early snake draft picks” with 1.05-1.08 the middle snake picks and 1.09-1.12 the late snake picks in traditional 12-team fantasy football leagues. I will be referring to Underdog and FFPC Best Ball as my ADP source – the latter which is home to the 2023 FantasyPros Championship.
- Draft Targets for Every Round: Early | Middle | Late
- Fitz’s Draft Primers: QB | RB | WR | TE
- Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
- 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit
Fantasy Football Snake Draft Strategy for Early Picks
Let the Draft Begin.
Whether it’s best ball or redraft fantasy football, the golden standard approach of selecting a running back with your first or second-round pick has not changed. Although, of course, the landscape at the very top has changed slightly to favor the league’s top-tier WRs, such as Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Cooper Kupp. But this isn’t the first time we have seen elite WRs favored against their running back counterparts.
t wasn’t so long ago that the elite tier of WRs like Davante Adams, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown were drafted in the top half of Round 1. So, seeing WRs being drafted ahead of many of the RBs is just part of the natural fantasy football cycle. Right now, there’s a strong argument that today’s top WRs are just better than the top RBs. However, with a strong crop of diverse running backs entering the player pool, I’d bet we return to the glory days where RBs reigned supreme in Round 1 — as they did just one season ago.
Because one thing’s for certain — running backs are still the drivers behind fantasy-winning teams, so get your talented studs early in Rounds 1-3.
However, if I hold the first or second overall pick in a 2023 snake draft, I am 10/10 drafting either Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase or Cooper Kupp. As I alluded to in the introduction, these guys are in their own separate tier at the top. The S TIER. And it makes sense to take them that high because there will still be very strong RB pairings available in Round 2.
Favorite potential non-first-round/second-round running backs — Nick Chubb, Jonathan Taylor, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, Derrick Henry — provide more than enough production for a roster’s RB1 slot.
It sets the stage nicely for the cleverly coined and my personal favorite “Hero RB” approach with a locked-and-loaded stud in your RB1 slot you can snag in Round 2 (or Round 1 if you are a mid-to-late snake draft pick). You’ve got one spot dialed in, and the other spot can be filled by the rotating carousel of remaining RBs on your roster.
Solidifying a top dog in Rounds 1/2 also helps you avoid reaching for running backs in the upcoming RB Dead Zone, where your primary focus should be drafting WRs poised for significant leaps in 2023.
It’s not till the later rounds that you take shots on RBs with potential red-zone roles and pass-catching chops. You’ll also want to hone in on impending free agents, proven running backs and RBs in ambiguous backfields. That’s where we’ll find the next breakout at the position.
It’s the exact balancing act of drafting up-and-coming running back breakouts with the elites/top talents — while also playing matchups and avoiding red flags — that will help you draft the perfect team.
But, like with all successful strategies, being flexible is supercritical. Don’t be so hyper-focused on grabbing a workhorse running back, no matter in Round 1, with some WRs representing equally, if not better, value in Round 1.
If you miss out on the Tier 1/high-end Tier 2 crop of running backs — Christian McCaffrey, Bijan Robinson, Austin Ekeler, Saquon Barkley –, be open to drafting an elite wide receiver in the second half of Round 1. This is less so the move in half-PPR formats because receivers can’t make up ground versus running backs as easily without being rewarded a full point per reception.
From 2018 to 2020, in PPR scoring, wide receivers have the highest percentage of top-12 finishes (55%). In 2021, seven of the top-12 overall finishers (58%) were WRs, with six finishing top-eight. That was true in both PPR and half-PPR scoring. However, the trend did not continue in 2022. Just six WRs finished inside the top-12 overall scorers, with five RBs and one tight end (Travis Kelce). Only four inside the top-8, and even split between WRs/RBs inside the top-6. In half-PPR, five running backs finished inside the top-8 overall, with just three WRs.
After Jefferson/Chase/Kupp at 1.01/1.02/1.03, respectively, the strongest bets to meet Round 1 production include A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs and Tyreek Hill. Note their odds of returning value increase dramatically in the PPR-scoring format.
As for picks 1.04 and beyond, I feel more comfortable going after the top crop of running backs, assuming I missed out on selecting Jefferson/Chase/Kupp. In Superflex formats, I am 100% drafting an elite quarterback if I own a top-4 selection. I am drafting a quarterback most likely if I hold a top-7 pick in the 2-QB format.
In tight end premium formats, Kelce is also worthy of a top-4 selection. As I wrote in the tight end best ball primer, Kelce is in a tier by himself as a first-round pick. And having him this past year as a backend first-rounder was awesome with his 30% advance rate from Round 1 and 8% live rate on Underdog.
However, the fact that he is entering his age 34-season coming off a year where he distanced himself from the rest of the tight ends by a massive outlier amount has me slightly concerned he might be overvalued in 2023.
Should we expect him to perform as well or better in 2023? And expect the rest of the tight end field to perform as badly as they did in 2022? Especially when we have data from 2021 in a more “normal/flatter” tight end scoring year where going tight end in Round 1 did not yield the most optimal results. Hence, my hesitation. Not to say he can’t run it back as TE1 (again). Antonio Gates finished as their TE2 at 34 years old with 12 receiving touchdowns. But he also wasn’t a first-round pick in fantasy.
Round 1 Takeaways:
- “Hero-RB approach” has been successful in traditional and best ball formats.
- Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase are top-tier picks in the first and second overall positions.
- Consider top running backs like Christian McCaffrey if Jefferson/Chase are not available.
- Travis Kelce may be overvalued in 2023 due to his age and outlier performance in 2022.
- Go QB inside the top-4 (or top-7) in SuperFlex formats
- My top 4 picks are as follows: Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp and Christian McCaffrey
- Makes sense to draft a WR highly because there will still be very strong RB pairings available in Round 2.
As I explained in the introduction, you should already have a plan set in place about what you are going to do with your second pick before you make your first. If you were rewarded with Chase/Jefferson/Kupp you snag the best RB available. The potential non-first-round/second-round running backs — Nick Chubb, Jonathan Taylor, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, Derrick Henry — provide more than enough production for a roster’s RB1 slot. Keep in mind many of those RBs don’t need to be drafted in Round 2. Be aware of the ADP based on where you are drafting.
If you went with Christian McCaffery, Bijan Robinson or another running back early, then you go with a WR remaining from the next tier such as the Tier 2 wide receivers: A.J. Brown, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Davante Adams, Garrett Wilson, CeeDee Lamb, Jaylen Waddle. or Chris Olave.
I personally much prefer the WR-RB start as opposed to the latter. Mark Andrews is also in play in TE premium at the end of Round 2 start of Round 3. Andrews was nearly matching Kelce’s expected fantasy point output (14.7 versus 13.0) before Lamar Jackson‘s injury in 2022. His season-long 29% target share led all tight ends in 2022.
But if you find yourself in a draft room where the top-end RBs are flying off the board, don’t feel scared to go WR-WR-WR. Rather do the “WR Turkey” than overdraft a sub-optimal running back. The same goes for draft rooms where WRs are drafted aggressively. Robust RB or BUST.
However, the high WR advance rates from last year suggest going WR heavy first will lead to a high advance rate as you push off the running back position till later in the draft. After all, some late Round 3-4 RBs include studs such as Rhamondre Stevenson, Travis Etienne, Najee Harris and Jahmyr Gibbs — all who can probably fit the “hero-RB” builds.
Simply put, I’d recommend blindly following a hero-RB or zero-RB approach than a zero-WR or robust RB one. Obviously, every draft is different, so you should always remain fluid in your approach. But based on the data at our disposal, following the former should set your roster up for success in the early rounds.
All in all, if you focus on drafting the three best overall players inside the top-36 (which will be WRs more often than not), you are setting a strong foundation for your team. Value is king.
Round 3 is where we have typically seen the elite quarterbacks come off the board. But this year, we have already seen them rise into Round 2 based on the edge elite fantasy quarterbacks presented to drafters last season. However, as I laid out in my QB Best Ball Primer – as did Tom Strachan in his early approach to best-ball drafts last season – being the first to draft a quarterback doesn’t always grant you the best advance rate.
Tom said it best by defining the elite QBs’ win rate as “disappointing, to say the least,” entering 2022.
And he would be proven right. Only two of the QBs drafted inside the top-4 rounds finished with top-4 advance rates. Essentially a coinflip.
Meanwhile, Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts were being drafted outside the first 5 rounds. And the other five quarterbacks with the highest advance rates from Round 1 were drafted outside the top 100 overall picks.
Value is still the name of QB, which is why I stress a pseudo-late-round “elite” quarterback strategy. Essentially getting the last or second-to-last quarterback with top-tier upside to capitalize on value. This will change based on where QBs fall in ADP, but I’d say Rounds 4-6 is the more appropriate range.
Burrow, Justin Fields and Justin Herbert tend to still be on the board in Rounds 4-5. I’d select whichever falls the furthest. Whether that be in Round 4 or at the beginning of the middle rounds (5-9).
Rounds 2-4 Takeaways:
- Tentatively plan your second-round pick before the first round based on your first pick.
- Consider RB if you started with Jefferson/Chase, and WR if you started with a RB.
- But don’t lock into an RB-WR or WR-RB start if you are losing value by drafting the other position.
- Don’t Shy Away from Doubling Down: If the value presents itself, don’t hesitate to draft another top-tier running back in Round 2, even if you already have an elite RB1. Building a stacked team can lead to fantasy success, especially in half-PPR formats.
- Mark Andrews is a viable option in TE premium formats and standard formats in Round 3.
- Don’t be afraid to go WR-WR-WR if top RBs are flying off the board. The same goes for RB if WRs are drafted aggressively.
- If running backs have been scarce in the draft or other managers, have heavily prioritized wide receivers in the first three rounds, don’t hesitate to select another stud running back if one falls. This is especially relevant in half-PPR formats where running backs have an advantage over wide receivers due to the format’s emphasis on touchdowns.
- Focus on drafting the three best overall players in the early rounds.
- Take an elite QB if available in Round 4 or early in Round 5.
- Round 2 is filled with a wealth of fantasy RB1 talent, making it a good opportunity to secure a strong RB1 for your roster.
- Prioritize acquiring an elite running back in the first three rounds to secure a strong RB1 for your roster, as the talent pool starts to decline in Round 3.
- Focus on drafting wide receivers in the middle rounds, as there is typically a plethora of talent available.
In the middle rounds of drafts, it’s critical that you come prepared with an optimal and flexible approach. Following up on a strong start coming out of the early rounds is critical to your success. The player pool isn’t as strong as at the beginning of the draft, but the difference in hitting on the right guys in the range can make or break your roster.
Four rounds deep, you have already drafted a good chunk of your team. This is YOUR CORE. So, your strategy may differ slightly depending on the foundation you built during the early portion of your draft. Ergo, if already roster three strong running backs (or at least ones you spent high draft capital on) there’s virtually no need to address the position in any capacity. Depth – especially in leagues where you have access to the waiver wire – tends to be overrated in fantasy football.
However, the overarching approach to the middle rounds is going to remain static for the most part regardless of what you already did. The focus is still on drafting the “best player available” or BPA. Too many times drafters make the mistake of drafting for need in the middle-rounds – when the priority should be filling your roster will as many potential level jumpers or league-winners as humanly possible. Especially at the wide receiver position. Because it’s easy to find plug-in production. Focus on drafting players that have difference-making upside in their range of outcomes.
As I identified in the Best Ball WR Primer, the name of the game with wide receivers remains to scoop up value in the middle-to-later portions of drafts, with the position counting for the biggest part of your best-ball roster. Take advantage of WRs that fall in ADP, while other teams “reach” on running backs that they think they need. The same goes for the reverse narrative. Take advantage of RBs that fall in ADP while others reach on subpar wide receivers that they think they need.
In most 2023 drafts, you will be shocked at how quickly the WR position dries up despite the false narrative that the position is deep every year. It’s not deep. If anything, it’s extremely diluted, which makes it much more essential you draft the remaining wideouts toward the start of the middle rounds. You’ll feel (and perform) much better knowing that you aren’t trudging out WRs ranked outside the top 40 as your weekly WR3.
Wide receivers in the middle rounds are often the ones that tend to take massive leaps and vastly outperform their ADP. And when in doubt, just keep drafting WRs that have breakout potential. Chances are they all won’t hit…but all you need is one to hit big to reap the benefits.
Gravitate toward the pass-catchers in a high-powered offense with some target ambiguity versus the guy who has a more obvious high-end target floor in a bad offense. And do not shy away from the real-life No. 2 WRs…as these players often represent the best fantasy values because their ADPs are almost always suppressed as they aren’t their team’s “No.1.”
Some of my favorite WR targets from Rounds 5-9 (picks 50-100) include Drake London, Chris Godwin, Diontae Johnson, Brandon Aiyuk, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Tyler Lockett, Jahan Dotson, Jordan Addison, Gabe Davis, Zay Flowers, Quentin Johnston, Elijah Moore.
Only once you’ve got a plethora of breakout WRs to work from, I give you permission to dive back into the running back pool before we enter the double-digit rounds.
Because after WRs, breakout RBs are the next target in the middle rounds. Specifically, once the drafts enter the late RB2 early RB3 range (RB20-RB38) or RBs with a top-40 ADP. That group presented the greatest hit rate for fantasy running backs to return a mid-range RB2 (RB17.2) finish as I found in my article from 2022 titled, How to Identify Sleeper & Late-Round Running Backs to Target (2022 Fantasy Football).
Running backs that hit in this general range last season included: Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, Miles Sanders, Rhamondre Stevenson, Dameon Pierce, Devin Singletary, Kenneth Walker III, and Tyler Allgeier.
Keep in mind that the majority of RBs in this range can be found in my Tier 3. Here are some of my favorites in 2023: Cam Akers, Rachaad White, Dalvin Cook, James Conner, James Cook, Antonio Gibson, A.J. Dillon, Zach Charbonnet, Rashaad Penny, De’Von Achane, Khalil Herbert and Damien Harris.
You can find the full-tiered rankings in my 2023 fantasy football rankings.
For the remaining onesie positions, you are once again playing the value game. My favorite QB in the middle rounds is Deshaun Watson. An auto-pick for me in Rounds 7-8 if I need a QB.
The same approach goes for the tight end position. By zero means am I willing to draft a tight end in the middle rounds that doesn’t have elite upside. And again, they need to fall into ADP.
That’s why using tiered rankings is so critical to your success – as it helps you unearth draft values by preventing reaches.
For more information on why you need to “stay out of the middle” at tight end, check out my tight end primer.
The only tight ends I am actively targeting in the middle rounds (considering ADP) are Darren Waller and Kyle Pitts. Waller is an auto-pick for me in Round 7.
Round 5-9 Takeaways:
- Focus on drafting the best player available in the middle rounds.
- Wide receivers are crucial in best ball and 3-WR starting formats and tend to outperform ADP.
- Target breakout WRs with potential and pass-catchers in high-powered offenses.
- Consider breakout RBs in the late RB2 to early RB3 range.
- Be selective with QB and TE picks, targeting elite upside options while mitigating cost
- Stay out of the middle at the tight end position.
- Round 5: Bolster depth at WR with guys like Drake London, Mike Williams, Christian Watson, D.J. Moore, Chris Godwin and Brandon Aiyuk.
- Round 6: Target an elite QB. However, remember that there are still plenty of great quarterback options in the following rounds, so don’t feel pressured to draft one in Round 6.
- Cam Akers, Rachaad White and James Conner are three of the cheapest starting bell-cow RBs you draft from Round 6-plus. Perfect for zero and hero RB builds.
Rounds 10 and Beyond
You should be actively implementing “what if” thought exercises in the late rounds of your fantasy football drafts. Simply put, “if “x” happens, what would that do to “x” player’s value.” Again, this is most commonly seen from injuries, with players seeing spikes in production/value when a teammate goes down. Some players have that factored into their ADPs with injury-prone teammates, but others do not. And at the end of the day, it’s full-contact football. Guys we expect to get hurt and guys we don’t expect to get hurt are going to miss games. We can’t project when/if said injuries are going to happen, but what savvy drafters can do is stockpile the back of their drafts with talented players that are being discounted because of their situation.
Worry not about what Player A’s role will be in Week 1 when you draft them in the late double digits. Chances are that doesn’t matter. Focus on what’s in the players’ range of outcomes should he see an expanded role as the season wanes. Fantasy championships aren’t won in September or October.
That was one of the biggest takeaways from my 2022 season recap article. Don’t overvalue early-season opportunities versus talent. I fell for the Romeo Doubs‘ hype train and didn’t invest nearly enough in Christian Watson, even though everything that was not written by a Packers training camp beat reporter clearly showed that Watson was the superior prospect.
And all it took was for him to get healthy and for Doubs to underwhelm as a Day 3 pick – not shocking – for everybody else to get on board.
Just buy the dip on talent when the ADP is so suppressed due to the situation. And don’t forget about the players that delivered worthwhile performances in the past when they were presented with opportunities. Being a proven asset in some capacity matters.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Brandon Aiyuk, Marquise Brown, Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Garett Wilson, Richie James Jr., Greg Dortch, and Elijah Moore all either increased their production or commanded targets at a high rate due to injuries to teammates around them this past season. Not all of them will be late-round picks, but some definitely will. And those are the archetype of players you should be looking to target.
Some of my favorite late-round WRs (outside the top 100) include Elijah Moore, Zay Flowers, Jameson Williams, Skyy Moore, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Nico Collins, Jakobi Meyers, Darnell Mooney, Zay Jones, Jonathan Mingo, D.J. Chark Jr., Hunter Renfrow, Isaiah Hodgins, Richie James Jr., Deonte Harty, Jayden Reed, Marvin Mims Jr., Jalin Hyatt, Darius Slayton and Justyn Ross.
I also believe in another thought exercise of,” He’s the discount version of Player X.” I find it very useful.
Players that have defined roles that go extremely late can also be beneficial targets. The constant bombardment of “upside-centric” analysis make these players not talked about enough. Even though players entering 2022 like Zay Jones and Curtis Samuel – clearly defined roles on offense with spikes of proven production – were strong contributors to their rosters. There’s an upside to playing an every-down role on an offense. Ahem *JuJu Smith-Schuster*
Hence, why chasing the upside-centric dragon is not wrong. You want upside on your fantasy football teams. But some balance never hurts. Because “only-upside” players typically also have extremely shaky floors. And too many guys that fail to fire will leave your squad helpless.
Last note. Chase players that project for air yards and rookies. Air yards tell us how often a player is being used downfield, which is part of the formula when it comes to spike weeks of fantasy production. Particularly at WR and TE.
Some potential late-round guys in 2023 drafts that commanded a high end of their team’s air yards (20% or higher) in 2022 include Darius Slayton, Van Jefferson, Nico Collins, D.J. Chark, Alec Pierce, Terrace Marshall, Corey Davis, Marvin Jones, Tyquan Thornton, Michael Gallup, Mack Hollins, Rondale Moore, and Chase Claypool.
When it comes to rookies, you need to be aggressive in drafting them throughout the summer months. I mentioned this in both the RB best-ball primer and WR best-ball primer. Specifically for rookie WRs, it is even more important.
Their ADPs often do not fully capture the upside they possess. The ADP acts more like a hedge or median projection when first-year players of recent years are so much more boom-or-bust. They either hit in a big way – Garrett Wilson, Jahan Dotson, George Pickens, Drake London, Chris Olave, Christian Watson – or drastically underwhelm – Skyy Moore, Treylon Burks, Jameson Williams. They are lottery tickets that you need to always draft as they are frequently discounted outside the top 36. Take full advantage.
Keep in mind that rookie WRs’ roles often grow as the season progresses. That makes them the perfect backfill targets for best ball formats that have prize structures heavily based on the final few weeks of the season. My favorite strategy is drafting veterans and rookie WRs from the same teams. Because it’s a very underrated strategy, that helps you capture an immense upside. Also, guarantees you at least one “hit” from each WR group you draft.
Last year would have looked like this from some of the top guys.
- Elijah Moore, Garrett Wilson
- Michael Thomas, Chris Olave
- Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jameson Williams
- Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson
- Allen Lazard, Christian Watson
Hardly did we see both guys hit. But the fact that the presence of just one other pass-catcher suppressed the cost of the other, makes it easier for them to smash their ADPs.
If you missed out on a quality tight end in the early rounds then chasing quantity with multiple guys in the late rounds is your new strategy.
This is essentially my Tier 4 of tight ends which ranges widely from TE15-TE32. As briefed in the tight end best ball primer, you don’t want to overextend yourself for any of these TEs because the production will likely be negligible at best drafting toward the beginning of the tier versus the end. So just wait and take shots on multiple tight ends.
Ideally ones with either a path for receiving volume, an every-down role, and/or above-average athleticism.
My favorite late-round tight ends to target (outside top-10 runs) include Dalton Schultz, Greg Dulcich, Dalton Kincaid, Gerald Everett, Sam LaPorta and Mike Gesicki.
Over the past two seasons, Schultz ranks 6th in points per game, 7th in target share (17%), 15th in target rate per route run (21%), fourth in receptions, 10th in yards per route run and 6th in route participation, despite facing FIERCE target competition in Dallas.
With Prescott under center (31 games played) Schultz was averaging nearly 13 fantasy points per game in PPR (12.87). That would have ranked second among all TEs in 2022. Nearly top-12 WR fantasy-like numbers.
In 2021, Schultz scored nearly as many fantasy points per game as CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper with Prescott at QB. In 2022, he posted a 24.4% target rate per route run, which would have ranked sixth.
Among the late-round QBs, it’s critical that you draft knowing what their schedule is to open the season. Because they are non-established studs, you need to know they have plus-matchups working in their favor to trust them in your starting lineup.
Round 10 Takeaways:
- Stockpile talented players discounted due to situations or injury-prone teammates.
- Don’t overvalue early-season opportunities, prioritize talent.
- Look for proven assets and players who have performed well when given opportunities.
- Target late-round WRs with potential due to injuries to teammates.
- Consider players who have defined roles and players who are the “discount version” of more expensive options.
- Chase players with air yards and rookies with upside.