Fantasy football draft strategies that will help you dominate your league in 2020
SportsPulse: It’s fantasy football draft season and our resident expert Steve Gardner provides five tips you need to know to dominate your draft. USA TODAY
Your 2020 fantasy football draft might go down as the toughest in history. The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be known and could impact any or all of your players.
Any player could be out at any time. The typical sleepers, busts and inactive players will always happen. But there will be even more risk and unknowns.
Like no other previous season, there are extra considerations for a player’s potential fantasy value:
Installing a new scheme takes time to succeed. Defenses react to what happens. Offenses have to reach a state of familiarity and precision for plays to go as planned. That means Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville, Miami, the New York Giants and Washington will face even less “team time” to get their offenses up to speed.
Less change and more continuity is a significant benefit this season.
Along the same lines, players who change teams won’t have the same opportunities to mesh with their new teams. These are professionals and well-versed in the basics, but they cannot learn the playbook over the phone or mesh with their quarterback over a game of “Madden.”
DeAndre Hopkins, Todd Gurley, Stefon Diggs, Melvin Gordon, Brandin Cooks, David Johnson, Emmanuel Sanders and Jordan Howard are a few players who could be affected. That all said, the drafts of 2020 have rarely taken those realities into account.
Here is what you can expect in this year’s drafts:
The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson set an NFL record last season for rushing yards by a quarterback, making him doubly dangerous as a fantasy football weapon. (Photo: Rich Barnes, USA TODAY Sports)
So long as you cannot start two, expect Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes to both be gone by the end of the third round. They are low risk and high production, but they set you back on a starting running back or wideout.
The next grouping usually ends up around the seventh and eighth rounds starting with some mixture of Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson.
Backup quarterbacks should start around Round 11 and trickle out for maybe three rounds. There is still value after Round 10, so you can load up elsewhere and not pay much of a price.
This is the hot property in any draft, and fantasy owners in 2020 might be even more crazed about the position than in recent years.
Reception point or not, the first round might only contain two non-running backs. By the end of the third, expect the top 20 running backs to be gone. There is still minor value by the fourth round – Devin Singletary, David Johnson, Chris Carson, David Montgomery, and the like. But if you don’t own at least two running backs by the fifth round, the position will be a disadvantage for you unless you get lucky with a sleeper (or two).
By the sixth round, expect all starting running backs to be gone and only the back halves of backfield committees to be available.
The position had a down year in 2019. Michael Thomas and Davante Adams usually end up as first rounders, but thanks to a few quarterbacks and tight ends thrown into the feverish grab for running backs, the top 20 wide receivers should last to the end of the fourth round.
They will go about five a round starting in Round 2 and running through Round 7, when almost all fantasy teams will own three.
In the fourth round, you should still be able to access Cooper Kupp, A.J. Brown, JuJu Smith-Shuster, Adam Thielen and the like. They are not bad for a second wideout and not terrible for your first one.
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce has four consecutive seasons with at least 80 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)
Owning a top tight end is an advantage that just cannot be made up from the waiver wire. There are just too few productive fantasy options. You’ll have three choices: Travis Kelce or George Kittle in the second round, Zach Ertz or Mark Andrews in the fourth round or the position is not going to contribute much to your weekly score.
You can make up ground with wideouts, maybe with running backs, but never with tight ends.
Each season, the most coveted defenses naturally match exactly to the previous season’s top 5. The Steelers, 49ers, Ravens, Patriots and Buccaneers are always among the first drafted after finishing well in 2019. That means a minor reach four or five rounds before your draft is over.
Keep in mind defenses never end up as good the next season. Of the top five units from 2018, none were better than No. 9 last year — and the Cardinals, Bears and Dolphins fell to No. 24 or worse. Better to grab one late and then watch the waiver wire for whatever hot defense pops up.
Putting it all together
Make a plan for your first five rounds for positions, not players. The most generic path would be three running backs and two wideouts.
Your biggest decision is where to take your quarterback and tight end. Taking either before the sixth round means dropping the quality of your starting running backs or wide receivers. If that appeals to you, wait on wide receiver, the deepest position in fantasy football.
The transition from college to the NFL is always tough. The tendency is to overvalue what a rookie can do in his first season, and this draft class will have missed invaluable time with coaches and teammates.
Quarterbacks and receivers have to learn the playbook and mesh with each other. Rookie running backs have an easier time, but they need a practiced, cohesive offensive line. If there was ever a year to avoid rookies, 2020 is the one.
Your 2020 fantasy football draft may go down as the toughest in history. Here's how to navigate each position and build a winning roster.
The perfect 2020 fantasy football draft strategy round by round: Version 2.0
You just finished dinner and plop down on the couch to catch up on Netflix. Out of nowhere comes a text message from a buddy that reads, “Hey, are you ready for the draft. ” A sick, sinking feeling sets in. Oh no — you forgot about the fantasy football draft and you’ve done almost zero preparation. Sound familiar?
If this does sound like you or sounds like a “friend” you know, there is no need to panic. I’ve detailed the perfect fantasy football draft strategy, laying out exactly what to do round-by-round for the 2020 fantasy football season.
This master plan derives from a similar strategy inspired by fantasy football analyst Michael Fabiano back in 2016. The premise is simple: Follow the guide step-by-step and you’re sure to enter the season with a quality roster that balances reliability and upside. September 10th can’t come soon enough.
So, without further ado, here is the perfect 18-round fantasy football draft strategy for 12-team PPR leagues in 2020. Let’s go.
Round 1 (1-12): Draft a running back
You’ll be hard-pressed to catch me selecting a wide receiver in Round 1, and that’s my recommendation to anybody drafting. If you have a top-four pick, you need to come away with (in this order) Christian McCaffrey , Ezekiel Elliott , Saquon Barkley or Alvin Kamara .
Wide receivers Michael Thomas and Davante Adams will be drafted somewhere in the first round, but I wouldn’t advise it . The second half of the first round is filled with RB1s like Joe Mixon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook. They all fall into Tier 2 of my running back rankings — each has a combination of skill and volume to project a top-10 finish.
Round 2 (13-24): Draft a running back, wide receiver or George Kittle
If any Tier 2 running backs are left, you take them next in this round, especially in the case of Josh Jacobs . The stigma around him is that he will be limited as a receiver in 2020, but several reports have suggested that the Las Vegas Raiders are going to get the second-year back more involved as a pass-catcher . That matches the results of a study on second-year running backs and how passing production spikes after their rookie seasons.
If I have a late first-round pick, I would also be willing to take Jacobs then over guys like Mixon and Cook because of some question marks coming up about their contracts.
If Jacobs is gone and you still want to attack the running back position, the name to know his Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones . Over the last three years, Jones’ PFF overall grade is 90.6, which is third-best for all running backs. Elite backs who are the clear starters with a run-first coach should be drafted with high draft capital (per PFF’s Nathan Jahnke ) .
I much prefer Julio Jones over Tyreek Hill because I think we could see a spike in touchdown production in 2020. That’s because, historically speaking, when former Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper saw little involvement in the offense, Jones had eruption games.
From 2016-2018, Jones consistently surpassed 100 yards receiving and saw his touchdown equity rise when Hooper saw less usage. This carried through the 2019 season. In the two games when Jones scored twice (Weeks 2 and 15), Hooper totaled just seven catches for 54 receiving yards.
That is why Jones is currently my second-highest-ranked wide receiver in PFF’s fantasy football rankings .
The second round is also where tight end comes into play — George Kittle is the only tight end worth a premium selection. He is going to see massive volume with Deebo Samuel sidelined to start the year, and his strength of schedule is the third-easiest among all tight ends.
Including postseason play, Kittle put up a 69-751-1 (10.9 yards per reception) stat line with Samuel on the field. Without Samuel, he went for 24-373-4 (15.5 yards per reception). Not only that, but Kittle is also due for some serious positive touchdown regression based on his yardage totals over the past two seasons. Kittle is one of 10 players since 2018 to accumulate at least 2,300 receiving yards. The average number of touchdowns scored by those players per season is just under eight. Kittle has averaged five TDs per season.
Also, keep in mind as you draft that you want to stack players on the same offense. So if you take Kittle, keep an eye out for Jimmy Garoppolo later on.
PFF's Andrew Erickson offers up Volume 2 of his perfect 2020 round-by-round fantasy football draft strategy — players and positions to target in every round.