Feeling regret now that you’ve agreed to take part in your office NFL fantasy league? Didn’t realise you couldn’t just pick your team at your own leisure and forget about it like (much inferior) fantasy sports competitions? Or have your NFL-savvy mates roped you into a league only to now reveal whoever finishes last has to get a tattoo on the arse as a forfeit?
Well Paddy Power is here to save your literal butt by providing the answers to your NFL fantasy football queries for the upcoming season.
First up, how best to handle your draft? And how do you avoid being the laughing stock of the group chat? Read on to find out…
Running backs to the front
Though Hollywood movies and TV will have told you that quarterback is the most important position in the game, for fantasy purposes you need to forget all that.
Yes, television may be lying to you. I hope you can handle the shock.
In FF, it’s the guys who the QB hands the ball to who are generally the most important players. As a rule, the best running backs have always been the first players taken in drafts.
LA Rams back Todd Gurley barrelled his way through defences last season and along with Le’Veon Bell, who is slightly unsettled because of a contract dispute with his team, Gurley is currently the most popular pick in fantasy football. These two are generally followed by seven more running backs in the next eight picks in most drafts.
This RB-heavy first round used to always be the way things went, but recent years have seen wide receivers, and even the occasional tight end or quarterback, pop up in the first round too.
This season looks like a return to the old days though, and that reflects a change in the NFL generally. Melvin Gordon, Zeke Elliott, Leonard Fournette and now Saquon Barkley have seen first round capital spent on them with results (Barkley TBC, but he’s going to be immense).
Top Twelve Running Backs
These names, along with David Johnson, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt, will fly off in the first round of your draft. If you’re picking after 10 and assume that wide receiver Antonio Brown will go early, Dalvin Cook and Devonta Freeman are probably your best remaining running back options.
Zigging against the Zag
Trends are there to be bucked. If you find yourself picking late in the first round, it could be a blessing in disguise. The early round run on rushers will drive up the price of those who aren’t worth their high pick, meaning therell be value in other positions.
Brown will likely go at fifth or earlier, but if he falls to eighth or ninth, I couldn’t advise against taking him.
After him, there’s a slew of catching talent that could be getting undervalued because of the focus on backs.
Odell Beckham has settled his contract situation this week with the Giants. He’ll see a bump in value because of that and the rookie Barkley taking some of the pressure off him to carry a team with Eli Manning still at quarterback.
DeAndre Hopkins isn’t a huge name outside of Houston, but has been one of the most productive receivers in the league over the last four seasons despite a carousel of quarterbacks throwing to him. Now that the Texans look to have a star QB in Deshaun Watson, he could be set for a mammoth year.
Then there’s the likes of Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen, AJ Green, Davante Adams – set to be Aaron Rodgers’ first choice target and likely in for a huge touchdown total – all of these guys could potentially outperform the running backs who go almost a full round ahead of them.
Also, picking late in round one means you’ve the first or second pick in round two, so you can plan ahead a little more, knowing that your next pick likely won’t be taken by anyone else before it’s your turn.
There’s a case for going with two receivers if you’re picking here and then looking to land a few starting RBs later. Grabbing Drew Brees’ favourite pass catcher Michael Thomas along with Julio Jones from the Falcons doesn’t look so bad if these guys stay healthy with two of the league’s top QBs throwing to them.
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan is just one season removed from an MVP-calibre year, Julio could bounce back big time this season.
Rob Gronkowski should sneak in here too. Gronk has broken many a fantasy manager’s heart over the years due to his health, and there’s a risk a he may not be the otherworldly force at tight end he has been in the past, but I’m still happier looking to him than some of the middling, risky running back picks that are going ahead of him in drafts.
Quarterbacks on the Move
There’s been a lot more excitement in the quarterback merry-go-round this offseason with a number of reasonable-to-good signal-callers hitting the Free Agency market, becoming available for trade, or being picked up in the draft.
Alex Smith was a fantasy phenomenon last season with the Chiefs, and now finds himself traded to Washington because Kansas City have a young quarterback they hope will be even better, Patrick Mahomes. Their defence also looks even worse than last year, so that means the offence will have to do a lot of scoring to make them competitive, which could make Mahomes and his supporting cast (Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt) very valuable plays in fantasy.
Smith remains a fantasy backup option in Washington, with the potential to play above that if things fall for him.
Kirk Cousins, the man he replaces, earned a move to a real contender, replacing Case Keenum in Minnesota. The 29-year-old could not have wished for a better landing spot, their array of receivers, running back talent, offensive line and defence make them a ready-made challenger just waiting for a top-tier QB. Cousins is that, and in fantasy has been a regular fixture among top-points scorers.
Meanwhile, Case Keenum finds himself in Denver with a Broncos team facing plenty questions, and other teams have made moves at the most crucial spot too, including the Jets, Browns, Cardinals, Ravens and Bills.
All of which is to say that there’s plenty of QB talent in the league at the moment, and in terms of fantasy, you can wait and wait and wait some more in your draft and still get someone good.
Names like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers will fly off the draft board early – and there’s nothing wrong with picking one of these guys if you like – but bear in mind there’ll be guys available late in draft – Alex Smith’s Average Draft Position was in the 14th round of a 12-team draft last season, Jay Cutler of all people went one round earlier! – so if you don’t pick up one of the big names, and there’s plenty of hope that they’ll way outperform their draft position.
The likes of Mahomes, Smith, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning offer very late value in fantasy drafts, and you can get them to start for you when others are picking up their backup QBs, meaning you’re stealing a round in terms of picks for other skill position players.
Which leads to the final point in this brief summary – grab as much talent at RB and WR as you can in the middle rounds. Take advantage of anyone who decides to fill out their roster with QB, TE, defence and kicker (ugh) before stacking their bench with the main skill positions.
This way, if your first choice RB goes down with an injury in week one, you’re not desperately relying on picking up a free agent to replace him just because you took Greg Zuerlein in the eighth round.
If your league starts three wide receivers, you’ll want depth there too, or if there’s a flex position (ie, an RB/WR/TE).
Also, if you’re not sure who to draft in the middle rounds as receivers or backs, look at players on good teams. You’re taking a bet with these picks that the players will get a shot at wracking up points because their teams score and injuries happen.
It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a good rule-of-thumb if your knowledge extends to the best quarterbacks and Gronk.
The rankings here are just a guide to the earlier rounds, but there are plenty of other resources available to suit your league, its scoring and settings. If your league gives points for receptions, then you want PPR rankings, and they’ll put more value on receivers and running backs who make a lot of catches.
And don’t draft a kicker til the last round. Not even Justin Tucker.