Developing a solid draft strategy isn't easy without knowing the draft order.
Some leagues don't provide the draft order until shortly before the actual draft. To make sure you're prepared, it's necessary to create a rankings list to go along with a consensus average draft position in order to generate value and not reach for players.
According to Fantasy Football Nerd, here's a consensus ADP for players ranked one through 12 (first-round picks in a standard 12-team league).
- Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
- Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
- David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
- Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
- Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
- Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
- Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
- DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
- Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Oh my, look at all those running backs. Two years ago, we were being fed the theory of a wide receiver rejuvenation, with fantasy football owners wasting early round picks on wide receivers. The fantasy football world has come back to its senses, so now we're inundated with running backs, with 10 of the top-12 picks featuring running backs.
Top-four and then a drop-off
I trust the top-four running backs. I've been saying that for months, when it was apparent that these four running backs would be rated as the top-four overall players. Despite my love affair toward these players, I'm actually reversing the order.
Johnson is No. 1 on my board, thanks to him being the main threat on an Arizona team that needs him to produce. Eliott, Bell and Gurley have competition for the ball, while Johnson, who was unstoppable two years ago before being injured last year, returns with not only a chip on his shoulder, but the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield better than any running back on this list. The Cardinals don't have an elite offensive line, but that doesn't hinder Johnson as much as it would Elliott. For my money, Johnson is a better wide receiver than Bell and will have to show that versatility this year.
The amount of touches that I expect Johnson to accumulate this year will thrust him to the top spot, with Elliott as my No. 2 choice. So if you have a top-four pick, it's a safe bet that if you like Johnson as much as I do, you'll be able to grab him.
Despite my trepidation on Gurley, who is on a team that is building from the outside-in and not focusing on the offensive line, and Bell, who is once again in a contract dispute, I don't see a bust in the top-four picks. As long as injury can be avoided, these four players should be rated on a different tier than any other fantasy football option.
Scary terrain with picks 5 through 12
If you're looking for consistently safe picks, then Brown and Hopkins have to jump to the top of the list. Both are dependable and both will be in at least the top-three for fantasy production among wide receivers.
However, as you already know, I hate wasting early picks on wide receivers, even on dependable wideouts. With all the running backs going early this year, it's a risky strategy to rely on a second running back as your bell cow for your fantasy football team. And if you don't have a bell-cow, your lineup is in major trouble.
So if I'm picking in this level, I'm avoiding Brown and Hopkins, unless Brown fell in my lap with the 12th pick. Then I could use the snake in the 13th pick to grab an RB1.
It's unlikely that will happen, so my main target in this level, even if I'm picking fifth or beyond, is Fournette.
He's a bell-cow, who will get a major amount of touches. He was third in the NFL in rushing attempts per game in 2017 during his rookie campaign, and with Blake Bortles at the helm, he's likely to get a similar workload. He's not a target-hound in the passing game, but with another year of experience, that also may change.
Fournette is the most talented of the remaining running backs and if you're able to grab him at this level, he's a solid RB1.
OK, so who else?
No matter what position I'm in during the first round, I won't take Hunt or Barkley. I consider both players to have the highest probability to be busts. Kamara is probably going to be good and if he drops behind Fournette, I'd favor him over Gordon and Cook.
I feel like we know who Gordon will be -- a player with solid RB1 potential, but not someone who can be a lineup-changing entity -- and Cook is even more unknown than Kamara.
But Kamara showed brilliance last year, and in a Sean Payton offense, that could happen once again in 2018.
On the outside looking in
For how much the first round is dominated with running backs, the second round is going to feature a run at wide receivers.
Seven of the players rated 13 to 24 are wide receivers, so it's natural to believe that one could jump into the first round. With that many wide receivers occupying the early second-round picks, I remain convinced the draft order will determine who will win fantasy football leagues.
Getting one of the top four picks will offer tremendous value not only in the first round, but also in the second round and beyond. That means those who are relegated to a bottom-four pick in the first round, will be subject to either bad value, or picking up wide receivers early in the draft.
So if you're looking at the snake and possibly Cook falls out of the first round, it may make sense to pick Odell Beckham Jr., who a year ago, was a top-six fantasy football pick before he was injured. He still has the same ability and the New York Giants should be much improved. A player with that capability is not often seen that late in the first round or early in the second round.
Scott Levine is the Associate Editor for the Clinton Herald. During his free time, he blogs about fantasy sports and handicaps games. His Against The Chalk blog has earned him back-to-back Iowa Newspaper Association awards for Best Blog. Check out more at Against The Chalk.