If there's one thing we always stress over as fantasy football managers, it's the selection of our annual draft order.
How many times have you opened up your draft room on ESPN, or arrived at your league's live draft table, only to react in horror to learn that you've drawn the final slot in your draft?
"ARRRRRGGGH! I'm picking 10th in my 10-team league, I'm DOOMED!!!"
It's an understandable reaction, considering how much time we put into the draft-preparation process, often going so far as to craft strategies around specific draft slots or individual players we're targeting in the first and/or second rounds. When we're then slotted into a range in the draft where we can't put our much-researched plan into action, it can be frustrating, to say the least.
Worry not, though, as below I've laid the groundwork for you to navigate smoothly through the first two rounds of your draft, regardless of the spur-of-the-moment draft slot you draw. This column solves the proverbial puzzle of Rounds 1-2 strategy from each draft slot, for both 10- and 12-team leagues. Listed at each draft slot is a list of the most likely candidates available to you in both Rounds 1 and 2, as well as any strategic considerations you'll need, including the possible ramifications on your picks in subsequent rounds.
This examination is for an ESPN standard PPR (point per reception) league.
Draft Slot 1
Round 1 (Pick 1 overall): This has to be a running back, considering the massive value relative to replacement that the best at the position provides, and Saquon Barkley, the position's top scorer last season and the man we project to lead it again by 20.3 PPR fantasy points over Ezekiel Elliott (whose holdout lowers his draft value), is the obvious standout among a field of three. Those with particularly strong opinions of Christian McCaffrey (projected 25.3 points behind Barkley) or Alvin Kamara (projected 5.7 behind McCaffrey) could pick either.
Round 2 (Pick 20 in 10-team, Pick 24 in 12-team): Fingers crossed that someone slips in a 10-team league, because I've got a clear top 19 overall before I draw a "tier line," meaning that the dream scenario has Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, Tyreek Hill or Odell Beckham Jr. lasting. Mike Evans wouldn't be a bad prize otherwise. In a 12-team league, a running back will probably need to be one of your second- or third-round picks, with Leonard Fournette, Kerryon Johnson or Devonta Freeman the ones most likely to still be around.
Tristan's best start: Barkley/Evans in 10-team, Barkley/Johnson in 12-team.
Draft Slot 2
Round 1 (Pick 2): I've got Barkley as the clear top pick from the aforementioned three-running-back Tier 1, and assuming he's the pick at No. 1 overall, the second pick is simply a matter of your personal preference between McCaffrey or Kamara. I prefer Kamara only because I've got a hair more confidence in the Saints' offense, the height of his statistical floor, as well as my projection that he gets more goal-line carries of the two, but -- again -- the margin is razor-thin.
An aside: If we had a promise that Elliott, last season's No. 5 running back scorer in PPR leagues (thanks in large part to his receiving targets increasing by 150%), would take the field in Week 1, he'd be the guy to get right here. But we don't, and the memories of last season's No. 2 overall pick on average, Le'Veon Bell, holding out for the entire year are still too fresh for most.
Round 2 (Pick 19 in 10-team, Pick 23 in 12-team): I waffle between whether the No. 1, 2 or 3 slot is the most favorable in 10-team leagues, since as mentioned above, I've got that "tier line" drawn in my rankings after the top 19. Here, I'd take whatever is left of those 19 regardless of position: Chubb? Hill? And it's not like those in 12-team leagues are in much worse shape. Wide receiver will probably be the richest position, with Evans, Antonio Brown, Keenan Allen or Adam Thielen available.
Tristan's best start: Kamara/Hill in 10-team, Kamara/Allen in 12-team.
Draft Slot 3
Round 1 (Pick 3): Feast upon the leftovers from the Barkley/Kamara/McCaffrey tier. As the picks pass, however, the less scary taking the chance on Elliott becomes. The 3-slot is a great place to be in a 10-team league this season, because it guarantees you one of the top three running backs, as well as either one of the top seven wide receivers or another top-10 running back in the second round. That's an awfully solid start.
Round 2 (Pick 18 in 10-team, Pick 22 in 12-team): If Travis Kelce went considerably earlier than this in your draft, resist the urge to take either Zach Ertz or George Kittle here (or with the 1- or 2-slots). I've got both graded as third-rounders, and would rather first build with top-12 running back or top-10 wide receiver talent. A McCaffrey/Brown pairing in a 12-team league would be a strong one, giving you a good high-floor/consistent base in a PPR format, thanks to their receiving target total, which should contend for the league's lead.
Tristan's best start: McCaffrey/Chubb in 10-team, McCaffrey/Brown in 12-team.
Draft Slot 4
Round 1 (Pick 4): Now things get interesting, though this might be the toughest of the first-round spots from which to decide. Is it Elliott time, or should he be allowed to slip a few spots further (some offsite ADP sources have his low-end selection at 11th overall)? If a "safe" pick is your aim, then the top wide receiver tier comes into play, including DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Davante Adams and possibly Michael Thomas. David Johnson has become an increasingly popular pick at fourth overall, for those who worry about Elliott's holdout yet want to begin with a running back. It's probably wisest to take a known Week 1 option here.
Round 2 (Pick 17 in 10-team, Pick 21 in 12-team): If you took Hopkins (or another wide receiver) in Round 1, here's hoping that either Cook or Chubb remains for you in a 10-team league in Round 2, which seems to have slightly greater than 50-50 odds, looking at industry ADPs. Fournette is the most logical running back partner for Hopkins in a 12-team league, but otherwise, it's smarter to go wide receiver/wide receiver with an Evans, Allen or Brown, then take a running back like Freeman, Kerryon Johnson, Damien Williams or Aaron Jones in Round 3. Don't fear waiting on a running back from this slot!
Tristan's best start: Hopkins/Cook in 10-team, Hopkins/Fournette in 12-team.
Draft Slot 5
Round 1 (Pick 5): I've got Hopkins as my No. 1 wide receiver for 2019, and our PPR projections agree, so if David Johnson is gone, this is a wise time to shift to the wideouts and take the top name on the board. Any of the players remaining from the fourth pick makes a strong choice here, but if Hopkins went fourth and David Johnson remains, this is a wise time to scoop up the running back.
Round 2 (Pick 16 in 10-team, Pick 20 in 12-team): There's no reason any of the top five wide receivers should remain at this stage, and if either JuJu Smith-Schuster or Beckham is available, they're slam-dunk picks for those in 10-team leagues (and outrageous steals if somehow there in 12-teamers). This is a good spot at which to grab either Cook or Chubb, otherwise. For those in 12-team leagues, the 5-slot is a rough place to be, unless you're much more confident in Brown's prospects with the Oakland Raiders than I am (not that I'm lacking in confidence, but I don't think he belongs among the top seven at the position). I've got a line drawn behind the top 11 running backs, top seven wide receivers and No. 1 tight end, totaling 19 selections, making the 20th pick overall a toughie. Fournette is the best running back choice here; Evans, Allen or Brown the top wide receivers; and I'd resist taking either Kittle or Ertz this soon.
Tristan's best start: David Johnson/Beckham in 10-team, David Johnson/Evans in 12-team.
Draft Slot 6
Round 1 (Pick 6): Elliott probably shouldn't be allowed to slip much further than this, though looping Bell into the group discussed in the 4-slot still gives a fantasy manager a strong field from which to choose a "safer" option. I'd take the chance on Elliott -- especially in a 12-team league, where the best running back likely to remain at Pick 19 will probably be Fournette. In a 10-team league, that running back could be Cook or Chubb, making a wide receiver more palatable at Pick 6.
Round 2 (Pick 15 in 10-team, Pick 19 in 12-team): Fantasy managers locked into the 6-slot -- or the 4- or 5- or 7-slot, depending upon where Elliott got picked -- need only consider the possibility that the Cowboys back is not available for you in Week 1, which is why going running back/running back makes the most sense for any such team in a 10-team league. It's not outrageous for a manager in a 10-team league to grab either Cook or Chubb, though it's possible that one in a 12-team league could find only Fournette, Kerryon Johnson, Freeman or a lower-ranked running back of their choice as the best available remaining options. Don't pass up the opportunity to pair up Elliott with a rock-solid wide receiver like Beckham or Hill, if your league has drafted running backs heavily up to this point.
Tristan's best start: Elliott/Thomas in 10-team, Elliott/Hill in 12-team.
Draft Slot 7
Round 1 (Pick 7): The best running back remaining on the board is likely to be Bell, an entirely fair selection this soon. If six consecutive running backs (including Elliott) began your draft, though, it's time to shift to those wide receivers. In all likelihood, this will become a decision between Bell, Jones and Adams in most leagues.
Round 2 (Pick 14 in 10-team, Pick 18 in 12-team): What's nice about the 7-slot is that it's the final one that guarantees you a top-nine running back, top-four wide receiver or No. 1 tight end Kelce, all of whom I think should be universally regarded top-15 overall selections in 10-team leagues. In 12-team leagues, the worst-case scenario has you choosing between running backs Cook or Chubb or wide receiver Hill, still solid pickings. This is the latest in a 10-team league that I'd allow Todd Gurley II to slide.
Tristan's best start: Bell/Smith-Schuster in 10-team, Bell/Beckham in 12-team.
Draft Slot 8
Round 1 (Pick 8): The 8- and 9-slots in either 10- or 12-team leagues seem destined for near-identical outcomes this season, with their managers likely picking from among the Jones/Adams/Thomas/Smith-Schuster tier in the first round and a running back from the Joe Mixon/Gurley/James Conner tier in the second. That said, there's still a chance that teams drafting out of the 8-spot could still find Bell there for the taking. Otherwise, this is the first spot where the value margins between the teams' first- and second-round picks are razor-thin; I've got my Nos. 8 through 17 players overall in the rankings valued awfully similarly, and there's no shame in going with your personal preference at either spot. Even if your league has drafted the running-back position aggressively through the first seven picks, resist the temptation to reach for Mixon, Gurley or Conner this early.
Round 2 (Pick 13 in 10-team, Pick 17 in 12-team): An 8-slot team might wind up lucky, getting a preferred running back in Round 1, affording it the choice between either a borderline top-10 running back, a top-five wide receiver or the No. 1 tight end in Round 2. Among the back-half draft slots, No. 8 is probably in the best position to go value regardless of position with the first two picks, knowing that it's still probable that there will be a top-20 running back there for the taking in Round 3. If Bell was there for you in Round 1, I'd consider going for domination at the running back position, pairing him up with Gurley -- it's risky with those two, yes, but think about the upside -- or Mixon in a 10-team league, or Conner, Cook or Chubb in a 12-teamer.
Tristan's best start: Jones/Conner in 10-team, Jones/Chubb in 12-team.
Draft Slot 9
Round 1 (Pick 9): Adams and Jones cannot be allowed to sneak past the 9-slot, gifting two of the three best wide receivers in fantasy football to the No. 10 team in a 10-team league. Take the best one that remains, though this is the spot where top tight end Kelce as well as wide receiver Beckham join the fray. In defense of Kelce's inclusion -- a tight end in the first round might seem like an unusual strategy, considering the history of 21st century fantasy football -- he was the No. 6 finisher overall using value based drafting (VBD) calculations in 2018, and he's still a go-to guy for the game's most talented young quarterback.
Round 2 (Pick 12 in 10-team, Pick 16 in 12-team): Considering the likelihood that teams drafting out of the 9-slot will wind up with a wide receiver as their top option off the board, a running back is a wise target for those squads in Round 2. Gurley has lingered as far as the 12th pick in a lot of early drafts, and as late as the end of the round in a few offsite drafts (judging by ADP results). There's a good chance teams in this slot will be looking at a running back from the Mixon/Gurley/Conner/Cook/Chubb group. In a 10-team league, though, there's a real chance that Kelce or Jones might last.
Tristan's best start: Adams/Gurley in 10-team, Adams/Cook in 12-team.
Draft Slot 10
Round 1 (Pick 10): Here's where the 10- versus 12-team league angle becomes important, because the elite running back pool drains more quickly in the latter than former. That Kelce advantage relative to replacement at the tight end position becomes more tantalizing at the 10-slot in either league type, but taking him there in a 12-teamer might result in Mixon, Gurley and Conner all being gone before Pick 15. I'd rather "reach" for Mixon here, knowing that either Kelce, Gurley, Conner, Smith-Schuster or Thomas is guaranteed to remain in Round 2, rather than take Kelce and feel forced to "reach" for Cook or Chubb at Pick 15. It's different, of course, for those who have a particularly strong opinion about Cook or Chubb.
Round 2 (Pick 11 in 10-team, Pick 15 in 12-team): Fantasy managers in 10-team leagues get their pick from the top tight end (Kelce), a member of the RB1 class (Mixon, Gurley or Conner) or a top-five receiver (probably Smith-Schuster or Thomas), while those in 12-team leagues enjoy the leftovers from any of the top 10 running backs (adding Cook) or top six wide receivers (adding Beckham). It's not a bad place to be, despite having the look of a low draft slot.
Tristan's best start: Kelce/Mixon in 10-team, Mixon/Thomas in 12-team.
Draft Slot 11 (12-team leagues)
Round 1 (Pick 11): Assuming that Mixon went at Pick 10, Kelce is every bit as strong a choice as is either Smith-Schuster or Thomas, especially since you're guaranteed to get either of those wide receivers or your choice between Gurley and Conner at Pick 14.
Round 2 (Pick 14): Leftovers, and warm, delicious, the-day-after leftovers at that. The worst-case scenario for those in the 11-slot is taking a wide receiver in Round 1, then finding that another wide receiver -- Smith-Schuster, Thomas or Beckham -- is the strongest choice remaining. More likely, Gurley or Conner will remain, and while Gurley's injury questions throughout the offseason have lingered, he's still far too talented to allow him to slip much further than 14th overall.
Tristan's best start: Kelce/Conner.
Draft Slot 12 (12-team leagues)
Round 1 (Pick 12): The odds of Smith-Schuster/Thomas bookend picks is excellent, though the danger in it is that 20 running backs go off the board before your third- and fourth-round bookend picks at 36/37 overall, potentially pushing you into "reach" selections of Marlon Mack, James White or Sony Michel. The 12-slot is my least preferred in a 12-team league, an opinion that might seem obvious but more so for what it means in Rounds 3-6 than in Rounds 1-2. If a Gurley or Conner is available to you with either of these bookend picks, take one and don't risk being forced to piece the position together in the later rounds.
Round 2 (Pick 13): Smith-Schuster, Thomas or Beckham should remain available, as should either of Gurley or Conner. Again, I'm against the zero-RBs strategy, especially in this slot in a 12-team league this year.
Tristan's best start: Smith-Schuster/Gurley.