I posted this on my website this morning. It is my 2012 draft plan standardized for a 12 team league. If your league is bigger/smaller, adjust accordingly.
As a long time reader/occasional commenter of this site, I wanted to post it here to reach a broader audience and to get feedback from a community that I greatly respect and enjoy being a part of. If you read it (*it's long*), thank you in advance. Don't hesitate to criticize. Feel free to use it-- and win.
All the information I've gathered over the last few months has lead to this article. It is by no means finished. As the preseason continues some players will get hurt. Some players will flash brilliance. Some players will look terrible (Chris Johnson I'm looking at you). I will do my best not to overreact to the good and the bad. Somewhere in between lies the truth. The truth shall be ours. This plan will be updated throughout the next few weeks to reflect the current version of the truth.
Before proceeding, at your draft, you'll want both the positional and top 200 cheat sheets to make this process as simple as possible. I also highly recommend checking out the rest of the draft utilities and opinion pieces. In additional to that, you should print off whatever cheat sheet you think most people in your league will be using to give you a more thorough picture of when you can get away with taking certain players.
Why read this if you have the top 200? The draft is a puzzle. Just because a player is ranked above someone else it doesn't mean that's the order you should take them. If you want to be guaranteed to get a certain player, you may need to take them early or 'reach' for them. At the same time, you should be able to get a good number of players highly rated by this site later than their position on our top 200 would indicate.
In a perfect world, the puzzle comes together at the right time and you don't have to reach for anyone. In a perfect world, you draft with people that will have Marshawn Lynch, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, Frank Gore, and Steven Jackson gone by the end of round 3. In a perfect world, the player you want never gets picked one spot before you're planning to take him. We are all well aware that the world isn't perfect. This plan tries to account for that.
Do your best to not smile when it's early in your draft and you're crossing off names ranked at 40 and beyond.
This is a very lengthy piece of fantasy art. Grab a cold beverage. Party begins after the jump.
The best way to approach the first round is to provide advice based on draft position. Unless your league is quarterback heavy and by that I mean you get more than a point per 25 yards passing or 6 points per touchdown, if you have a top 3 pick you need to take Arian Foster, Ray Rice, or LeSean McCoy in the first round. Why? Elite talent, upside, and safety. The NFL is loaded with great runners but these three are the most talented that carry the least amount of risk heading into this season. Having a sure thing (or the closest thing to it) at the running back spot is the best start towards having a complete team this season. Is it the only way? Of course not. If you feel you must have a top QB to start off your team, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are also be in play. Taking the QB is safer. Would I go that route? Absolutely not.
If either Foster, Rice, or McCoy fell to you here, take them. If you want to play it safe, go with Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Calvin Johnson. If you want the elite TE, you could take Jimmy Graham here as well but there's a chance he'll make it back to you in round 2. Otherwise, the high-stakes play is to take any RB you feel won't make it back to you. That includes Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Trent Richardson, and MJD. As I've said before, the best teams I've put together in mock drafts have typically started with running back in round 1. That being said, it sucks when your first round pick gets hurt. A QB, WR, or a JG (a Jimmy Graham) will be safer than the runner in from an injury standpoint.
Best of the players mentioned before. If there are plenty of RBs available but only one JG left, go with the JG and let the runner come to you on the way back. Same thought applies for Calvin, although the WR depth in the next few rounds (and this year on the whole) is great. If there's no chance of the runner making it back to you, take him here. If you need the QB, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford are in play but chances are you'll be able to grab them in the second. They're not quite as safe as the top 3 QBs already mentioned but they have almost as much upside.
After the first round, things obviously get tougher to project. From this point on, I'll be giving players to target.
If you didn't take a back in round 1 and there's someone that was mentioned before still on the board, it would be wise to take them. Even if you did take a runner in the first round, you can still take another one and recover at the other positions much easier than if you're trying to recover at running back. The only concern to starting with two RBs is the health risk. If it pans out, it can be lethally awesome.
The savvy pick is to go with the JG, so if Jimmy Graham is there, take him. As I've mentioned before, Jimmy is entering his fourth year playing the game. In his third year playing football, he put together the second best season ever for someone at his position, only to be trumped by Gronk. Jimmy has a great chance to duplicate or even improve upon his performance from last season because he has not come close to his ceiling as a player yet. There's plenty of upside with a hefty portion of safety. Power move.
The next best/safest options are Cam Newton or Matt Stafford. After them, Larry Fitzgerald is extremely safe.
Once the safe round 2 options are gone, the upside party begins. Rob Gronkowski is obviously capable of putting together a legendary season. Will he do it again? By taking Gronk here, you are certainly paying for last year but also buying into an elite option on an elite passing offense. I will not be taking Gronk in round two because of the sheer number of great receiving options available to Tom Brady and because ridiculous touchdown numbers are extremely difficult to duplicate. However, the case can certainly be made for him here. If you like him, take him.
Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson, although injured last year, will most likely go in this round. Of the two, Jamaal is the safer option because: a) he only tore his ACL (Peterson tore his ACL, MCL, and had some meniscus damage) and b) he is months ahead in his rehab. Adrian, however, is by far the more freakish athlete and would be a top 2 overall selection had he not been hurt last year. If you take either of these guys, be sure to grab Peyton Hillis or Toby Gerhart later in your draft.
DeMarco Murray didn't have a torn knee ligament last year but he is coming off a season ending broken ankle. He flashed some nice upside for a stretch last season but his injury history in college is more worrisome than the fact that he broke an ankle last year. He could be great but I would prefer to not have to take him here. However, if you took Rodgers, Brady, or Brees in the first round, chances are you'll be in a position where taking one of the high upside runners on the way back will be more appealing than potentially reaching for one with even more question marks in the upcoming rounds.
It is still possible to get out of round two without a runner but you're taking a chance that the right players will fall to you or else you may have to reach. This isn't the end of the world-- it's just not the ideal way to put the puzzle together. The feather in the cap of this situation is that the waiver wire's most plentiful supply during the season is typically running backs that you can plug in and start, often with great results.
Speaking of the upside party, we're now faced with a chunk of wide receivers. If you want to go ultimate upside, AJ Green and Julio Jones are two absolute freaks that this site is higher on than most as they're ranked at 3 and 4 amongst all WRs. If you want to be sure to get them, take them as early as the end of round two, otherwise they're the primary targets for this round. I'd like to note this site had Julio ahead of Roddy White before he exploded for over 100 yards and a touchdown in his first preseason game (in one quarter of play). Nevertheless, Roddy is the safer of the two Atlanta receivers as he's never missed a game and gets targeted more than a tourist on a Jamaican beach but Julio's potential for this season is off the charts.
Something to keep in mind when making your selections is the idea that too many players from the same offense potentially causes upside limitations except in the case of a QB to WR/TE. One of the potential values at running back this season is BenJarvus Green-Ellis, teammate of AJ Green. If faced with the decision of AJ vs Julio, I will probably go with Julio to keep the door open for BenJarvus if he's there in the fifth round. I feel that this is an acceptable decision because the difference between these two players is negligible. It's important not to get carried away with this concept. I recommend keeping it in mind and using it as a tie-breaker. Do not pass on AJ Green and take Miles Austin instead just because you want BenJarvus later in your draft. Every player has trade value and problems like too much stock in one offense can be fixed.
Other fine picks for this round include Brandon Marshall, Roddy White, Greg Jennings, and Andre Johnson. All are legitimate #1 receiver options with competent quarterbacks who can and will get them ball. You draft Andre in sickness and in health. I am of the opinion that he has yet to put together his best professional season but he's already been out of practice this preseason. With freakish athletic ability comes freakish injury potential. If I missed out on Jimmy Graham, Matt Forte, AJ Green, and Julio, I would target Brandon Marshall here to leave the door open for Jermichael Finley later in the draft. Chances are that some of these WRs will go in the second round and that will help make your decision easier.
If you're not liking the landscape of the WRs you have to choose from, Michael Vick is definitely not a reach in this round. He has already hit his hand on a helmet this preseason which serves as a reminder of the risk that accompanies him (although that happens to all QBs), but his performance two years ago and the healthy portions of last season make him a nice value for the third round. You must draft a solid backup if you get Vick.
The runners for this round could all be categorized as reaches as they all have question marks and could possibly be available in the next few rounds. All three also possess significant talent. Fred Jackson, Doug Martin, and Ryan Mathews could all be top 10 at their position this season. There is also a slight chance they could be there for you in the next round.
Fred Jackson is coming off a broken leg and has to deal with former first round pick, CJ Spiller. Doug Martin draws comparisons to Ray Rice but has to deal with an apparently motivated LeGarrette Blount. Ryan Mathews has the least amount of competition and a ton of talent but can't seem to stay on the field. If I felt I was in a position where I had to take a running back at this spot, I would consider Fred Jackson the safest option and Mathews the highest risk/reward pick. Doug Martin has the best chance of being there for you in round 4.
The top 200 cheat sheet is starting to come in handy.
RBs: Ryan Mathews and Doug Martin. If they're gone, that most likely means the running back crop has thinned quickly. If you must reach for one here, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Willis McGahee are two solid options that don't have as much upside as those already mentioned but should be pretty safe as their workloads should be consistent. Both are great goal line backs but again, both could last until round 5.
QBs: Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, and Phillip Rivers. Keep an eye on the QBs that are remaining. These players are all of similar value as they could all pass for 5,000 yards in the coming season and no one would be shocked. That being said, the one that would be considered the best value is the one you can get the latest. So far in mocks, Matt Ryan has gone the latest of these QBs. If most of the QBs I just listed were available, I would pass on the position for this round. The same thinking applies for the following rounds but when you start passing, you must be prepared for the worst case scenario-- that you could miss on all of them. However, if you play it right it will end up great.
TEs: Antonio Gates is most likely the only tight end that could go this round and that is mainly because he looked good and healthy in his first preseason game. He says he's over his foot problems. If he actually is and can go the whole season without aggravating it, he could be back to his All Pro form. If you believe in Antonio Gates, he's not a reach here.
RBs: If Mathews or Martin are still here, they've become outstanding values. Otherwise, BJGE and Willis are certainly not reaches anymore. Beyond that, Michael Turner and Steven Jackson won't be available but if they are, this is the spot where I'd finally consider taking one of them.
WRs: If Marques Colston somehow lasted, congrats. Otherwise, Percy Harvin. Arguably the best slot receiver in the NFL should be getting the ball a lot and although he hasn't had over 1,000 yards receiving yet, I would be shocked if he didn't get over that hump this season. I'm not sure if he'll be getting as many carries as he has in the past but the Vikings will still be doing all they can to get him as many touches as possible.
QBs: Same tier mentioned for round 4. Keep an eye on the stock. If it's thinning and you don't want to risk it, there's no shame in grabbing whichever one you want here. Otherwise, the longer you can wait and still get one, the better.
TEs: Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley, and Aaron Hernandez. Finley is the most physically talented of the three and can't possibly be any worse than he was last year when he had more drops than Skrillex and still finished 6th amongst tight ends. Aaron Hernandez is great but the same concerns that I have with Gronkowski, Welker, and Lloyd apply to him as well. Antonio Gates, if healthy, will be the best of this group. If I'm picking a tight end this round, it'll probably be Finley.
RBs: If any of the runners mentioned for round 5 are available, they are even better values now. Otherwise there are none I'd like to take here. Isaac Redman is a reach at this spot but should be the main ball carrier for the Steelers at least for a while (but he's already got a tweaked groin). If Reggie Bush is still available, he's worth consideration here if you're desperate.
WRs: Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown. I want one of these three on each of my teams this season. When comparing the Denver wideouts, the simple way to think of it is Decker for safety (or PPR), Thomas for upside (non-PPR). If those three are gone, Stevie Johnson and Jeremy Maclin are safe, quality picks for this round.
Most people will only compare Eric Decker to other white wide receivers which I always find funny. The guy I compare him to is Larry Fitzgerald-- mainly because of his body control in the air... throw it in the vicinity and he'll get it. Also like Fitz-- underrated speed. Thomas on the other hand is the physical freak but not as polished as Decker. The Thomas comparison I like the most (a lofty one) but think he's still a year or two away from is Andre Johnson.
Antonio Brown was drafted to replace Santonio Holmes. If you polled NFL General Managers and asked them who they would rather have between the two, I'm confident Brown would win in a landslide despite not having a game winner in the Super Bowl on his resume. He's widely considered the hardest working Steeler and that will serve him well with new head coach Todd Haley, who doesn't hesitate to bench someone he feels isn't giving enough effort . I'm typically wary of guys who just got paid but I have no worries whatsoever about Antonio Brown slowing down now that he has a new deal.
Wonder why I have Mike Wallace ranked at a position where if you're listening to this site, you won't get him? Holdout + Todd Haley + new offense + disgruntled attitude = recipe for disaster. It's not worth the risk where you'd have to pick him.
QBs: Same story as the previous two rounds, but Eli, Peyton, and Romo are most likely gone by now. Be careful and be sure to be keeping tabs on who has a QB already and how their draft position relates to yours. If everyone picking between you and your next pick already has theirs and your confident they won't take a backup for a while yet, wait. I've been able to get Matt Ryan as late as round 8 but that's not something to count on.
TEs: If Finley or Hernandez are here and you don't have a tight end, I highly suggest grabbing one of them. Otherwise the next set of targets are still a few rounds away.
RBs: We're now getting into the murky territory of timeshare/rental runners. For round seven, you're looking at guys like Peyton Hillis, Toby Gerhart, CJ Spiller, and Ben Tate. Chances are, one of those four will be extremely valuable due to injury at some point in the season but all will be drafted roughly around this time because they should still see a decent amount of touches each game. If any of these runners are the handcuff for someone you drafted earlier, be sure to get them, otherwise they're nice depth to add. A few of these guys should be around for the next few rounds too, especially if you're lucky and team defenses start going around this time.
I realize I have Kevin Smith ranked ahead of these guys. As of now, you can get him later unless you happen to be drafting with other people who may read this but I would imagine his ADP will rise once people realize Jahvid Best has no business playing football anymore.
WRs: If someone from the round 6 recommendations remains, they're a tremendous value here. Pierre Garcon is also looking ready to have a nice year and is a nice choice at this spot. If not, go with Denarius Moore. You might be able to get him later but he's for sure someone to target. He has a hamstring that's been nagging him throughout camp thus far, but he showed flashes of brilliance last season and is a fine upside pick for this round.
QBs: If Matt Ryan or Philip Rivers is sitting there, now might be the time to pounce pending how confident you are in the options beyond them. Like I said, be prepared for the worst case scenario. Part of the reason I'm okay waiting as long as I can for what I'm assuming will be Matt Ryan from this tier of QBs is because I'm fine with settling for my contingency plan at the position.
TEs: Pending how many teams have tight ends already and how their draft position relates to yours, there are a lot of high upside options for the tight end position that could be available for several rounds after this one. Brandon Pettigrew or Jermaine Gresham would be the two late round tight end starters that I would target if I've missed out on one so far.
RBs: The same timeshare/rental runners mentioned from before plus Donald Brown and Michael Bush (if you have Forte). Add Kevin Smith to that list if you'd rather be safe than sorry with him. He will have his job as long as he can hold off Mikel LeShoure (suspended to start the season) and will certainly be lineup-worthy for the start of the season. If you have the bench depth, Mikel LeShoure could be one of your last picks as I anticipate if he can stay out of trouble he will be the main ball carrier for this offense come mid-season / fantasy playoff time. If not, be prepared to add him off waivers later in the season.
Jahvid Best isn't on our top 200 list or in our RB rankings because even if he is cleared to play for this season (he shouldn't be), he is one hit away from his career being over with his life being unnecessarily risked in the process.
WRs: Denarius Moore if he's still here otherwise Nate Washington is looking like a nice value to have on your bench and plug in when needed.
QBs: If Matt Ryan is still here, do not pass him. People will most likely start taking backup QBs around this time so if you haven't taken one yet you'll for sure want to now. If you missed Matt Ryan, do not fear. As Steve mentioned earlier this week, Jay Cutler is primed for a fantastic season. If Cutler isn't available, the fun really starts.
Robert Griffin III is a fantasy fiesta waiting to happen but do not confuse him with Cam Newton. He will not rush for 14 touchdowns this season. He will not plow over defenders like a healthy Adrian Peterson. He will get the ball out of his hand on time and downfield then pad his stats with 40-50 rushing yards per game when the throw isn't there. Again, he is not Cam Newton. The only similarity to Cam besides the big arm is that he will make your fantasy team more fun to watch. If you went with a quarterback who has been known to miss some games (IE- Stafford, Vick, Peyton, Romo) I would recommend throwing down on one of these QBs around this time. Worst case scenario, you have a quality trade chip.
If I miss out on Matt Ryan's tier of QBs, I will most likely be going Griffin-Cutler in back to back rounds then choosing which matchup I like more each week. If you're the kind of owner who hates having to make that call, be sure to not gamble like I'm prepared to and get your guy earlier. Griffin-Cutler is not the safe play and it may end up being downright stupid. That being said, it could end up being downright awesome and I'm prepared for the consequences if that's the decision I make because I will have loaded up at every spot in the rounds leading up to this and will have enough ammo to trade for someone if that's what I deem necessary.
TEs: If you feel like you need to take Pettigrew or Gresham here, go for it but you've waited this long, there's probably no harm in waiting longer because they'll probably be there.
RBs: Kevin Smith, Donald Brown, Ryan Williams, David Wilson, and Shane Vereen. This is a nice, safe spot to land Kevin Smith. Donald Brown is also well worth a pick here. If you've already grabbed them and want more high-upside depth, Ryan Williams is a guy to get on your team. I've got him ranked ahead of Beanie Wells because if he's healthy he's a better player. David Wilson will be competing with Ahmad Bradshaw, who is better than Beanie Wells but almost as injury-prone. Wilson will get his touches but if Bradshaw has more foot issues he will be a very nice option.
It's usually wise to stay away from New England running backs but this isn't a terrible spot to take a shot at Shane Vereen, who is arguably the most complete back in the New England stable. Stevan Ridley will probably be drafted by now and is slated to be the starter to begin the season but if an every down back exists for the Patriots, it's thought to be Vereen so I'd rather have him. I would also rather have the four guys listed before him but I'm not going to be mad if he ends up on my team.
WRs: Reggie Wayne. If he's still here, it's worth taking a shot on him. I do fear that he could potentially fall off a cliff this season but he could also pull a 2011 Steve Smith. Before 2010, I told people there are three constants in life. 1) A normal sky is blue. 2) Healthy grass is green. 3) Reggie Wayne gets 1,200 yards and ~8 TDs. Andrew Luck looked great in his first preseason game and I don't want to overreact, but Reggie Wayne could easily have a renaissance season playing with a competent passer again.
Austin Collie could also be the guy to have here but I think you'll be able to get him several rounds later if you so choose. Another concussion is bad news for this guy. I will be avoiding him now.
Danny Amendola becomes somebody to consider here for a PPR league unless you're confident you'll be able to get him later.
QBs: Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III.
TEs: Pettigrew or Gresham. Otherwise if they don't do anything for you, Jared Cook. Again, you still might be able to wait on these tight ends but if you're drafting with a few Vikings fans, now might be the time to get Kyle Rudolph as your backup tight end because they will probably be all over him.
Even if you drafted Graham or Gronk, Kyle Rudolph is a tight end to get because his trade bait potential is looking mighty fine this year. He's not going to do what Jimmy and Rob did last year because he's not playing with Brees or Brady but I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up being a top 5 tight end. I am not confident enough in this opinion to only draft Rudolph this year but I will be getting him as my backup in as many leagues as possible.
If you're not drafting with any Vikings fans, you may not have to take him until your third to last pick (your last two picks should be a defense then a kicker) but get Kyle Rudolph. If you think drafting a backup tight end is ridiculous, you might be right. If, however, you end up with a non-elite tight end you need to be prepared to replace him with Rudolph as soon as week 1 because if he blows up versus Jacksonville it will not be a fluke.
I will now be listing players to target for the late rounds of your draft. If any of the players I've specifically pointed out above are still available, they're obviously fantastic values for this portion of the draft. Otherwise, the following players are targets to fill out your roster. Use the top 200 list to get an idea for how they stack up.
Evan Royster - If you're going to invest in Washington RB, it should be extremely late in your draft.
Isaiah Pead - By season's end, he could have Pead all over Steven Jackson owners' plans if they don't also get him.
Rashad Jennings – Must have if you draft MJD but even if you don't he's worth a shot due to MJD's holdout.
Edit: Danny Amendola (better for PPR but worth a shot in all formats)
Austin Collie Edit: Another concussion for this guy = avoid.
Edit: Eddie Royal (PPR only)
For kickers, go with someone who has a track record of being reliable with an offense that can move the ball. Indoor/good weather kickers are typically safer. If you really want kicker rankings, check out the cheat sheets.
If you made it through all that, congratulations-- your team is going to dominate this season.
Thanks for reading.