With the NFL regular season about to begin, fantasy football is back. In newly drafted leagues, you get a clean slate for your draft every year, and last year’s results don’t matter anymore. As you approach your fantasy drafts this fall, you’ll want to set yourself up for maximum success by drafting a productive player with your first draft pick.
For purposes of this article, I am assuming the league will be a 12-team, half PPR league. Also, with an assumed roster of a quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a tight end, a FLEX (RB/WE/TE), then a team’s defense/special teams, and a kicker.
First round selection
The first-round pick sets the tone for the rest of your draft. This player forms the basis of your roster and around him you ultimately build your team. With the league settings outlined, the top three picks will likely be a combination of Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey. Depending on how your drafts begin, every player is expected to be a top running back in the league and benefit from being highly focused in their attacks.
If you’re drawing in the middle of the first round, grab one of the guys from above if they’re still there. Assuming that’s not the case, you’ll want to pick the league’s top wide receivers in Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson, or other reliable running backs in Dalvin Cook and Najee Harris. Kupp outscored all wide receivers by 67 points last season, and Jefferson had the second most receiving yards and tied for the fifth most touchdowns in the league. Harris finished his rookie year as the overall RB4 last season and is expected to retain a big role on the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. Cook is a veteran who has shown that if he stays healthy for an entire season, he can become a league winner.
When you get into the first round backend, you can make a choice based on predictions about who will be available when the draft returns to you. Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs will likely round out the top 12. Other options include Nick Chubb, Travis Kelce and CeeDee Lamb. If you pick a wide receiver like Chase in the first round, you could try pairing him with a running back in the second round to even out your roster. You can use many strategies, but I lean more towards the balanced roster when it comes to maximizing value.
Kelce entering the chat sparks a conversation about how early you should take a tight end. He’s the only one at the position, even in talks for a first-round pick, but to me he doesn’t break in unless you draw him 12th overall or play in full PPR leagues.
When to draft a QB?
You need some interesting league settings for quarterbacks to jump into the first round. Whether it’s a super-flex league or a two-quarterback league, that would be the minimum requirement to take a QB that early. Otherwise, Patrick Mahomes is taken to the second round while Josh Allen goes to the third. After that, it always depends on how your draft falls, but be sure to keep an eye on a quarterback in rounds eight through ten to maximize their value while still having a competitive roster alongside them.
When should a TE be created?
Kelce will leave at the end of the first round or the beginning of the second. He’s easily the best fantasy football tight end going into the season. That next tier includes Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts, both of whom should be drafted through the end of the third round. The tight end position is top-heavy and then becomes quite volatile. There are always players who get drafted late or not at all and end up at the top of the position rankings.
If you’re missing out on the top four or five players, that’s a position where you’re probably better off taking the position and addressing the needs of other teams. Even increasing your running back or wide receiver depth would probably be better than reaching for a tight end unnecessarily.
It is difficult to identify players who should not be drafted in the first round. Mainly because if you think someone will finish with a first round stat but you can get them in the second round, you should definitely wait to draft. When it comes to first-round options, Davante Adams is drafted at No. 11 overall, and I’d consider reaching for him if I was drafted between No. 6 and No. 10, depending on what’s up with the draft committee happened. I think he’ll benefit from reuniting with fellow college quarterback Derek Carr and should be able to maintain the production we’ve come to expect from the star wide receiver.
player to fade
Depending on how the draft board falls, I’ll probably fade Joe Mixon and Stefon Diggs. Mixon should have a good year, but the improved offensive line benefits Burrow and the wide receivers more for me. I think the upgrade will give Burrow more confidence in the bag and we’ll see his passing attempts increase.
For Diggs, he played all 17 games with Allen last year and finished as the WR7 overall champion. If anything, the Buffalo Bills’ pass catchers have improved in the offseason, which could mean they catch everyone’s eye more often. Don’t get me wrong, Diggs is still super talented. However, he is drafted as a WR4, with the 11th overall pick and projects set to finish this season with second-round value.
As you can see from this article, so much can happen in the first round of your drafts. I think the first four are more set in stone and it just depends on the order in which they are picked. After that, try to max the value and see the draft board fall on you. When you’re eighth, stuck on a running back, and Cooper Kupp is still there? Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. Have a general idea of how the design will play out, then adjust as you progress through the first round and beyond.