Above is my favorite piece of content to produce all year, my flow chart for you to use in your snake drafts. Theoretically, you can take this thing into your draft along with your preferred set of rankings, and every decision is essentially made for you.
This chart is designed for non-PPR, 12-team leagues with 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, FLEX, K, D/ST in the starting lineup and seven bench slots. And the chart works best for ESPN.com leagues given that’s the site I use and thus I’m most familiar with ESPN ADP. But you can use this chart if you’re drafting on a different site or if you’re drafting in person with your leaguemates. It’s just that this chart probably takes advantage of value best on ESPN.
Enough foreplay, let’s get into it.
You’ve got three options here. Said another way, the only thing that isn’t an option is quarterback. I could make the case for Peyton Manning at the end of round one, but he’s going to be gone before the pick numbers turn to double digits. And I’d be fine with Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees in the mid-to-late second round, but they aren’t falling that far either. I’m saying this to point out that I’m not one of those fantasy writers who automatically beats the ‘wait on QB’ drum, but the three studs are going just a bit higher than they should. That pushes me into the wait on QB camp.
If you have a pick in the top half of the first round, you should probably end up with a running back. I would personally take Calvin Johnson second overall, but I’m not going to spend any time trying to convince you of that. He should go no later than sixth after Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Eddie Lacy, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte.
If you have a pick in the back half of the second round, you should take a receiver or Jimmy Graham. I’d be fine with you taking Graham anywhere from pick 3-12, so if you’re Graham fan, you have my blessing to take him pretty much wherever you like. But if you have a pick in the 7-12 range and he’s still there, he would be my first choice. If Graham is gone, Megatron is gone and none of the running backs mentioned above slip through the cracks, take Demaryius Thomas. Aside from Megatron, I think DT is by far the safest of the elite receivers. If all eight of those guys are gone, you can grab Manning if he is still there at 9-12 (he won’t be).
If Manning is gone, I’d take Dez Bryant or Julio Jones. Not many people are going to give you that advice. Most would have recommended more running backs with picks 1-9, and they would certainly recommend a running back at this point. But I believe Dez and Julio are far better than the remaining receivers than the available running backs at this point are relative to the remaining backs.
Receiver. Odds are pretty good that Dez and Julio will still be available in the second round if you didn’t have to take one of them in the first. In addition, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson and Alshon Jeffery should all be available here. I’m much more confident in those guys being top ten receivers than I am in Doug Martin, DeMarco Murray, Zac Stacy, Le’Veon Bell, Alfred Morris or Montee Ball being top ten backs, all of whom are usually available in the second.
Receiver again or Gronk. If you didn’t take in Graham in the first round, I’m good with Gronk in this round. Let me forewarn you that if you take Graham or Gronk, you’re going to have gamble on a quarterback you like being available in the ninth round or be comfortable taking a quarterback outside the top 12 at the position, adding another late round quarterback, and streaming those two along with any worthy waiver wire candidates in your QB slot. There simply isn’t room to take a tight end and a quarterback early and to have enough depth at back and receiver. If you already took Graham or you think Gronk is too risky, go receiver. First look for any names mentioned in the second round. If they’re all gone, look for Antonio Brown or Andre Johnson. I also think it would be OK to grab Keenan Allen at that point, but others would probably call that a reach.
No matter which track you’re on at this point, you should have at least two receivers and you could have three. If you already have three, you have to take a back here. But if you took a back in the first round followed by two receivers, you have the option of a back or a receiver here. Personally, I prefer a third receiver before a second back simply because I like a lot of backs in the next three or four rounds. I think you can take nothing but backs in those rounds and build a very deep stable of backs to go along with top flight receivers. But I know that running backs early has long been the primary mantra of fantasy football writers, so I understand if I can’t convince you to wait longer to grab your second back.
If you can go with me on another receiver, I think Allen probably makes it this far if you haven’t already grabbed him. If he’s not an option, I like Victor Cruz or Percy Harvin here. If the chart prompts you take a back or you can’t bring yourself to go for a third receiver here, I like Ryan Mathews most in this round. If he’s not there, I’d be fine with Frank Gore, although Gore is going ahead of Mathews in most drafts.
No matter what your team looks like at this point, you’re taking a running back in the fifth round. I simply like too many backs in this range. Here they are in the order I prefer them: Toby Gerhart, Bishop Sankey, Steven Jackson, Rashad Jennings. I could keep going, but one of those guys should be available at this point, and some might even fall a little further.
There is one path down the chart that calls for a receiver in the sixth round, but most likely you’re taking another back. If none of the backs listed above are available (at least one should be), I like the following backs here (listed, again, in order of my preference): Shane Vereen, Joique Bell, Stevan Ridley, Ray Rice. If you’re on the one path that calls for a receiver, grab one of Torrey Smith (preferably) or Michael Floyd.
Again, you’re taking a back on all but one path down the chart. The value on backs in these rounds is just too good not to get receivers early and build depth at running back in these strong middle rounds for the position. Once again I think some of the backs mentioned above will still be available at this point, but if not, take a look at Pierre Thomas. If he’s gone, I could live with Fred Jackson here. And if the chart calls for a receiver, Eric Decker, Emmanuel Sanders, Kendall Wright and Golden Tate are solid picks at this point.
If you didn’t take Graham or Gronk early, it’s quarterback time. The seventh round begins with pick 85, and Matt Ryan and Tony Romo have an ADP later than the 85th pick (at least on ESPN). I have both as top twelve quarterbacks. Ryan is a super safe pick here, but I’ll admit that I’m starting to worry about Romo’s health. If I ended up with Romo, I’d probably grab someone like Andy Dalton or Ben Roethlisberger a little later as insurance. I have also seen Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick fall this far in a few mock drafts. If they fall that far, they’re automatic picks if you’re going quarterback here. But don’t count on that happening.
If you went tight end early, you’ll need a fourth back here or a third receiver on one particular path. At running back, PT or FJax could fall this far. If not, Maurice Jones-Drew and Lamar Miller are backs available here who have a decent shot to lead their team in carries. At receiver, Terrance Williams, Cecil Shorts and DeAndre Hopkins are good picks here if none of the receivers listed above made it this far.
If you haven’t taken a quarterback yet, now is the time. Ryan or Romo could slip this far, but if not you’re taking Jay Cutler or Philip Rivers, preferably Cutler. You could back them up with Dalton or Roethlisberger in the 11th, or you could wait a round or two more and back them up with Carson Palmer or Josh McCown.
If you didn’t take Graham or Gronk early, this is where you get your tight end. You could maybe wait another round to grab Jordan Reed or Martellus Bennett, but these are easily my favorite late round tight ends, so I’d make sure I got one of them here.
Now it’s time to build some depth and take some fliers. Here are guys at running back and receiver that I like with an ADP in these rounds in the order of their ADP.
Just take a kicker and a defense. It really doesn’t matter which ones. You can just take the highest ranked kicker and defense left on the set of rankings you’re using. I lean towards kickers on good offenses. And I lean towards defenses with good week one matchups because I’ll likely be dropping them after that for a defense with a better matchup the next week.