Fitz on Fantasy: Which Draft Spot is Best This Season?

Some buddies and I draw for draft order in our 14-team league the first weekend of August. We do it at a bar in a hotel-casino in northern Wisconsin during an annual golf weekend. The draw takes up a few minutes of our Friday night but sparks hours of conversation afterward. Last year I drew the No. 2 pick and asked the friend who had drawn No. 1 which player he’d likely take.

“Probably Le’Veon Bell,” he said.

A month later, he took David Johnson at 1.01. I took Bell. I didn’t win the league, but I came a lot closer than my friend did.

For one of my other home leagues, a 16-teamer, team helmets are printed out on sheets of paper (yes, we have team helmets), the sheets are stuffed into envelopes, and the envelopes are drawn from a pillowcase just before the draft starts, starting at the bottom and working up to pick 1.01. The drama in that room rivals the drama at my 12-year-old daughter’s sleepovers.

Maybe your leagues have their own dramatic ways to draw for draft order. Maybe it’s determined by the previous year’s order of finish, or perhaps the first several picks are based on the previous year’s “toilet bowl” tournament for playoff non-qualifiers.

Draft order is a big deal, obviously. You can win picking from any spot, but some draft spots are more advantageous than others.

Based on what’s likely to be available with each pick in the first two rounds, here’s how I rank every draft spot this year in a 12-team draft.

(Before you continue, you might want to take a quick look at my frequently updated overall rankings.)

1. Picks 1.06 and 2.07 —Let’s start with the premise that the middle of the draft is generally the best place to be. You can easily manage positional runs from the middle, and you usually won’t see entire tiers of talent evaporate between picks. Being on either end can be difficult because you have to discern which commodities might be scarce by the time you pick again. This year, No. 6 is a wonderful place to be, because at worst you’ll have a choice of Alvin Kamara or Saquon Barkley. Yes, Kamara’s per-carry average and TD rate are destined to fall back to less celestial levels. But he is a rare talent playing in a terrific, well-rounded offense with a very good offensive line in front of him, and he’s likely to touch the ball more than he did in 2017. In the second round, you should be able to land a high-volume receiver — Davante Adams should be available, and A.J. Green could be — or perhaps Devonta Freeman to give yourself a talented run/catch RB tandem.

2. Picks 1.07 and 2.06 —For some, this will be too early to take Saquon Barkley. I would be pleased to land the rookie here. Barkley is an athletic freak with a good chance to finish in the top five in RB touches. We saw what sort of season Todd Gurley had when Rams head coach Sean McVay turned him loose in the passing game. Barkley should get that sort of passing-game usage right from the start. If you’re not in love with Barkley, you could take Kareem Hunt or Melvin Gordon here and it wouldn’t be a reach. Or you could take Barkley’s teammate, Odell Beckham Jr. In the second round, at least one of Green, Adams and Freeman will be available, and Keenan Allen might still be there. And as with 1.06, you’ll be able to patrol the middle of the draft and manage positional runs.

3. Picks 1.01 and 2.12 —This is by no means a unanimous opinion, but I think Todd Gurley is an easy choice at pick 1.01. He’s an amazing talent, and he has coaches who know what to do with him. I see no drawbacks to Gurley, whereas Le’Veon Bell comes with holdout and mileage concerns, Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t catch passes and is kind of a knucklehead, and David Johnson is coming back to an entirely new ecosystem than the one he was operating in before dislocating his wrist in Week 1 of 2017. Take Gurley at 1.01, then start plotting for the 2.12/3.01 turn, which will likely present you with options such as WRs T.Y. Hilton and Stefon Diggs, or RBs Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey.

4. Picks 1.03 and 2.10 —Two of Gurley, Bell, Elliott and DJ will be available, or you could go with Antonio Brown here and not get laughed out of the room. On the comeback, you might face a choice between Doug Baldwin and a running back such as Joe Mixon or Jerick McKinnon, which isn’t bad.

5. Picks 1.04 and 2.09 —The choice is simple: Grab the last of the top four running backs or take Antonio Brown. There should still be some attractive WR options available to you in Round 2 (Doug Baldwin or Mike Evans, for instance), or you could take a running back whose last name starts with “M” (McKinnon, Mixon, McCaffrey).

6. Picks 1.05 and 2.08 —This seems like the perfect spot to grab Antonio Brown, after the top four running backs have been taken and before the seal is broken on the Kamara-Barkley-Hunt-Gordon RB tier. Or maybe someone has taken Brown already, and you’re left with a top-four running back. No complaints, right? You’re close to the middle of the draft in this spot, and you should be able to get either Davante Adams or Mike Evans on the comeback. A lot of people have soured on Evans, but look at what he’s accomplished before the age of 25. He doesn’t do much damage after the catch, but the 6-5, 231-pound Evans wins at the catch point and routinely ranks among the leaders in air yards.

7. Picks 1.08 and 2.05 —The top four running backs are gone. So are Brown and Kamara. Barkley might fall here (and hallelujah if he does). If he doesn’t, you’re looking at a choice of Hunt, Gordon and Leonard Fournette at running back, or OBJ, DeAndre Hopkins or Julio Jones at receiver. Not bad. You’re close to the middle, and one of A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, Devonta Freeman or perhaps Rob Gronkowski. (Getting Green or Allen here would be cause for celebration.) should be available on the rebound.

8. Picks 1.09 and 2.04 —The likely candidates for pick 1.09 are Hunt, Gordon, OBJ and Hopkins, although one of them is likely to come off the board at 1.08. Second-round possibilities are Allen, Gronkowski, Green and Fournette. Not bad.

9. Picks 1.02 and 2.11— Some people would love this draft spot. But you’ll be tormented if you end up making the wrong choice of running backs, and you might not love your options at 2.11 and 3.02. A best-case scenario is having either Doug Baldwin or Mike Evans slide to 2.11. Take another look at my overall rankings. I think there’s a BIG gap between pick No. 22 and pick No. 23 — possibly the biggest drop-off point in the entire draft, I believe. If the first 22 picks follow the chalk (and there’s a decent chance they will), the choice at 2.11 will be difficult. I wouldn’t completely hate drawing pick 1.02, but this isn’t a great year to have this normally coveted spot, in my opinion.

10. Picks 1.10 and 2.03 —If you’re hell-bent on taking a running back in the first round, Gordon, Fournette and Dalvin Cook are the likely options here, though there’s an outside chance Hunt could still be around. At receiver, one of OBJ and Hopkins might be available, but not both. If you pass on a running back at 1.10, Devonta Freeman might be the only RB worth of consideration at 2.03, which seems just a smidge early for him. But a start of, say, Hopkins and Keenan Allen could set you up to have the best WR corps in your league.

11. Picks 1.12 and 2.01 —If I’m going to be at one of the ends, I’d rather be on the end, at 1.01 or 1.12, than near the end, at 1.02 or 1.11. I hate having to try getting into the head of the person sitting on the end behind me and figuring out which of the two players I’m considering should be grabbed now, and which might still be around after the drafter on the end makes two picks. This year, if I’m in this draft spot, I want one of Gordon, Cook and Fournette in the first round to get a foothold at RB, and one of Hopkins, OBJ, Julio, and Michael Thomas in the second round.

12. Picks 1.11 and 2.02 —As mentioned above, this is a draft spot where you have to play mind games with the person sitting behind you. But the player options aren’t bad here: Gordon, Cook, Julio, Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen. Let’s wrap this up with a quick discussion about Rob Gronkowski, the consensus No. 1 tight end and an undeniably fun player to own. Some people think the turn is an ideal place to take him. A lot of drafters would be thrilled to land him in the middle of the second round. I personally don’t like taking a tight end that early because I often feel as if it leaves me behind the curve at either running back or wide receiver when the draft is over. I also worry about staking my season on Gronk’s durability. This year, I think there are about 25 premium running backs and about 35 premium wide receivers available. I probably won’t consider drafting a quarterback or tight end until the supply of premium RBs and WRs has been exhausted.