Maximize Your Starting Lineup

Mike Clay
As Robert Griffin III enters a make-or-break year in Washington, Evan Silva unveils his 2015 Redskins Fantasy Preview

Redskins Fantasy Preview

As Robert Griffin III enters a make-or-break year in Washington, Evan Silva unveils his 2015 Redskins Fantasy Preview

Before I get started, a disclaimer:

Heading into a fantasy draft, your strategy should be built to allow flexibility. You need to be prepared to react to your targets coming off the board earlier than expected. You also must be ready to adjust when a star falls further than they should have. That much is true.

You should, however, have a gameplan penciled into place as a guideline for when you intend on targeting certain positions. While you’re busy licking your chops thinking about an Aaron Rodgers-Randall Cobb battery in rounds two and three, your opponents are looking deeper down the ADP list and considering the relative value of those top players to players with similar ADPs at other positions.

Rodgers sounds great as a guy who will hold down your quarterback position all season, but what if that leaves you with Rashard Mendenhall as your RB2? Consider the following list of quarterbacks who are being selected after Mendenhall in most mock drafts: Matt Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and Tony Romo.

Would you prefer Rodgers and Mendenhall or one of the aforementioned quarterbacks and one of Stevan Ridley, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, or Frank Gore? Your gut should be telling you to get the premier tailback and a quick study of Value Based Drafting would tell you the same.

Today, I’m going to look at recent ADP and examine the players being selected in the first eight rounds of a 12-team league. Here’s the twist. Instead of starting with the first round, I’m going to work backwards. This way, we can find value picks later in the draft, making earlier selections easier. This will help maximize what you can get out of your starting lineup.

Editor's Note: For the latest rankings, projections, mock drafts and more, get the Rotoworld Draft Guide. Plus, follow @rotoworld_fb and @MikeClayNFL for all your fantasy football news and advice on twitter.

For the sake of this article, we’re going to assume a starting lineup that includes 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, and 1 Flex. Scoring will be standard across the board, including no PPR.

Round 8

Still Available:
QB: Tony Romo, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler
RB: Jonathan Stewart, Ben Tate, Bryce Brown, Mark Ingram, Fred Jackson
WR: DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin, Stevie Johnson, Kenny Britt, Josh Gordon, Mike Williams
TE: Kyle Rudolph, Jared Cook, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley

If anything, this list of available players shows us how deep fantasy football is these days. Romo is a viable back-end starting quarterback. Rudolph, Finley, and possibly Cook will make for solid starting tight ends this year. I cut the wide receiver list off at six, but I could’ve listed, at least, another half dozen wideouts who will flirt with WR3 status this year.

The position that’s notably drained at this point in the draft is running back. This is extremely important to note if you’re in a league that requires you to start a flex or third running back. You still need to find an every-week starter in the eighth round. If you wait to fill your flex, you’re going to end up disappointed with both your running back depth and your flex situation. As we learned in a study I did previously on the ideal way to fill your flex position, you should always be eyeing a running back for your flex in non-PPR leagues.

Now that you’re aware that the top available backs in and after the eighth round are backups or involved in a committee, it’s time to consider where to go with this pick. Romo is a capable QB1, but it still leaves you with one of the worst situations at the position in the league. Rudolph was a touchdown machine last year, but you can get similar players later in the draft and, as we’ll soon learn, there are better values earlier on.

That leaves us with easily the deepest fantasy position of 2013: wide receiver. I have Williams as the best player available at the position in the eighth round. He was fantasy’s No. 18 wideout in 2012 and is in nearly the exact same situation in 2013. Still, he’s available as late as the ninth round in 2013. You can’t beat that value. And, hey, maybe Williams isn’t your cup of tea? No problem. The likes of Gordon, Jackson, and Johnson will also be available. If you’re lucky, Cecil Shorts or Danario Alexander could fall out of the seventh round and give you even more options.

The best part about waiting this long to fill out your wide receiver unit is that you’re able to easily hedge your bets. Williams, Jeremy Maclin, and Lance Moore can be had in the ninth round. Justin Blackmon, Denarius Moore, Emmanuel Sanders, Vincent Brown, and Michael Floyd (a personal favorite) are available in Round 10.

Roster Progress: Mike Williams (WR)

Round 7

Still Available:
QB: Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Eli Manning
RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Daryl Richardson, Andre Brown, Jonathan Stewart, Ben Tate
WR: Greg Jennings, T.Y. Hilton, Anquan Boldin, Cecil Shorts, Danario Alexander
TE: Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph, Jared Cook, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley

I’m going to work my way backwards through the positions this time. We see that only one tight end (Pitta) is available that won’t be there one round later. As good as Pitta is, we’re starting to see here that the middle tier of TE1 candidates is spread over several rounds. An astute drafter will catch that and take advantage if still looking to find a tight end at this point.

We see five new fresh faces at wide receiver, but none are major improvements on the players available in the next few rounds.

Three new backs are available here, but only one is worth discussing. Richardson is a guy I and Evan Silva like a lot, but there’s plenty of risk. He’s far from assured a starting job in St. Louis and only has 98 career carries (albeit impressive) to his name. That being the case, he’s a value in round seven, but not the best value.

That leaves us with quarterback. Three new very impressive names were added to our list in sophomores Griffin, Wilson, and Luck. All three showed a ton of promise in 2012 and each would make for a strong pick in the seventh round. My favorite of the bunch is Griffin, but those who disagree have alternatives to choose from. Quarterback is very deep this year. The smart move is to wait and take advantage of a seventh round value.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), Mike Williams (WR)

Round 6

Still Available:
QB: Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck
RB: Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Daryl Richardson, Andre Brown
WR: Antonio Brown, Eric Decker, Tavon Austin, Steve Smith, Greg Jennings
TE: Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez, Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph

If not for (Spoiler Alert) Rob Gronkowski’s injury, we’d probably be eyeing the tight end position in the sixth or seventh round. Witten usually comes off around the fifth/sixth round turn, so he’s risky to wait on. Davis and Gonzalez, however, can usually be had in the sixth. That’s solid value.

Stafford and Kaepernick are a pair of solid additions to the quarterback pool, but they’re not much better than Griffin, who we grabbed a round later. Bernard and Vereen are potential breakout candidates, but they’re both better in PPR and very risky options for the flex spot.

That leaves us addressing wide receiver again. Witten aside, Brown, Decker, Smith, Jennings, and even aforementioned Shorts are the best available players at this spot. I believe Decker will put up top-20 numbers again this year, so he’s my pick, but as mentioned earlier, there are plenty of alternative options. Those options include Brown, who is a candidate for 80-plus receptions.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), Mike Williams (WR), Eric Decker, (WR)

Round 5

Still Available:
QB: Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III
RB: Ahmad Bradshaw, Ryan Mathews, Eddie Lacy, Rashard Mendenhall, Giovani Bernard
WR: Danny Amendola, Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, Pierre Garcon
TE: Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez, Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph

Okay, we’re in the fifth round here, so that means, during an actual draft, you’d already have four players rostered. If you’re one of the many people who think it’s silly to spend three of your first four picks on the same position (specifically running back), the underwhelming names on each of our first four lists of available running backs should cause you to reconsider. If you wait until the fifth round to fill your flex in a non-PPR league, you’re going to have to start an underwhelming and/or risky player like Bradshaw, Mathews, or Lacy each and every week. That’s not much to get excited about.

No tight ends were added to the list, so that’s a clear message to avoid the position in the fifth round. Ryan and especially Brady are intriguing quarterback names, but neither are as good a value as what we landed in the seventh round.

That leaves us to address our third (or first, depending on how you want to look at it) wide receiver slot. My top-ranked player here is old man Wayne, but there are tons of players to get excited about. Nicks and 100-catch candidate Amendola really jump off the page, but Smith and Garcon are also candidates to flirt with WR1 value.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), Reggie Wayne (WR), Eric Decker, (WR), Mike Williams (WR)

Round 4

Still Available:
QB: Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick
RB: Montee Ball, Le'Veon Bell, Chris Ivory, Ahmad Bradshaw, Ryan Mathews
WR: Andre Johnson, Victor Cruz, Vincent Jackson, Jordy Nelson, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez, Dennis Pitta

With only 36 players off the board when the fourth round begins, it should be no surprise that a few superstars are beginning to show up.

Newton is a top-five fantasy quarterback…but hey, so is Griffin when he’s healthy. No regrets here.

Ball, Bell, and Ivory aren’t the worst flex options, but they’d be risky in the RB2 slot. Ball and Bell are rookies and Ivory is on a new team. Fortunately, we know we’ll be addressing running back early.

We already filled our three wide receiver slots. Had we not, the impressive list of additions to this list would be intriguing. In fact, if the player we do select isn’t available, it makes sense to grab a wideout here and focus on Witten, Gonzalez, or Davis later.

The best value in the fourth round is Rob Gronkowski. Say what you want about his health; when “Gronk” plays, he’s arguably the most-valuable fantasy asset. I understand concerns that he may sit out a few weeks, but that’s okay. Championships aren’t won in Weeks 1 or 2. Consider that you can handcuff Gronkowski with the likes of Owen Daniels, Jordan Cameron, or Martellus Bennett in Round 12.

There are too many reasons to not pass up Gronkowski in the fourth round. As long as he appears in a little more than half of your regular season (very likely), it’s a strong value.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), Reggie Wayne (WR), Eric Decker, (WR), Mike Williams (WR), Rob Gronkowski (TE)

Round 3

Still Available:
QB: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford
RB: Frank Gore, DeMarco Murray, Lamar Miller, Darren McFadden, David Wilson, Darren Sproles
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Randall Cobb, Percy Harvin, Roddy White, Andre Johnson
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez, Dennis Pitta

We just addressed tight end, but it’s worth noting that Gronkowski and Witten are still one-two on the list. If you pass on Jimmy Graham (as we will today), you can skip the position in the third round and, if you miss on Gronkowski, not address it for several more rounds.

Brees is arguably the top fantasy quarterback this season—and not a terrible investment in the third round—but there are better values to be had at quarterback. We see some major additions to the wide receiver pool, but it’s not much of an upgrade on what was available in the fourth.

The cat is already out of the bag that we’re going to go with the polarizing RB-RB-RB strategy. The position is simply too shallow to address later. Waiting would leave you with a void at the flex position. Six running backs are usually drafted in the third round and each of them would give you an elite flex option. My favorite of the six is Wilson. I’m buying on him for a breakout season. Of course, to beat a dead horse, you have other options here. Miller is another breakout candidate. Gore and Sproles are solid and consistent. Murray and McFadden have struggled with injuries, but both have plenty of talent and see massive workloads.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), David Wilson (Flex), Reggie Wayne (WR), Eric Decker, (WR), Mike Williams (WR), Rob Gronkowski (TE)

Round 2

Still Available:
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan
RB: Matt Forte, Stevan Ridley, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Reggie Bush
WR: A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas
TE: Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez

I love Jimmy Graham. He’s definitely worth a pick at his 2.8 ADP. But the key to maximizing your starting lineup isn’t finding great values, it’s finding the best values. Because Graham in the second round isn’t as good a value as Gronkowski in the fourth, and because Graham is an inferior flex to a third-round running back, he’s not the correct pick.

The top quarterback in terms of ADP, Rodgers generally comes off the board in the middle of the second round. That’s a bit too early for the savvy fantasy owner. The five wide receivers that come off the board in the second round make up the entire second tier at the position. Each would give you an elite option at the position. But, as we learned earlier, the combination of a second-round WR and mid-round RB is a lot less appealing than a second-round RB and mid-round WR.

Speaking of second-round backs, we see a very intriguing group here, especially in the early-to-mid portion of the frame. Forte and Ridley are borderline top-10 backs. Johnson and Jones-Drew have plenty of ability and will see large workloads. If you’re picking at the turn, it’s possible you could sneak away with two of Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris, and Steven Jackson, as well. My pick here is Ridley, but Forte is right there.

Roster Progress: Robert Griffin III (QB), Stevan Ridley (RB), David Wilson (Flex), Reggie Wayne (WR), Eric Decker, (WR), Mike Williams (WR), Rob Gronkowski (TE)

Round 1

Still Available:
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan
RB: Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris, Steven Jackson
WR: Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones
TE: Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez

Of the Top 12 overall players in terms of ADP, 11 are running backs this year. Calvin Johnson would be hard to pass on near the turn, but you should be going in expecting to take a back in the first.

There’s not much else to analyze here since the first round is so heavy on one position and we know we need a No. 1 back. To keep us honest, I’ll assume a mid-round pick and roll with C.J. Spiller.

The Verdict

Final Starting Lineup:
QB - Robert Griffin III
RB - C.J. Spiller, Stevan Ridley, David Wilson (Flex)
WR - Reggie Wayne, Eric Decker, Mike Williams
TE - Rob Gronkowski

I like it.

Relative to what your competition will have at each starting lineup position, we have elite options at RB1, RB2, Flex, and TE. We have a strong option at QB1. Although it may seem silly considering where we selected them, we actually have decent WR2 and WR3 options—not to mention depth if you address the position in Round 9 and/or 10.

Remember, the key here isn’t the actual players I picked, it’s the players available when I made the picks. I urge you to scan through the above ‘available player’ lists and come up with the best possible starting lineup relative to the players you’re highest and lowest on. Think Zac Stacy is a slam dunk RB2? Adjust for that. Convinced Vernon Davis will be fantasy’s No. 1 tight end? Find someone else to select in Round 4. Expecting Mark Sanchez to outperform Drew Brees? Quit fantasy football.

All kidding aside, you catch my drift.

Research past the first few rounds, have targets in mind, and be prepared to adjust on the fly. When all is said and done, your starting lineup will be the envy of the league.

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