Fantasy Draft Strategy: Elite QB in Round 1?

by Dan Grogan (7/30/12)

I'm a big believer in using "what if" scenarios to help me prepare for my draft. I really try to think through who might be available to me round-by-round and I rely on Average Draft Position (ADP) data to help me accomplish this. While it isn't perfect, ADP info is still one of the best tools we have to get a read on how fantasy drafters are thinking. I find the ADPs helpful in reducing the uncertainty about the draft. I'm fine with surprises on my birthday, but not on draft day!

I use the ADP data furnished by Fantasy Football Calculator (

Recently, I got to thinking about whether it was wise or not to draft one of the elite fantasy QBs like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees. There's a high cost to making this move since according to the ADPs, these QBs typically are off the board beginning with pick number four through number 8. Basically, you're forgoing an elite receiver (possibly Calvin Johnson) or passing up an uproven, but potentially fantasy stud at RB. Is it worth it?

In order to explore this question, I examined the first six rounds as defined by the ADPs. Six rounds seemed appropriate since if you didn't select a QB in the first, you probably should have one at the latest by the sixth stanza of the draft. By then, about eight or nine are off the board. I also made the assumption that I was drafting in a 12-team league that used just one starting QB and had starting requirements of 2 RBs and 2 WRs. Four points are awarded for a TD pass and a PPR format is also considered. A standard serpentine draft is used.

There was one major observation of the ADPs that impacted my thinking about my overall draft strategy.  Beginning in Round 3, WR selections really start to dominate the draft and this continues through most of the fourth round. So, for about a stretch of 21 picks I counted 14 that were used to draft a WR (67%). Only five RBs were taken during this time. Round 5 was also WR-heavy with seven being taken over the 12 picks. I mention this mainly because under this scenario of drafting an elite QB, it seems I better have my eyes peeled for a RB in Round 2 - unless, of course, there's a top-notch WR sitting there. I can probably land a decent WR1 and a very good WR2 a little later.

Scenario 1: I draft one of the BIG THREE QBs with that first round pick.

According to the ADPs, it's quite likely that it will require a pick somewhere in the range of 4 through 8 to land that elite QB. I'll assume it was pick number 6 and let's say I get Brady with that selection. So, if this is the case, I basically have a pick at the mid-point of every ensuing round.

As Round 2 approaches the ADPs tell me that RBs are going fast and furiously. When I'm on the clock I see that taking a RB will be now be a reach and that doesn't seem very prudent. Instead, I grab WR Andre Johnson. I'm happy to get him, but missing out on a RB here did not go according to plan.  See what I mean about surprises!

I'm now at the point of having to "force" a RB in Round 3 and my options look to be Fred Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Turner. Since I truly don't know if all or any of these guys will be there, I'm just going to use the average projected fantasy value of the three players to help me investigate this strategy. These values are calculated by Fantasy Football Starters.

Knowing that there will likely still be plenty of decent WRs in the next round, I would probably look for my number 2 RB here in Round 4. The ADPs indicate that Frank Gore and Reggie Bush will probably still be on the board for my pick. Again, no need to say who I'd take, but I'll use the average projected fantasy points for the season for these two.

As mentioned, Round 5 will be a WR round and guys like DeSean Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Vincent Jackson look to be available. One of these three would end up being on my team.

Given that by Round 6 several tight ends have been taken, I'll look for one here. Vernon Davis and Alex Hernandez should be there according to the ADPs.

OK, to make the analysis of whether taking an elite QB gives me a decisive advantage over my fantasy foes or not, I need to do a similar scenario, but this time, I'll skip that first round QB. I'll also assume that I have the 6th pick of the draft.

Scenario 2: Passing on an elite QB in the first round.

To keep things short I'll just summarize who the best options are for me round-by-round. For comparison sake, I used the average fantasy points projections for situations when multi-players were available.

Round 1: Ryan Matthews, RB
Round 2: Andre Johnson, WR
Round 3: RBs Fred Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Turner
Round 4: WRs Miles Austin, Marques Colston, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant
Round 5: Antonio Gates, TE
Round 6: QBs Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers.

After calculating the total number of fantasy points for each round under both scenarios....drum roll please...

The Results:

There wasn't a significant difference.

Scenario 1 produced 1424 fantasy points while Scenario 2 totaled 1464. Given the fact that you just don't know precisely which players will actually be available in each round and that season projections are just best estimates, I don't think the 40-point difference is reason to get too excited.

Although this exercise failed to produce dramatic results, I still think it's a very worthwhile thing to do.

There's no slam-dunk drafting approach to winning a championship. Don't get me wrong though. There are some time tested draft rules that give you a better chance. I doubt anyone that has drafted a kicker first has ever won!

If nothing less, the "what if" approach gives you a reality check on just how the core of your fantasy team might look like at the end of draft night.  It forces you to really think out what you might do given the circumstances. Remember, the key thing is that you don't want any surprises. At least not the negative kind!