2015 fantasy football draft strategy and advice following NFL Draft

BY Ryan Fowler • May 4, 2015

With the 2015 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, it’s time for owners to start preparing and planning their 2015 fantasy football draft season strategy.

RANKINGS: Top 200 | QB | RB | WR | TE | DST | K  

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To recap, seven quarterbacks, 22 running backs and 35 receivers were selected in the 2015 NFL Draft.  The seven QB’s were the fewest dating back to 1967.  Of the 22 running backs (which includes players tagged fullback), only eight came off the board in the first three rounds. As for the new crop of receivers – of which 14 were drafted between the first three rounds – they are now challenged with upstaging and outperforming an efficient 2014 rookie class of fantasy receivers.

Take a closer look at the rookie receiver production from a season ago (sorted by PPR-FPPG):

Rookie WR Name Games Total PPR Points PPR - PPG
Odell Beckham 12 297.0 24.8
Mike Evans 15 245.1 16.3
Kelvin Benjamin 16 225.8 14.1
Martavis Bryant 10 130.1 13.0
Jordan Matthews 16 202.2 12.6
Sammy Watkins 16 198.0 12.4
Jarvis Landry 16 189.4 11.8
Allen Hurns 16 154.7 9.6
John Brown 16 147.0 9.2

Sure, we could critique and spin the above production when it comes to guys like Sammy Watkins – who didn’t have a great quarterback and played through injury – Jarvis Landry – a bubble screen machine with no games of 100+ receiving yards – or Martavis Bryant who was basically M.I.A. unless he caught the ball in the end zone. Those footnotes are all fair assessments and worthy of reading and analyzing between the lines.

However, highlighting NFL front offices’ infatuation with targeting receivers during the 2015 Draft and reminding fantasy owners how consistent rookie receivers were a season ago is just the tip of a larger iceberg when it comes to 2015 fantasy football draft strategy.

The strategy is fairly simple at first glance: stock up on running backs in the first three-to-four rounds because the receivers will be there well into the later rounds of your draft.

To further illustrate and drive home the point, take a look at the top-scoring fantasy running backs table below:

(Note: all players PPR totals divided by 17 weeks/games):

    RUSHING   RECEIVING   MISC      
  Name TD Yds Att TD Yds Rec 2Pt FRecTD OFumL PPR PTS PPR PPG
1 Le'Veon Bell 8 1361 290 3 854 83 0 0 0 370.5 21.79
2 DeMarco Murray 13 1845 392 0 416 57 0 0 5 351.1 20.65
3 Matt Forte 6 1038 266 4 808 102 2 0 2 346.6 20.39
4 Marshawn Lynch 13 1306 280 4 367 37 0 0 2 302.3 17.78
5 Arian Foster 8 1246 260 5 327 38 0 0 2 275.5 16.21
6 Eddie Lacy 9 1139 246 4 427 42 0 0 2 272.6 16.04
7 Jamaal Charles 9 1033 206 5 291 40 0 0 3 250.4 14.73
8 Justin Forsett 8 1266 235 0 263 44 1 0 0 246.9 14.52
9 Lamar Miller 8 1099 216 1 275 38 0 0 3 223.4 13.14
10 C.J. Anderson 8 849 179 2 324 34 0 0 0 211.3 12.43
11 Jeremy Hill 9 1124 222 0 215 27 0 0 2 210.9 12.41
12 LeSean McCoy 5 1319 312 0 155 28 0 0 3 199.4 11.73
13 Joique Bell 7 860 223 1 322 34 0 0 1 198.2 11.66
14 Matt Asiata 9 570 164 1 312 44 2 0 1 194.2 11.42
15 Mark Ingram 9 964 226 0 145 29 0 0 1 191.9 11.29
16 Fred Jackson 2 525 141 1 501 66 1 0 0 188.6 11.09
17 Alfred Morris 8 1074 265 0 155 17 0 0 0 187.9 11.05
18 Giovani Bernard 5 680 168 2 349 43 0 0 0 187.9 11.05
19 Andre Ellington 3 660 201 2 395 46 0 0 2 177.5 10.44

What are we to take away from this stat table?

It’s safe to say in most fantasy football leagues, owners are required to start two running backs with the option of “flexing” out a third starting RB if they wished. So, at the very least, the top 24 fantasy running backs are needed to fill out the most-common 12-team PPR league rosters.  However, only 19 running backs averaged double-digit fantasy points in PPR leagues last season. If you were one of those unlucky five owners who had a RB2 who averaged less than 10 fantasy points in PPR leagues, odds are you didn’t win your league championship.

So, draftees like Melvin Gordon (Chargers), Toddy Gurley (Rams – could start on PUP list) and Ameer Abdullah (Lions) all have some fantasy value off-the-jump when sorting through the statistical minutiae.  With Ryan Mathews gone, the Chargers haven’t defined a primary running back, Rams seem eager to ride the hot hand and provide young running backs a shot at starting (see: Mason, Tre) and Joique Bell is a great finisher around the end zone, but the Lions could once again embrace a RBBC.

With hindsight always 20/20, here’s how many wide receivers averaged double-digit fantasy points in 2014:

(Note: all players PPR totals divided by 17 weeks/games):

    RECEIVING   RUSHING   MISC      
  Name TD Yds Rec TD Yds Att 2Pt FRecTD OFumL PPR FP PPR FPPG
1 Antonio Brown 13 1698 129 0 13 4 1 0 2 382.9 22.52
2 Demaryius Thomas 11 1619 111 0 0 0 1 0 0 340.9 20.05
3 Jordy Nelson 13 1519 98 0 0 0 0 0 0 327.9 19.29
4 Dez Bryant 16 1320 88 0 0 0 0 0 0 316 18.59
5 Emmanuel Sanders 9 1404 101 0 44 8 1 0 0 301.8 17.75
6 Julio Jones 6 1593 104 0 1 1 0 0 1 297.4 17.49
7 Odell Beckham Jr. 12 1305 91 0 35 7 0 0 1 295 17.35
8 Randall Cobb 12 1287 91 0 37 11 1 0 2 293.4 17.26
9 Jeremy Maclin 10 1318 85 0 0 0 0 0 0 276.8 16.28
10 Alshon Jeffery 10 1133 85 0 33 6 0 0 0 261.6 15.39
11 Golden Tate 4 1331 99 0 30 5 0 0 0 259.1 15.24
12 T.Y. Hilton 7 1345 82 0 20 2 0 0 1 258.5 15.21
13 Mike Evans 12 1051 68 0 0 0 0 0 0 245.1 14.42
14 DeAndre Hopkins  6 1210 76 0 0 0 0 0 1 231 13.59
15 Calvin Johnson 8 1077 71 0 0 0 0 0 0 226.7 13.34
16 Kelvin Benjamin 9 1008 73 0 0 0 0 0 1 225.8 13.28
17 Julian Edelman 4 972 92 0 94 10 0 0 0 222.6 13.09
18 Anquan Boldin 5 1062 83 0 4 1 0 0 0 219.6 12.92
19 Steve Smith Sr. 6 1065 79 0 0 0 0 0 1 219.5 12.91
20 Mike Wallace 10 862 67 0 16 4 0 0 1 212.8 12.52
21 Roddy White 7 921 80 0 0 0 0 0 1 212.1 12.48
22 Brandon LaFell 7 953 74 0 13 2 0 0 1 210.6 12.39
23 DeSean Jackson 6 1169 56 0 7 4 0 0 0 209.6 12.33
24 A.J. Green 6 1041 69 0 2 2 0 0 2 205.3 12.08
25 Jordan Matthews 8 872 67 0 0 0 0 0 0 202.2 11.89
26 Eric Decker 5 962 74 0 0 0 0 0 0 200.2 11.78
27 Sammy Watkins 6 982 65 0 8 2 0 0 1 198 11.65
28 Torrey Smith 11 767 49 0 0 0 0 0 0 191.7 11.28
29 Andre Johnson 3 936 85 0 0 0 0 0 3 190.6 11.21
30 Rueben Randle 3 938 71 0 0 0 0 0 0 182.8 10.75
31 Jarvis Landry 5 758 84 0 -4 2 0 0 4 181.4 10.67
32 Mohamed Sanu 5 790 56 0 51 7 1 0 0 181.3 10.66
33 Eddie Royal 7 778 62 0 14 3 0 0 1 181.2 10.66
34 Vincent Jackson 2 1002 70 0 0 0 0 0 1 180.2 10.60
35 Brandon Marshall  8 721 61 0 0 0 0 0 1 179.1 10.54
36 Marques Colston 5 902 59 0 0 0 0 0 1 177.2 10.42
37 Keenan Allen 4 783 77 0 0 0 0 0 2 175.3 10.31
38 Kenny Stills 3 931 63 0 -2 1 0 0 0 173.9 10.23
39 Malcom Floyd 6 856 52 0 0 0 0 0 0 173.6 10.21
40 James Jones 6 666 73 0 0 0 0 0 1 173.6 10.21

Forty.  Forty wide receivers averaged double-digit fantasy points last season.  That’s a WR-1, WR-2 and optional WR-3/FLEX-WR plus four extra receivers of position pool depth. Patience may be considered a virtue, but when it comes to your fantasy football drafts, patience when drafting a receiving corps should be a necessity.

Most owners – present company included – made the lazy/popular pick of Calvin Johnson in the first round as if his 20-fantasy-points-per-game production was predetermined.  Megatron averaged the equivalent of 13.34 FPPG (17 weeks/games), while James Jones averaged 10.31 or three receptions / 30 yards difference.

So, for the sake of a May fantasy football argument, let’s toss out a possible draft focus:

Round Position Focus
1 RB/Gronk
2 RB/Gronk/Graham
3 RB
4 RB/WR
5 RB/QB/WR
6 WR/QB/WR
7 QB/WR/TE
8 QB/WR/TE
9 WR/RB/QB
10 WR/RB
11 RB/WR
12 WR/RB/TE
13 RB/WR/TE
14 DST/K
15 K/DST

Rob Gronkowski is so heads-and-shoulders dominant at the shallow tight end position that, when healthy, he’s my RB-focused draft strategy exception not the rule. Jimmy Graham’s zip code change to Seattle is a large enough variable to force me to pump the breaks on a first-round endorsement considering my rekindled focus on running back depth or lack thereof, but don’t mix the message – Graham and Gronk will once again compete for fantasy TE supremacy.

As if you needed another reason to focus on running backs in the early rounds, of the Top 12 scoring fantasy quarterbacks, more than half possessed an average draft position AFTER the 5th Round (standard leagues).

Be patient and be rewarded come late-December.

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