It was 20 years ago today that the Manifesto began to play.
That's right. Two decades ago was the very first Draft-Day Manifesto, and what a long, strange trip it's been, he said, clearly feeling musical.
When I wrote my very first Manifesto, I wrote it for free, for a small fantasy website that didn't have a lot of traffic and had no clue that in the next 20 years I would turn a goofy hobby into a career that would lead to me quitting my job at 35, moving cross-country, meeting my wife at ESPN, starting a family and finding myself on TV, sometimes for 29 straight hours.
When I started my first Manifesto, I was living in Los Angeles, I had finished writing for "Married ...With Children" the year before and I had a full head of hair. We were coming off an NFL season in which Jeff George (two first names, always a crowd-pleaser) led the NFL in passing with 3,917 yards (a total that would have ranked 10th in 2017). A season in which 15 players got at least 250 carries (just eight did so in 2017) and six players carried the rock at least 300 times (only Le'Veon Bell did it last season). One fantasy football magazine I found from that season had Brett Favre ranked as its No. 1 player overall.
Far be it for me to ever criticize anyone for ranking a QB No. 1 overall (ahem), but it just goes to show how far we've come. When I was writing the first edition, the world was watching every swing of the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa season-long home run derby with bated breath. We didn't know it at the time, but Michael Jordan had played his final game with the Chicago Bulls just two months earlier, clinching his sixth NBA title by dropping 45 points in 44 minutes against the Utah Jazz. In that series, the Bulls averaged 88 points on their way to a title. The Warriors averaged 116 points per game en route to their 2018 crown.
Google was formally incorporated as a company that year, and the Furby made its first appearance (27 million were sold in the 12 months following its initial launch). TRL, aka "Total Request Live," debuted that fall, while a teenager named Britney Spears released a song called "... Baby One More Time."
"Titanic" won 11 Oscars, including best picture. The final episode of "Seinfeld" aired, the first portable MP3 was released and Exxon merged with Mobil.
Some things have aged well ("Seinfeld," Google, Jordan), while others haven't (sorry Furby, MP3, my hairline).
Regardless of what you think about this column and which category you place it in, there is no doubt that just surviving this long is an accomplishment in and of itself and would not have been possible, at all, without you. So truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. It is a privilege to have survived this long.
What will we do next year when the Manifesto is old enough to drink? Will we take it to Vegas? Or is this the last one ever? Twenty years is a long time to do something -- anything -- including writing a very long article about fantasy football theory when everyone is on family vacations.
To be candid, I don't know the answer to that. It's not a decision I can make now. Only time will tell, but this much is clear: Fantasy football season is upon us. You've got a draft coming up and I'm here to help you be as prepared as possible to crush it like a grape.
So welcome, friends, old and new, to the 20th edition of the heart-stopping, knowledge-dropping, ADP-rocking, booty-shaking, strategy-making, earth-quaking, sleeper-taking, Springsteen-stealing, justifying, death-defying, legendary DRAFT-DAY MANIFESTO.
Much like Bruce after three hours saying, screw it, we'll keep playing, we slowly find our way into this edition of the Manifesto. Much like every Springsteen concert, there are classics you have read before in this, along with some new surprises. It'll include my overall thoughts on fantasy football strategy and theory, a basic foundation upon which to build a championship team and, as I was just remarking to the thousands of happy RotoPass.com subscribers who won their league last season thanks to our tools and rankings, there also will be some over-the-top, self-serving promotion.
But there's also a new format, updated research and at least one new joke. (Editor's note: That wasn't it.)
Let's start, as we always do, with the most important piece of fantasy football advice I can give.
At a fundamental level, fantasy football is entirely about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis.
That's it. That simple. From this article to the end of your season, every single thing you do needs to lead back to that very simple rule. Every draft pick, every waiver move, potential trade, start/sit decision and every other move.
I lead off with that every single year because with wall-to-wall coverage of fantasy football these days (including this very long article), it's easy to lose sight of.
Exactly one year ago today, no one thought a third-string rookie RB from New Orleans would score more fantasy points in PPR leagues than a healthy Antonio Brown. That journeyman, second-string QB Case Keenum would outscore Matt Ryan. That Todd Gurley, looking almost Trent Richardson-esque the year before in Jeff Fisher's excuse for an offense, would explode for 19 touchdowns (including six receiving, to lead all NFL running backs). Or that Sammy Watkins would stay healthy all season and finish as the third-best WR on his own team. That Jermaine Kearse would wind up with more points than T.Y. Hilton. That a rookie tight end on one of the worst teams in the NFL would finish top five at the position. That Alex Smith, Jared Goff and Andy Dalton would be among the QBs to throw more touchdown passes than Drew Brees. That Josh McCown would finish the season with 76 more total fantasy points than Aaron Rodgers. That Geno Smith would start more games than Andrew Luck.
You can't predict the future. I definitely can't predict the future. No one can predict the future. Like a New York cop who suddenly finds himself barefoot and trapped in a building on Christmas Eve with terrorists, you just have to roll with the punches during a ride that will have many twists and turns. So all you can do is minimize risk, give yourself the best odds to succeed every week, make the best call you can in the moment and let the chips fall where they may.
If you take only one thing away from this article, make it that. I'm gonna repeat it once more because it's that's important:
AT A FUNDAMENTAL LEVEL, THE KEY TO FANTASY FOOTBALL SUCCESS IS MINIMIZING RISK ON A WEEKLY BASIS TO GIVE YOURSELF THE BEST ODDS TO WIN.
By the way, if you take only two things away from this article, make it that and that my Fantasy Life app is a free and amazing resource for super-quick fantasy football alerts and an amazing community of fantasy football fanatics who will give immediate feedback on your team, potential moves and so much more. (Hey, I already got the RotoPass.com plug in.) Seriously, the app is worth it just for the alerts. There's a reason we are at 4.7 stars in the app store.
Anyway, back to football analysis and the challenges therein. As my good friend Joe Bryant of FootballGuys.com fame likes to say, it's a game with an oblong ball made of leather. Weird stuff is going to happen.
Brees had nine straight seasons of 30-plus touchdown passes before throwing just 23 last season. So, what's most likely to happen this year? Not guaranteed, but most likely based on the past decade of Brees' career? I love Brees' value this year.
Dak Prescott totaled six rushing touchdowns last season, the second year in a row he has done that. Of those six, four of them came from at least 10 yards out, tied for the most at any position in the NFL. Put another way, no running back had more rushing touchdowns of 10-plus yards than Prescott, a quarterback, last season. Also, in the past 15 years, the only QB in the NFL to have three straight seasons of six rushing touchdowns is Cam Newton. So what's most likely to happen this season with Dak?
In the first seven years of LeGarrette Blount's career, he converted goal-to-go carries into touchdowns at a rate of 33.7 percent (better than the NFL RB average of 29 percent). Last season, Blount converted just 7.7 percent of goal-to-go carries into scores. The NFL RB average was 28.5 percent last season. So, with the Lions running the ball last season in goal-to-go situations at their highest rate since 2009, I ask you about Detroit's free-agent signing at RB this year to play for Matt Patricia, a former New England Patriots coach: What's most likely to happen?
Using a little research and some basic logic, you can take a moment to think about every player, situation, opportunity from every angle and make a call on what's most likely to happen. Why could this guy succeed or why did he fail last season? Was it a fluke? Is it easily repeatable? What stands in the way of his success and what could propel him to sweet fantasy greatness? Once you figure that out, it's fairly easy to determine what is most likely to happen. It won't always work out, of course, but like everything else in life, if you play the odds, it will work out more often than not.
Fun fact: Twenty years ago, the No. 1 movie in the U.S. was "Saving Private Ryan."
Bonus fun fact: On Tom Hanks' most recent birthday, my friend Trey Wingo tweeted out his top five Hanks movies, and "Toy Story" was NOT on the list. I truly love Trey (seriously, he's one of my favorite people at ESPN), but "Toy Story" is: one of Hanks' top five movies, one of the top five animated movies and one of the top five movies, EVER. As a former screenwriter, I marvel at the many layers of a film that speaks to people of all ages with truly brilliant character development and humor, all while creating a completely new and wondrous world. It's amazing on so many levels. Feel free to @me. I will go down swinging on this topic.
The magic number
One more thing to know before we really dig in. Looking at the past two years, the average playoff team out of the millions of ESPN fantasy teams that played in our standard format (10-team re-draft, 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, TE, flex, K, D/ST, seven-man bench, PPR scoring) scored 121.5 points per week. (It's around 94 points a week for non-PPR playoff teams.)
Some will score more, some will score less, but if you average 121.5 points a week this year in ESPN PPR leagues, you're gonna have a really good shot at making the playoffs. Here's how the PPR scoring breaks down by position the past two years:
Now, understand these are averages and there are a lot of ways to get to 121.5. I mean, Todd Gurley averaged 25.6 points a game all by himself, so I don't believe there is one singular "right way to draft."
The other vitally important thing to remember as you construct your team is that not only are there a ton of ways to get to 121.5 points a week, it DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THE SAME WAY EVERY WEEK.
This seems obvious, and I've written about it many times before, but it bears repeating. We don't play a yearly game. We play a WEEKLY game that happens over the course of an NFL season.
You are competing in a string of 13 (and hopefully more) one-week contests. So while you hear a lot in the preseason discussion (and I'm guilty of it, too) about how many touchdown passes or fantasy points or yards or targets or whatever someone had last season, the truth is, there aren't a lot of players who need to be in your lineup every single week. It would be awesome if your team were filled with a bunch of guys like Antonio Brown, but you're gonna need guys like Robby Anderson, who last season was the fourth-best fantasy WR from Weeks 7 to 10.
On draft day, you are putting together a squad that needs to do one thing: outscore one other (predetermined) team during a certain week. Knowing that there will be bye weeks, injuries and many other surprises during the course of the season, what's the best collection of players you can put together on draft day to give you a foundation -- that you will add to -- to have the best shot at success every week?
To put it a slightly different way, you want the best group of players you can collect who will give you the most potential fantasy points in a given week, with an underlying tenet being that you DON'T have to start the same team every week and -- thanks to bye weeks -- can't.
So how do we do that? VBD, Zero RB, Zero WR, QB early, wait on a QB, RB/RB, WR/WR, TE early, TE late, autodraft, just picking the highest guy available on whatever sheet you printed out when it is your turn ... Honestly, I've seen them all work and I've seen them all crash and burn.
So there are many ways, but here's how I go about it. I have different goals for different parts of the draft, so let's go through a typical draft. And note that whenever we reference ADP or fantasy finishes, it's based on ESPN ADP and ESPN scoring in PPR leagues for that season.
Fun fact 2: Twenty years ago, a recently formed pop group from Houston released a self-titled album called "Destiny's Child." On the cover of that album the woman farthest to the right is Beyoncé.
Here we go.
Rounds 1 and 2
So here's a list of the average fantasy points per player by round in ESPN's PPR scoring last year:
The first thing you should notice is that Rounds 1 and 2 are significantly higher than every other round. We want 121.5 points a week, right?
Well, take away the kicker and D/ST averages and your new goal comes to 102.96.
Which means your first two picks will, in theory, account for 31 percent of your weekly total. Thirty-one percent! That's ... that's a lot.
You have to nail your first two picks. This is not a place to get cute. This is a place for as safe as you can reasonably get. Everything else I write/say/do this preseason will be about player evaluation, so I just want to talk theory here. Injuries can happen to anyone, of course, so there will always be flukes like David Johnson last year. Obviously it's an unpredictable game, but given those caveats, what's safe? Or rather, what's the way to go that has the best chance of minimizing your risk and putting you in a position to win?
For me, very simply, it's RB and WR. Personally, this year I won't touch a QB or a TE until Round 4.
We've kept insanely detailed ADP reports over the years, and by we, I really mean Tristan H. Cockcroft, who is, as you might imagine, fanatical about such things. Did you know that, over the past five years, 52 percent of QBs drafted in the top 10 at the position have finished the season as a top-10 QB (in total points)?
Fifty-two percent! You mean I have to use an early-ish pick on a QB and I have a 1-in-2 chance of it working out? What?
Let me put it another way. You may or may not have had the chance to catch my 100 Facts You Need To Know Before You Draft column, but in there I had these stats:
Last season, 89 times quarterbacks who were NOT drafted in the majority of ESPN leagues finished a week as a top-10 player at the position. In other words, in a 10-team ESPN league, the QBs that start every week ideally would also be the top-10 starters at the position. So 89 times last year, a guy NOT drafted in the majority of leagues was actually worthy of being a starter.
So what about the quarterbacks who WERE drafted in a majority of ESPN leagues? How often did they finish a week as a top-10 option?
Obviously, injuries to Aaron Rodgers and the Andrew Luck saga contributed to that, but still, if more top-10 weeks come from the free agents than the drafted doesn't tell you something, I can't help you.
The position is deeper than it has ever been. Look at this list of names of QBs going outside the top 10 (thus, non-starters) in ESPN leagues: Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, Jared Goff, Alex Smith.
Personally, I will be one of the last -- if not the last -- to draft a QB in my leagues this year.
As for tight ends, only Rob Gronkowski is going inside the top 20 and just barely (at 19th). You know what Gronk is: awesome when healthy, but always a risk (2011 was the last time he played all 16 games). If you want to take Gronk at the end of the second round, I have no issue with it. It's a little higher than I have him or would want to go, but that price point won't kill you for last season's No. 1 tight end on a points-per-game basis.
It's worth noting that during the past five seasons, just 46.7 percent of tight ends drafted in the top three at the position have finished the season as a top-three tight end. So, your odds of returning top-three value on Gronk/Travis Kelce/Zach Ertz (this year's current top three) are, historically, less than 50 percent.
So I want running backs and/or wide receivers in my first two rounds and, ideally, running backs. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, a highly drafted RB is more likely (again, we're dealing with what is MOST likely to happen, not what WILL happen) to NOT fall completely off the cliff than a WR, believe it or not.
Over the past five years, 59 percent of RBs drafted in the top 20 at the position have finished the season as such (total points).
Meanwhile, in the same time frame, just 49 percent of WRs drafted in the top 20 at the position have finished the season as such (total points).
I realize using your first-round pick on someone who finishes top 20 at the position is actually depressing, but it's still someone worth starting and, as they say about death, it beats the alternative.
I've said this for many years: You can't win your league in the first round, but you can lose it. While Todd Gurley actually destroyed that premise last year as he single-handedly led many folks to a title, the idea behind it is that most first-round picks are going to be solid and where leagues are won or lost are with the Alvin Kamara types who grossly outperform what it costs to get them on your team.
Digging further into the data, over the past five years, 46 percent of RBs drafted in the top 10 at the position have finished in the top 10. As of this writing, those 10 are going in the first 14 picks overall on ESPN this year. Meanwhile, in the same time frame, 48 percent of WRs drafted in the top 10 at the position finished in the top 10. So, basically the same.
But then, consider this: The top-tier running back class is really young. Did you see Tristan's piece on building around running backs? If not, I recommend checking it out, but in there he notes a few things:
• The average age of first-round running backs in fantasy this year is 24.
• The running back age that has amassed the most 280-point PPR fantasy seasons (17.5 per game) is 24.
• The second-most 280-point seasons go to RBs who are 25 years old.
Oh, and yeah, of the 20 most popular players on ESPN championship rosters last season (so the Ravens and Jaguars D/ST were not counted), the average age (as of Jan. 1, 2018) was under 25 years old.
It is, as they say, a young man's game. Or, to put it another way, you want an elite running back who is about four years older than the Manifesto.
So why not just go all RB, especially if WR is as deep as I believe this year? It's because of this:
In the past five years, 58.8 percent of WRs drafted in the first two rounds finished as a WR1 (top 10 at position). This is fueled somewhat by Antonio Brown, but bottom line, at the VERY elite level, is that top-end WRs produce like top-end WRs at a solid rate.
But Berry, you say, why not just go WR/WR and be done with them? Look, if Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. are there at the turn as I have seen in a lot of drafts, I have no issue with that. But in general, I'd really prefer at least one RB in the first two rounds, and possibly two, because of this:
Look at the drop-off from RB1 to RB2 and then compare it to the WR1/WR2 drop-off. The difference from RB1 to RB2 and from RB2 to RB3 are both more significant than the WR equivalent.
And it's also a bigger drop-off from RB1 to RB3 than it is from WR1 to WR3.
So elite running back production is important. If you can find this year's Alvin Kamara late in your draft or on the waiver wire, more power to you. And we'll talk about that in a bit. But ideally you get a star RB1 somewhere in the first two rounds, because they don't grow on trees.
At running back, I think there is a top-12 tier this year: Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Devonta Freeman.
And while I am a believer in them, there are questions about McCaffrey's role with a new offensive coordinator, and do C.J. Anderson/Cam Newton vulture too many touchdowns. There are concerns about Freeman's knees and whether Cook can still be as explosive after last year's injury. So this year, you can argue it's really only nine deep.
Meanwhile, WR is REALLY deep this year. And the difference between them gets pretty narrow pretty quickly. Do a few mock drafts and just wait on WR, regardless of who is available.
If you don't even consider drafting a WR until Round 4, you'll be amazed at who is still out there. Just using ESPN ADP, here's a list of some of the WRs still available in that round: Larry Fitzgerald, Doug Baldwin, Tyreek Hill, T.Y. Hilton, Stefon Diggs.
The last thing I want to talk about here for the first two rounds is the importance of player evaluation, which is ultimately what a draft is about. Looking at a list of players and quickly evaluating which players are better for your team than others.
I evaluate players on many factors, but you don't have to because, let's face it, you have a life.
But I'd like you to focus on just two things when thinking about players. And the first one is vital in the first two rounds:
Range of outcomes: yearly
I've written about this before in previous Manifestos, but as you prepare for your draft or auction, you need to have an opinion on every player. You don't need to have stats or projections memorized, but just a general sense of how much you like that guy in comparison to other players. Even if it's just someone's rankings that you trust, some way to differentiate between players as the clock ticks down on your pick.
Every single player I roster has to have a range of outcomes that is one of two things:
1. Players with high floors during the course of a season.
2. Players who could wind up as an elite option at a position in any given week.
And in the first two rounds, I want players who qualify for No. 1. To put it another way, Antonio Brown is currently the top WR being drafted. He has been the No. 1 WR for four straight seasons. Now, could the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster steal some from Brown? Could the loss of offensive coordinator Todd Haley affect the offense? Could the Steelers, in what is likely Le'Veon Bell's walk year, decide to ride Bell into the ground and Brown gets slightly fewer looks? Sure, all of it possible. And maybe he doesn't finish as WR1 this season. OK. Whatevs, dude. I would still have Antonio Brown as my No. 1 WR.
Because his range of outcomes is small. Barring some catastrophic injury, Brown will finish as one of the top few WRs in fantasy. He has a narrow range of outcomes and it's at an elite level. Meanwhile, someone like Josh Gordon (currently going as WR16) has a much wider range of outcomes. He could be awesome, he could (for a variety of different reasons) be unplayable.
You see, too often, people evaluate a player only in terms of what he could do in a positive manner, the best-case scenario for that player. People also tend to have recency bias, meaning they think only about how the player performed in the recent past, not looking at a larger body of work.
Given his off-the-field history, a new QB, increased competition for looks and the possibility that Cleveland goes to a rookie QB at some point, there is much more risk with Gordon than, say, the guy going right after him (Demaryius Thomas). Gordon also has much more upside than DT, but a much lower floor. Risk/reward ... a much wider range of outcomes.
As much as possible, especially in the early rounds, I want players with a high floor. And not just a high floor for the season, but a weekly high floor. That consistency, week in and week out, is what wins championships.
Bottom line: In the first two rounds, I am a big believer in "best player available" and just letting the draft come to me. This particular year, I believe both the QB and WR positions are as deep as I have ever seen, so I'm waiting on QB and after I get one elite WR will likely wait a bit. But if I am at the end of the first round and Julio Jones and Michael Thomas are still there, as I have often seen, I'll do that all day. And while I am a wait-on-a-QB guy, I will say you're not going to lose this year because you have Aaron Rodgers on your team, you know?
Fun fact 3: Twenty years ago, the average price of a gallon of gas was $1.15. A postage stamp was 32 cents. And people still actually used stamps.
Rounds 3 through 6
Let's go back to that handy chart of average PPG by round from last year:
Notice something about Rounds 3 through 6? The difference between the players in these rounds is less than half a point per game. Now, every situation is different, but these are averages and in the world of what's most likely to happen, this will work for our purposes.
With fairly similar production from these four rounds, look at them like one specific chunk as opposed to one individual round. You'll see where you are at once you hit Round 3, but I would use this chunk to continue pounding away at running back and wide receiver, influenced by whom you took in the first two rounds. (ie., if you ended up going WR/WR, you'll want to lean heavily on RB in this section).
With less than half a point per game separating sixth-rounders from third-rounders last season, why not target this area as a spot to take a chance on a game-breaking type who has the potential to leap into the upper echelon? Also, don't be scared to vary from rankings here.
This is the area where people start to take QBs. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson are all going in this range. Tight ends Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and Greg Olsen are also coming off the board here. And that's fine. It depends on your prerogative about those specific players and how you construct your team. Personally, I would wait on QB. I mean, Cam Newton is going in the seventh. Drew Brees is going in the ninth. I'd much rather one of those guys (or wait even longer) than use one of your first four picks on a QB. But that's me and, again, you're not losing your league because you have Tom Brady on your team. Or Travis Kelce.
If you're going to go away from just RB and WR in this range, I would prefer a TE over a QB. In the past five years, 48 percent of TEs drafted in the top five at the position have finished the season as such (total points). You have a better chance of getting difference-making production from a tight end here than you do at QB. My basic premise -- and many others make this as well -- is that you can get the same production from a QB drafted much later. Remember, last year at QB, 89 top-10 finishes from undrafted guys, 81 from those drafted.
But I am also OK with (and in fact, this is what I will do in most of my leagues) just having some combo of only RB and WR through my first six rounds. But that's me.
Look, one question that often comes up every year is some version of "I really like Alvin Kamara this year, but I have the second pick. Is that too early to take him?"
For me, I would go with whomever was left of Le'Veon Bell or Todd Gurley there. But, no, it's not "too early." The fact is ... it's YOUR team. Pick who you want. Kamara won't be there in the second round when you pick again, so if you want him this year, take him second. It's not like you're going to lose your league because you have Alvin Kamara.
Rankings are merely a guideline, and a loose one at that. Look, I want you to win. I spend hours upon hours every day watching film, researching stats, talking to players, coaches and beat reporters, studying, discussing, analyzing and thinking, all to try to help you win. Outside of my family, it's literally my entire existence, so I desperately want you to win.
But not as badly as you do.
It's your team, my virtual friend. You will think about -- and know -- your own team, your league rules and the other people in your league much better than I or anyone else who does fantasy analysis. You are the one who has to live with the results. So use me and others as a resource, nothing more. We can't tell the future. Don't be afraid to ignore what we say -- both on draft day and during the season -- if it goes against what you believe. The final decision for your team needs to live with you, not me or anyone else.
And Rounds 3 through 6 is a perfect time to start doing that. You'll read more about these players (and many more) in the coming weeks, but a few of the players currently going in this portion of the draft who I particularly like and think have a chance at top-10 upside? Jerick McKinnon, Doug Baldwin, Josh Gordon, Derrius Guice and Amari Cooper.
Fun fact 4: Twenty years ago (for the 1998-99 season), the top-10 TV shows were, in order: "ER," "Friends," "Frasier," Monday Night Football, "Veronica's Closet," "Jesse," "60 Minutes," "Touched by an Angel," the CBS Sunday Movie and "Home Improvement."
Bonus fun fact: Twenty years ago, "The Simpsons" was entering its 11th season. Aye caramba!
Rounds 7 through 11
OK, through six rounds you should have your starting running backs, your starting wide receivers, your flex and one other position. I'll most likely have my first replacement/high-upside bench RB or WR. But you potentially also could have your starting TE or QB by this point.
If you don't have a QB or TE, this is the range to start thinking about them.
QBs currently going in this range are: Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins and Ben Roethlisberger. Now I have other QBs ranked higher and there are still a lot of great players available after you go through that list, but the point is: QB is crazy-deep and in an ESPN standard-sized league (or any league in which you play one QB), you can and should wait.
This tends to be the section where most people who don't have a tight end grab one, and I agree with that.
Tight ends currently going in this range are: Jimmy Graham, Evan Engram, Jordan Reed and Kyle Rudolph. This is also the range where you have the best chance of getting a return on your tight end investment.
Over the past five years ...
• 46.7 percent of tight ends drafted in the top three at the position finished as a top-three TE.
• 48.0 percent of tight ends drafted in the top five at the position finished as a top-five TE.
• 58.0 percent of tight ends drafted in the top 10 at the position have ended the season in the top 10.
Obviously, top 10 is a wider range, so that helps and there are lower stakes to make the top 10 as opposed to the top three or five, but it's also a lower cost to get a tight end here. Ultimately, I don't want a tight end in the first two rounds, but after that it just depends on who is available and your own personal preference.
But yeah, you should definitely have a tight end by the time you get to the end of this section.
Let's go back once again to that handy chart of average PPG by round from last year:
Apparently, Round 9 was a weird one last year, but Round 10 is where people found Adam Thielen and Duke Johnson Jr. As you can see, over the past two seasons, the rounds in this section are generally going to provide similar production. Except that weird Round 9 outlier, players are basically within a point and a half of each other.
Rounds 7-10 should be used to fill out your non-K and D/ST starting lineups, and grabbing a few starting-worthy players for bye weeks. This is also an area where there are still some good wide receivers available (again, a position you can wait on).
Among the wide receivers I believe are undervalued in this section are Robert Woods, Chris Hogan, Corey Davis, Emmanuel Sanders, Pierre Garcon, Will Fuller V, Devin Funchess and, of course, my little Cooper Kupp.
There are also some good players who will be useful as a flex with upside for more should certain dominoes fall. Guys such as Lamar Miller, Dion Lewis, Tarik Cohen and Marlon Mack are a little undervalued for me.
Last point on this section. I am generally a wait-on-defense sort of guy. And I have a section on that coming up. But, under the idea that you should swing for the fences ... this is the area where the Jaguars' defense (seventh round) and the Rams' D (ninth) are going.
Would I draft them that early? No.
But if you think the Jags' D repeats or you feel like, with all the offseason moves and Wade Phillips' aggressive style, the Rams can get there ... well, this is where you need to take them. And in a 10-team league, I can live with it.
Again, it's not something I would do, but given how deep QB and WR are this year, the shallow nature of 10-team ESPN leagues and the fact that 57.4 percent of teams that made the ESPN Fantasy playoffs last year had the Jaguars' defense, I get it.
Fun fact 5: Twenty years ago, AOL bought Netscape for $4.2 billion. Just gonna leave that one right there.
Rounds 12 through 14
This is the "take a flier" stage, so the thing I want you to consider for this section is what I brought up in the Rounds 1 and 2 section. There, I mentioned this:
Every single player I roster has to have a range of outcomes that are one of two things:
1. Players with high floors during the course of a season.
2. Players who could wind up as an elite option at a position in any given week.
In that section, we discussed No. 1 and the range of outcomes over the course of the season. For this section, I want to talk about range of outcomes in any given week. The idea here is that certain players, given their talent and the right opportunity, have a range that could easily extend very high in a given week. In other words, if you are not drafting a starter with a reasonably narrow range of a yearly outcome, then the bench (which is basically what you are starting to draft in this area, aside from maybe a QB and/or TE) should be players with a potentially very high weekly ceiling.
Again, very important to keep stressing this: It is a weekly game. This means that every single week you will look at all the players available to you -- on your roster and in the free-agent pool -- and decide on a starting lineup.
As obvious as it seems, that's actually a huge step that gets overlooked a lot in fantasy. Because it's not just enough to have a good player -- you need to know when to start that player.
For example, last year in Week 5, then-rookie Colts RB Marlon Mack had a big game, with 93 total yards and a touchdown on just 10 touches. Problem was, Mack hadn't played the previous two games and Frank Gore was the starter. So there was no reason to start Mack in that game. That game didn't help anyone, as few started Mack.
It's not just having good players, but knowing which weeks to start them that is crucial to fantasy football success. So think about this year. Someone like Corey Clement is going as RB54 or Spencer Ware is going as RB63, both 14th round or later. Both players will have some value this season -- you could see a handful of plays for Clement every week and it wouldn't shock me if Ware vultures a few scores during the course of the season.
But if something were to happen to Jay Ajayi or Kareem Hunt, suddenly those guys would be very important plays in fantasy. If Hunt were to miss a game, Ware would be a top-15-ranked fantasy running back that week and you would know to start him.
Same for Clement. Both Clement and Ware are among running backs who have a high weekly range of outcomes. Meaning, in a given week, in the right scenario, they will be starting options for you.
Compare that to Lions RB Theo Riddick, who is going a few spots ahead of Clement, as RB51. Riddick is fine, a solid pass-catching running back who has carved out a nice little role for himself in Detroit. But there is virtually no scenario in which you would know to start Riddick for anything other than a so-so PPR flex-worthy performance. Like, Riddick had a huge game last season in Week 13, a 17.2-point effort at Baltimore powered by five catches for 41 yards (and he ran for a score). The previous two weeks he had caught just one pass in each game and was coming off back-to-back games of fewer than five points.
In the world of "what's most likely to happen," I want guys with high weekly ranges. Guys who could, in the right set of circumstances, be top-15 guys. This can also include the backups to your first-round picks, who, should something happen to your star, would fill in nicely. I am "pro-handcuff," especially if it's a situation where you know who the replacement would be. So yeah, if I draft Kareem Hunt, gimme all the Spencer Ware.
What I don't want is no-upside guys like Riddick, who will end the year with a few good games, but you'll never know when they are coming.
You can start looking for these types earlier, but it feels like this is the right range. Yes, there will be the Kenyan Drakes of the world who emerge, but many of the future stars of 2018 will be drafted in the later rounds. So take fliers. Many of them. I am of the belief there is no such thing as a bad pick after Round 10 in a 10-team re-draft league. What are we playing for here, fourth place?
Swing for the fences. And if you strike out on draft day with those fliers, so be it. Because draft day is just one piece of the puzzle. Consider this:
I had the crack team over here at ESPN HQ study the millions of people who play with us on ESPN.com (more than anyplace else! For free! With an amazing app that is also free! And controls all of your leagues and teams in any ESPN fantasy sport! And has rankings, articles, videos and more! And you can mock draft from it at any time! Except when you're driving. That would be bad. Don't mock and drive, kids. But yeah, want to start a new league? Activate an old one? Honestly, our ESPN Fantasy App is badass and can do everything, including, I am pretty sure, cure the common cold. It's also 100 percent free!) look at all the teams that made the playoffs, made the finals and won it all.
As such, this is a list of the top-10 most common players last season for each category (along with the percentage of leagues in which this player was involved and his ESPN ADP):
NOTE: FA stands for free agent, meaning the player was considered undrafted in ADP terms.
Notice something? The majority of common players on playoff/finals/championship teams came via free agency. Now, last year was a weird one with a huge amount of injuries, but the general point remains the same. Talent comes into the league, and rare is the champion who isn't active on the waiver wire throughout the season.
So whether the unexpected stars come from the final rounds (like Carson Wentz last year) or via free agency (like Alvin Kamara or Kenyan Drake), the point remains the same. Absolutely swing for the fences in the later rounds, because only one of two things happen: You either wind up with a Wentz or you drop the dud you drafted to grab a Jerick McKinnon.
By the way, Drake last year is the poster child for the "range of outcomes, weekly" part of the Manifesto. He helped carry many a champ to the title in 2017.
Fun fact 6: "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom was the third-best-selling book 20 years ago and if you've never read it, I highly recommend it. It's an easy read and will change how you approach life.
Rounds 15 and 16
This is where you should take a defense and a kicker, in that order. If you've gone Jaguars or Rams earlier, then just take another high-upside flier here and/or a handcuff, but in general (and this is what I will be doing), you are taking a defense and a kicker, in that order, here.
Why do I recommend taking a defense so late? I mean, they are part of your starting lineup, right?
It's because of the mercurial nature of defenses and that it's fairly easy to just stream them every week, picking up a free-agent defense that will perform well that week. (Range of outcomes, weekly, yo!)
It's also because, in the past four years, the difference between the second-best scoring defense and the 10th-best was about 2.5 points a week. So, I hear what you are yelling at your screen. "I'll just grab the No. 1 defense. I'll reach for Jacksonville in the seventh and be done with it.
The Jags, you say, are different. The Jags are awesome. Sacksonville, baby.
And you may very well be right. They certainly have a lot of talent and they are well-coached. But history is not on their side. In the past three seasons, the nine best defenses ... the nine defenses that scored at least 150 fantasy points in a season, have come from nine different franchises. Not one team has repeated. And oh yeah, of those nine, only two of them were drafted inside the top-10 defenses in the season they had their big year. Two.
In fact, over the past five seasons, just 40 percent of D/STs that were drafted as a top-10 defense finished the season as a top-10 defense. Just four in 10. And when people missed drafting, they really missed. In that same time frame, there were eight different defenses that were drafted as a top-10 unit that finished the season outside of the top 20. Meanwhile, only nine defenses drafted top 10 finished the season in the top five. In other words, you have basically the same chance as getting a slight positive return (draft top 10, finish top 5) as you do completely bottoming out (draft top 10, finish 21-32).
So, if we are playing the what's-most-likely-to-happen game ... you're waiting to draft a defense until Round 15.
If you think defenses are inconsistent, wait 'til you get a load of kickers. Over the past five seasons, just 42 percent of kickers who were drafted in the top 10 finished the season as a top-10 performer. In fact, 42 percent of kickers drafted in the top 10 also finished 16th or worse. Literally, you have a coin-flip chance of your kicker being top 10 or bottom half of the league. Greg Zuerlein, who was the 29th-best kicker in 2016 and drafted in fewer than 1 percent of leagues in 2017, finished as the No. 1 kicker last year. And he missed two games. Meanwhile, veteran Packers kicker Mason Crosby, a perennially popular pick at kicker, was drafted as K6 and finished as K26 (and he played in all 16 games).
Last season, just 17 points separated K4 and K11. In other words, the difference between an "elite" finish and a finish that is outside what is considered a starter in a 10-team league: one point a week.
In average leagues last season, the fourth kicker off the board was selected 22 picks ahead of K11. So even if you knew the final outcome, is one point a week worth an extra two or three rounds? Probably not, and the fact of the matter is, we don't know the final outcome. We hardly have any idea.
A kicker should be your last pick of any standard draft.
When drafting, I don't care about ... bye weeks, players on the same team, or schedules
With so much roster turnover happening during the season in terms of who your starters are, who you can count on, plus players you'll pick up, I'm not bypassing a player I want because they happen to have the same bye week as one or more other players on my team. Drew Brees doesn't know you have Michael Thomas on your team and he doesn't care. Pick the best players you can, and if it means it's guys on the same team, so be it. And a year ago everyone was scared of their quarterback facing J.J. Watt and the Texans defense. And whaddya know, Houston finished as allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to opposing QBs.
When drafting, I like being prepared for any scenario
This means mock drafting, baby. Practice makes perfect. You just read this whole damn thing -- you've clearly got time. Why not do one now in our free mock draft lobby?
The more you draft, the more different scenarios you try, the more prepared you will be, and more familiar with the draft room itself.
Speaking of mock drafts, if you do join one, don't leave. People who leave mock drafts early are, like, the sixth-worst people on Earth.
Also, if you join a mock draft, don't impersonate me or someone else. I can't tell you how many tweets I get that say "I'm in a mock draft with you!"
And it's not me. It's so weird, I don't get why people do that.
Anyway, just know every time I do a mock draft (or any kind of league), I will always put it out on Twitter, so check there first.
When drafting, I like to know where I am drafting
Am I drafting on ESPN.com or the ESPN App, just like more people do than any other site in the world? Or am I drafting somewhere else, because your commish is a stubborn lummox? The reason I ask, other than another plug for the No. 1 fantasy site in the world, is that average draft position is largely driven by the default rankings on whichever site you play.
So the ADP ranks (and the likely way your draft goes) on ESPN differ (sometimes significantly) in some ways from the ADPs in other places where people play fantasy, because our default rankings are different from other places.
So find a rankings source you like, compare it with the ADP of the site you are drafting on and you will be able to find players who are going way too high or too low for what you want. That's where you'll find market inefficiency. (And it will be, once again, the driving force of this year's Love/Hate column.)
When drafting, I think it's important to remember that everyone lies, lies, lies
This article is almost entirely about theory and strategy, but everything else you read this preseason will be about players and their values, both high and low. And just know that every single thing you'll read isn't actually a fact, but rather an opinion disguised as a fact. Trust me. Or better yet, read my 100 facts you need to know before you draft. Often imitated, never duplicated, it's the original and my absolute favorite article to write every preseason. If nothing else, the intro is helpful to understand how analysis is created.
When drafting, I often wish I were doing an auction instead
As much as I love a draft, it's nothing compared to an auction. In an auction, everyone gets a shot at Todd Gurley. It's a much fairer way to distribute players, it's more fun and it's an even better test of skill. Seriously. It's chess compared to checkers. Try it once.
When drafting, I absolutely love hearing that it's someone's first draft
And not for the reason you think (to take advantage of an inexperienced player). No, winning that way isn't really winning. The people who win that way probably think LeBron James winning a pickup game with a grade-schooler is also a big win.
Look, if you've read this far, you're a gamer. You get it. You know how much fun, how awesome, how addicting fantasy football is. You know how it brings people together. So why keep it all to yourself? I asked this the past few years and am asking it again of everyone reading this.
Make it your goal to convince one person in your life who has never played before to try a league this year. We need more women playing, more kids, more senior citizens. Fantasy football is something everyone can enjoy, so ask your parents, your kids, your neighbor, co-worker, someone.
Come on. Just one new person. Help me spread the word. Because my mission on this planet isn't done until every man, woman and child plays fantasy football.
When drafting, I like to not stress out too much about any one thing, because ultimately we do this for fun
You remember fun, right? Does anyone remember laughter? Fantasy football is a game. A hobby. A pastime. Something we do to escape our grind, not worry about anything else going on in the world, and have fun spending time with friends, family and co-workers.
We all get nervous, we all sweat wins, but ultimately ... it's a game. Remember that, especially when you feel like embarrassing yourself on social media to harass a player, a coach or a fantasy analyst. Calm down. There's plenty of negativity in the world already; no reason for you to add to it over a hobby or to lose a friendship over it.
Many, many thanks to "Thirsty" Kyle Soppe of the ESPN Fantasy department for his research help with this, and most of all, thanks very much to you. For reading this far and for reading for two decades. I am truly humbled.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is ready for the season, baby. Can't wait! He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.
Editor's note: Some information contained in this column has previously appeared on ESPN.com.