What Caliber of Player Can You Expect in Each Round of Your Fantasy Football Draft?
When should I draft my RB1? How late can I wait to draft my WR2? And when should I target my starting quarterback and tight end?
These are all questions you as a fantasy football manager must face as you build your draft strategy.
And to answer these questions, something that I've found useful in this process is understanding when players of a particular tier are typically drafted.
So with that being said, using average draft position and standard deviation data from FantasyFootballCalculator.com, I decided to create a visualization for each position of when each tier is being drafted in 12 team standard-scoring fantasy football leagues this year as an aid for building that draft strategy road map.
The Running Backs
If you've been looking for a reason to draft running backs early this year, here it is.
On average, the top-tier of running backs (RB1-6), starting at Adrian Peterson and ending at C.J. Anderson, are all gone by the end of the first round. And if you want a player ranked as an RB1 this season, it's going to cost you a pick somewhere between the second-to-third round turn at the latest.
When we consider the hit and miss rates for running backs that our Editor-In-Chief JJ Zachariason identified over a five year study last season, taking your first running back in rounds three to five dramatically reduces your chances of landing an RB1, with players ranked RB13-18 and RB19-24 in terms of ADP only having a 30% and 20% chance of returning that value, respectively.
And if you're feeling lucky and wait until the middle of the fifth round or beyond for your RB1? You're looking at a 16.7% hit rate to get a top-12 player.
The Wide Receivers
For wide receivers, the spread of players follows the one seen for the running backs but with players at their respective ranks going just slightly later than their running back counterparts (as they should).
From the graph above, we see a need to grab your first wide receiver preferably in the first three rounds if you want someone ranked as a consensus top-12 wideout. The top-six ranked players at the position (starting at Antonio Brown and ending at Calvin Johnson) are usually taken from the middle of the first round to the middle of the second, followed by the next six receivers going in the next 12 picks.
Drafting a wideout in the late-third to early fifth-round will get you a WR2 (13-25), while taking a wideout in the late-fifth through seventh round gets you a consensus WR3 (WR25-36).
Beyond these rounds you'll find your WR4's and above, which suggests that perhaps -- depending on your league format and how many wideouts you start each week -- you may want to have your wide receiver starters filled out before you hit the eighth round of your draft.
The Tight Ends
Tight ends represent an interesting dichotomy in the fantasy football community.
Either you're investing a fairly early pick on the cream of the crop (Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are going in the second and third rounds, respectively) or you're waiting until the eighth round or later to grab someone ranked as a TE7-12.
A part of the reason for this is because of the higher demand going to running backs and wide receivers and the fact that most leagues only need to start one tight end. As I mentioned above, taking a tight end in the early rounds of your draft instead of a running back, for example, comes with quite a bit of opportunity cost of grabbing a potential RB1.
And from this we see two players who stand out as fairly good value in Travis Kelce (going on average in the fifth round) and Greg Olsen (late-fifth to early-sixth round). Both are nearly surefire bets to finish as an elite player at the position this year, and as I wrote about previously, Kelce may even challenge Gronkowski and Graham for top tight end honors this season.
For these reasons, the tight end position is one you can afford to wait on until you hit the mid-to-late rounds of your draft and still come away with a starting-caliber option.
Last, but not least, we get to the quarterback position.
Similar to tight end, either you're drafting very early to grab an elite option (Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers will both cost you a second-round pick this season), or you're drafting late where the back half of the league's QB1's tend to congregate in rounds six through eight.
And if you're looking for a high upside quarterback that could leap into elite territory, rounds eight through nine are where you should be looking to grab your team's starting signal caller. As I wrote earlier this offseason, this is where Ryan Tannehill -- my darkhorse pick to reach top-tier quarterback territory this season -- and New York Giants Eli Manning are being drafted.
While I myself prefer to stream quarterbacks, if you want to grab a top-tier option that you can plug into your lineup on a weekly basis, perhaps a nice value pick going two full rounds after Luck and Rodgers is Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in the fourth round. With his value depressed given his slow finish last year, Manning could put up elite stats for fantasy football owners this year at a fraction of the price of the two being drafted ahead of him.