The following is a round-by-round blueprint of how I plan on drafting in my fantasy football leagues this summer.
Keep in mind that depending on the circumstances, you might not be able to completely follow this strategy once your draft begins. There could be a run on a certain position; an unexpected player could fall; or another owner may take one of the key sleepers early. You have to be able to play a lot of it by ear, but having a strategy going into the draft helps a lot.
Also, most of this assumes a 12-man league with two running backs, two receivers and a flex (ESPN standard). If your league makes you start two quarterbacks or three receivers, you'll need to adjust accordingly.
ROUND 1: The No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts used to be coveted. Back in the days of LaDainian Tomlinson, and before him, Priest Holmes, and before him, Marshall Faulk, you'd be extremely lucky if you drew the top selection.
That's not the case this year. Feel free to curse the heavens if you're unfortunate to receive the top choice. There's no consensus No. 1 pick. In fact, a case can be made for five players - Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles - to be ranked first, and I'd even throw a sixth name in there: Jeremy Hill. Thus, if you have a top-six selection in a standard league, you'll want to take one of these guys. Choose your favorite player, if you have one. If not, refer to my Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet. They're all very close, so there's no wrong choice.
If you're in a PPR league, however, things are much different. Le'Veon Bell is the consensus No. 1 option, despite his two-game suspension. He'll just be such a ridiculous producer that you'll regret it if you pass on him. Antonio Brown is No. 2, followed by the other running backs I mentioned, plus Odell Beckham Jr., whom I'm very high on.
ROUNDS 2-3: You should be able to go with any of the three primary positions with these two picks. The only thing I wouldn't do is double up on running backs after taking one in the first round. Having three on your roster could be disastrous because A) the receiver position is thin as well this year, especially now that we lost Kelvin Benjamin, and B) running backs are the most injury-prone, so there's a good chance that you'll whiff on two of your top three selections. If that happens, you might as well stop setting your lineup.
I have no problem taking two wideouts here, however, if a pair of great ones drop to you. If you have a chance to secure both A.J. Green and Randall Cobb, for example, I'd definitely pull the trigger.
Feel free to take a quarterback here as well. As I said, your options are wide open. Either Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers is acceptable, though; no one else.
ROUNDS 4-5: Unless you're committing a reach, I'd absolutely make sure that I'd have two running backs and two receivers on my roster after these rounds. The positions are especially thin this year, so you'll regret passing on them.
So, you have a pair of backs and a couple of wideouts. What about the fifth position? Well, if you snagged a quarterback in Rounds 2-3, ignore this. If you didn't, you might want to consider Russell Wilson or Ben Roethlisberger (Round 5 only for Big Ben). A tight end would also be an option. Jimmy Graham would be a nice choice if he slipped to you. Greg Olsen would be in round-five consideration as well; he's unlikely to make it back to you in the sixth frame.
ROUNDS 6-7: If you don't have a quarterback yet, you should definitely consider one in these two rounds; waiting until the bottom of Round 8 is a bit risky. Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford all make sense. You should be able to obtain one of them.
If you already have a signal-caller, fill out your starting lineup and top backup positions. Get a tight end if you don't have one yet, or take a running back or a receiver.
ROUNDS 8-9: I would select the best running back, wide receiver or tight end (if you don't have one) available with these two picks. It goes without saying that if you don't have a quarterback yet, you should absolutely pick one now.
ROUNDS 10-11: I'm selecting a tight end here if I haven't already (Tyler Eifert!). A backup quarterback like Joe Flacco is a strong option. I'm a big proponent of securing a quality backup signal-caller. If your starter gets hurt or inexplicably regresses, you're boned because the players at that position put up the most points.
ROUNDS 12-13: More sleepers. Take high-upside players beginning in Round 12; doing otherwise would violate what I used to call the Wayne Chrebet Rule. Chrebet, a former Jets' receiver, was a solid player in real life, but was only a WR5 (an average year for him would be about 900 yards and six touchdowns). Yet, people would draft him even though as a possession receiver, he would offer no upside. You could always add someone like him on the waiver wire, so try to hit a home run with your late picks.
Oh, and don't choose a defense or kicker yet. That's just lazy.
ROUNDS 14-16: Round 14 is my final skill-position player - a super-high-upside long shot. Round 15 is my defense. Round 16 is my kicker.
ROUND 1: If Jeremy Hill is available - and he could be, as he's not as highly regarded by average fantasy players as the other top backs - I'm taking him. If not, I'm probably using my first-round pick on a receiver, namely Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. or Calvin Johnson. I have all three ranked pretty evenly in standard leagues, with Brown being much higher in PPR formats.
ROUNDS 2-3: Don't commit to picking a running back in the middle of the second round. There are a bunch of traps going in this frame. DeMarco Murray is bound to get hurt; LeSean McCoy is someone to avoid; while Matt Forte's numbers will regress with Marc Trestman gone. I'd almost certainly take a quarterback (Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers) or another wideout in Round 2.
The third round is a different story. I'd almost certainly choose a running back there. Lamar Miller, Frank Gore, Alfred Morris, Joseph Randle and Justin Forsett are all good targets. Once again, the running back position is very thin this year, so you cannot go into the fourth frame with no backs on your roster.
ROUNDS 4-5: Assuming you went with multiple wideouts, and/or a quarterback with just one running back, I'd definitely target at least one other runner. The position will become alarmingly thin after the fifth round, so make sure you snag one or two. Acceptable options include Carlos Hyde, Andre Ellington, T.J. Yeldon, Dough Martin, Rashad Jennings, LeGarrette Blount and Chris Ivory.
I wouldn't go after a quarterback in the fourth round because no one of value will be available there. The fifth frame is a different story, however. Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger would both be good choices there.
ROUNDS 6-7: After Chris Ivory, the running back position is a wasteland. If you can somehow obtain one of the aforementioned backs in the sixth round, do it. If not, you're taking the best players available out of the quarterback, receiver or tight end spots. I think you could wait on a signal-caller until the seventh frame, so target a wideout or tight end in Round 6.
ROUNDS 8-9: Running backs in the ADP Round 8-9 range are still kind of lame. I wouldn't mind Shane Vereen, but it feels like you'd be throwing your pick away by choosing someone like Bishop Sankey or David Cobb. Blegh.
With that in mind, more receivers should be targeted. If you don't have a starting quarterback or tight end, make sure you get them here.
ROUNDS 10-11: Running backs are now acceptable again. You should be strong at the other positions, allowing you to take some high-upside fliers. Check out my 2015 Fantasy Football Sleepers list for some ideas.
THE REST: The rest of the draft will follow "Drafting Early."
Drafting Late: Picks 10-12:
ROUNDS 1-2: These are the picks you want this year. I think you might be able to land both Jeremy Hill and Odell Beckham Jr. if you have Picks 12-13, which is what I did in a recent fantasy mock draft. Both are top-eight players for me, so I was extremely happy with that.
Ultimately, you want to walk away with one running back and one receiver with these selections. If, however, someone snags Hill and C.J. Anderson before you get the chance, you might want to consider Aaron Rodgers to go along with your wideout. Check out my Fantasy Quarterback Rankings to see why I've moved Rodgers ahead of Andrew Luck.
ROUNDS 3-4: If you went RB-WR, do so again. Seriously. There are no quarterbacks worth taking here, and I'm fine with passing on Jimmy Graham as well. I think you can feel pretty good about yourself if you have two running backs and two wideouts after four rounds.
If you took Rodgers in Round 2, that's fine. Still go RB-WR, unless, somehow, all of the Round 3-4 running back candidates I mentioned in the "Draft Middle" portion are all gone. If that's the case, don't panic. Receivers have a lower chance of busting, so just take two of them.
ROUNDS 5-6: I'd consider Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce here. If all four are gone, go with, you guessed it, a running back and a receiver. If you have three backs and three wideouts after six rounds, don't feel bad. In fact, that would be my ideal situation. I'd gladly wait on quarterbacks and tight ends because the other two primary positions are so thin this year.
ROUNDS 7-8: Make sure you grab your starting quarterback at this juncture; waiting any longer would be foolish. You don't need your starting tight end here, especially if you know you're drafting with idiots and are confident that you can snag someone like Tyler Eifert in the ninth frame. Otherwise, go with receivers here. I doubt there will be any running backs worth choosing.