Tired of the stress that comes with the uncertainty of your fantasy football draft spot?
Worry no longer: Each year, I lay the groundwork for you to successfully navigate the first two rounds of your draft, providing the most likely options as well as recommended picks from each draft spot. What follows below provides an outline, both for 10- and 12-team leagues, including the possible ramifications on your picks in subsequent rounds. This column should prove useful, whether you know your draft slot already or just want to be prepared for any possibility. It’s also recommended that you take part in as many mock drafts as possible.
This examination is for an ESPN standard PPR (point per reception) league. Be sure to check out our fantasy football rankings, so you can compare your thoughts with those of our analysts.
Draft slot 1
Round 1 (Pick 1 overall): This not only has to be a running back, it has to be one of the PPR dynamos — Christian McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley. And considering McCaffrey is coming off a season in which he posted the second-highest scoring in fantasy football history — totaling 85-plus points more than Barkley’s single-season best — it effectively has to be McCaffrey. Any case against McCaffrey in this spot in a PPR — and, frankly, non-PPR too, though that is more debatable — centers around how he responds to having amassed more than 400 total touches in 2019. Considering his 403 touches still ranked as only the 41st-highest total in history, it’s not a major concern.
Round 2 (Pick 20 in 10-team, Pick 24 in 12-team): Having McCaffrey as your RB1 alleviates any of the worry of your second-rounder being the best value at the position presented to you. A running back/running back combination is a dream start, especially if it’s Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs or Aaron Jones who are available. You’ve got a pretty good shot at one of them in a 10-team league, but it might be wide receivers Mike Evans, Kenny Golladay or Allen Robinson II who fit the “best available” description in a 12-team league. Incidentally, tight end George Kittle makes a compelling second-round selection, as I have him ranked a good amount ahead of Mark Andrews.
Tristan’s best start: McCaffrey/Jacobs (10-team league), McCaffrey/Robinson (12-team league).
Draft slot 2
Round 1 (Pick 2): I’ve got Barkley here, be it PPR or non-PPR. But if you want to do the “personal preference” thing and select either Ezekiel Elliott or Alvin Kamara, it’s not an outrageous decision. It’s not yet time to start thinking wide receiver, in large part because with 16 picks between this and your next in a 10-teamer, there’s a good chance that as many as 12 running backs (and perhaps more) will go during that span, meaning you’d have both passed on one of the clear, five-man-top-tier running backs and run the risk of being pressed into taking one ranked outside the top 14 at the position in the next round. And this year, there is a clear drop-off after that number.
Round 2 (Pick 19 in 10-team, Pick 23 in 12-team): Here’s the spot where I’d first be considering Kittle in a 10-team league — though I’d rather wait until Round 3 in that format — and would most likely select him in a 12-teamer. That’s not to say that a tight end is a must — unless Travis Kelce somehow slipped — as it’s possible that Austin Ekeler, Chubb or Jacobs might make it this far in a 10-team league, giving you a strong running back/running back start.
Tristan’s best start: Barkley/Chubb (10-team), Barkley/Kittle (12-team).
Draft slot 3
Round 1 (Pick 3): Consider it a gift if someone has left you either McCaffrey or Barkley, but the odds of that are distant. In all probability, you’ll be the one making the “personal preference” choice between Elliott, Kamara and Dalvin Cook, whom I rank in my Tier 2 behind the CMC/Barkley Tier 1. Elliott would be my choice, based upon his status in a high-scoring offense behind a good offensive line. He has averaged 334.1 PPR fantasy points per 16 games played in his NFL career. You’re not going to find a more reliable level of fantasy production left on the board.
Round 2 (Pick 18 in 10-team, Pick 22 in 12-team): Wide receiver is a strong likelihood in Round 2 for teams picking out of the No. 3 spot, as Chris Godwin, Evans and Golladay should be available here in 10-team leagues, and Evans, Golladay and Robinson should be in 12-team leagues. Be watchful for Kelce slipping; he shouldn’t be making it past the 18th pick in any draft.
Tristan’s best start: Elliott/Godwin (10-team), Elliott/Golladay (12-team).
Draft slot 4
Round 1 (Pick 4): Here’s the first place where Michael Thomas might make some sense, at least in a 10-team league, being that if three running backs went 1-2-3, then 11 of the following 12 picks also would have to be running backs in order to put you in a rough spot. If you’re a big — and that is italicized for a reason — believer in Joe Mixon, Chubb or Jacobs this season, taking the plunge on the reliable Thomas here is a wise decision, considering your odds of getting (at worst) one of those three on the backswing. If not, it’s best to pick either Kamara or Cook, whomever you trust more. Personally, I’m taking Kamara, but it’s nearly a coin flip.
Round 2 (Pick 17 in 10-team, Pick 21 in 12-team): There’s no reason a top-10 running back should still be on the board this late in a 10-team league or a top-13 running back — Jacobs being the last I have ranked in that group — in a 12-teamer. Ekeler, my No. 11 running back, would be a fortunate pick from this spot in the former, and Godwin, my No. 6 wide receiver, has a chance at making it to this spot in the latter.
Tristan’s best start: Thomas/Ekeler (10-team), Kamara/Evans (12-team).
Draft slot 5
Round 1 (Pick 5): The team picking fifth isn’t in a much different scenario than the one selecting fourth, other than the latter gets his/her personal preference first in Round 1. Thomas, Kamara and Cook remain the obvious picks, and I’d be much more apt to select Thomas here in a 10-team league than 12-teamer.
Round 2 (Pick 16 in 10-team, Pick 20 in 12-team): Even if Thomas was your pick in the first round, Kelce makes for a reasonable pick in either a 10- or 12-team league, though a more realistic one in the former. Could Tyreek Hill last to the 16th pick in a 10-team league? It’s possible. More likely, you’re looking at Kelce or one of the top-12 running backs, such as Ekeler or Chubb. In a 12-team league, if Jacobs lasts to the 16th pick, scoop him up.
Tristan’s best start: Kamara/Kelce (10-team), Cook/Godwin (12-team).
Draft slot 6
Round 1 (Pick 6): This draft position might be the place to be in 2020, so long as you don’t have any major objections to the six players I recommend for the first six spots. With this pick, you’re guaranteed Thomas, Kamara or Cook in the first round and at worst a top-11 running back or top-5 wide receiver in a 10-team league and a top-13 RB, top-6 WR or top tight end Kelce in a 12-team league. There will be fantasy analysts recommending you splurge for the enticing pick who sneaks onto my board at the next draft slot, but I’d remain firm and accept whomever of Thomas, Kamara or Cook is left for the taking.
Round 2 (Pick 15 in 10-team, Pick 19 in 12-team): The 15th pick is a great spot in a 10-team league, guaranteeing you either a top-10 running back, top-5 wide receiver or top tight end Kelce. Take the best of what remains, with Miles Sanders, Hill and Kelce the most probable candidates. It’s not much less appealing in 12-team leagues, where the guarantee is a top-13 running back, top-5 wide receiver or Kelce. Lump Ekeler, Chubb and Jacobs into the running back mix.
Tristan’s best start: Cook/Hill (10-team), Thomas/Jacobs (12-team).
Draft slot 7
Round 1 (Pick 7): So let’s talk about the aforementioned enticing pick, rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire of the Kansas City Chiefs, who has a coach historically fond of players possessing his skill set, a wide-open backfield in which to roam and an offense that should fuel a good level of fantasy production. Edwards-Helaire has drawn industry rankings as high as fifth overall, but he also is a player with a wider range of outcomes than the individual selected at No. 7 normally warrants. If you’re feeling bold and think you can recoup value on the backswing, it’s not an outrageous pick. But understand that there’s a scenario here, especially in a 12-team league, where you might find that fellow Chiefs Hill and Kelce are the best on the board when your pick arrives in the second round. Instead, I recommend Derrick Henry, the clear top running back remaining on the board, or Davante Adams, the top wide receiver available. Believers in either Arizona Cardinals options Kenyan Drake or DeAndre Hopkins, as well as Sanders, also can go in those directions at No. 7 overall.
Round 2 (Pick 14 in 10-team, Pick 18 in 12-team): You could get lucky from this spot, with one from the Drake/Mixon/Sanders tier slipping in a 10-team league, which would provide a heck of a combination with Henry. This is a prime spot from which to select Hill, in either format. The alternative is to pick any of those three running backs — Ekeler, Chubb or Jacobs — should you have a strong preference from the group. Kelce becomes an especially strong choice from this spot in a 12-team league.
Tristan’s best start: Henry/Sanders (10-team), Henry/Kelce (12-team).
Draft slot 8
Round 1 (Pick 8): It’s again time to consider a wide receiver, though the danger for the team picking eighth is that selecting Adams could back this team into a two-wide receiver strategy to open his/her draft, should the teams picking ninth and 10th go entirely running back with their first two selections. That’s not that likely when names such as Hopkins and Julio Jones are still on the board at those spots, but it’s a risk to bear in mind. Henry would be a gift to teams drafting eighth, with the pick probably instead coming down to Adams or a personal preference between Edwards-Helaire, Drake or Sanders. I think it’s the right time to take Adams in a 10-team league, with good odds of one of those running backs making it back to you, but I’d take Edwards-Helaire in a 12-teamer.
Round 2 (Pick 13 in 10-team, Pick 17 in 12-team): Again, if you’re being handed Adams and Hopkins, Jones or Hill as your top two picks in this draft slot, there’s little cause for complaint. This is about as far as you should allow Mixon or Sanders to slide in a 10-team league, and it’s a prime place to start thinking about Jacobs, who I have only a small amount behind Sanders in my rankings. Kelce also comes into play at this spot in either league, but more so in a 12-teamer, even if you took Edwards-Helaire with your first pick.
Tristan’s best start: Adams/Mixon (10-team), Edwards-Helaire/Chubb (12-team).
Draft slot 9
Round 1 (Pick 9): This is as far as I’d allow Edwards-Helaire to fall, and yes, I personally prefer him to Sanders, whom the industry would probably rally behind as a “must-get” no later than this pick. Drake should also still be there. Feel free to take your pick between them, but otherwise, I think it’s a poor idea to allow a wide receiver of Adams’ caliber to slip any further than ninth in any draft.
Round 2 (Pick 12 in 10-team, Pick 16 in 12-team): None of the top four wide receivers — Thomas, Adams, Hopkins and Jones — and arguably the top five, if you add Hill — should be allowed to slide further than this in drafts, certainly not 10-teamers, regardless of what direction you went in the first round. Consider this: Adams/Jones would be a brilliant start, albeit unlikely.
Tristan’s best start: Edwards-Helaire/Jones (10-team), Adams/Hill (12-team).
Draft slot 10
Round 1 (Pick 10): The worst part of drawing the 10th pick this year is what’s going to be left available to you in the third round, not the first or second, as you’ll probably be looking at outside-the-top-15 running backs and outside-the-top-10 wide receivers. In the first two rounds, though, it’s one of the better available pools we’ve seen in the past decade, with the luxury of picking from among top-5 wideouts (Adams, Hopkins, Jones or Hill) or top-10 running backs (Edwards-Helaire, Drake, Sanders or Mixon). Since the running backs left available to you in Round 3 will probably be of the older and less durable variety, such as Todd Gurley II or Le’Veon Bell, it’s a good idea to make one of your first two picks the running back you most prefer from this tier. I’d take Hopkins in either format, but if you’re a believer, going with teammate Drake isn’t a bad idea in a 12-team league (he’d simply be my next, bookend pick in a 10-teamer).
Round 2 (Pick 11 in 10-team, Pick 15 in 12-team): Again, it’s best to take a running back and a wide receiver with your first two selections in a 10-team league, but in a 12-teamer, wide receiver/wide receiver makes some sense. Hopkins/Hill, if available, is a strong start. Hopkins/Kelce is equally appealing.
Tristan’s best start: Hopkins/Drake (10-team), Hopkins/Ekeler (12-team).
Draft slot 11 (12-team leagues)
Round 1 (Pick 11): Unless there have been at least eight running backs selected in the first 10 spots, this effectively has to be a running back, since productive starters such as Drake, Sanders, Mixon and even Ekeler shouldn’t be allowed to slip too far outside the top 10 of any draft. Hopkins or Jones would be a solid pick otherwise, but bear in mind that the team picking 12th might opt to go running back/running back and block you out of the top-10 running backs coming back around. Drake is my guy, but it’s pretty close between those first three.
Round 2 (Pick 14): Running back/running back is an option for teams picking 11th, with Chubb and Jacobs joining the board along with the others who might’ve lasted this long. Hill, my No. 5 wide receiver, also makes a compelling pick. This is also the earliest spot at which I’d recommend the top tight end, Kelce.
Tristan’s best start: Drake/Sanders.
Draft slot 12 (12-team leagues)
Round 1 (Pick 12): As with the 10th pick in a 10-team league, the roughest part of drawing the 12th pick is what’ll be left available to you in Rounds 3 and 4. And considering the likelihood of the top available running backs being Bell, Leonard Fournette and James Conner, it’s wise to make sure at least one of these two bookend picks is a running back. At least one of Drake, Sanders and Mixon should still be there for the taking, but in the event that 10 of the first 11 picks in your draft are running backs, getting a player like Adams (or even Hopkins) is a steal at No. 12.
Round 2 (Pick 13): Chances are, it’ll be the wide receiver position that’s richer in talent for your other pick, with Hopkins, Jones and Hill the most common names on the board. If four or five wide receivers are off the board, a Sanders/Mixon combination to begin your draft has to be considered a huge win, considering you’ll probably still be able to get a Robert Woods, A.J. Brown or Calvin Ridley in Round 3.
Tristan’s best start: Mixon/Jones.