Draft Prep: Late-Round Pick Strategies

Ryan Heath (@QBLRyan) outlines how he tackles the later rounds of fantasy drafts, mostly by ranting about upside.

The overall goal of the late rounds is best stated in the negative: If you can’t tell yourself a story that ends with the player being one you’ll want to start this year (and preferably sooner than later), do not draft the player. This seems simple and obvious, but I see fantasy gamers drafting players with zero upside in the late rounds every single year.

To preface with a few general notes, I’ll first say that the early and middle parts of your draft shouldn’t have too much influence on what you do later. It’s worth taking into consideration in extreme cases, like if you went 0RB and need to continue throwing darts everywhere at the position, but in general, you’re looking to hit the lottery rather than patch up your team.

I’ll consider “late round” to be anything after Round 10, though I might mention a few players going slightly earlier in order to illustrate the frameworks I’m working from (and because I’m cheating a bit at tight end, as you’ll see).

Picks at the RB and WR positions are equally valid at this point in the draft, though you may notice a steep drop-off at RB once there are only pure handcuffs left. This generally occurs sometime in round 12 or 13 in 12-team leagues, so you may want to take note of that and plan accordingly. You want to select just one QB and TE, in most cases. Both positions can simply be streamed should an injury occur, and the opportunity cost of carrying a backup at these positions can be immense if it means missing out on a breakout player at a more important position.

All ADP data in parentheses are from FantasyPros’ average across multiple sites. Many of these are heavily skewed by the default rankings on individual services. Know where these players are ranked on your preferred service, and use this to your advantage where you can.


Scrounging for Targets at WR


When drafting a late-round wide receiver, consider the offense they are on. Receivers on the Dolphins have less upside than those on the Saints. This doesn’t mean you should never draft a receiver on a below-average offense, but it should be an important part of any evaluation. Path to targets is also important; prioritize ambiguous situations over clear “handcuffs.”

Any player you draft late should be one that you’ll know when to cut. With WRs especially, focus on ones whose roles will become clear within the first few weeks, so you’ll know if you’re able to cut bait for that hot waiver wire pickup. Robert Foster (250.8), Randall Cobb (215.6), your Miami wide receiver of choice, Trey Quinn (430.3), and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (129.8) come to mind. Notice most of these players are young; it makes more sense to project leaps forward for these players as they approach their primes rather than older players in situations similar to those that they have underwhelmed in already. This means I’m avoiding the likes of Emmanuel Sanders (126.2), Jamison Crowder (188.3), and Marquise Goodwin (225.8).

Since 2000, only 18 rookie wideouts have finished in the top 24 at the position in PPR scoring. If you must draft a rookie, make sure it’s one that you can reasonably expect to get targets early in order to see if they produce with them (or if they even get them). Andy Isabella (205.6) and Deebo Samuel (195.0) are two strong prospects on what should be good offenses with a chance to see early targets, and they have similar chances of success this year to N’Keal Harry (110.6), D.K. Metcalf (125.2), and Parris Campbell (125.6), all of which are going multiple rounds above them. If they don’t get the targets, or if their respective offenses don’t look as good as expected, be ready to drop them the moment a better waiver pickup becomes available.

Mecole Hardman (150.0), A.J. Brown (223.8), and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (430.8) are examples of rookies that you probably shouldn’t prioritize this year based on situation and target competition. A pick spent on Marquise Brown (175.8) means betting on both his own speedy development and on that of Lamar Jackson. It’s fine to gamble on rookies late, but make sure you’re playing the probabilities here.

Second-year wide receivers, in general, make for much better targets than rookies. Michael Gallup (159.0) and Tre’Quan Smith (188.4) are two that I’m specifically targeting. Both had strong college production and early breakouts, and either could lock down the WR2 role on their respective teams early in the season. Anthony Miller (147.6) is less interesting to me, as he failed to flash much as an older prospect last year and is trapped catching passes from Mitchell Trubisky, but he also fits the second-year post-hype breakout mold.


Taking Shots at RB


You shouldn’t draft pure handcuffs in seasonal leagues; you’ll almost certainly drop them before they get an opportunity. It’s better to take shots on guys like Ito Smith (143.2), Matt Breida (154.6), Justice Hill (165.0), and Mike Davis (222.3) that could conceivably see the field in some capacity early in the season so that you can evaluate from there.

If it’s getting later and all you’re seeing are pure handcuffs, draft the ones with all-around skillsets in top offenses that haven’t been previously revealed as mediocre. This means you’re going Dexter Williams (437.5) over Jamaal Williams (190.8), which I know is spicy, but I’ll elaborate more shortly.

Damien Harris (134.0) and Duke Johnson (172.4) are two other handcuffs I have tepid interest in, though maybe not at their respective ADPs. Nevertheless, both could have a path to production without an injury in front of them. (Every day I pray for the Duke to Tampa Bay trade rumors to come true). Each is also in what should be productive offenses, and have the potential to handle a featured every-down role given a single injury above them on the depth chart.

Popular handcuffs I’m avoiding like the plague include:


  • Alexander Mattison (168.4), a sub-athlete with inflated production at Boise State, a la Jeremy McNichols, on a team that’s definitely willing and equipped to go extremely pass-heavy should an injury befall Dalvin Cook (The Vikings ranked 4th in the NFL in passing play percentage last year)


  • Peyton Barber (126.8), who couldn’t manage to be productive as the starter last year in a nearly identical situation


  • The aforementioned Jamaal Williams (again, 190.8), who could only manage 3.8 yards per carry last year despite leading the league in light front carry rate. 60% of his carries coming with 6 or fewer defenders in the box – better to gamble on the rookie here for free


Doing the Late Round QB Thing


The late rounds are the best time to draft a quarterback (with the possible exception of drafting Kyler Murray (98.2) in the 9th or 10th). My favorites going a bit later are Jameis Winston (118.4), who could lead the league in pass attempts this year, Dak Prescott (117.6), who may not score 6 rushing TDs again, but has had a full offseason to build chemistry with Amari Cooper. Lamar Jackson (136.6) will significantly outperform his ADP if he makes any improvement whatsoever in the passing game but is being undervalued because public opinion turned on him hard after the playoff game against the Chargers. Do NOT fall prey to the availability heuristic here, as Jackson’s rushing ability gives him the Kyler Murray-like potential that the fantasy community is enamored with. Sam Darnold (170.0) is also an interesting bet for a second-year leap after a prolific final month last year. As always, feel free to drop any of these guys for a streamer, as is tradition with the late-round QB strategy. You can’t exactly go wrong here in 1-QB leagues.


Being a Masochist at TE


It can be a bit scary to wait on your tight end until this point in the draft; before news broke of Chris Herndon’s (176.0) four-game suspension, I’d have been comfortable selecting him here, but, as with RB handcuffs, you don’t want to set one of your roster spots on fire for the first four weeks when you could be using them for waiver pickups. Mark Andrews (172.8), who had a similarly productive rookie season with over 500 receiving yards would be my pivot here, but in practice, I’m doing everything I can to draft Austin Hooper (115.4) a few rounds earlier. Hooper was quietly the TE7 last season while posting 71/660/4, but is going as the TE11, and is in an improving situation this year on a team that invested in pass protection for Matt Ryan. Identify the last tight end you’re comfortable drafting and ensure you get your guy because this is the most infuriating position to stream.


What to Do with K and D/ST


On the topic of kickers and defenses, I recommend not bothering to draft either if you can help it, with the possible exception of a defense you plan to stream for Week 1. Both positions can be streamed relatively easily, and scoring for defenses, in particular, is tough to predict year over year. Those who drafted the Jacksonville D/ST last year certainly regretted it, and I imagine something similar will occur with the Chicago D/ST this year. Do not make the mistake of spending a premium on a position that offers little value over waiver wire options from week to week. Draft players with upside at RB and WR instead, especially in earlier drafts when players at the back of your roster could gain value from preseason developments. You can always pick up a kicker and defense just before Week 1.


Final Notes


To bring the main objective back into focus here, remember above all that upside is everything in the late rounds. Make sure to also draft in a way that maximizes the utility of your roster spots early in the year, treating the back of your bench as a tryout for your final draft picks. Don’t bother drafting the player that won’t be able to show you what he’s got until November, or the player that has been showing you what (little) he’s got since 2013. Finally, make sure to get your guys here; there’s really no such thing as a reach after round 10.



You can find me on Twitter @QBLRyan with any questions, takes, or abuse. Good luck to everyone in their drafts!


Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

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