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Who should I draft in the 1st round? Tips and strategy for winning your fantasy football league

We discuss who you should be targeting in the first round of your fantasy football drafts this season.

Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers takes the field for warmups before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Fantasy football is back as we near the start of the NFL regular season. You get a clean slate heading into your draft every year in redraft leagues, and last year's results no longer matter. As you approach your fantasy drafts this fall, you want o set yourself up for the most success possible by drafting a productive player with your first draft choice.

Settings

For the purpose of this article, I am operating under the premise that the league will be a 12-team league with half-PPR scoring. Also, with an assumed roster construction of one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one FLEX (RB/WE/TE), then a team’s defense/special teams and one kicker.

First round pick

The first-round pick sets the tone for the rest of your draft. This player will be the foundation for your roster and is who you will end up building your team around. With the outlined league settings, the first three picks will likely be some combination of Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey. Depending on how your drafts begin, each player is expected to be a top running back in the league and benefit from being highly targeted in their offenses.

If you are drafting in the middle of the first round, grab one of the guys from above if they are still there. Assuming they aren’t, you are looking at selecting the top wide receivers in the league in Cooper Kupp and Justin Jefferson or other reliable running backs in Dalvin Cook and Najee Harris. Kupp outscored all wide receivers by 67 points last season, and Jefferson had the second most receiving yards and was tied for the fifth-most touchdowns in the league. Harris finished his rookie year as the overall RB4 last season and is expected to retain a large role in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. Cook is a veteran that has shown he can be a league winner if he stays healthy for a whole season.

As you get into the backend of the first round, you can start making selections based on predictions on who will be available as the draft snakes back to you. Ja’Marr Chase, Joe Mixon, Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs will likely round out the top 12. Other options include Nick Chubb, Travis Kelce and CeeDee Lamb. If you take a wide receiver like Chase in the first round, you could look to pair him with a running back in the second round to balance out your roster. You can employ many strategies, but I tend to lean towards the balanced roster when it comes to maximizing value.

Kelce entering the chat sparks a conversation about how early you should take a tight end. He is the only one at the position even in the conversation for a first round pick, but for me, doesn’t break into it unless you draft him 12th overall or are playing in full PPR leagues.

When to draft a QB?

You need some interesting league settings for quarterbacks to vault up into the first round. Whether it is a super flex league or a two-quarterback league, that would be the minimum requirement to take a QB this early. Otherwise, Patrick Mahomes is being taken in the second round, with Josh Allen going in the third. After that, it always depends on how your draft falls, but look to eye a quarterback in the eighth to tenth round to maximize their value while still having a competitive roster alongside them.

When to draft a TE?

Kelce is going to go at the end of the first round or the beginning of the second. He is by far the best tight end for fantasy football as we head into the season. That next tier includes Mark Andrews and Kyle Pitts, who both should be drafted by the end of the third round. The tight end position is top-heavy and then gets pretty fickle. There are always players that are drafted late or undrafted completely and finish at the top of the results for the position.

When you miss out on the top four or five guys, this is one position that you are likely better punting the position and addressing other team needs. Even if you add to your running back or wide receiver depth, that would likely be better than needlessly reaching on a tight end.

Sleeper picks

It’s tough to determine players that aren’t being drafted in the first round that should be. Mainly because if you think someone is going to finish at a first round value, but you can get them in the second round, you should absolutely wait to draft them. When it comes to first round options, Davante Adams is being drafted 11th overall, and I would consider reaching for him if I was drafting between No. 6 and No. 10, depending on what has happened with the draft board. I believe that reuniting with his collegiate quarterback Derek Carr will benefit him, and he should be able to maintain the production we have come to expect from the star wide receiver.

Players to fade

Depending on how the draft board falls, I will likely be fading Joe Mixon and Stefon Diggs. Mixon should have a good year, but the upgraded offensive line benefits Burrow and the wide receivers more for me. I think the upgrade will give Burrow more confidence in the pocket, and we will see his passing attempts increase.

For Diggs, he played all 17 games last year with Allen and finished as the overall WR7. If anything, the Buffalo Bills’ pass catchers have improved in the offseason, which could mean they catch Allen’s eye more often. Don’t get me wrong, Diggs is still super talented. He is being drafted as the WR4, though, with the 11th overall pick and projects to finish at a second round value this season.

Summary

As you can tell from this article, so much can happen in the first round of your drafts. I do think that the top four are rather set in stone, and it just depends on the order they are selected. After that, try to maximize the value and see how the draft board falls to you. If you are drafting eighth, deadset on a running back, and Cooper Kupp is still there? Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. Have a general idea of how the draft will go, and then adjust as you progress through the first round and beyond.