Drafting from the 1.02 requires a leap of faith.

We don’t have the certainty of an elite (albeit aging) RB that the one spot provides. Plus, you could tell yourself a story of how most of the WRs available could hold the top spot by season’s end. Every option feels right and wrong simultaneously.

But being able to start the “WR avalanche” can be advantageous. Despite the 20-pick delay, every draft strategy from hero to zero RB is still on the table. And, like always, our decisions in the early rounds remain the most critical to building an optimal roster.

The Early Rounds

Whoa. Hold up. Wait a minute.

Assuming Christian McCaffrey is gone, your brain is on autopilot and you’re ready to click CeeDee Lamb, let’s talk about it for a second.

I understand there’s a vibes component to making the pick. Even the Fantasy Life rankers don’t agree on who should go first off the board. But history gives us some idea of where we should place our bets.

  • 2023: Lamb, Tyreek Hill, Amon-Ra St. Brown
  • 2022: Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill
  • 2021: Adams, Cooper Kupp, Deebo Samuel

I used the top three over the last three seasons to set up a range of options. All averaged more than 20.0 PPR PPG, with a couple cracking 400 total points. Of course, they’re all different stylistically and deployed uniquely. But we can extract some similarities.

First, these guys didn’t come out of nowhere. The year prior, each WR made their leap into the top three, each held a target share of over 25.0% with YPRR marks above 2.0. Cooper Kupp’s 2021 season is the only exception, as his aDOT jumped over two full yards after the departure of Robert Woods. Simply put, they were WR1s before they became the WR1 (or got close to it). Additionally, their situations were like a force multiplier on their range of outcomes based on talent alone.

  • Six of the nine WRs came from teams that ranked in the top 12 in EPA per play. All but one were above the league average.
  • Five of the nine WRs were on teams with a top-10 PROE rank. 

Fortunately, we can apply these trends to 2024. Lamb, Hill and Ja’Marr Chase headline our top trio for the upcoming season. Chase is the only WR without a +25.0% target share season on his resume. However, even without Joe Burrow for most of the year, the Bengals attempted more passes than the Cowboys and Dolphins, lending some credence to his bid to be the WR1 by season’s end.

Regardless, the early rounds are more than a single pick. You might want to build your squad a certain way, or the board may dictate your next move. Sticking with an elite WR and using ESPN’s ADP, I built a few mini rosters for us to examine.

Each is a bit differently but adheres to high-level takeaways gathered from historical BBM data, like taking just one player from a onesie position. More importantly, their variations should force different approaches to the middle rounds.

Building Depth in the Middle Rounds

As we get into the middle rounds, I reassess my squad for gaps. Usually, I’ve gone too hard on WRs and neglected another position. And, of course, I think I know ball and can make up for it later. Such is the case for Team 1 and Team 3, as I passed on a TE. But it’s not a position we should ignore fully.

Last year marked the highest number of TEs to post a 60.0% route rate over the previous five seasons (20). More were earning targets outside of the Travis Kelces of the world. Most importantly, they were fantasy-relevant.

TEs with eight or more weeks inside the Top 12:

  • 2023: 10 
  • 2022: 7
  • 2021: 8

However, we’ve gotten sharper as a community. By ADP, there are nine TEs with a mid-round ADP. It’s the fewest drafted in this range since 2019. So, finding a viable option is a priority for the Lamar Jackson and C.J. Stroud squads. After conducting some regression studies, we can isolate the metrics that matter for the position.

Intuitively, volume is king. Earning targets has the highest correlation with fantasy points scored using a five-year sample. But being out on the field (running routes) and still getting looks as a part-time player (TPRR) matter. Of the current mid-round TEs, only three posted top-12 marks in both metrics in ‘23: George Kittle, Evan Engram and David Njoku. Jake Ferguson’s usage and outlook for 2024 also put him on board, but let’s take a quick look at Team 2.

Zero or hero RB approaches have become more popular, as either strategy can put you in a position to take down multi-entry tournaments. However, both can feel harder to execute in managed leagues. Nonetheless, let’s focus on what we know.

Team 2 has Kenneth Walker as its RB1. With only four trips into the top 12 last year, taking swings at more rushers in the middle rounds should boost my weekly floor. Using last year’s weekly results as a proxy, I found reasonable thresholds for a mid-tier rusher.

  • Team Rush Rate: 50.7%
  • Route Rate: 44.9%
  • Target Share: 10.5%

In essence, these starting points answer the question(s): Does this guy handle half the carries and part of the receiving game? But then, their team situation comes into play.

At first glance, the teams that had the most games with an RB score as an RB2 (average 15.0 PPR points) don’t make sense. The Steelers and Lions are not the same. But both ranked in the top 10 in rush rate over expected in the red zone. Miami, Kansas City and Washington used their rushers in the passing game above the league-average rate. As a result, the starters on each squad had more stable floor.

Filling Out A Contender

So, let’s recap. Teams 1 and 3 need a TE with depth added at both core positions. Team 2 has a hole at RB. After applying the takeaways to each position of need, we can end the middle rounds with optimal players to fill the gaps.

mid-round result

I stuck to ADP as much as possible to maintain some sense of reality, but the process for each remains the same. I noted Njoku and Kittle as potential TEs to return value at their ADP. David Montgomery handled the fifth-most carries from inside the five-yard line last season, and his situation hasn’t changed. Paired with Walker on Team 2, that roster has weekly upside across the board. So, with this approach to the second-overall pick, you should be able to come out of your draft with the toughest squad in your league.