Malcolm McMillan (@McLateralFF)
The Lateral Editor
Editor's note: I wrote this earlier in the offseason and it became a project that totally got away from me. I still want to publish it so you can see the process and how I analyze these players, but unfortunately, this is one project I will not get to complete. Still, I do hope you gain some value from it and enjoy the read. - Malcolm
How to Draft the Perfect Team
Part II: The First Six Rounds
This is part two of an ongoing series. For Part I: The Hypothesis, click here.
Theoretically, it is tough to draft a bad player in the first round. Can you draft someone who underperforms? Sure. Ezekiel Elliot was ADP RB3 in 2020 but finished as RB10. But that is still an RB1 at the end of the day, and therefore not a losing pick. Can you draft someone who gets injured? Obviously, you can, as anyone who drafted Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Michael Thomas, or Joe Mixon can attest. But in most instances, you cannot truly project for injury. Saquon Barkley had played 90.6% of his possible games going into the 2020 season, so a season-ending ACL tear in Week 3 was hardly predictable.
This largely continues in the second round as well. Looking at the 2020 ADP, there is largely nobody from ADP13 to ADP24 that severely underperformed for expected reasons. RB Austin Ekeler, WR Julio Jones, WR Chris Godwin, and TE Geroge Kittle all suffered serious and/or chronic injuries that prevented them from playing a full season, but they all still performed well when healthy. Ekeler was RB10 in PPG, Jones was WR13 in PPG, Godwin was WR22 in PPG, and Kittle was TE3. The only one of those who really stands out is Godwin who performed (even using PPG) 16 spots below his ADP. Everyone else performed within a round of their ADP. Even Kenyan Drake, who most people would think of as not the greatest or sexiest pick, still performed only two spots lower than his ADP of RB12. Yes, you would have rather picked Aaron Jones instead (ADP RB14, actual finish RB5), but you did not lose your league by drafting Drake there.
The third round is really where things get interesting. Were you the fantasy manager who drafted Allen Robinson II? If you were you got a nice return on your pick, taking the WR7 at an ADP of WR11 (ADP30 overall). Or were you the manager who drafted D.J. Moore, watching your WR1 candidate nearly fall into WR3 territory (ADP WR9, actual finish WR23)? What at first seemed like it would be an insignificant difference turned into a potential league-winning pick if you took Robinson II instead of Moore, especially with Robinson's dominant performances down the stretch.
These difference-making picks continue to grow in prominence as the draft goes on. Did you take Le'veon Bell or Melvin Gordon III? Devin Singletary or Darren Waller? Kyler Murray or T.Y. Hilton. The list goes on. In this part of our perfect draft series, we will go from the more low-risk picks of the first two rounds all the way into the sixth round where the best drafters really separate from the pack. Each round, I will make a selection, then explain why I made the selection using historical data.
Round 1, Pick 6
The pick: WR Davante Adams (GB)
2020 PPR Fantasy Points: 341.8 Points
The logic for the pick: Picking at the sixth spot, players such as Christian McCaffrey and Michael Thomas are off the table, so this is seemingly a choice between Alvin Kamara (ADP RB5) and Davante Adams (ADP WR2). Adams had an excellent 2019 despite some injury problems and finished WR6 in PPG. Additionally, it is tough to find someone with a more dominant market share of his team's opportunities; Adams received nearly 60 more targets than anyone else on the Packers... despite missing four games. That is a quarter of the season! His market share for targets was still 23.4% even missing those games, and only Michael Thomas saw more targets per game in 2019. If you want a dominant WR, you cannot beat Adams here.
The logic against the pick: Well... you would be passing on Alvin Kamara. While Kamara had a slightly down year, he still finished RB11 overall and RB8 in PPG. Take away two tough games against the stout NFC West defenses of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, and his PPG shoots up to 19.6, which would have been good enough for RB4 in PPG in 2019. He also was the most targeted RB not named Christian McCaffrey in 2019. Additionally, Adams had missed four games in 2019, and injury concerns leading into 2020 were real.
The hindsight factor: Hindsight matters a lot in this pick given that the two players are so close. Kamara finished RB1 with 377.8 points and 25.2 PPG. While Adams finished at WR1 with fewer points than Kamara, he actually scored 1.1 more PPG. Additionally, Adams helps you a bit more than Kamara in the run-up to the playoffs, and rightly or wrongly I am weighing that a bit more in my decision.
Logic score: 8 out of 10. Logic would dictate taking an RB over a WR in the first round. However, I am aided a bit with hindsight knowing that Adams will score more PPG than Kamara, help me in the run-up to the playoffs, and provide a similar value to Kamara in the playoffs. Still, I do not think that you can go wrong here between these two given how dominant they are on their respective teams.
Round 2, Pick 19
The pick: TE Travis Kelce (KC)
2020 PPR Fantasy Points: 312.8 Points
The logic for the pick: There are three options here: Aaron Jones (ADP RB14), Kelce (ADP TE1), and Kelce's teammate Patrick Mahomes II (ADP QB1). I absolutely refuse to take a QB this early, and logic will prove I am right. Mahomes, while phenomenal, was QB8 in 2019 (QB3 in PPG). It was unlikely he would provide the value of his ADP. Kelce meanwhile was TE1 in 2019 and finished with 2.2 more PPG than the TE2 Zach Ertz. The real issue, is do you take Kelce over Aaron Jones? That is tough, but ultimately I am going to take Kelce because he provides me a positional advantage that Jones does not. While Jones was really good in 2019, he still scored 10 PPG less than his position leader (Christian McCaffrey).
The logic against the pick: Passing up on an RB1 once makes it really hard to do it again, and Jones did finish as the RB2 in 2019 (RB3 in PPG). Yes, there were concerns about Jones still being weighed down in a committee, and those concerns were not alleviated by the Packers drafting RB A.J. Dillon in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. However, Jones also won a lot of people their leagues in 2019, and that should not be so easily forgotten. Especially if he is falling to you in high-end RB2 territory.
The hindsight factor: Hindsight favors Kelce here, though it is not a major factor in this decision. If anything, while hindsight still favors Kelce it makes potentially taking Aaron Jones at RB14 look a lot better given that he finished as RB5 in 2020. Still, it is tough to beat taking someone you know will score double-digits in every week but Week 6, and score an average of 24.4 points during the playoffs. That is nearly ten points more per game than Jones.
Logic score: 9 out of 10. Taking the TE1 in a position that is tough to find value at is a major win. Yes, Jones is good, so passing on him is tough, but it is not illogical. Given that Kelce repeated as TE1 again in 2020, and dominated the next closest TE again by multiple PPG, it is tough to argue that the logic was not born out. Especially since Kelce actually outscored Jones in PPG in 2020.
Round 3, Pick 30
The pick: RB Melvin Gordon III (DEN)
2020 PPR Fantasy Points: 177.4 points
The logic for the pick: The logic for this pick is two-fold. First, the roster needed an RB since we had passed on the position in the first two rounds. Second, in this ADP range (ADP 30-42), that means taking Chris Carson, Gordon, Le'Veon Bell, James Conner, or David Johnson. Conner missed significant time in 2019, Johnson finished with less PPG, and Bell was on the Adam Gase led Jets, so there are all logical reasons to take Gordon ahead of them.
The logic against the pick: First, based on 2019 PPG, the clear advantage would indicate Carson, who scored 1.3 PPG more than Gordon. Hindsight is genuinely required to take Gordon over Carson. Second, RB may be a need at this pick, but ultimately the best value may be found at WR instead. These are the tough decisions that fantasy managers have to make, and ultimately they may regret taking RB (a position of need with weaker offerings at this ADP range) than WR where the best players remain on the board. Allen Robinson was available here and finished WR7 in 2019 with more PPG than Carson or Gordon.
The hindsight factor: Hindsight definitely plays a factor here given that we know where Chris Carson will fall short. Especially, since Carson was being drafted on average at nine spots ahead of Gordon. Carson finished higher than Gordon in 2020, but it was by 0.1 points. Given that Carson missed four games in a row in the middle of the season and underwhelmed in the fantasy playoffs, Gordon is the better (albeit flawed) pick.
Logic score: 5 out of 10. Despite having all the information available to me and the benefit of hindsight, the more I think about this pick, the more I dislike it. This was a pick made out of need rather than grabbing the best player available, and I really may come to regret not taking Allen Robinson and adding another elite WR to go with Davante Adams. Especially since he finished WR7 in 2020 (repeating his 2019 performance) and scored 4.5 points per game more than Gordon, and in the championship game (Week 16), Robinson had a phenomenal game against Jacksonville, and Gordon fell short against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Round 4, Pick 43
The pick: RB Jonathan Taylor (IND)
2020 PPR Fantasy Points: 214.4 points
The logic for the pick: This is a much stronger pick than the Gordon pick from Round 3. Jonathan Taylor was an absolute stud coming out of Wisconsin, and while in the fantasy football world everyone was hyped on Kansas City's Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ADP 18), Taylor was still going fairly high at RB21. Add in the fact that the Indianapolis Colts spent significant draft capital to acquire the rookie, trading up in the second round of the NFL draft to get him, and Taylor felt like a very confident pick in Round 4. Especially since the Colts gave their RBs plenty of opportunity in 2019; 398 rushing attempts and 91 targets.
The logic against the pick: As a rookie, Taylor was technically an unproven talent, which always has potential risk. Given the crowded RB room in Indianapolis, there was a chance that Taylor would not break out right away, or even in his rookie year. Additionally, this was again a bit of a need-based pick to try and grab a potential RB1 before the RB cliff hit. The best player available would have been a WR. Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Rams WR Robert Woods, and Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley were all available here and scored 15.2+ PPR PPG in 2019. If Taylor failed to be an RB1 in 2020, it would be unlikely that taking him would provide the best value, since no RB outside the top-12 in 2019 scored more than 15.2 PPR PPG.
The hindsight factor: Hindsight matters because we know that the pick paid off. Taylor did finish as an RB1 in 2020, finishing at RB7 with 15.3 PPG. This gives this roster the true RB1 that it was lacking up until this point, and really shores up the Melvin Gordon III pick from the previous round. The only problem here is that hindsight shows multiple WRs outscored Taylor in terms of PPG that could have been taken with this pick. Ridley, Allen, Woods, and the Seahawks WR duo of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were all available here and scored 15.5+ PPR PPG.
Logic score: 8 out 10. This is a great value pick, getting the eventual RB7 at RB21 value. Really the only issue is that logically you could have projected some of the WRs available at this pick to outscore Taylor in terms of PPG. This pick definitely provides a positional advantage at RB, but probably not an overall advantage against your opponents.
Round 5, Pick 54
The pick: WR Stefon Diggs (BUF)
2020 PPR Fantasy Points: 314.0 points
The logic for the pick: With Travis Kelce already on the roster, it does not make sense to double up and take Waller with a premium draft pick in a 1 TE league. That leaves the choices as Jacksonville WR D.J. Chark, Diggs, and two QBs: Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. Then it becomes a decision: Do you want QB or WR? If you want a WR, the choice feels easy for taking Stefon Diggs. Even in 2019, which was a down year for Diggs in Minnesota, Chark finished only a few spots ahead at WR16 (vs WR20). That means counting on Diggs not to bounce back in a new environment and for Chark to continue his ascendancy despite Jacksonville being a fairly dysfunctional franchise without a franchise QB under center. Taking the proven talent is logical.
The logic against the pick: It merits consideration that Chark did score 1.5 more PPG in 2019 than Diggs. If you truly believed in Chark, then it would not be illogical to take him ahead of Diggs. More importantly, you could have taken a truly elite fantasy football QB at this pick. Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray were both top-13 overall in 2019 and between Wilson's track record and Murray's significant upside (primed for a second-year breakout) it would be completely logical to grab the potential QB1 in Round 5.
The hindsight factor: Despite the logic of this pick, it would be a bald-faced lie to not say that hindsight played a role in this pick. Diggs killed it in his first year in Buffalo, finishing as WR3 with 20.9 PPR PPG. By contrast, Chark finished as WR41 with a mere 11.8 PPR PPG in what was certainly a disappointing year for the Jags WR. Additionally, despite top-5 finishes at QB for both Wilson and Murray in 2020, both faded a bit down the stretch, whereas Diggs probably won people a championship with his 41.5 point performance in Week 16.
Logic score: 9 out of 10. The only real knock against this missing out on two top-5 QBs, but taking a WR in Round 5 instead of QB is a logical choice for many fantasy managers. Then it really comes down to preference between Chark and Diggs, and taking the proven talent is not an illogical choice there.
Round 6, Pick 67
The pick: RB D'Andre Swift (DET)
2020 PPR Fantasy Points: 173.8 points
The logic for the pick: Swift was lined up to be the potential lead back in the Detroit Lions RBBC as the third pick in the second round. He was drafted ahead of literally every RB other than Clyde Edwards-Helaire, so that showed a clear investment by the Lions. Add in the excellent scouting profile, especially the elite level pass-catching ability, and the pathway for Swift to become a PPR stud was easy to see.
The logic against the pick: Did I mention that he was in an RBBC? Seriously though, a large reason that Swift was falling was that he was sharing touches with at least four other RBs. Even when Bo Scarborough went down, the Lions' commitment to a committee approach held true and they brought in Adrian Peterson before Week 1. The other knocks against Swift were being a rookie and therefore likely needing a couple weeks to get going, and the fact that Swift never cracked 200 rushing attempts in a college season (i.e. he was seen as a passing-down back). Really though, it all boiled down to concerns about the committee.
The hindsight factor: This pick was made largely to shore up taking Denver Broncos RB Melvin Gordon earlier in this draft. Luckily, thanks to hindsight, I could see that D'Andre Swift would put up some truly electrifying performances, including three performances with over 20 PPR points. His 15 PPR points in Week 14 and 22.2 PPR points in Week 15 will be particularly helpful in making a run to the championship.
Logic score: 8 out of 10. Swift was always an exciting rookie prospect, but it helped a lot to know exactly when he would be going off to take him here in the sixth round. Luckily, as a sixth-round pick, most negatives about him were already baked into his ADP.
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