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The best fantasy football draft strategy for 2018

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Winning and losing in the world of fantasy football is based on a lot of different factors, but the draft is right at the top of the list. It's not the be all, end all in your quest for success, but an owner who has a good draft is more likely to contend for a league championship than someone whose draft went sideways. To avoid the latter scenario, you need to enter your draft with a plan. Would the Rebels have defeated the Empire in the original Star Wars without having the Death Star plans? Blow up the reactor system and you blow up the Death Star. Winner, winner, Endorian chicken dinner. In Rocky III, Rocky Balboa had a plan to defeat the champion, Clubber Lang. Make him throw a lot of punches in the earlier rounds to become exhausted, and then knock him out.

I'm a product of the 1980s, what can I say?

With that said, I want to share with you the round-by-round strategy I use in drafts. It's not rocket science ... but it is a simple and effective blueprint for finishing your drafts with a smile, knowing you've built a team that will put you in contention for a league title. In 2017, this particular strategy helped me reach the postseason in seven of eight leagues, the semifinals in five leagues and the championship in four, three of which I won (including a PPR/IDP experts league with some of the brightest minds in the business).

If you follow this plan and make smart waiver-wire moves and trades during the course of the regular season, I can guarantee a successful (and enjoyable) 2018 campaign.

Round 1 - Draft a running back: Running backs are once again the lifeblood of fantasy football, as the position is loaded with talented, young players at the top. You want to get at least one of them, if not two. Depending on your draft position, there's a good chance you'll land one of the top eight backs in a 10-team league. There are two exceptions. If Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot and David Johnson have been picked, then Antonio Brown, a wideout, is your choice. I'd also go with DeAndre Hopkins later in the round after Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette are gone.

Round 2 - Draft a running back or wide receiver: If you landed a running back in Round 1, don't be afraid to take another one in Round 2. A backfield of Fournette and Melvin Gordon (for example) is quite realistic and pretty darn attractive, right? In this scenario, you would target wide receivers in the next two rounds. If you drafted Brown or Hopkins in the first round, however, I would be looking at drafting a running back here. Unless you're in a PPR league and wideouts are flying off the board in the top 20, you should be able to land a nice pair of starters at the position in the next two stanzas.

Round 3 - Draft a running back or wide receiver: You should be focusing on the runners and receivers in the next two rounds, choosing the best player available at both positions. If you drafted two backs in the first two rounds, you should be looking at a wide receiver. If you split the positions, then you should be looking at the best available runner or wideout. The key is to draft a nice balance in order to have a potent starting lineup. You could also look at the top tight ends in Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce here, but I tend to wait on the position until the middle rounds.

Round 4 - Draft a running back or wide receiver: Same drill in this round as in the previous three. If you took a runner in Round 3, then you should get a wide receiver here. If you went with a wideout in the previous round, then it's time to pick another running back. Whatever the situation, you'd like to have two backs and two wideouts once you've made your first four picks. Some fans in PPR leagues might have one running back and three receivers at this spot, and that's all right too. If you took Gronkowski or Kelce with a top-30 pick, then you're looking to draft the best runner or wideout on the board.

Round 5 - Look at your best player available list: This is the first round where you'll see positions other than running back and wide receiver come off the board. Use common sense here, however. I still contend that waiting on a tight end (and quarterback) and loading up on runners and wideouts is the right move. With Gronkowski and Kelce very likely off the board, owners bullish on drafting a tight end could pick Zach Ertz. One player you might want to target at this point is Mark Ingram, who will fall in drafts due to a four-game suspension but would be one heck of a flex starter upon his return.

Round 6 - Look at your best player available list: It's at this point in your draft where you can at least start to look at a quarterback, but I wouldn't take anyone other than Aaron Rodgers this high unless I'm in a super flex or two-quarterback league. Again, you can wait (I promise you'll be fine). If you have a combination of five runners and wideouts, then a tight end such as Greg Olsen or Evan Engram is worth a look. Also, don't be afraid to keep building more running back and wideout depth with a few sleepers or rookies. You might find a real jewel, like Ronald Jones II, Royce Freeman or Sony Michel.

Round 7 - Look at your best player available list: If you already have three backs, then you don't need a fourth (not yet, at least). The same goes for wide receivers. This is also the round to look at what's left at the tight end position (assuming you haven't drafted one yet). If Olsen, Engram or Jimmy Graham are still on the board, for example, this is a good spot to take one of them. If a quarterback like Tom Brady, Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson is available, don't be afraid to pull the trigger. If not, you can still wait and draft a highly talented field general over the next few rounds.

Round 8 - Look at quarterbacks and tight ends: In a perfect world, you will already have three running backs, three wideouts and either a quarterback or tight end. If you still need a signal-caller and the trio of Brady, Wilson and Watson are off the board (which is likely), I like Cam Newton in this round. If Newton isn't available, continue to wait and follow the flow of the draft. If we assume that Olsen, Engram and Graham are off the board (likely), I'd select Delanie Walker. Otherwise, look for more potential values at the running back and wide receiver spots. As always, target youth and upside.

Round 9 - Look at quarterbacks and tight ends: If you haven't picked your first quarterback or tight end, now is the time to consider it. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that you can still land a great value at either position. Maybe it's Kirk Cousins or Carson Wentz at quarterback or Kyle Rudolph or Jordan Reed (if you're into injury risks) at tight end. However, I would also warn owners not to reach at either spot. I think it's too soon to draft quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford or Drew Brees or a tight end like Jack Doyle unless depth at the position has eroded. You can land those players later.

Round 10 - Draft a quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end: At this point in the draft, you probably have three to four running backs, three to four wide receivers, one quarterback, one tight end or one at either position. If I'm still without a signal-caller, I'm looking at someone like Stafford or Brees (assuming both Cousins and Wentz are gone). At tight end, I'd draft Doyle (but again, don't reach). If you have already filled those two positions, look at the best backs and wideouts available. Upside players like Nick Chubb or Sterling Shepard could still be on the draft board.

Round 11 - Draft a quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end: Due to the depth at quarterback, there will be plenty of teams that still need a quarterback. This is the time to consider Andrew Luck or Ben Roethlisberger if Stafford and Brees are gone. I'd prefer to have already drafted a No. 1 tight end, but those who have waited could still land a sleeper like Trey Burton.

Round 12 - Draft a quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end: Owners who drafted a top-six quarterback shouldn't look for a backup ... there will be plenty of good options on waivers. For those who waited longer, it makes sense to look at a second option like Jimmy Garoppolo or Philip Rivers. The same goes for tight end, where Tyler Eifert and Charles Clay are worth a look.

Round 13 - Draft a quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end: Right now you should have one or two quarterbacks, four or five running backs, four or five wide receivers and one or two tight ends. One of the top defenses (Jaguars, Rams, Eagles, Vikings) is a viable option here, otherwise go for a deep sleeper like D.J. Moore, Kenny Golladay or George Kittle.

Round 14 - Draft the best defense or kicker on the board: If the elite defenses are gone, don't be afraid to nab one of the elite kickers (yes, there is a such thing). A lot of analysts will criticize kickers because it's a tough position to predict, but ask anyone who had Greg Zuerlein or Justin Tucker a season ago just how valuable the position can be in making a championship run.

Round 15 - Draft the best defense or kicker on the board: This is and will continue to be the round where kickers most often come off the board. That is, assuming your league still uses the position and requires you to draft a full starting lineup. If you're not required to do so, however, I would add a defense (if still needed) or even more depth among the offensive skill positions.


Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Do you want the most up-to-date fantasy news and analysis? You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!

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