We stress over many things during a fantasy football draft.
But first and foremost, we stress over draft position.
Admit it, there might not be a single portion of the draft process that is approached with as much anticipation as the drawing of the draft order. "What's my draft spot?" "Did the commish select the draft order yet?" "Is the draft room open so I can see the draft order?"
This season, it seems like the annual draft position debate is raging with greater passion than ever, with no consensus No. 1 overall pick. The case can be made for more than six different players to begin the draft, so there's sure to be a wide array of opinions on the best draft position in 2015.
To help you make this all-important decision -- assuming you have a say in it -- I asked 11 of ESPN's fantasy football analysts -- Matthew Berry, Tom Carpenter, Mike Clay, Ken Daube, Christopher Harris, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, Jim McCormick, Matt Williamson and Field Yates -- their opinions, as well as offering my own, on the optimal draft position in varying formats.
ESPN standard leagues (10 teams)
You've seen our rankings and you've seen the early ADP; there is a clear top tier of five running backs closely bunched. We've even written stories stating the case for each of them as well as one who isn't widely regarded to be a member of that tier, C.J. Anderson. It's like a "grab bag" of comparable talents ... but maybe you don't see it that way. Where do you want to pick? Our analysts shared their preferences below.
Keith Lipscomb -- Pick 1: From the mocks in which I've taken part, I've really liked how things have fallen for those picking first. While it's not easy to decide which running back to take with the top pick, at least you know you have an elite option, while those toward the back of the round won't be excited about the remaining options there but still may feel forced to take at least one with their top two picks. And because of that, many of the best wide receivers are still there at 20 and 21, giving your team an imposing foundation to build upon.
Mike Clay -- Pick 1-3: In an ideal scenario, I'm picking in the top three of 10- and 12-team leagues. The reason? The "Big 23." My top tier includes 11 running backs, 11 wide receivers and a single tight end. In a 10-team league, landing an early pick guarantees I will land three members of that top-23 tier.
Matthew Berry -- Pick 1-5: I prefer to be in the top five regardless of format. Studies have shown that the person picking first wins most often, picking second wins the second-most, and so on. You can win from any position -- it's all about value in middle to late rounds and waiver/roster management in-season -- but if I'm picking, I want to be as close to first as possible. That's especially true this year when you see who is generally available at the Round 2-3 turn after picking first overall. The first few rounds are deeper this year than in years past.
Eric Karabell -- Pick 1 or 10: I generally want to pick first or last because I like consecutive selections. First is a nice spot this year in a standard 10-teamer because you're assured a top-tier RB -- there are five or six of them -- and top-tier wide receivers still slip to picks 20-21. If picking last, getting three top talents is a bit more problematic but doable.
Tristan H. Cockcroft -- Pick 4-5: I'd flip a coin between these two spots, and it has as much to do with my odds of a preferred pick of mine falling to me in Round 3 as it does in Round 1. In Round 1, I'm assuming a Le'Veon Bell or Marshawn Lynch will stick around to five -- four would assure me of either -- while in Round 3, I'm confident that at least one member of my top 23 players lasts. The four spot seems the wisest to me, but draft position this season seems to be at least as much about Round 3 as it does Round 1.
Jim McCormick -- Pick 4-6: From these spots in standard drafts you can net any one of the elite, bankable backs: Adrian Peterson, Le'Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch or Arian Foster. Being at the back end of this parity-laden performance tier allows for stronger options, especially among the top tier of wideouts, on the way back in the second.
Ken Daube -- Pick 5: As I have Arian Foster and C.J. Anderson atop my draft board, I feel extremely confident that I will be able to select one of those two players in any draft with the fifth pick. I can understand the love for any of the players who are normally selected before these two, however I think the risks associated with any of those players are understated.
Matt Williamson -- Pick 4-7: This year more than ever, I want to pick in the middle. Without a clear-cut top running back, I would be happy with whoever fell to me. Overall, I always prefer to pick in the middle of rounds, as in many cases, especially as the draft goes along, the two players I am deciding from both end up on my squad.
Tom Carpenter -- Pick 5-6: You can draft a winning lineup from any position; there are advantages and disadvantages to each spot. That said, you are more likely to have values drop to you if you are picking in the middle each round.
Christopher Harris -- Pick 6: You can make any draft position work in a 10-team league. But I guess the logical answer is this: Since I like the first six RBs roughly the same, I'll pick sixth and take the earlier second-round pick. However, by August, I think we'll see Bell's suspension reduced. If that happens, I'll take him at No. 1 overall, please.
KC Joyner -- Pick 6-10: At those points, a fantasy owner should be able to select a RB1 and either Antonio Brown or Rob Gronkowski in the first two rounds. There is enough RB depth to get a quality RB2 in Round 3, so this would give a team two quality starting running backs and an impact pass-catcher to build a team around.
Field Yates -- Pick 7-9: Nothing kicks off a draft quite like a secure running back selection, and this year the tier of "safe" backs feels a bit deeper. I'd be comfortable taking 10 backs in the first round (our top 11 in the ESPN Fantasy ranks, only swapping out Jeremy Hill, 11th, for LeSean McCoy, 10th). For a double-dip opportunity, this is my preferred range.
Twelve-team standard leagues
Now, let's expand the player pool, adding two teams but keeping everything else the same. Would opinions change among our fantasy analysts?
Lipscomb -- Pick 2-3: Since I think there are a solid 11 running backs, 11 wide receivers and Gronk, I'd prefer to pick here in a 12-teamer.
Cockcroft -- Pick 2-3: For me, the top 25 overall players is the "elite tier," so moving any further back than this runs the risk of disappointment with my available Round 3 optons.
Harris -- Pick 4-6: I don't see any format where there's an obvious No. 1 pick, or even an obvious Nos. 1-3. Running backs are scarce, wide receivers are plentiful, so I'm sticking with the middle of the first round.
Karabell -- Pick 1 or 10: It doesn't change much for me in deeper formats or PPR, though obviously you avoid certain running backs that don't catch passes early in PPR. Regardless, you're still targeting elite, volume wide receivers.
Carpenter -- Pick 6-7: I want the middle even more in larger drafts because it's nearly impossible to score values when 20-plus players come off the board between picks when drafting near one end or the other.
Joyner -- Pick 6-10: The same RB1/Antonio Brown-Rob Gronkowski strategy for the first two rounds. The difference is picking a RB2 four picks later in Round 3, but that should result in similar RB2 value.
Ten-team PPR leagues
Point-per-reception (PPR) leagues are different beasts, with a clearer-cut No. 1 overall pick in Le'Veon Bell. As you'll see, there's more of an opinion among our analysts that an earlier pick is preferred.
Cockcroft -- Pick 1: It's considerably different for me in PPR, where I want to guarantee myself Le'Veon Bell, but more importantly, demand three picks from the top nine running backs, 11 wide receivers and tight end. Do the math: That's 21 players, and I'm more concerned that someone like LeSean McCoy or Alshon Jeffery isn't going to make it past pick 21.
Clay -- Pick 1-3: My "Big 23" tier holds up in PPR formats, but the likes of Justin Forsett, Andre Ellington and Brandin Cooks aren't the worst third-round fallback options if you're "stuck" with a midround pick.
Joyner -- Pick 1-3: Antonio Brown is such a differencemaker in PPR leagues that it pays to have an early pick to acquire him.
Yates -- Pick 7-9: I'm still good in this sweet spot, understanding that in PPR if I end up with a top WR at the front end of Round 2, that's something I'd be just fine with.
Daube -- Pick 8-10: I prefer to be near the end of the first round. Ideally I'd grab a combination of Rob Gronkowski and Arian Foster or C.J. Anderson with my first two picks.
Twelve-team PPR leagues
Sensing a pattern? Yes, now let's add two more teams to the PPR mix.
Joyner -- Pick 1-3: Antonio Brown rule again.
Cockcroft -- Pick 3: I'll risk the three, judging Bell, Jamaal Charles and Antonio Brown the clear class of PPR, and thinking that maybe one of the top 21 I want will last to pick 22 if an owner between my picks feels the pressure of having to reach for a second-round running back.
McCormick - Pick 10-12: If anything, I'm likely more inclined to prefer being in the latter portion of the first, in the 10-12 range with an eye on either two surefire WR1 assets.
Other formats: 2QB, keeper/dynasty, 14-team, etc.
Now things get interesting. Our 12 fantasy football analysts play in a variety of different formats, from two-quarterback to keeper leagues to extremely deep leagues of 14 teams (and sometimes even more). I asked each analyst to share his preferred league type and desired pick in said format; the format is listed first before the desired pick.
Carpenter, keeper leagues -- Pick 1: I mark keepers off my draft list, then usually want the top remaining draft spot. With a depleted talent pool, there may be only 1-2 studs available and I want one.
Clay, 16-team leagues -- Pick 10 or higher: The early-round pick won't usually work in 16-team leagues. To guarantee yourself two players from the top tier, you'll need to pick 10th or later.
Cockcroft, 2QB leagues -- Pick 1-3: I'm a big fan of the two-quarterback format, and this season, I see Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck being the clear class of the position, sure to be picked among the first four players of any draft. I'd most prefer the two, but I'm willing to risk the three, with the idea that if both quarterbacks go earlier, I'll take a running back upside shot on Bell.
Daube, 2QB leagues -- Pick 1-3: The only major adjustment I make for nontraditional formats comes in 2QB leagues. For those, I really want to be near the front of the draft order and I'll move quickly to ensure I have two strong quarterback options in my first three picks.
Harris, 14-plus team leagues -- Pick 1-5: The bigger the league size, the less likely I want to draft toward the end of the first round. Of course, in the end, most leagues will be decided by random late-round running backs anyway ... Harrumph!
Joyner, 2QB leagues -- Pick 1: Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback who is apt to give his fantasy owners a quarterback point win over the opponent's QB1 three out of four times.
Karabell, 2QB leagues -- Pick 1-3: The lone format in which I alter early-round strategy a great deal is 2QB, in which I like to secure a top quarterback relatively early. In standard formats, I might wait on quarterback until near the very end.
Lipscomb, 14-team leagues -- Pick 4: I am fine with the fourth spot in 14-team leagues (with my second pick being 25th). Because Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck have gone a little earlier in the 14-team mocks I've seen, that fourth spot is about as far as I feel comfortable knowing I'll get at least two players I really like (and hopefully three, if things fall my way).
McCormick, 2QB leagues -- Pick 7-9: I also prefer the back end in draft position in a 2QB format. With signal callers consuming a substantial portion of the first round, drafting in the 12-14 range allows me to choose from some elite backs, multiple special wideouts and a handful of stud quarterbacks to pair together for that first turn.
Williamson, 14-team leagues -- Pick 1-5: Again, this year, I don't think there is a huge difference. But in a 14-teamer, I would very much want to ensure getting one of the top running backs.
Yates, 14-plus-team leagues -- Pick 4-6: As we sail north of 12 teams in a league, I'm more inclined to push my preferred window to 4-6 to land one of the running backs that are in the conversation for No. 1 overall.