The Draft-Day Manifesto: Win your league one week at a time

My friend is a senior vice president at one of the world's most famous investment banks.

I bring this up not to brag that I actually have a friend (although, let's face it, that is an upset) nor to name-drop what his job is. I mention it only because this information sort of comes into play later. And I am all about foreshadowing. And name-dropping, of course, but trust me, this isn't the name-dropping moment. That comes later. More foreshadowing! I'm a foreshadowing machine!

The story actually starts with the fact that my friend "Paul" has a son who has graduated from high school and will be starting college soon.

Now, I also have an 18-year-old who will be starting college soon, so we're talking, Paul and I, about where the kids are going, what they plan on studying (as far as I can tell, for mine, it's Snapchat, girls and girls on Snapchat), and it's all exactly what you'd expect, until Paul tells me this story.

This past spring, he and his son are at the college his kid has gotten into. It's orientation weekend for all the incoming freshmen and their parents. Now, it's a smaller school, with maybe 1,500 kids entering this year. I've never been, but by all accounts it's a fantastic university and looks amazingly beautiful. Even with the understanding that most college campuses are pretty nice, this place is exquisite.

He gets there and it's a fairly typical orientation weekend. There's a tour, there are presentations explaining how to choose your course load, the kid meets his counselor, etc., blah, blah, blah. It's all what you expect when suddenly, Paul is slipped an envelope.

It's an engraved invitation.

For a dinner.

With the president of the university.

He assumes everyone got one of these and asks some other parents what time they're going to the dinner. They aren't. They weren't invited.


Smooth, Paul.

So Paul goes to the dinner, and maybe there's 40 parents there of the couple of thousand who are on campus. It's in a fancy-schmancy room, the food is amazing and as dinner is finishing up, the president gets up to speak.

"Let me get right to it. Here's why you're here. You're rich."

As nervous laughter goes around, the president continues, smiling but serious. He's not kidding.

"Why do you think you guys are sitting here eating filet mignon and drinking champagne while everyone else is at a cookout? I've got an endowment to raise and I want your money. You see how beautiful the campus is? All the new buildings going up? How do you think that happens? Rich parents."

He continues. "I've got buildings to build. Improvements to make. You want your kid to live in a dump? You want your kid to be safe? Because that costs money." And as all the parents are thinking about this, the president goes for the kill.

"So here's the deal. If you donate and your kid screws up, we'll look the other way. If you don't and your kid screws up, he or she will go into the system like everyone else and you take your chances."

I stare at Paul. He shrugs. Clearly, when he showed up on campus, they Googled his name or something and quickly figured out what he did. Remember that, kids. No matter what your job or interest is, it can always be improved with some research.

I'm shaking my head at this story as I ask Paul, "So, what are you gonna do?"

"Donate, of course. My kid's a screw-up."

Although he didn't actually say screw-up.

Now ...

I have a lot of reactions to this story. I can't believe the president was that brazen. Am I shocked? Of course not. This is not new behavior or "rules." It's been happening since the beginning of time.

But to be that blatant about it? Whatever your status and position in life, it certainly speaks volumes about how this country works, for better or worse. Add this to the long list of stuff rich people get that everyone else doesn't.

But my biggest reaction was that I was a big fan of the approach. Is it unfair? Of course. But it's honest. You may not like the rules, but at least you know what they are. And when you know what the rules are, you can make choices, you can prepare, you can set yourself up as best as possible to navigate them and succeed.

Which brings us meandering slowly via a semi-awkward segue (my specialty!) into the 18th annual edition of the Draft Day Manifesto. 'Sup, kids? Been a minute, hasn't it?

I've been in the same fantasy baseball league with my friend Don Smith for 33 years now. He was my very first commissioner, and on draft day, every year for 33 straight years, he shakes my hand and says the same thing. "It's only the best day of the year."

I smile back and say the same thing. "Yes it is, Don. Yes it is."

There's nothing better than draft day, and frankly, nothing more important. And that's why we are here: to get you ready for draft day.

For almost two decades, we've been doing the Manifesto, and as always, some things in here are unchanged from last year: The basic blueprint for ways to start to construct a championship team, some of the strategy and, of course, as I was just telling everyone in the "deep sleepers" chat room on my free Fantasy Life app, there will be some over-the-top self-serving promotion.

And, as always, it's crazy-long, so get comfortable, or better yet, save it for about two hours after lunch. The Manifesto continues to lead ESPN in printed articles left in the stall.

But don't worry. There's also new research, new analysis and at least one new joke for my editor. (Editor's note: That wasn't it.)

Let's start with the most important thing about this. If you take only one thing from this entire article, it should be this, especially since I already worked in the plug for the app. The secret to winning fantasy football is, very simply, this:

At a fundamental level, fantasy football is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis.

That's it. That simple. Everything leads back to that.


I write it every year because it's not only true, but it's also very easy to lose sight of. Exactly one year ago, no one thought the backup running back for the Falcons with just three career carries inside the tackles would wind up as the No. 1 running back in fantasy. That a backup in Pittsburgh who got double-digit carries in only eight games would be the fourth-best RB. That a 30-year-old tight end in his ninth season playing with a variety of QBs would be the fourth-best tight end in fantasy ... and score 80 points more than Jimmy Graham. That Kirk Cousins would outscore Aaron Rodgers and have twice as many points as Andrew Luck. And that Tim Hightower, who hadn't played in the NFL since 2011, would be the second-highest-scoring fantasy running back during the season's final four weeks.

You can't predict the future. I definitely can't predict the future. No one can predict the future. I literally had the main playcaller of a team with a running back by committee (RBBC) tell me one of the two guys was going to have a big week last season because of what they were scheming and what they saw on tape. Now, this person has given me good info for a number of years. Second series, the "other guy" broke a big play and that was all she wrote. The one guy barely touched the ball again, as the "other" RB had a big game. The coach texted after the game, "Sorry, man. After that run, he wasn't coming out. He stayed hot all game."

It is what it is. No one can predict the future. So all you can do is stack the odds in your favor as much as possible. How do we do that? Answer this question: What's most likely to happen? And then do that.

Does Paul definitely need to donate? No. Will his kid screw up? Who knows. But from talking to Paul, if he's playing the "what's most likely to happen" game, the answer is "yes" to both questions. So he's donating to the college, he's gonna offer internships to the college's business department and whatever else he needs to do, because his kid is a bit of a screw-up and he wants to put his son in the best position to win.

It may not work. At some point, the kid has to figure it out on his own, at least on some level, but Paul is doing what he can to stack the odds in his favor.

It's not fair, it's not just, but it is the reality of the situation, so I understand why Paul is doing whatever he can. Save me the "kid needs to learn for himself" emails, tweets, snaps and Facebook messages. I'm just relaying the story that Paul told me. But I get it. If you have the means and you've been told that that's the deal ... I'm not gonna judge a guy for doing whatever he can for his kid.

The truth is, be it college, fantasy football or any other aspect of life, the advice is the same:

The way to give yourself the best odds at getting the outcome you want is to minimize risk and play the percentages that give you the best chance to win. It won't always work, and there will be long shots from others that pay off, but it will work a lot more often than not.

So how do you stack the odds, lower risk and put yourself in the best position to win? Do the following:

1. Realize that there is no magic bullet

"Wait on a quarterback!" "You must grab two wide receivers in the first three rounds!" "Go zero-RB!" "Go contrarian and go RB/RB!"

As you start reading, watching and listening this preseason, you'll hear a lot of suggestions on what to do in your draft. If you keep reading this (or hell, who are we kidding, skimming this), I am going to tell you my take on each position. But the most important thing to realize is that there a lot of paths to glory on draft day.

I asked the great Sean Comerford, who last year oversaw our ESPN League Manager product (100 percent free to play! With an awesome free app! Seriously, wait 'til you use it!), to look at the championship rosters from the millions of leagues that play with us. ESPN leagues are fully customizable, he said, slipping in one more plug. But I asked Sean to just pull ESPN standard leagues, as that's by far the most popular format (seriously by faaaaar ... so calm down, PPR truthers. I like PPR, too, but it is not "what everyone plays.") and is fine for our purposes here.

Here's the list of most common players on teams that played in the championship last season on ESPN.com in our standard league format, along with the percentage of teams they were on:

I used 15 percent ownership as the cutoff, and that's the list. No kicker got more than 11 percent. Last season was a such a weird year with all the injuries, and you don't have to look further than Tim Hightower, Charcandrick West or Gary Barnidge to know how important staying active on the wire during the season is ... BUT, last year, both Adrian Peterson and Antonio Brown were consensus first-round picks and millions of people who went RB in the first made the championship game, just like millions of people who went WR. And in case you were wondering, Rob Gronkowski showed up on 11.34 percent of championship teams last season.

I am a big believer in "best player available" for the draft. By the time you are done with this article (looking like middle of next week at this pace), you'll have the tools and pieces in place to be able to make any decision to put yourself in the best possible position to win, no matter what happens in your draft. That's the point. Not having any one specific way to draft, but rather a framework that allows you to do whatever the draft brings you.

2. Know your league

I promise, they're not all this obvious, but you'd be amazed at how many people don't know all the rules of their league. Playing with three wide receivers in your starting lineup is different than playing with two. What's your roster size? How often can you make moves? What's your waiver system like? Is it a PPR or 1/2-PPR league? Do tight ends get 2 PPR? How much for a TD pass? Does your defense score points for holding opposing teams to certain yardage totals or is it yardage totals and scoring totals? When's your trade deadline? How many teams make the playoffs and when do they start? Is it a re-draft league or a keeper/dynasty league? All of these things and, frankly, every rule you have in your league helps shape a player's value. Frank Gore has more value in a re-draft league this year than in a dynasty startup, you know? And how can you evaluate players unless you know their value?

You need to know your league's rules inside and out, backward and forward. Because that knowledge is what you'll use to (legally!) exploit those rules and construct the best team possible on draft day. Is there an injury slot(s) in addition to the normal roster, like a DL slot in baseball? You can be more aggressive with talented but injury-prone guys, in that case. Are you required to leave the draft with a full lineup? I say you should have to, but if not, don't bother with a kicker or a defense, and use those two slots for extra position picks. You can waive them just before the season starts or do a 2-for-1 trade to grab a D/ST and K just before Week 1 starts.

Realize that the roster you construct on draft day is not what you are stuck with for the whole season (unless it's a" best ball" type league), so knowing what kind of movement is allowed is important.

Allow me to use this moment to say that if you don't have a constitution for your league, you must have one. The more clarity, the fewer fights. I also suggest have a three-person "competition committee" that anyone in the league can appeal to if there is a dispute with the commish that you disagree with. And there should be two alternates in case the dispute involves the commish, a member of the committee or that the complainant is on the competition committee.

3. It's not a yearly game

OK, I said they weren't all going to be that obvious, but I didn't say none of them would be obvious. I can't tell you how many years I've been talking about this, and it's very important to remember two big things when constructing your lineup on draft day:

a. It's a weekly game.
b. Your roster is NOT a finished piece of work when you leave the draft.

Seriously, dumb as it is, write these two phrases on a piece of paper and underline them. (And put it next to the idea that fantasy football success is all about minimizing risk and playing the odds. Also, draw my name and put a heart around it, just to weird people out).

You'll hear a lot in the preseason about how many points, yards, catches, etc. someone got in a season, during the past three years and so forth, but as Hightower (out of the NFL in October, second-highest-scoring RB in fantasy the final four weeks of the season) teaches us, it's about what you can do in any one given week and that's it.

On draft day, you are putting together a squad that needs to do one thing: outscore one other (predetermined) team during a certain week. Knowing that there will be injuries, bye weeks and many other surprises during the course of the season, what's the best collection of players you can put together on draft day to give you a foundation to have the best shot at success every week?

4. Your magic number is 94

Ninety-four is a number that has been thrown around a lot here at ESPN Fantasy HQ. You see, in 2015, the average playoff team in a standard ESPN league scored a shade over 94 points per week. The previous three years it has been 93, so we feel pretty confident in this range. There will be weeks you score more than 94 points and lose, weeks where you score fewer and still win, but in general, get to 94 points a week in ESPN standard scoring and you've got really good odds of getting into the dance at the end of the fantasy regular season.

Now, there are a lot of different ways to get to 94 points, of course, but here's how it broke down, on average, last season:

QB: 19 points
RB1: 11 points
RB2: 8 points
WR1: 13 points
WR2: 9 points
TE: 8 points
Flex: 8 points
K: 9 points
D/ST: 9 points

That's the average per position, but obviously it'll fluctuate based on what players you have. Le'Veon Bell averaged 15 points in the games he started and finished last season. So if you're getting 15 from RB1, you can get just 15 from your QB ... or 17 from your QB and 11 from WR1.

There are many ways to get to 94 from the combination above, but forget specific players for a second. I just want to focus on a simple exercise that will help during the draft (mocks or real) to get your team to a point where it can get to 94 points on a weekly basis.

I will say that nine points from a kicker strikes me as high. It's extremely hard to predict kickers with any accuracy (see what I did? Accuracy? Hahaha. Ah, kicker jokes. I might be going crazy. How long have I been working on this? Send help and food.).

So I want you to make a sheet that reads like the thing I posted above, but slightly adjusted:

QB: 19 points
RB1: 12 points
RB2: 9 points
WR1: 13 points
WR2: 9 points
TE: 8 points
Flex: 8 points
K: 7 points
D/ST: 9 points
Total: 94 points

Play with the points all you want. It doesn't matter, you can adjust during the draft.

So in the draft, say you manage to grab pick No. 6 in an ESPN standard draft. We go to our handy ESPN ADP and see Todd Gurley is currently the sixth player taken on average in ESPN standard league drafts (as of July 24). So we put down our little sheet from up above and we get to pick No. 6 and take Gurley. We project Gurley to play 15 games and, rounding up, we have him averaging 15 points a game. So now our list looks like this:

QB: 19 points
Todd Gurley: 15 points
RB2: 9 points
WR1: 13 points
WR2: 9 points
TE: 8 points
Flex: 8 points
K: 7 points
D/ST: 9 points
Total: 97 points

We had penciled in "RB1" for 12 points, so with Gurley we now get three more points to play with, making our new total 97 points. As we go through the draft, this will be a sliding scale. So, for simplicity's sake, let's just go down ESPN's ADP for the picks that draft slot would net and fill out the rest of our lineup. In Round 2, it's Jordy Nelson at pick 15. We see "WR1" is supposed to be 13 points a game, but we project Jordy at 12. So now our roster looks like this:

QB: 19 points
Todd Gurley: 15 points
RB2: 9 points
Jordy Nelson: 12 points
WR2: 9 points
TE: 8 points
Flex: 8 points
K: 7 points
D/ST: 9 points
Total: 96 points

And so on. Just using that draft slot via ESPN ADP, the next six picks go like this: Sammy Watkins, Demaryius Thomas, Dion Lewis (it actually would be Ben Roethlisberger, but I went Lewis here at pick 46 -- Lewis' ADP rank was 48 -- because there is no QB that lines up with the exact draft slot through the first 10 rounds), Delanie Walker, Carson Palmer (pick 68 instead of pick 66) and the Carolina Panthers D.

So now here's what that roster looks like, with projected weekly point totals:

Carson Palmer: 17 points
Todd Gurley: 15 points
Dion Lewis: 9 points
Jordy Nelson: 12 points
Sammy Watkins: 11 points
Delanie Walker: 8 points
Demaryius Thomas: 9 points
K: 7 points
Panthers D: 8 points
Total: 96 points

There you go. This is actually a pretty solid starting lineup. There's definitely some injury risk here with Gurley, Watkins, Lewis and Nelson all coming off injuries, or having a history of it, and I don't love going that early for a defense, but still ... a lot of upside.

And you have two points to play with, on average, per week. Not sure many folks would go for the third WR after grabbing Nelson and Watkins, but it just goes to show there are many ways to get there. Having the point totals helps keep you from veering off course too much.

Now that was just going down the sheet and not veering any. What if we put a little thought behind it? Here are three other lineups you could get from various draft positions, using ESPN ADP as our guide:

Now, I don't agree with all of these projections (some are a bit high for my taste), I rounded up in every case and getting 16 points a week from your kicker and defense is no given these days. You should be using whatever projections line up with your thinking (or just tweak ours until you feel good about it).

The point is merely to show a goal to hit and a bunch of different ways to construct a starting roster that will give you a pretty good shot at winning every week. Especially once we add a bench in there that we can mix and match to account for injuries, poor matchups, bye weeks and whatever the hell happened to Eddie Lacy last year.

Because, while this is a useful exercise, it's really some loosey-goosey math. Gurley isn't going to get you 15 points every week. Some weeks it'll be 22, some it'll be eight and everywhere in between. Gurley is a no-brainer, start-every-week guy when healthy, of course, but not everyone on your team will be. So how do you decide which players to start every week? Well, that's what every article and ranking during the season will be for (more foreshadowing!), but for the purposes of draft day, how do we choose which players to roster?

6. Range of outcomes: Yearly

I discussed this in much more depth in last year's Manifesto, but I want to bring it back for a refresher here. As you prepare for your draft or auction, you need to have an opinion on every player. You don't need to have stats or projections memorized, but just a general sense of how much you like that player in comparison to other players. Even if it's just someone's rankings that you trust, some way to differentiate between players as the clock ticks down on your pick.

Here's one way that I evaluate players and I'd like you to think of this as well: Every single player I roster has to have a range of outcomes that are one of two things:

1. Players with high floors during the course of a season.
2. Players who could wind up as an elite option at a position in any one given week.

Hold that thought and let's get back to what I said at the top of this:

At a fundamental level, fantasy football is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis.

That's it.

The way we do that, of course, is by answering one simple question: What's most likely to happen?

Every decision -- whom to draft, whom to start, whom to pick up, whom to deal, everything -- all comes back to that.

It's not tough to figure out.

Adrian Peterson has scored double-digit touchdowns every season he has played more than one game. What's most likely to happen this season?

Drew Brees has thrown for at least 4,300 yards and scored at least 33 total touchdowns in eight straight seasons. What's most likely to happen this season?

Last season, 21 players had more receptions than Doug Baldwin. Last season, 43 players had more targets than Doug Baldwin. And last season, no player caught more touchdowns than Doug Baldwin. What's most likely to happen this season?

It doesn't always happen, but again, more often than not, players come back to the mean. Do I think Baldwin has a nice year? I do, and my rankings reflect that. But do I think Baldwin has a regression on his total fantasy points? You bet.

It's a very simple exercise. What's most likely to happen? Answer that question for yourself before every move and then, of course, act accordingly. Put the odds forever in your favor, Katniss, and more often than not, it'll work out.

Remember: You don't need to be perfect. You just need to win more often than not. You don't need to beat every team. You just need to outscore the one you play in your league each week.

So let's go back to No. 1 in this section: players with high floors during the course of a season.

Too often, people evaluate a player only in terms of what he could do in a positive manner, the best-case scenario for that player. People also tend to have recency bias, meaning we think only about how the player performed in the near past, not looking at a larger body of work.

But just as important as what heights a player could reach is also what could happen if it all falls apart. Injuries are a whole different subject, but one of the reasons why I have Adrian Peterson as my No. 1 running back is because of his floor. I've seen all of the stats on RBs over the age of 30 (he turned 31 in March) and with excessive usage (including playoffs, Peterson had 382 touches last season). I expect a bit of a downturn and I actually don't expect him to finish the season as the No. 1 running back.

But I have him at No. 1 because of his high floor. You don't have to finish the season as the top RB to be worth the top pick. I do, however, feel he's the safest running back out there. Barring injury, his most likely range of outcomes is somewhere between RB1 and RB7. He has the least likely chance of being this year's Eddie Lacy.

Meanwhile, David Johnson is going fifth among RBs and in the first round on ESPN. Johnson had an amazing rookie season and I think he is a very talented running back, but he has had a total of four -- count 'em, four -- games in his NFL career with double-digit carries. That's it. He performed very well in those games, but it's a very small sample size, and ask anyone who spent an early-round pick on (ahem) Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson or even Jeremy Hill last season. All were high draft picks based, in essence, on having a big half a season and none lived up to their ADP.

So ... could the Cardinals go to a three-man committee with Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington? Or maybe defensive coordinators spent the offseason studying tape of the Seahawks in Week 17 last season when they held David Johnson to 59 toothless yards on 14 touches and figure out a way to bottle him up. DJ also had only 78 total yards (on 21 touches) against Green Bay in the playoffs, averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. In fact, including the playoffs, the Cardinals finished the season with four games versus playoff teams. During that stretch, David Johnson averaged just 3.18 yards per carry. He beat up on a hapless Philly defense that seemed to have given up for the year, but the jury is still out on him against tougher competition. Now, I have Johnson ranked high, so I'm a believer, but I'm also a little nervous. His range of outcomes is very wide, anywhere from a top-three running back to "this year's Zac Stacy."

I'm not going to do this for every player. Everything else you read/hear/see from me (and everyone else) this preseason will be about player evaluation, so I'm keeping this mostly to theory and strategy.

So, as much as possible, I want players with a high floor. And not just a high floor for the season, but a weekly high floor. That consistency, week in and week out, is what wins championships. Not every player is a stud, but knowing you can count on a solid seven points a week from someone is more valuable to me than a DeSean Jackson type, who will score 12 points one week and then two the next. It's still 14 points over two weeks, but I'd rather get the seven every week. That consistent production at as many roster spots as possible is what will help you plan the rest of your roster to figure out the best way to get to 94 points a week.

Remember when I spoke earlier of having an opinion on players? It was probably last week in terms of actual reading time. Well, I want you to at least have an opinion on the range of outcomes for every player. Even if you just take a rankings sheet and quickly go down the list making notations like "wide," "medium" or "small." Doing this exercise will help reshape how you view each player and guide you through the draft.

If you want extra credit, I suggest taking our projections, along with a few other sources, and creating a range of projections. So when you are doing the sheet we discussed up above, when you draft, say, LeSean McCoy you can write "11-16" for a range of potential points per week he could get. And now, instead of shooting for 94 points (or whatever your target is), you can aim for more of a range, say 90-100 for a week.

Now there's a finite amount of players with a high floor and/or a starter's level of consistency that we want them in our lineup. So if I'm not drafting high-floor guy, I'm drafting "potentially a stud in any one week" guy.

7. Range of outcomes: weekly

So, as you move toward the middle, and especially later, rounds of your draft or auction, I want you to stock your team entirely with players who could potentially have a high weekly ceiling.

Again, this is a weekly game. So, obviously, every single week you are going to look at all the players available to you -- on your roster and in the free-agent pool -- and decide on a starting lineup.

As obvious as it seems, that's actually a huge step that gets overlooked a lot in fantasy. Because it's not just enough to have a good player, you need to know when to start that player. In Week 11 last season, Spencer Ware had 12 touches for 101 total yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers, but very few people started him that week, as Ware had received only two carries for four yards the week before.

Compare him to DeAngelo Williams, who was useless behind Le'Veon Bell, but when you knew Bell was out (first two games last season and Weeks 9-16) he was a top-five fantasy running back and everyone started him. I would much rather have my roster filled with a bunch of guys like Williams than someone like Theo Riddick. Riddick is a nice little PPR play, but in standard leagues, he's never going to be a top-five player in a week. There will be a lot of weeks this season when Riddick outscores Williams ... like all the weeks Bell is playing. But I'd still rather have a dominant, say, five weeks of Williams than 11 games of five points or so from Riddick. Even if Bell's suspension is not upheld and he's eligible to play all 16 games, I'd still draft Williams ahead of guys like Riddick.

So, because I nerd out on stuff like this, I went back and looked at the ESPN consensus ranks for every offensive position for every week last season. Specifically, I wanted to see how many different players we ranked as "starters" in any given week. Regardless of the accuracy of the ranks, the point is that going into any one week, the expectation was that this player was generally accepted as worthy of starting consideration.

• During the course of a 17-week season, 20 quarterbacks were ranked in the top 10 (starter worthy) at least once.

• There were 53 RBs ranked as a top-20 option at least once last season.

• There were 45 WRs ranked as a top-20 option at least once last season.

• Finally, there were 19 TEs ranked as a top-10 option at least once last season.

• In total, 137 players were worth putting into the 60 starting slots of QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, TE of all teams in a standard 10-team league at least once last season.

It takes a village.

This is a very simple but very important concept: not every player on your team needs to start every week. In fact, they can't. You just want players who can start for you some weeks. Some of them will be the every-week building blocks we discussed earlier, but others will be just weekly rentals.

Yes, there will be the Kirk Cousinses, Thomas Rawlses and Gary Barnidges of the world who will emerge, but for every Spencer Ware and Tim Hightower there are a lot more Dwayne Harris, Mike Gillislee, Devin Funchess, Matt Jones, DuJuan Harris and Charles Clay types who are hot pickups one week, only to be back on the waiver wire in a few weeks.

Here's a crazy stat: Of the 137 players who were ranked as a starter at some point last season, approximately only 20 percent of them were not drafted in ESPN standard leagues. In 2014, that number was 18 percent.

In other words, the majority of your starters this year are most likely going to come from the group of guys who were drafted/purchased at auction. So, while the draft isn't the final piece of the puzzle, it is a big one.

In assembling your team, realize that you want players who have the potential for a high weekly ceiling -- someone who, if the situation is right, could be an elite option in a given week. Speaking of building your team ...

8. All about the first four, baby!

I've said before there are many ways to win, and while I (mostly) don't care what positions you go with in the first few rounds, I do care that whomever you get is rock solid. Consider this (or just sit there while I write it at you): In the past two years, the average ESPN Fantasy team has seen 26.1 percent of its annual points come from its first two picks in the draft. Extend it one pick further and you're talking about 36.4 percent, two picks further and it's up to 47.5 percent of your points ... 47.5 percent!

That's nearly half your points coming from just one-fourth of your picks. (Not to brag, but I did that math in my head.)

As I've said often (possibly at the start of this article. Who can remember anymore? Where am I? Where are my pants?), you can't win your draft in the first few rounds, but you can lose it. Never has that been more true than in today's fantasy football landscape.

If you have to take a shortcut during your fantasy football research, do it in the later rounds. When you mock draft, when you research, focus the majority of your time on the first four rounds. It's important to have late-round sleepers and you'll have some of your starters come from the middle rounds, so no snoozing then, but if there's one area to focus on, it's the first four rounds. Hopefully you know your draft pick early enough and you can mock from that slot, considering every possible scenario.

9. What's with all the WR-early-in-the-first-round talk?

Yeah, last year was brutal for early round running backs. And many rankings have wide receivers at the very top of the first round, including my buddy Antonio Brown at No. 1 (told you the name drop was coming!). So what's the frequency, Kenneth, he said, showing he's still hip with the cool references. Is this something to consider? Is this just an overreaction to one anomaly of a year or is this a legit consideration?

It's legit. Too legit to quit! (Seriously, it's no wonder I'm such a hit with the kids on MySpace). Anyway, I looked at the RB-versus-WR thing for our ESPN Fantasy magazine, and here's what I found:

During the past three years, wide receivers drafted inside the top 30 (the first three rounds) were the most likely non-quarterbacks to return top-30 value at their position.

Check it out. In 2014 and 2015, 25 running backs were drafted in the first three rounds of ESPN standard leagues. Only 68 percent of them finished the year as top-30 running backs.

However, in that same time frame, 19 wide receivers were drafted in the first three rounds, and 89 percent of them finished as top-30 receivers.

One of the reasons receivers consistently return value is that they aren't as big of an injury risk (sorry early Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin drafters last year). During the past three years, running backs taken in the top 30 overall on ESPN.com have missed 131 total games (2.98 games a season on average), and receivers have missed only 43 (1.43 games on average).

That's just a bunch of numbers to tell you what you instinctively know (I get paid by the word. Hopefully.) ... that playing running back is more hazardous to your health than wide receiver.

Incidentally, last season was a weird anomaly, but it's still worth noting that seven non-quarterbacks had at least seven games of 15 or more points. Six of them were wide receivers.

More on the position:

In the past three years, 14 different receivers have had at least two seasons of 1,100 receiving yards or more. Seven of those WRs had back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons in 2014 and 2015. With three times as many 200-point receivers as running backs in 2015, the "going safe early" argument favors the wide receiver.

10. So I'm going WR early and blowing off RB, right? Got it.

Hold on, Sparky. Running backs -- and running backs early -- are still a crucial part of a successful draft. Much of the take-a-wide-receiver-over-a-running-back data is skewed by last season, when there was an inordinate number of injuries and ... Eddie Lacy. (Bangs head against desk repeatedly. No, I'm totally over it, why do you ask?)

As I mentioned what seems like a month ago at this point, it's a weekly game. And stud running backs are more likely to provide weekly help. Per my friend FSWA Hall of Famer Tristan H. Cockcroft's consistency rankings for the past three years reveal that the most consistent non-QB position is, in fact ... running back.

Counting only players who have played at least two seasons since 2013, 12 running backs have a "start" percentage of at least 50 percent (meaning they finished the week as one of the top 25 players at their position in a given week at least 50 percent of the time). Meanwhile, only nine wide receivers can say that.

If we raise the bar to 60 percent of the time (and, come on, 60 percent shouldn't be too tough since we are talking about the stars here), we are left with only four wide receivers. Four! Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall. On the other hand, seven running backs qualify, and that number jumps to nine if you count David Johnson and Todd Gurley (I didn't due to their much shorter track record).

Running backs score more touchdowns, and it makes sense since they get more red zone touches (2.5 a game for running back compared with just 0.7 for wide receivers among top-30-drafted players the past three years). That translates to more opportunities for scoring (more touches near the end zone ... who says I don't go in depth with the analysis?) and, ultimately, tasty fantasy points, which, now that I see it written, I promise to never write again.

11. So now I'm going RB? Wait, what? I'm totally confused now. This sucks.

The answer, frankly, is either/or. The odds are better that a highly drafted wide receiver will, by the end of the season, return more value than a highly drafted running back, but on a week-in, week-out basis, stud running backs are more consistent than stud wide receivers.

One of the reasons for this is it's easier to know when a running back will go off. My team of fantasy minions and I went back and studied start percentages of all the ESPN active leagues (so as not to throw off the data with leagues where teams stopped playing). Last season on average each week, there was a 51.1 percent chance that a WR that finished in the top 12 that week was on someone's bench. Meanwhile, a top-12 RB was not started only 42.1 percent of the time. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. It's easier to project when a running back is going to get a decent workload than a wide receiver, even a stud. There's more competition for balls at the pass-catching position than at running back. So when deciding between a RB or WR in the early rounds, it's not just about the specific player, how the draft is going and your own roster construction, but also how confident you feel in your own weekly lineup setting abilities.

Come on now. Be honest with yourself. I'll start. I downloaded a bunch of Disney songs for my kids on my phone, but sometimes I listen to them when they're not around. Hey, some of them are catchy. So sue me.

By the way, as long as we are talking about running backs, we looked at all the games in which a running back had 20 or more touches. Eight teams alone (Vikings, Falcons, Steelers, Bears, Bills, Bucs, Panthers and Rams) combined for 40.5 percent of the 20-touch games from RBs. You want to know which handcuffs are worth reaching for? There you go. Capable running backs in run-heavy schemes are worth picking even if you don't have the starter, as they are only one injury away from being considered a safe weekly play.

12. Are we at quarterback yet? Seriously dude, I just qualified for social security. This is taking forever.

What can I say? I'm waiting on quarterback this year, even in analysis. I've been playing fantasy football for almost three decades and never have I entered a season with the QB position as deep as it is this year. As we keep talking about building a team to compete on a weekly basis, elite QB production is the easiest to find on the waiver wire during the course of a season.

Fun fact: There are 32 teams in the NFL, and last year there were 32 quarterbacks who posted a top-five fantasy performance during a week.

Fun fact 2: Going back to those start percentages, 33.3 percent of all the top-five QB performances last season came from a player owned in less than 50 percent of active ESPN leagues that week. Almost a third of all top-five performances were on the wire in a majority of leagues. For comparison to the "studs," the QBs who were owned in at least 95 percent of leagues that week? They accounted for 31.1 percent of the top-five performances. Yep. On any given week, it was actually more likely that a top-five quarterback was in free agency than essentially universally owned.

To give one more example, I looked at the top five quarterbacks in each of the following segments: Weeks 1-4, Weeks 5-8, Weeks 9-12 and Weeks 13-17. That's four segments of five quarterbacks, meaning there are 20 "spots" to be claimed. You'd expect the elite to occupy most of them, no? The elite class was represented, but so was the middle class and the lower class. All in all, 14 quarterbacks made this list. Fourteen. That's 44 percent of the starting QBs in the NFL. If you're curious, here's the list: Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariota, Kirk Cousins and Blake Bortles.

You never want to put too much stock into any one year, but as teams continue to pass more and more -- last year there were 18,298 total pass attempts, the most in NFL history -- and the fact there are so many talented QBs in fantasy-friendly offenses ... I will not be the first person to draft a QB in any of my leagues this year.

12a. The Gronk You tour continues

Tom Brady is a very viable QB to draft this year and I am not worried about the four-game suspension. Among my favorite QBs to pair with Brady are (with their first four games in parentheses):

Derek Carr (@NO, ATL, @TEN, @BAL)

Kirk Cousins (PIT, DAL, NYG, CLE)

Matthew Stafford (@IND, TEN, @GB, @CHI)

Joe Flacco (BUF, @CLE, @JAX, OAK)

Matt Ryan (TB, @OAK, @NO, CAR)

13. Speaking of Gronk ...

I have Rob Gronkowski just outside my top 10, so I have no issue if you want to draft him at the end of the first round or early in the second. But as much as I love Jordan Reed and think Greg Olsen will have another strong year, if I am not in on Gronk, I am waiting on tight end, as the position is fairly deep and there's not a ton of difference to me between TE4 and TE10. Depending on how my draft goes, I am OK with Reed in the fourth (his current ADP), but no sooner than that because while Reed's upside is worth it, I feel he'll be pretty easy to replace. But that's the only non-Gronk tight end I'd consider in the first six or seven rounds.

14. Two-minute drill

Some quick-hitting pieces of advice:

14a. Roster construction

I'm a one tight end, one kicker, one defense kind of guy (and you know to draft a defense and kicker in the final two rounds, right?). Depending on what you do at QB, I am OK with rostering two QBs this season, but everything else is RB or WR. And when in doubt, in the middle and late rounds, go running back over wide receiver. Looking at No. 11 above in a different way, there is a better chance a startable WR is on your waiver wire during the season in any given week than a RB. You'll likely need more RBs during the course of the season and there are more chances for one to "pop." I want as many shots at having one of those guys that pops on my team as possible.

14b. I don't care about ...

• Bye weeks -- So much can happen during the season, you won't know until you get there if you are light or OK during a heavy bye week

• Schedule -- A year ago at this time, everyone was talking about how great the Dolphins' defense would be. You can't know in August what a bad matchup will be in December.

• Players on the same team -- Tom Brady doesn't know you also have Rob Gronkowski on your team, and he doesn't care. Pick the best team possible, and if it means you own players on the same team, it's fine. We've done studies, there's no significant difference one way or the other.

14c. Just because it's a plug doesn't mean it isn't true

Mock draft, baby. Practice makes perfect. You just read this whole damn thing, you've clearly got time. Why not do one now in our free mock draft and auction lobby?

Speaking of mock drafts, if you do join one, don't leave. People who leave mock drafts early are, like, the sixth-worst people on Earth. Also, if you join a mock draft, don't impersonate me or someone else. I can't tell you how many tweets I get that say "I'm in a mock draft with you!" And it's not me. It's so weird, I don't get why people do that. Anyway, just know every time I do a mock draft (or any kind of league), I will put it out on Twitter.

14d. The big ADP secret

ADP is largely driven by the default ranks on whatever site you play on. So the ADP ranks on ESPN probably differ in some ways from the ADP on other places where people play fantasy, because our default ranks are different than other places. Find a rankings source you like, compare it with the ADP of the site you are drafting on and you will be able to find players that are going way too high or too low for what you want. That's where you'll find market inefficiency. (And it'll be the focus of this year's Love / Hate ... foreshadowing!)

14e. We all lie, lie, lie

This article is almost entirely about theory and strategy, but everything else you read this preseason will be about players and their values, both high and low. And just know that every single thing you'll read isn't actually a fact, but rather an opinion disguised as a fact. Trust me. Or better yet, read my 100 facts you need to know before you draft. It came out a while ago, but it's among my favorite articles I write every year and if nothing else, the intro is helpful to understand how analysis is created.

14f. They're just names and numbers, baby!

A common question I'll get is some version of: "I have pick two and I really want Ezekiel Elliott. Is that too early?" And the answer is ... sort of. Look, I wouldn't draft him that high and my ranks reflect that. But if you want Zeke, he's not coming back to you in the second. So grab him there. Just understand that rankings, whether you use mine or someone else's, are a loose guideline. They are not hard and fast, and the market value of players, which is what the rankings are on some level, changes with every player selected, as certain positions may suddenly become more scarce or plentiful. It's your team, you have to live with it, so draft the guys you want, not what some piece of paper that doesn't know your league or the participants in it tells you.

14g. Checkers and chess

The Elliott example above is yet another reason why you should be doing an auction instead of a draft. It's a much more fair way to distribute players, it's more fun and it's an even better test of skill. Seriously. It's chess compared to checkers. Try it once.

14h. Speaking of trying something new ...

If you've read this far, you're a gamer. You get it. You know how much fun, how awesome, how addicting fantasy football is. You know how it brings people together. So why keep it all to yourself? Make it your goal to convince one person in your life who has never played before to try a league this year. We need more women playing, more kids, more senior citizens. Fantasy football is something everyone can enjoy, so ask your parents, your kids, your neighbor, co-worker, someone. Just one person. Come on. Help me spread the word.

14i. Not sick of me yet?

Listen to my daily podcast (starting in August) with Field Yates and Stephania Bell. Watch Fantasy Football Now on Sundays on ESPN2. Read me on ESPN.com. And be sure to read/listen/watch the fine works of my colleagues Stephania Bell, Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Ken Daube, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Jim McCormick and Field Yates. Feel free to follow me (MatthewBerryTMR) on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/Fantasy Life.

15. Finally, please remember this

We do this for FUN. This is a pastime, OK? It's embarrassing to use social media to harass a player, coach or a fantasy analyst. Calm down. There's plenty of negativity in the world already, no reason for you to add to it over a hobby or to lose a friendship over it. Unless you got a shot at the title. I mean, come on. Friends are overrated.

Many thanks to Kyle Soppe of the ESPN Fantasy department and Ben Bradley from ESPN the Magazine for their research help.

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is sure he forgot something. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.

Editor's note: Some information contained in this column previously appeared on ESPN.com or in the ESPN Fantasy magazine.