Fantasy football draft help: The best picks for each slot in Rounds 1 and 2

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

There are few worries during fantasy football draft season that unnecessarily weigh on managers' minds more than the annual selection of your draft position.

We fret this chore to a degree we shouldn't, perhaps because of the perceived importance of that precious first-round pick. It's important, and we certainly want to be sure to make the right one while avoiding costly mistakes. Additionally, draft order drawn in close proximity to the draft itself provides the added frustration of managers hoping to build around Jonathan Taylor having zero chance at getting him, if they don't draw the requisite draft slot.

Well, fret no longer. It is in this space annually that I provide you a handy roadmap to the first two rounds of your fantasy football draft, outlining the best options and showing how things might play out in subsequent rounds depending upon your picks. This helps show the twists and turns you'll experience in a 10- or 12-team, standard PPR fantasy draft, giving you the best chance at making the wisest pick.

As always, I've provided my own recommended selections for each of the first 20 picks in a 10-team league, and 24 picks in a 12-team league.

Draft slot 1

Round 1 (Pick 1 overall): Any arguments supporting Christian McCaffrey or one of the top two wide receivers with the No. 1 overall pick are long shots, as Jonathan Taylor very clearly stands a step ahead of the rest of the player pool in any single-QB fantasy format (Josh Allen is a better choice in any two-quarterback or superflex league). Taylor is 23 years old, led his position by nearly 40 points, and is likely to repeat his 66.5% backfield share. There's no wiser choice.

Round 2 (Pick 20 in 10-team, Pick 24 in 12-team): With the safety and middle-of-his-prime of Taylor in tow, fantasy teams have flexibility with their next two picks (counting the Round 3/Pick 21 or 25 selections), one of which should almost assuredly be a wide receiver or tight end. It's conceivable that a CeeDee Lamb, Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen or Mark Andrews (in that order of my drafting preference) lasts to this position, especially in a 10-teamer, but embrace the gift RB2 handed to you if there's an early run on the receiving spots. Javonte Williams, Leonard Fournette and Aaron Jones have been known to make it to this pick in early drafts. Saquon Barkley, too, is an out-there, contrast pick to Taylor.

Tristan's picks: Taylor/Jones (10-team league), Taylor/Barkley (12-team league).

Draft slot 2

Round 1 (Pick 2): McCaffrey is the grand wild card of the entire 2022 fantasy football draft. In the past four seasons, his 25.6 PPR fantasy points per game is by far the most by any player at any position (minimum 40 games), and he has scored at least 20 points in 32 of 38 games in which he played 30-plus snaps. You're not going to find much richer reward from a No. 2 overall pick, though the case for those top wide receivers rings much more loudly here once Taylor is off the board. You wouldn't be wrong to pick Cooper Kupp or Justin Jefferson, and in fact, Jefferson would be my sneaky-bold pick at the No. 2 overall spot.

Round 2 (Pick 19 in 10-team, Pick 23 in 12-team): McCaffrey's risk, however, should not be ignored, especially with the importance of the return on your first-round investment. He has, after all, missed 23 of the Carolina Panthers' 33 games the past two seasons. Taking McCaffrey almost assures the need for a high-floor second-rounder, with the difficult decision being whether to draft the historically safer wide receiver position or a RB2 with greater reliability. Seeing the picks laid out in this way, your decision ultimately comes down to which you prefer: McCaffrey and, say, Hill; or Kupp and perhaps Jones? Bear in mind that, in a 10-team league, a fantasy manager has a very real chance at a McCaffrey-Williams-Hill start, which is a dream first three picks.

Tristan's picks: McCaffrey/Hill (10-team league), McCaffrey/Allen (12-team league).

Draft slot 3

Round 1 (Pick 3): If Kupp and Jefferson were close in value to McCaffrey at the No. 2 spot, one of that trio will presumably go here. I'm working under the assumption that McCaffrey will be the most common No. 2 overall pick, in which case I see picks 3 through 5 as Kupp, Jefferson and best-remaining-running-back Austin Ekeler, in your order of preference. For me, they're almost entirely a toss-up.

Round 2 (Pick 18 in 10-team, Pick 22 in 12-team): This is where getting Kupp or Jefferson pays potentially huge dividends. At pick 18, a fantasy manager in a 10-team league has an outside chance at Joe Mixon, D'Andre Swift or Williams lasting this far, which would be one heck of a start to your draft. Even if not, settling for a Fournette or Jones is hardly shabby. Frankly, one of the reasons I love the Nos. 3-5 draft slots is the heightened likelihood I'll have a good chance at Jefferson and Williams, two of my favorite picks in the first two rounds. It's also not a bad idea, especially in a 12-team league, to snatch up Andrews here. Tight end has been notoriously described as "easy to fill" in the late rounds, but what's often overlooked is the statistical advantage that the position's two best provide over the rest of the position. Not everyone does, but I have Travis Kelce and Andrews as very clear top-two-rounds picks in 12-teamers.

Tristan's picks: Kupp/Williams (10-team league), Kupp/Andrews (12-team league).

Draft slot 4

Round 1 (Pick 4): This is the first spot where I'd deviate in picks depending upon the depth of the league. Ekeler and Jefferson, by far the best two players remaining on my draft board, are high-floor, return-on-investment types, but as wide receivers typically fit that latter description best, I'm leaning there the deeper the league. This is probably the most likely draft slot from which you'd come out with Jefferson-Williams, and for an even bigger prospective win, managers in this spot in a 12-team league have a very real chance at getting either Michael Pittman Jr. or Kyle Pitts in Round 3, which is another potential win.

Round 2 (Pick 17 in 10-team, Pick 21 in 12-team): This is probably the earliest position from which a 10-team manager should consider No. 2 tight end Andrews, and that's probably more important in a league that has only lightly drafted running backs, ensuring you could still get a Jones, Barkley or Nick Chubb in Round 3. I'd advise going RB-WR or WR-RB from this spot, considering what's likely to be there for you in Round 2.

Tristan's picks: Ekeler/Deebo Samuel (10-team league), Jefferson/Fournette (12-team league)

Draft slot 5

Round 1 (Pick 5): I'd say I'm in the minority on this, but seeing as Jefferson hasn't made it past Pick 7 in more than 300 NFFC drafts this month, I'll stress that you should not allow him to sneak past the fifth overall pick of a PPR draft. Assuming Ekeler is already gone, the running backs available to you bring, simply put, too much health-related or team-support questions to warrant selecting over one of the game's premier wide receivers. Ekeler brings quite a bit more role and team stability than Derrick Henry, Najee Harris or Dalvin Cook.

Round 2 (Pick 16 in 10-team, Pick 20 in 12-team): The five-spot is probably my favorite draft position of 2022 because of my projected drop-off in talent directly afterward, and scoring a Jefferson or Ekeler, regardless of 10- or 12-team league, gives options in the second round. There's nothing wrong with going RB-RB, especially if scoring a Williams, Alvin Kamara, Fournette or Jones. There's also nothing wrong with going WR-WR, and Jefferson-Lamb would be one heck of a dominating pairing. Incidentally, in a 10-team league, this is the absolute latest I would let Kelce slip based on my projections.

Tristan's picks: Jefferson/Kamara (10-team league), Ekeler/Jones (12-team league)

Draft slot 6

Round 1 (Pick 6): Now it gets interesting. Fantasy managers have several different directions to go, and judging by most early draft returns (ADPs, especially), Harris will be the most common pick if not already off the board. I think of him as one of the highest-floor running backs -- due to his locked-in role -- but question if his ceiling expands as high as that of McCaffrey, Henry or Cook. Additionally, Ja'Marr Chase, the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year, becomes an entirely legitimate choice here. It's a philosophical question you need to ask yourself in advance of the draft, to be properly prepared whether to take Harris here or two spots later as I have him slotted. Henry is my preferred choice, a McCaffrey-like risk/reward pick who, through eight weeks of 2021, had the third-most PPR fantasy points (193.3) of anyone in football, and 40-plus more than any other running back.

Round 2 (Pick 15 in 10-team, Pick 19 in 12-team): The team that selects Henry almost assuredly will desire some safety from its second-round pick, and that probably means hoping for Lamb, Samuel or Hill among wide receivers. If Joe Mixon or Travis Kelce somehow slips, however, consider it a gift.

Tristan's picks: Henry/Lamb (10-team league), Henry/Hill (12-team league)

Draft slot 7

Round 1 (Pick 7): The latter half of the first round is where positional runs present potential pitfalls, and in leagues where as many as five running backs have already gone, it's often tempting to continue the run under the mistaken impression that they'll quickly dry up. For me, Chase is a clear top-eight-overall talent, and he fits the higher-floor description that wide receivers typically do, something I've written previously shouldn't be understated in these critical opening rounds. There's nothing wrong with going running back with the seventh pick, with Henry (if still available), Harris, Cook and Mixon by far the most logical candidates, but I grade Chase as closer in value to Kupp and Jefferson than to Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs.

Round 2 (Pick 14 in 10-team, Pick 18 in 12-team): Another reason I'm pro-Chase at seventh overall is the enhanced likelihood that a running back will be the most logical best player available at this draft slot's Round 2 pick. Adams and Diggs will almost always be gone, meaning some finger-crossing that Kelce, Lamb or Samuel is still out there. Those who pick Chase should prefer the running back here anyway, as it's pretty likely that every one of the positional top 15 will be off the board by this team's Round 3 pick, and while my 16th-ranked running back, Cam Akers, is a fine third-round pick for this team, anyone beneath him would represent a reach.

Tristan's picks: Chase/Swift (10-team league), Chase/Williams (12-team league)

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Draft slot 8

Round 1 (Pick 8): Running back seems like the way to go here, assuming all top-three wide receivers are off the board, and fantasy managers should generally have a fine choice from the Harris, Cook and Mixon positional tier. The eighth overall pick, at least according to my metrics, is the first at which Kelce should enter your mind. Wasn't it only a year ago that Kelce was a clear first-round talent? Sure, his fantasy production dipped, while the position's replacement level rose, but it wasn't by the dramatic margins perceived. In reality, Kelce lost only four points on his per-game average, with his 2022 role potentially expanding following Hill's trade. Meanwhile the Nos. 11 and 13 tight ends gained by only about three-quarters of a point on average, with those outside the top 20 remaining constant.

Round 2 (Pick 13 in 10-team, Pick 17 in 12-team): Speaking of Kelce, it's not inconceivable -- and in fact, it's pretty likely -- that he'd last until this pick in 10-team leagues, something to tuck away. Considering the (admittedly mild) concerns laid out earlier with the Harris/Cook/Mixon trio, a wide receiver is the most logical target for fantasy managers here, especially with the realistic chance at an Adams or Diggs in a 10-team or Lamb or Samuel in a 12-team league.

Tristan's picks: Harris/Diggs (10-team league), Harris/Samuel (12-team league)

Draft slot 9

Round 1 (Pick 9): In a 10-team league, strategizing around the 10-slot team comes into the equation here, as picking a wide receiver here might mean watching Cook and Mixon go 10th and 11th. Sure, Kelce would be there at No. 12 overall, but if you weren't willing to take him ninth, are you really going to feel better about doing so on the backswing if those final first-round-graded running backs go 10 and 11? A case can be made for as many as eight different players, bringing Chase and Harris from the earlier mentions and Swift from later considerations into the fray.

Round 2 (Pick 12 in 10-team, Pick 16 in 12-team): In a 12-team league, I wouldn't be afraid to go RB-RB in the right pairing, of which I'd say Williams is the lowest in my rankings worth picking. It's another reason I prefer the running back in Round 1 regardless of league depth, since this is a likely spot where you'd find Kelce or Lamb on the backswing.

Tristan's picks: Cook/Adams (10-team league), Cook/Kamara (12-team league)

Draft slot 10

Round 1 (Pick 10): In seasons past, a WR-WR strategy made a bit of sense from this oft-dreaded draft slot. This season, it's more of a WR-TE decision -- to-Kelce-or-not-to-Kelce -- and count me among those who are pro-Kelce. Interestingly, Cook has been slipping well beyond the No. 10 overall pick in a good number of NFFC leagues; you should not allow it to happen, though. Wide receivers Adams and Diggs are also plenty viable selections from the 10-spot.

Round 2 (Pick 11 in 10-team, Pick 15 in 12-team): I'm pretty big on the Mixon/Lamb pairing in a 12-team league, if you at all have a chance to get it, but Adams/Swift is a plenty desirable start in that format as well. As mentioned with the seven-spot's second-round pick, the tapering off of running backs come Round 3 should come into the decision-making here, almost forcing the need for at least one with picks 10 or 15 overall.

Tristan's picks: Kelce/Mixon (10-team league), Mixon/Lamb (12-team league)

Draft slot 11 (12-team leagues)

Round 1 (Pick 11): If wide receivers and top tight end Kelce are all that logically remain for this and the next draft slot in Round 1, fret not, as you'll be getting plenty-good players in the process. Sure, it'll be difficult to build your running back stable, but it's not uncommon to see David Montgomery, Ezekiel Elliott, Josh Jacobs and Breece Hall there for the taking in Rounds 3 and 4 in a 12-team league with this selection. That's perfectly fine when your first two selections are, say, Adams and Kelce.

Round 2 (Pick 14): As mentioned, Pick 16 is the latest I'd let Kelce slide in a 10-team league and this is the latest spot I'd let him slip in a 12-teamer. Compute that into your planning for the first two rounds, because if a top-seven running back is paramount, you're probably going to need to get him in Round 1.

Tristan's picks: Kelce/Diggs

Draft slot 12 (12-team leagues)

Rounds 1-2 (Picks 12-13): This is nowhere near the rough draw it has been in the past, as by my projections, the first noticeable drop-off in terms of talent occurs after the 13th overall selection. For me, that's after Diggs, and while I'd have no problem swapping Diggs and Swift between this and the 11-spot's "Tristan's picks," I put Swift here simply considering the concern about running backs dropping off steeply by the draft's 36th overall pick. I wouldn't even consider any of the players I have listed for a 12-team draft's Picks 14 or later.

Tristan's picks: Adams/Swift.