Josh Larky (@JLarkyTweets) and I (@neel2112) recently completed a high stakes draft together in the Football Guys Player Championship, a 1QB, PPR, TE-Premium league. This year is our second try at placing in this tournament after getting sunk last year by Russell Wilson’s midseason injury and Calvin Ridley’s football betting suspension. Obviously, our play was perfect, and besides those unlucky and unpredictable outcomes we did everything else right. That’s how this works.
I’m going to go through our draft this year and breakdown our thought process with a specific emphasis on the strategic thinking that goes into a draft. In other words, this won’t be a traditional player take-heavy draft writeup; the goal is that the reader should be able to take some lessons from this writeup of how to apply strategy fundamentals in their own drafts rather than just thinking about concepts like correlation and roster build abstractly.
Before diving in, here’s a high-level view of our draft board (we had the 11th pick):
And, for those wanting to zoom in specifically on our personal high stakes team, here is our tentative week one starting roster:
We’ll review our bench in-depth in a follow-up article dropping the day after this one. This article will review our first nine picks, and the thought process that went into our build early on in the draft.
Early Round Picks
Correlation, Uniqueness, and Value
Round 1 Pick 11 – Stefon Diggs
Ironically, the most important pick in your draft, the 1st round pick, is usually most devoid of strategic thinking. You just take the player you like that falls to you and keep moving on. However, at the 11 spot, Josh and I had a couple players to pick from and we sorted through these options mostly from the perspective of strategy, rather than our own personal player projections. The three players we were eyeing here were Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, and D’Andre Swift.
From a value standpoint however, D’Andre Swift is the 14th player off the board in the FFPC tournament by ADP, while Diggs and Adams are the respective 11th and 12th. Josh and I are generally unwilling to reach at the start of drafts, especially in tournaments, because of how tight ADP variance is. Reaching even two or three slots for a player near the start of a draft is likely putting you in the bottom 10-20th percentile of teams drafting those players in terms of ADP. In a tournament especially, competing with D’Andre Swift as our first round pick against a bunch of D’Andre Swift teams who are able to take him with their second round pick is not a winning start to the draft. While there were no value steals at this point in the draft, Diggs and Adams were both players we liked who were going where they should.
Why did we choose Diggs over Adams? Since the structure of the tournament is 1QB instead of superflex, a Buffalo Bills stack with Josh Allen is much more likely to grace our lineups than a Davante Adams stack with Derek Carr. Although there is more upside in the latter stack in terms of outperforming ADP, Josh and I didn’t feel comfortable waiting on Derek Carr multiple rounds down the line to be our QB1. On the other hand, Josh Allen was projected at this point (he has since risen in ADP) to be on the board at the start of the fourth round, where we would be waiting. A Diggs-Allen stack was a reasonable expected outcome from this spot in the draft, so we opted for Diggs to create the potential for early correlation in our lineup. Another QB1 season from Josh Allen with Diggs receiving a higher share of touchdowns then he did last year is all that’s required for Allen-Diggs to be a relative steal at ADP.
Round 2 Pick 13 – Aaron Jones
We were praying that either Adams or Swift would fall to us here but the 12 team astutely picked them up. This was a dead point in the draft in terms of value; the first 13 picks had played out how they should (albeit a few order shifts) and we had our pick of the litter for the next tier of players. I personally expressed skepticism of Saquon Barkley due to what I felt was asymmetrical downside at his ADP, and Josh had expressed skepticism of Joe Mixon at this point in the draft due to what he perceived as the lack of a true RB1 outcome for Mixon in the crowded Bengals offense. At that point, the only RB left to us was Aaron Jones, who we are both very high on despite the presence of AJ Dillon and his incredibly sculpted quadriceps.
In hindsight, Mark Andrews might have been an appropriate pick here due to the TE-premium format, but one decision we did make was to shy away from the CeeDee Lamb pick here. In a tournament competing against plenty of other 11 and 12 spot teams that managed to start double WR with Diggs and Adams, we didn’t want to be the team that had similar build construction but was replacing Adams with Lamb, a clear tier downgrade at the position despite their closeness in ADP. Picking Aaron Jones here was an emphasis on roster balance; coming out of the 1-2 turn with an elite RB and WR preserves maximum flexibility in terms of future build paths while staying relatively close to ADP.
To learn more about why you should be leaving every high stakes draft with a pass-catching RB who is also active in the red zone (like Aaron Jones), check out Player Archetypes to Target and Fade, one of our flagship research articles from Josh Larky.
Round 3 Pick 35 – Darren Waller
If you take a look at the draft board, you see that the 9th team, Team Clifton, opened the draft going double tight end, with Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews. In fact, they got George Kittle two rounds later to complete their bully tight end strategy. In a TE-premium format with multiple flex spots, the bully-TE strategy is more defensible than it may seem. However, Team Clifton’s monopoly on the strong tight ends in the pool opened up an opportunity for us to grab an absolute steal at this ADP and take control of one of the two remaining elite tight ends in our league, giving us a clear head-to-head advantage against the other players in our league. Grabbing Darren Waller at the 35th pick when he goes as the 30th player off the board is an absolute coup from this position in the draft from an ADP perspective, and likely places us in the top-20th percentile of Darren Waller teams in the tournament. While we had our eyes on Josh Allen as well here, we decided to risk losing the stack in order to make a bet on Darren Waller.
I want to point out here that although we are praying Josh Allen is falling to us, we are still engaging in a type of correlation within our draft by taking Darren Waller in the 3rd round. Earlier in the first round, I documented how we decided to pick Stefon Diggs instead of Davante Adams. It’s important to note that while we obviously are putting a bet down on Stefon Diggs, we are also implicitly fading Davante Adams by not selecting him. By selecting Stefon Diggs over Davante Adams, the rest of our draft should operate in the world where Diggs outperforms Adams by the end of the year, else we’re betting against ourselves.
By selecting Darren Waller, we are doubling down on the idea that Adams doesn’t live up to be the premiere target monster in the Oakland Raiders offense, and can’t replicate his Green Bay production with Derek Carr. Instead, our selections are leading us to believe in a world where Darren Waller is the most significant target threat that Adams has played across in his career. Importantly, Josh and I are both very very high on Davante Adams…in a vacuum. However, throughout a draft, the drafter needs to adjust their player expectations to account for their own bets they are placing on players. Placing a bet on Stefon Diggs over Davante Adams is synergistic with placing a bet on Darren Waller. If the Raiders run through Waller, then Diggs over Adams is correct. Since we already took Diggs, we need Diggs over Adams to be correct, so we might as well double down on that world.
Round 4 Pick 38 – Josh Allen
Not much to talk about here, Josh Allen fell to us at value, allowing us to complete our skinny stack with Stefon Diggs. Since our draft, Josh Allen’s ADP has actually risen into the middle of the 3rd round, so taking Josh Allen at his local minimum in ADP is a nice cherry on top. By taking Josh Allen, we are making a really big bet on the Buffalo Bills offense outperforming expectations, and being that all-out aerial attack we saw in the AFC Divisional Round. Importantly, this is a double down again on the Stefon Diggs bet in the first round; the thesis for our Round 4 pick is not different from the thesis on our first round pick. Our high round picks have correlation all across the board, requiring fewer variables to swing our way for our team to hit a high-end outcome. This is standard stacking theory and you should be thinking about stacks in all of your tournament, best-ball, and even traditional redraft teams.
Round 5 Pick 59 – Gabriel Davis
Gabriel Davis is once again betting big on the Bills offense outperforming expectations and another five pick steal at ADP, which is still a relevant amount in the 5th round. Although I am personally not as high on Gabriel Davis as the market, if Josh Allen pays off big at the spot we took him, it’s likely because Gabriel Davis actually is this year’s Chris Godwin. This is another example of how as a draft progresses, personal player takes become less relevant as you need to think more about how to line up your team construction in a way that makes sense. We now have a Buffalo Bills double stack, and the sole event of the Buffalo Bills exceeding projections likely puts our team automatically into the playoffs of our own league. Think about that. With just one variable hitting and all else being equal, we dramatically increase our odds of making it to the finals of the tournament. That’s the power of stacking.
I want to address the concerns of taking Gabriel Davis while we already have Stefon Diggs, and how that is a fundamentally different issue then the potential negative correlation we invoked by taking Darren Waller and fading Davante Adams. To start, almost all projections indicate that there will be more scoring and pass attempts in the Bills offense than the Raiders, which likely means there is space for multiple players to succeed in that environment. By taking Josh Allen as well however, we are making a much stronger bet on the entire Bills offense than we are on the Raiders offense by just taking Darren Waller. More simply, being bearish on Davante Adams and being bullish on Darren Waller is an entirely reasonable world we could live in; an injury to Davante Adams for even a quarter of the season would ensure that outcome. On the other hand, if I’m bullish on both Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, I better be bullish on Gabriel Davis too because it seems like I’m projecting a significant team-wide increase in available fantasy points. To hammer down our thinking even further, Davis (round five) is much less expensive as the second pass game option in Buffalo than Waller (round three) is in Las Vegas. It’s much easier for a round one and round five pick to both hit, than it is for a round one and round three pick to both hit and return value.
For a deep dive on Gabriel Davis, Josh created a thread outlining why he is uniquely set up for success in 2022:
THE ANALYTICAL CASE AGAINST GABRIEL DAVIS
(might not be as strong as you think)
At a simple level, Gabriel Davis getting drafted in the late 4th – mid 5th round in fantasy football is hilarious
2 seasons below an 11% target share, 2 seasons below 600 receiving yards
— Josh Larky (@jlarkytweets) June 30, 2022
Mid Round Picks
Young Breakout Candidates at Wide Receiver
Round 6 Pick 62 and Round 7 Pick 83 – Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kadarius Toney
Although we already have two wide receivers and one running back, this is the time in your draft where you should be pounding wide receiver, especially in leagues with multiple flex spots or three wide receiver slots. The middle round wide receivers are historically a source of value and will just frankly score more points than their running back counterparts. Taking two second-year players here in the middle rounds at the position is an analytically sound decision. Mid round young wide receivers have historically broken out at an above average rate, and both Amon-Ra and Kadarius Toney showed enough in their rookie seasons to warrant their positions here. On the ADP front, these are both players who have dropped in ADP since we have taken them, but sometimes that happens when you draft early. An important open research topic is understanding what types of players rise and drop in ADP as draft season moves forward.
Toney specifically is an interesting pick here because we passed over Saquon Barkley in the second round to take Aaron Jones. This follows a similar thread as the Darren Waller and Davante Adams logic; another Saquon Barkley down season probably means there will be a lot of available targets, which Kadarius Toney is poised to benefit from. Toney and Barkley both will likely be operating in the same type of field as yards-after-catch (YAC) monsters: screen plays, underneath throws, short in-routes. For a low scoring offense like the Giants, these two players are probably heavily negatively correlated. Betting on Aaron Jones over Saquon Barkley is implicitly a Barkley fade, and a bet for him to not hit his sky high upside. If he’s not hitting his upside, it’s likely because he’s not being used in the passing game as he should or he falls victim to injury again, both outcomes that would heavily benefit Toney’s fantasy outlook. Thinking about small edges like this are actually significant increases in the probability that your team hits a ceiling outcome. You should always be thinking about correlation when building your team: not just in the players you pick, but also in the players you don’t.
Round 8 Pick 86 – Cordarrelle Patterson
I’ve been waiting to write this one, Cordarrelle Patterson is a personal flag plant of mine for this upcoming year, and despite the title of this article, this is a straight up player take. Cordarrelle Patterson is old, on a bad offense, and throughout his career has not been particularly good. The Falcons just recently drafted Tyler Allgeier which can’t be good for Patterson’s usage right? Right??? Well, if we take a look at last season, Patterson finished the season as the RB9 in PPR despite the presence of Mike Davis. In fact, during the first half of the season especially, Patterson was the clear designated pass catching back and Davis the between the tackles grinder. Patterson’s usage was to die for in a running back, he was targeted 69 times while running the ball only 153 times. If Patterson comes close to replicating that target share, forget the carries, he’ll return value on his cost. A QB change to Marcus Mariota perhaps takes away some of the targets down the field for Kyle Pitts and puts them back in the hands of the electric Patterson (you remember his college tape).
Patterson is the perfect RB2 for the type of build Josh and I are putting together. Ideally, he isn’t occupying our RB2 chair by the end of the season, we hope one of our later picks with higher upside manage to luck into a full time role, but for the HeroRB build, we need a running back who can slot into our RB2 slot and not sink our team at the start of the season – before injuries start piling up on the lead running backs across the league. This is an important hedge that most successful ZeroRB and HeroRB teams need to keep track of; having a week one starting running back who can give you something is essential to make sure you don’t have to run the table when your core of handcuffs and satellite backs start to fire later in the season,
Round 9 Pick 107 – Skyy Moore
There were a couple rookie wide receivers we were eyeing here; Chris Olave, Treylon Burks and Skyy Moore were our main contenders. Olave and Burks are the chalk for the rookie wide receivers, and part of this Moore pick early was getting a bit different from the field, but we don’t believe the target competition in KC is strong at all besides Travis Kelce. Mecole Hardman hasn’t impressed anybody in his time in KC, and Skyy Moore’s 4.41 40-Yard Dash time is especially tantalizing with the departure of Tyreek Hill. At this point in the draft, there’s not much to talk about, we both like Skyy, and there aren’t really any huge value opportunities or correlation opportunities besides cheap quarterbacks. Young wide receivers are as good of a bet as you can make at this point in the draft, you can never draft enough of them.
Josh has been passionately advocating for Skyy Moore in all formats. Here he is in early May, breaking down why Moore is in perfect position to out-compete the other receivers in this offense:
And, here’s a video from earlier this week, where he once again passionately advocates for Skyy Moore as a league-winning player in casual redraft leagues (he is never on the board in round 12 of high stakes drafts):
Here is the link to Part 2 of this high stakes draft breakdown.