In my downtime during the fantasy football off-season, I spent time doing two things: the first was admiring pictures of Joey Browner for my RazzBowl team. The second was learning a game that is less complex than fantasy football: chess. At least with chess, you can have some sort of agency with your pawns instead of praying Derrick Gore pulls off 100 yards and 3 TDs to get you into the fantasy playoffs. But fantasy football and chess have an important factor in common: how you open the game will dramatically affect the outcome of the match (or league or tournament or cosmic championship). Let’s think about the ways you can open your draft, and then locate the players who will complement your openings.
Fantasy Football Openings
In chess, the traditional opening move is pawn to E4, which is where the pawn on the king’s side of the board advances towards the center. This move permits the player to claim an immediate advantage; the center squares are the most valuable for deploying late-game strategies. However, for every opening, there’s also a vulnerability that gives other players a strategic advantage. Let’s detail the strengths and weaknesses of each fantasy football opening:
Robust RB: 3 running backs in the first 5 rounds.
- Strength: Stocking up on high-scoring, limited availability players.
- Weakness: You’re over-loading on one position and sacrificing elite potential from a WR.
Hero RB: 1 top 10 consensus RB in the first 3 rounds.
- Strength: You’re getting a top RB while balancing access to receivers.
- Weakness: If your RB gets injured (say, Christian McCaffrey or Saquon Barkley), your team is at a massive disadvantage and must be aggressive in free agency.
Zero RB: No RB in the first 5-10 rounds.
- Strength: Top RB often get injured, so you’re focusing on receivers, who are less likely to be injured.
- Weakness: Few RB outside of the top 20 get meaningful fantasy action. And if they do get action, they’re often unsung heroes like James Robinson, who nobody saw succeeding at his current level.
Double WR: Two receivers in the first two rounds.
- Strength: Top receivers are pretty easy to predict, so get your known quantities first.
- Weakness: In most formats and years, receivers score fewer fantasy points than top running backs.
Hero TE: A tight end in the first round.
- Strength: Championship fantasy teams are usually correlated with a top tight end.
- Weakness: You can usually find a top tight end after round 5 of the draft. Drafting a TE in the first round can sacrifice elite potential at other positions.
Double TE: Drafting two TE in the first three rounds (and planning for the second TE to play in your FLEX spot).
- Strength: You command the rarest position in fantasy: the tight end. You inevitably tilt the draft room and cause other players to start drafting lesser TE earlier than expected.
- Weakness: Your FLEX spot is now filled, and you have completely missed on top running backs and receivers.
Of course, some of these openings work in parallel: Zero RB is usually associated with Double WR and/or Hero TE, and so on.
Let’s figure out how you should manage your later rounds based on how you open your draft.
Receiver End Game
If you’re like most drafters, you’re starting the draft with some running backs. This is fine. This is the pawn to E4 move — it’s the most common move for a reason: it starts your game with an advantage. However, in chess, it leaves your king open to attack, and in fantasy football, it means that you’re leaving receivers until later. Let’s help you find some late-game receivers that will help you level the playing field.
Kadarius Toney (NFC ADP=90, NFC WR41, Razzball WR28): There was a small glimmer of hope for New York Giants fans last year when in week 5, rookie wideout Kadarius Toney snagged 10 balls for nearly 200 yards. Poor guy got injured the next game and never really got his mojo back in 2022. Then again, the offensive plan for the 2021 Giants was the same as my collegiate flag football experience: just try not to die on the field. Toney enters 2022 listed as WR2 on the Giants’ depth chart behind Kenny Golladay. Rudy’s system always loves a good Daniel Jones performance, and the new Giants offensive coordinators — seasoned with the Bills and Chiefs — should be able to bring a modicum of improved offense. A healthy Toney could be your WR2, tiger.
Tyler Boyd (NFC ADP=116, NFC WR50, Razzball WR37): I mean, how many yards of offense can one team have? The Bengals can’t have a top RB, top QB, and 3 top fantasy receivers, can they? There’s good reason to be skeptical of the Bengals’ offensive prowess. Going into 2021, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor had one of the worst head-coaching performances in NFL history. Pause right here, go back to the previous sentence, and really emphasize history. So yeah, Zac Taylor led the Bengals to the Super Bowl in 2021. Y’all remember 2019-2020? 6 total wins, and NFL brass ridiculed Zac Taylor in public. As a head coach, Taylor’s offense in 2019 and 2020 was ranked 26th and 29th, respectively. If you were a ranker, and you had a player that was trash for two years and then a breakout for their third year, how would you rank them for year 4? Aggressively, of course! Let’s pretend Zac Taylor took his Dale Carnegie leadership class to heart and decided to lean in rather than lead from behind — LFG Super Bowl 2022 and all that jazz. Will Boyd — the Bengals’ WR3 — produce like a WR3 for your fantasy team? Simply put, Boyd should be your lock for teams that need a bit of WR upside. Since 2018 — even in the dark times of Bengals history — Boyd has never finished below WR30 in PPR format. In other words, Boyd has been the WR2 or WR3 for most fantasy teams for four consecutive years. Like, how about that for consistency? How about we dial in that consistency for 2022 as well? Boyd is currently drafted as WR50, which is the equivalent of your last FLEX spot or your first bench spot. So, using my napkin math, fantasy managers taking Boyd are due for a great return on investment.
Hunter Renfrow (NFC ADP=70, NFC WR33, Razzball WR39): How many of you know that Hunter Renfrow finished as WR11 in PPR leagues last year? Sure, in 2021, Davante Adams wasn’t around, and Darren Waller was hurt. Renfrow benefitted from opportunity cost in 2021 — he was practically the only receiver at times. The Raiders were the 7th-best passing offense in the NFL last year. Now the Raiders are bringing in former Patriots receivers coach Mick Lombardi to run the offense. The Raiders spent the Hall of Fame game running out supposed RB1 Josh Jacobs to start the game. Hint: that’s not a great sign. If I’m looking for a WR3 with WR1 upside, it’s hard to look further than Hunter Renfrow in 2022.
Cole Kmet (NFC ADP=127, NFC TE12, Razzball TE16): This guy’s not even a sleeper anymore, but the existence of a Kmet at TE12 implies 11 other TEs better than him. How many family leagues have managers who take backup TE? If you’re in a 10-team league, you’re probably not even drafting Kmet. In what was a dismal year for Bears fans in 2021, Kmet racked up nearly 90 targets. In 4 out of 5 of Justin Fields’ final 2021 appearances, the Bears QB finished in the top 12 QBs. As awful as the Bears were in 2021, the team was starting to mesh by the end of the year. Kmet projects to be the second-most targets in the Bears’ offense this year. If you’re loading up on RB early, take a shot on Kmet late in the game. In best ball formats, he’s fairly easy to pair with Justin Fields, and also fairly easy to stack with Darnell Mooney.
Running Back End Game
So you’re starting with receivers. Fine. You do you. You just made your fantasy end game a bit harder because you’re looking at unproven running backs that need some sort of narrative to come true for you to win your league. What’s a narrative? Like, Darren Waller gets hurt and misses time, so Hunter Renfrow steps up and finishes as WR11 in 2021. Like, the entire Ravens running back stable gets injured in 2021, so Le’Veon Bell gets a shot (this didn’t work out). Let’s see if we can hype some RBs for your end game:
Josh Jacobs (NFC ADP: 64, NFC RB24, Razzball RB20): I just got done making fun of this guy and now I’m telling you to draft him. Ugh. Here’s the deal: I’m not drafting Josh Jacobs. But maybe you need him because you started with Double WR and a tight end. Well, Jacobs’ competition is Kenyan Drake, who is 28 years old and has broken the 200 carry threshold only once in his career. As much as we may chortle at Jacobs starting the Hall of Fame game and having 3.9 yards per attempt over the past two years, nobody really seems to similarly care that Ezekiel Elliot has 4.0 and 4.2 yards per attempt over the same span. Thing is, Zeke is drafted two rounds before Jacobs on average. Let’s do that thing where we compare players and you say, “Wow I can’t believe I was so wrong:”
|Name||2020 Total Yards / TDs||2021 Total Yards / TDs|
|Josh Jacobs||1303 / 12||1220 / 9|
|Ezekiel Elliott||1317 / 8||1289 / 12|
Yeah, the same guy. If you know, you know: fantasy sports is all about possibilities. There’s every chance that Jacobs is a complete flub and you’ll be writing me in Week 17 complaining about how Jacobs lost your season. To which I would say, “That’s why you draft a top RB and not the guy from the Hall of Fame game.” Either way, if you’re punting RB, it’s hard to find a worse player at RB20-25 than the guy who has put up the same numbers as Ezekiel Elliott over the past two years.
Devin Singletary (NFC ADP: 79, NFC RB26, Razzball RB33): Real quality fantasy advice I’m giving you here, telling you to take the embattled running back from a pass-first team, right? No, what I’m telling you is to draft Dalvin Cook and D’Andre Swift. If you’re looking at Devin Singletary to save your season, you gotta go in with open eyes and a clear heart. ENYWHEY. Guess who finished the last quarter of 2021 as a top 10 RB last year? Did you read the bold title or did you just skip to the part where I wrote ENYWEY in big caps? Devin Singletary crushed the end of 2021, scoring 6 touchdowns over the last 5 games while racking up 94 total touches and nearly 500 yards. Now, I’m not one to “ahem” a lot, but AHEM. Over those 5 games, Singletary averaged 75 rushing yards per game. In 7 games in 2021, Christian McCaffrey averaged 63 rushing yards per game. But the skillset! You shout. Whatever. Again, if you drafted a top RB, you wouldn’t need to worry about Devin Singletary. But, here you are, trying to figure out a league-winner among all the RBs that would otherwise be FLEX or bench players. There’s no better place to start than Devin Singletary, The Guy Who Out-Performed Christian McCaffrey! [cue jingle music and marketing-approved happy dance].
Marlon Mack (NFC ADP: 167, NFC RB55, Razzball RB45): Let’s be clear — we’re in best ball draft and hold territory. Marlon Mack shouldn’t be on your 10-team redraft work league. Mack shouldn’t be on your 12-team roster. But if you’re thinking best ball possibilities or doing a draft and hold. there’s a good chance that Mack takes the lead back role in Houston, and sometimes all you need is a chance. In 2018 and 2019, Mack had 1,000ish-yard campaigns with the Colts. In 2020, Mack tore his Achilles, and then the force of Jonathan Taylor entered the picture. Now Mack is 26 and trying to make a career in Houston, where his competition is 4th round pick Dameon Pierce and Rex Burkhead. Hmmm. Remember how y’all went Michael Carter crazy in 2021? Yeah, he finished as RB29 on the 2021 season. Maybe Dameon Pierce claims the job as the lead back in Houston, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mack get a fair shake at being the first and second down guy to start the season, and then the job is his to lose. Keep an eye on Mack in training camp — his draft value could surge up the board if he has a nice pre-season.
What are some openings that you like to play in fantasy football? Are there deep plays you’re gravitating towards this year? Let me know down in the comments! I’ll be around on Mondays this year — see you around!