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THE PROGNOSTICATOR: 2017 Draft Plan

I must have started and stopped this years Draft Plan about twenty times now. It’s a puzzling year that has taken me a lot of time in experts drafts and auctions in an attempt to try to work things out. I have had to reflect a lot on the results of those drafts and exactly how the player pool is being evaluated by my competition. Not evaluating individual players so much, but the pool of players available and how to properly wrap a draft plan around them. The conclusion I am coming to is that there is just an errant read on the entire situation by so many people.

When you see all those around you, and I mean all, come to a different conclusion as to how to interpret the talent pool this year and how to model a draft around it, you start to doubt your own self. I typically ignore other Draft Plan articles that others have started to do (I don’t want them to jade my thoughts) but I started poking around at a few, just due to all the disparity and confusion and I can’t tell you how many I’ve seen that I shake my fist at and yell, “no-no-no!” to.  It is like everyone woke up and it is a different decade.

I ripped this Draft Plan apart and reassembled it so many times, partly because I had doubts and partly because I had to fully understand why the fantasy universe was offering such a contrarian view. It caused me to have to hit the pause button and reflect on the fantasy universe this last few weeks. It took me a while to sort it all out but sort it out I did.

As I have been saying since the beginning of time, you have to change your guiding over-arching draft strategy year-to-year in fantasy. The players change, the schemes change, the situations change, the rules change and when you put all the players in a pool each year, how they relate to each other at their position and across all positions changes. It requires a fresh set of eyes each year, a few new sharpened No.2 pencils and a number of drafts to figure things out.

What I do here is present what I believe should be your approach to your fantasy draft in 2017, based on everything I know, leveraging my experiences in the drafts I participate in each season, against the best and brightest minds this industry has to offer. More so than ever, your draft strategy can blow up part way through your draft and you have to be extra light on your feet to be able to make mid-draft adjustments on the fly. As we all know, you should be prepared and know which players to target but you should also be prepared to expect the unexpected, as the unexpected happens more times than not.

IT’S A PASSING LEAGUE
For many years now, it has been a wide receiver first world in fantasy and if you didn’t get a couple of studs at the position, you were usually playing for second place. It matches the way the NFL has changed, it’s a passing league now and naturally, fantasy points are primarily generated from the passing game because of it. Way back in the beginning of fantasy football it was all about the running back and anyone who had two studs, usually won the league. In the 90’s you could pair Terrell Davis with Robert Smith and steam roll your opposition. Or just draft Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith and pair them with anyone because they would win your league all on their own. There literally were seasons where you could just hand the trophy to whomever had Emmitt Smith on their team.

Then somewhat slowly, the league began to shift to a passing game. Primarily as an adjustment to rule changes that the league would make each year over the summer to purposefully emphasize the passing game, because it’s more exciting to watch on TV which boosts viewership and thus advertisers and sponsors. It is that deliberate change that changed the game and fantasy forever. Some have credited me with being first to the wide receiver revolution and I remember back in those days publishing this exact annual Progno Draft Plan article in the middle of the stud-RB theory revolution just to recommend.. a wide receiver heavy draft. I took a lot of heat. The prevailing wisdom at the time was that ‘Stud-RB’ was the best draft strategy to draft a fantasy football team and a strategy I had wholeheartedly endorsed for many years. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the field. As it turned out, that was the epoch of the wide receiver position rising in value in fantasy to the point that today, there are ‘Zero-RB’ strategists that throw the position away entirely in their drafts. The wide receiver position has now been front and center in my annual draft plan for many years and while there have been changes based on the talent pool each year, it has been a wide receiver centric universe and because we were on the passing game train early, we’ve all won a few championships because of it.

Most years what helps guide the strategy is how deep the talent pool is at each position. If there are 24 viable tight ends (like there have been) then in a 12-team league, you really don’t need to spend a lot to get one. Simple stuff.

Well.. a strange thing happened on our way to the 2017 draft plan.

Quarterback is.. deep. Really deep. Running Back is.. deep. Wide Receiver is.. deep. Tight End is.. deep. Heck, I even have sleeper kickers and defenses that will go undrafted in many leagues that I’d be pleased to have. In all the years, I can’t really recall a player pool like it. When you have a deep player draft like 2017 is, there is less positional strategy to be concerned about with more weight added to individual player valuations and evaluations.  You have to pick the right players.

CAN I INTEREST YOU IN A SLIGHTLY WORN RUNNING BACK?
You know that one person who has never won your league?  This is the year you take that 300-1 side bet as they have a shot. There is depth beyond depth at every position. It’s raining fantasy players this year — and it’s fun. There are true fantasy studs available at every position and some incredible values can be had late, at again, every position. It’s enough to throw your fantasy strategy out the window because in the past, some of the uninitiated would waste draft picks on washed up flyers or pumped up rookies that the rest of us knew, would never pan out as a draft pick. This year, their flyers are going to be good flyers because there are so many of them, and even the untrained will stumble into some gems this year. It is going to level the playing field more than we have seen in many, many years in all your leagues. If you want to win your league this year, I recommend you do your best used car salesman impression in 2017 and start working the trade wire as it will be the one true advantage that you have.

I think the heart of the issue as to why I see this draft in such a different way is that instead of leaving quarterback and tight end until late because of their depth, I see those positions as the places you can compete to distance yourself from the other teams.  There will be lots of good running backs and wide receivers, quarterbacks and tight ends too, but by paying appropriately for the right players in the right rounds, I contend that you can build a better team by making sure you are anchored with a stud at quarterback and ensuring you have a quality tight end with upside that you do not have to pay an exorbitant price to get.  Then in waivers this year, you are focused purely on making your running backs and wide receivers stronger each week as there will be several options in waivers every week that will help.

Let’s discuss the positions from an overall perspective before getting stuck into the draft.

About Tony Holm

Founder and President of FantasySharks.com. Five-time nominee for the Fantasy Sports Writers Association's Hall of Fame. Started publishing fantasy content on the web in 1993 and hasn't stopped yet.