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Man vs. Machine: How to Attack When the Stars Slide

RotoViz writers are using the Draft Dashboard, the flagship tool of the FFDRAFTPREP Package, to attack 2018 drafts. Twelve authors have participated and each is mock drafting from a different starting position. The aim of this series is to outline the strategies employed by our writers and the information they are using to inform their decisions.

With the biggest draft weekend of the year upon us, I decided to fire up a mock to get me limbered up for my final drafts. Like most things in life, practice is the key to being prepared and comfortable when the pressure is on, and drafting a fantasy team is no different. Plus, using the Draft Dashboard during a mock helps me learn how to use the features when I deploy it during my real draft.


All writers will be drafting in 12-team PPR leagues and using “Average PPR” as the ADP source in their mocks. Rosters will consist of 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, 1Flex (RB/WR/TE), 1K, and 1DST. The computer teams will be set to “Mixed,” meaning that they will build out their rosters using a mixture of approaches. Some will go running back or wide receiver heavy, others will emphasize positions equally, and one or two may go Zero RB or Zero WR.

I drew the sixth pick for this exercise, so I’ll be working from the middle of the draft.


There are four true workhorse RBs at the top of the draft, and one WR who has been absolutely dominant. So what do you do when you pick after all those guys are probably off the board? Not every draft will play out with Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, and Antonio Brown going in the first five picks,1 but it’s the most likely scenario.

When I’m drafting towards the end of the first, I’ll usually take a Zero RB approach, however there is one player I’m willing to consider in the same tier as the Big 5, and that’s Saquon Barkley. He may be the best RB prospect of this century, and the Giants didn’t draft him second overall to not utilize him as a workhorse. In PPR leagues, his expected usage in the passing game gives him a very high floor and a ceiling that rivals the other top RBs.

I’ll start with whichever player from this top tier falls to me, and then likely wait on RB until at least the fourth round as I stack up strong WRs and possibly an elite TE. While I’m comfortable waiting on QB, I also think some of the elite QBs are falling too far and will keep my eye out for an opportunity to snag a top player at the position before the value flattens out.

The most important part of my pre-draft strategy though is to start the draft off with some trash talk to get inside my opponent’s head.

“Hey laser-brain! The only mocking going on here is gonna be me mocking your crappy picks!” I shout at the spreadsheet.


Short Circuit sucked! Not even comedic genius Steve Guttenberg could save that dumpster fire! Johnny 5 was a punk bitch!”2

No Response

Can’t even muster a comeback. The machine must be paralyzed with fear. Checkmate.


  • Johnson is good enough to be the 1.01 in a lot of rankings, so I’ll gladly take him at 1.06. There are questions about the Cardinals offense, but not enough for me to fade a guy who just two years ago put up one of the best fantasy seasons in a decade.
  • Rob Gronkowski is once again set up to have a monster year. Taking him with the second pick was a no-brainer.
  • Taking a second TE with Zach Ertz in the fourth round was not an easy decision though. More on that below.
  • Through the first six rounds of the mock, only one other team drafted just a single RB, with one team drafting four and another drafting a whopping five RBs in their first six picks.
  • With four QBs off the board by the end of the sixth, it was appearing unlikely that a player like Cam Newton would fall to me in the eighth or ninth round.1to6PosBreakdownB


Once you have Gronkowski, is it worth it selecting another top TE? That’s the dilemma I was faced with in the middle of the fourth round with Ertz still on the board.

There were multiple Tier 3 WRs left, with JuJu Smith-Schuster at the top of the group. TE was clearly not a position of need, but Ertz was the only Tier 1  player left at any Flex position. I’m expecting a big year out of Ertz, especially with Alshon Jeffery likely to miss at least the first two games of the year, but it’s hard to say if he can outscore some of the high upside WRs that were left.

Ultimately, I decided to pull the trigger. His ceiling may be lower than a player like Smith-Schuster, however he was on pace for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs last year at a scarce position. His value to me in the flex, as a trade candidate, and as an injury or bye-week insurance for Gronkowski helped tip the scales.

Most Surprising Pick

Ertz could qualify for this too, but I’m going with Peyton Barber in the ninth round. Ronald Jones is a polarizing player, but I found myself as one of his bigger supporters as he entered a depth chart I considered to be fairly poor. Though taking most of his snaps behind a second-string offensive line3 has done him no favors, he had an abyssmal preseason and clearly has a long way to go to earn the trust of his coaches.

I’m not throwing in the towel on Jones yet, but Barber is the clear starter here and has looked reasonably good during the preseason. Charles Sims has been waived with an injury settlement, Jones isn’t much of a pass catcher, and Jacquizz Rogers didn’t even touch the ball much last year when the depth chart was even worse for Tampa Bay.

It’s conceivable we see Barber getting a large share of touches, including third downs, if Jones continues to struggle. You’re not going to find any other RBs with that kind of projected Week 1 workload in the ninth.

Final Team


I think my team is solid across the board. I have a stud RB that could finish as the highest scoring player in the league once again, two of the top three TEs, and three top-24 WRs.

With my bench players, I’m always looking for guys who could break out, and I think I accomplished that. My bench RB selections all have decent roles to start the season, and starter potential if the RB in front of them gets injured. My bench WR selections all have a path to 100-plus targets and should be in line for plenty of air yards, giving them the opportunity for some high-scoring weeks.

Though I didn’t secure a top QB, Marcus Mariota has the upside to become a top QB this year in a new offensive system.

Favorite Computer Team


This team is going to need some things to go right at WR, but it has potential. WRs changing teams tend to underperform, but Allen Robinson and Brandin Cooks are talented players who could exceed expectations. With two top RBs that should be PPR machines and some high upside bench players, this team could make some noise.

The Decision

Sorry machines, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Though there were some strong teams assembled by the computer, I feel good about my team’s depth and roster construction and believe it would be in a position to win if this were a real league.

I’m also not the least bit surprised that the computer struggled to compete after enduring my withering verbal salvos at the start of the draft. 90 percent of a draft is half mental, and I was inside their microchips before the first pick was even made. Letting Johnson fall to the sixth pick? The machines choked when the pressure was on.

Want to check your picks with our projections? The Draft Optimizer tool is another great tool for preparation and in-draft use.

Draft Board


  1. Sometimes Alvin Kamara or another player sneaks in there.  (back)
  2. All lies, but anything goes in psychological warfare.  (back)
  3. That is really more like a third-string offensive line due to the injury the Buccaneers have suffered.  (back)
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