Aiming Your Darts: Late Round Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
The term “dart throw” gets used a lot when referring to late-round fantasy football draft picks. Take a second to think about the last time you actually threw darts. You probably didn’t close your eyes, spin in circles, and throw towards the board with your off-hand. You aimed for a specific zone of the board that was most valuable to your score in the current round. Dart throws at the end of your fantasy drafts are no different. You should be aiming for positions and players that are most valuable to your fantasy team in the final rounds.
In this article, I’ll aim to give you advice on how to spend your late-round fantasy picks. For the purpose of this article, I’ll consider the “late rounds” to be the final four rounds of the draft. Let’s start by examining each position in the late rounds.
Do We Really Need a D/ST and K?
Defenses and kickers have fallen out of favor in some leagues recently, but there is still a place for them in many fantasy football leagues. If your league doesn’t include them, go ahead and skip to the next section.
I’m going to begin at the end. You see it on every color-coded draft board. The top three-quarters of the board is filled with the same four colors before a smattering of two new colors appears at the bottom, the ones that represent defenses and kickers. It makes sense to prioritize the skill positions before defense and kicker, but you can take it a step farther and forgo drafting those positions altogether, especially if your draft is weeks before the regular season kicks off. Between injuries and cuts, player values can change dramatically after your draft. Adding one or two late-round lottery tickets at the skill positions can pay off in a big way if the chips fall your way. Conversely, if one of your higher draft picks falls on the wrong side of preseason luck, you’ll at least have a possible replacement already rostered.
A case can be made for drafting a defense late. Getting off to a hot start can give your fantasy team an advantage early in the season, and looking at early season matchups can help you identify a defense to help do just that. Using the strength of schedule tool in the Ultimate Draft Kit, you find that the Cleveland Browns have by far the most favorable defensive schedule over the first four weeks of the season. Grabbing the Browns, or another defense with a favorable early season. schedule, in the hopes of a hot start is a perfectly acceptable use of a late-round pick
Now about those pesky kickers. I was all aboard the anti-kicker train until I read our fearless leader Kyle Borgognoni’s case in their defense a few years ago. While I once again like kickers in my league, I’m not taking one in the draft. If my fully drafted roster is healthy leading up to Week 1, I’ll cut my least favorite skill position for my favorite Week 1 kicker as late as possible before he kicks off.
So, what should you do with those extra bench spots if you pass on defense and kickers? Well…it depends. Like so many other things in fantasy football, roster construction and staying fluid are vital when making your late-round picks.
Loading Up on Upside and Depth at RB and WR
In most cases, loading up on extra wide receivers and running backs is your best bet. A late-round running back can become an instant fantasy starter if there’s a pre-season injury to the back ahead of him on the depth chart. Darrell Henderson and James Robinson are perfect examples from 2021. If you ended up with a zero-RB, hero-RB, or even balanced roster draft approach, late-round running back fliers make a lot of sense.
When it comes to wide receivers, you can never have enough depth, especially in any kind of point per reception league. The late rounds are often a great place to draft rookie wideouts, with the understanding that they may not make a fantasy impact until later in the season. Last year that was receivers like Elijah Moore and Amon-Ra St. Brown.
To put it simply, you can never go wrong with running back or wide receiver fliers in the late rounds.
One is Enough at TE
Tight ends make a great late-round target, as long as you don’t spend an early round pick at the position. If you did spend up on tight end in the first half of the draft, you’re counting on them to be a difference maker at the position. There’s no need to draft a “backup” for your bye week and clog a roster spot for weeks. There will be plenty of tight ends to stream when the bye comes around. By the same token, it usually isn’t worth taking multiple tight ends in the late rounds either. One is enough, considering there may be an even better tight end to target on waivers after a Week 1 breakout.
Do You Need a QB to Hold the Clipboard?
It’s a similar, though not exact, story with quarterbacks. If you take one in the first half of the draft, consider him to be your ride or die for the start of, and hopefully the entire, season. The longer you wait, however, the more likely you’ll want to draft two. You should look to mix and match quarterback archetypes if this is the case. An example would be pairing Justin Fields, a young quarterback with immense rushing upside, with Matt Ryan, a tried and true pocket passer on what should be a good offense. If Fields hits, Ryan becomes expendable. If he busts, Ryan is a safety net for your roster.
Check out Julia Papworth’s recent article for specific players to consider with your late-round picks!
Drop it Like it’s Hawt!
As The Ballers frequently mention on the show during draft season, in the late rounds you want to target players that will be easy to drop if they aren’t involved in Week 1. This may seem counter-intuitive, but every year we see league-winning waiver wire adds early in the season. You need somebody to jettison from your roster to make room. That choice becomes easier if that RB from the ambiguous backfield you liked only played a handful of snaps or that upside WR6 didn’t get targeted in Week 1.
The IR Cheat Code
Depending on your league settings and platform, you may be able to take advantage of the IR spot(s) on your roster. You can target an injured player, slot them into the IR spot immediately after the draft, and proceed to add players off waivers as soon as possible. You can take it a step farther by matching the injured players with others that could start strong and fade as the season progresses. This year Michael Gallup or Jameson Williams could be paired with players like Marquise Brown or D.J. Chark. If all goes well, the player on IR will be returning around the same time that the other player is set to start losing steam.
Playing the Game
All the strategies discussed in this article attempt to do the same thing, maximize upside. Every draft is different and there are multiple successful ways to construct a roster, especially when it comes to the late rounds. The way you approach your final picks will depend on what you did with your early and mid-round picks. You don’t want to blindly through your darts at the end of the draft. Sometimes you might want to go for that bullseye. Other times you might need to shoot for that triple-20. Maybe the single-5 makes the most sense for your roster. It’s all about winning the game.
Now get out there and throw your darts!