aaron-jones-1400-us.jpg
USATSI

There is a piece of advice that applies to almost a third of the draft room and I'm not sure it gets talked about enough. When you have a pick close to, but not on the turn, pay very close to your league-mates' needs and wants, then try to exploit it to get the guys you want. 

I focused heavily on this strategy in our pick-by-pick draft and ended up with one of my favorite teams of the offseason. And it started in Round 1.

My top two players available when it was my turn to pick at pick 11 were Aaron Jones and Ja'Marr Chase, in that order. But I had an advantage in that I can see Dave Richard's rankings (he had the 12th pick) so I knew he would take Chase but he wouldn't take Jones. So I took Chase at 11 and picked up Jones at pick 13, which gave me two of my top-10 players.

I used the same strategy at the end of Round 5, taking Lamar Jackson over Elijah Mitchell, and in Round 9, taking Kenneth Walker over Brandon Aiyuk. While you probably don't have access to your league-mates' rankings, you should at least look at their roster and ADP each turn to try to project who you might land. It could be the difference between getting your top two players available or only getting one.

Here's the rest of my team from the 11th pick:

1.11 Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Bengals
2.02 Aaron Jones, RB, Packers
3.11 Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos
4.02 Brandin Cooks, WR, Texans
5.11 Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens
6.02 Elijah Mitchell, RB, 49ers
7.11 Chase Edmonds, RB Cardinals
8.02 Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks
9.11 Kenneth Walker, RB, Seahawks
10.02 Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers
11.11 Michael Carter, RB, Jets
12.02 Irv Smith, TE, Vikings
13.11 Tyler Higbee, TE, Rams
14.02 D.J. Chark, WR, Lions
15.11 Will Fuller, WR, Free Agent

I would have a hard time drawing up a much better start than Chase, Jones, and Williams with my first three picks. While I do think Williams' Round 2 ADP is too high, I was thrilled to land him at the end of Round 3. My expectation is that he starts off in about a 55-45 split with Gordon Week 1 but as the season goes on, Williams pushed that to 60-40 or beyond. And if Gordon gets hurt? Well, we all saw what happened in Week 13 last year (29.8 PPR Fantasy points in case you didn't.

The Cooks pick may be a bit surprising, but I like him in Round 3, and I explained why below. If Cooks doesn't meet my expectations, wide receiver could be the second-biggest problem on the roster if two of my four upside picks at the position don't pan out. But with the way Aiyuk is going in training camp, I don't believe you're going to be able to find him in Round 10 for much longer.

I said wide receiver could be the second-biggest problem because tight end is clearly the biggest. Smith and Higbee are my favorite late-round tight ends, but they aren't exactly high-upside options. But the rest of the team has enough to make up for that. I'm particularly pleased with the three backs behind Jones and Mitchell. There's a pretty clear path to having a stable of high-end running backs to go along with Chase, Cooks, and Lamar Jackson. If that happens I don't imagine I'll care too much who my tight end is.

Favorite pick

Aaron Jones
GB • RB • 33
Att171
Yds799
TD4
FL1
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Over his career, Jones has averaged 22.9 Fantasy points, 4.5 catches, and 109 total yards per game without Davante Adams. He has a legitimate shot to lead all running backs in catches and he projects as my No. 5 running back and No. 7 pick overall. In fact, if they both stay healthy and no one steps up at wide receiver, it could be a monster year for both Jones and A.J. Dillon.

Pick I might regret

Elijah Mitchell
SF • RB • 25
Att207
Yds963
TD5
FL0
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Mitchell was RB15 on a per-game basis last year as a rookie. I should not be concerned at all landing him in Round 6. I should be doing back flips. But the 49ers drafted yet another running back in Round 3 and there's more talk of a committee. Kyle Shanahan's offense has been notorious for its "next man up" mentality and the 49ers have plenty of talent behind Mitchell should something go wrong. I could definitely regret taking Mitchell over Jerry Jeudy or Rashod Bateman if they hit.

Player who could make or break my team

Brandin Cooks
HOU • WR • 13
TAR134
REC90
REC YDs1037
REC TD6
FL0
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I have Cooks projected as a top-10 receiver this year based on an expected uptick in pace for the Texans, which leads to more total targets, and expected regression in Cooks' efficiency due to improved play from Davis Mills. Cooks set a career-low in yards per target last year, while also posting his lowest yards per reception since his rookie year and a touchdown rate well below his career rate. I expect all of that to improve for Cooks this year, but if it doesn't and Nico Collins takes a bigger role, Cooks in Round 4 could look pretty silly.