First 3 Picks: 12-team league

Your first three picks define your fantasy team.

Your first three picks define your fantasy football team. Aside from taking productive players, each pick is critical because the player pool is ever-shrinking. You could build entirely different teams based on what positions you take and in what order. Respecting how drafts typically raid positions improves your chance to build an optimal team.

To follow are sample three-round drafts for 12-team fantasy football leagues. They use either standard performance scoring, performance plus a point per reception, or “2QB/Super Flex” leagues where you can start two of any position. Those three formats cover almost all leagues.

The names are less important than the positions because each draft slot has its own unique situation. Just as important are your future picks and what you need after three rounds.  Rankings can change daily so these may not exactly match rankings.

Performance scoring league

Performance scoring without reception points means that running backs are a premium and quarterbacks are a bit more valuable as well. Wide receivers and tight ends are devalued but are still usually four starters in a fantasy football league.  Almost all teams will look to get two running backs in their first three picks and it’s hard to argue against the logic.

Team 1: RB Christian McCaffrey, QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Allen Robinson

Top running back and quarterback for a great start, then wide receiver with Robinson means a balanced approach and drafter is free to go for best available at least the next two or three rounds. Why take the No. 16 running back when he gets the No. 6 wideout instead? No reception points hurt the wideouts but that doesn’t mean to ignore usually three starting positions.

Team 2: RB Ezekiel Elliott, RB Leonard Fournette, WR A.J. Brown

Standard sort of Team 2 approach with a couple of running backs and then a wideout. A core of running backs means could go after other positions for several rounds and not give up too much. Next pick should be a wideout or a top tight end or quarterback if they are still there. Going running back will be tempting and make more sense in this non-PPR league, but again – field the best set of starters possible.

Team 3: RB Saquon Barkley, RB Josh Jacobs, WR Chris Godwin

Same pattern as Team 2 and probably the standard for this sort of scoring. Free to look at non-running back positions in round four and five unless a back falls in the draft.

Team 4: RB Derrick Henry, QB Lamar Jackson, RB Austin Ekeler

Strong start with a Top-4 running back and then the top quarterback. Went with a second running back in the third round for that comforting, solid feel but now will be chasing wideouts at the least. This scoring supports this sort of plan. Could consider tight end and quarterback next to get better than average players in both positions and then admit your wideouts are going to be weak – but they are the deepest position and produce the most waiver wire finds.

Team 5: RB Dalvin Cook, WR Mike Evans, WR Odell Beckham Jr.

This start would look great if there were reception points but even without them, there is a reason to do this.  Sewing up two elite wide receivers is an advantage and can now ignore that position for four or five rounds if they want. They only need one more starter from the rest of the draft and they will last longer in this format anyway. Obviously has to consider running backs in the next round if not two rounds.

Team 6: WR Michael Thomas, RB Chris Carson, RB Melvin Gordon III

This start is likely what will happen in most leagues for the team that selects Michael Thomas (always the first wideout). Great advantage (not as much as PPR but…) and then those two running backs feel more like need picks. But it does allow the next two rounds to consider any position.

Team 7: RB Miles Sanders, WR Kenny Golladay, RB James Conner

Deeper into the draft means while the first pick of a running back is only an average RB1, better-ranked wideouts are available. The price is not that high going running back first to ensure no disadvantage at RB1 and still reached the No. 5 wideout in the second round. Conner in the third round makes sense but so far, this team is starting out with an average RB1, an average WR1, and the No. 18 running back so just an average RB2. Needs to start thinking of getting any advantage at another position that they can.

Team 8: RB Kenyan Drake, RB Nick Chubb, WR Amari Cooper

Like Team 7, went for the safe route with the standard RB-RB-WR and ended up with mostly average players in all positions. Does free him to chase the best available players but there are no difference-makers on the team yet unless one exceeds expectations. And still has eight picks until his fourth-round selection, so has to avoid an average team.

Team 9: RB Joe Mixon, TE Travis Kelce, RB Le’ Veon Bell

This isn’t as deadly without reception points but secured a decent RB1 and then snapped up the best tight end. That will hurt the other positions but in a performance league, only the top two or three tight ends offer any real advantage. Went safe again in the third round and will have to consider a wideout in the next couple of rounds. While taking Kelce isn’t nearly the bang for the buck as he is in a PPR league,  delaying wideouts in this scoring hurts a lot less.

Team 10: WR Tyreek Hill, RB Aaron Jones, TE Mark Andrews

Certainly paid attention to their draft spot. Went with a top wideout, then still reached the No.11 best running back as a need pick. Went for a difference-maker with the second-best tight end in the third. Not a terrible start but has to consider running backs for the next two rounds and probably get a little lucky or they are at a disadvantage. But drafting later in the round means taking more risks to build an optimal team for that draft slot.

Team 11: RB Alvin Kamara, WR Julio Jones, RB Raheem Mostert

Opting for the No. 9 running back with the first pick felt safe and at least followed that up with an elite wideout. Went back to running back in the third but at least selected a back with more upside than most. And is now free to chase best available. Goes again in two picks and can reach for a great quarterback, tight end, or a good wideout.

Team 12: WR Davante Adams, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB Mark Ingram II

This is likely the most generic start at No. 12 in a performance league. Staring RB-RB equates to two average backs. Going with an elite wideout makes sense and then a high-upside running back like Edwards-Helaire is the exact sort of swing for the fence that makes sense (though the rookie is rising in drafts daily). Went back for an average running back but goes again with the next pick and can use that on the best available with a solid core.


Reception-point league

This style of scoring boosts the value of wide receivers and elite tight ends but devalues quarterbacks a bit. Running backs are going to be popular in any scoring scenario but the added reception point means the position becomes deeper with third-down backs able to offer “start-able” fantasy value.

Team 1: RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Mike Evans, WR DeAndre Hopkins

This is the very standard opening in a PPR league and with the interest in running backs so strong this year, opted for the No. 7 and No. 8 wideouts instead of the No. 15 running back. Can leave wideouts alone for a long time since likely just need one more as a starter. Should now consider running back at least twice in the next three rounds.

Team 2: RB Saquon Barkley, QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Chris Godwin

This is another strong opening in this scoring. Elite running back and then an elite quarterback. The third pick for a wideout means a shortage of running backs but like team No. 1, can just get two over the next three rounds. This is why the other drafters hate those with the few first picks.

Team 3: RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Allen Robinson II, TE George Kittle

Same variation as the first two teams. Locking up that top running back allows for more freedom and in this case, team went for the No. 6 wideout and then snapped up the second-best tight end. Has to mine for running backs but holds elite starters in both wideout and tight end.

Team 4: RB Dalvin Cook, QB Lamar Jackson, RB Leonard Fournette

Following on the running back craze still makes sense with Cook turning in receptions as well. Used the second round for the first quarterback taken which is a distinct advantage but always delays all other positions by one round instead of waiting like most teams. Still reached a solid RB2 in the third round. Has to consider at least two wideouts in the next three rounds.

Team 5: WR Michael Thomas, RB Chris Carson, WR DJ Moore

Opting for a wideout in the first round is always discomforting since running backs are all the rage, but Michael Thomas is always the top receiver this year and reception points make this very safe pick a no-brainer. Had to get a running back in the second round though he was the No. 14 rusher taken. Went back to wideout in the third to get better value than just another running back. Will need to look for the RB2 likely next round but can leave wideouts alone while securing more running backs, a quarterback, and maybe a tight end in the next four or five picks.

Team 6: RB Alvin Kamara, RB Nick Chubb, WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Doubled up on running back to start for a solid, if unspectacular, start. Still reached enough value in the second round for the No 13 running back to feel right but then went with wideout in the third. Taking a higher upside player there makes some sense to look for some advantage in the position that still matters a lot in the scoring scenario.

Team 7: RB Derrick Henry, RB Austin Ekeler, WR DJ Chark Jr.

Followed the same pattern as Team 6 and as a mid-round drafter, this is the safest feeling path. Locks up very good running backs for a sold fantasy backfield and then opts for a wideout because of the scoring rules and the dwindling supply of them. But free to mix-and-match picks among all positions from here on out.

Team 8: RB Miles Sanders, TE Travis Kelce, RB Le’ Veon Bell

This is very effective, more so with this scoring. Leaned more towards upside backs and sandwiched an absolute advantage with Travis Kelce who may not last this long in a PPR league. But the binge on running backs is causing other positions to fall. Two of the next three picks have to strongly consider wide receiver but if all three players hit as expected, the team has a very nice start from the eight-spot.

Team 9: WR Davante Adams, RB Joe Mixon, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

This is another effective plan this late in the first round. Grabs that elite wideout and then still reaches the No. 11 running back with the second pick.  Not an advantage but not a liability either. Taking that WR2 in the third round accesses a weaker WR2 than most but going with higher upside and more risk makes sense to make up some ground. Most likely should grab a couple of running backs next or at least over the next three rounds if a quarterback or tight end falls.

Team 10: RB Kenyan Drake, WR Kenny Golladay, RB Josh Jacobs

This is a safer route. Started out RB-WR at the 2.03 turn and then had to wait until the 3.10 for that second running back which works out to the No. 17 taken. This is a safe path to take and honors the scoring. That fourth-round pick coming in five turns can go anywhere and will more determine how the team will fare. Quarterback or tight end there will still yield advantage but at the expense of wideouts.

Team 11: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB Aaron Jones, WR A.J. Brown

Starting so deeply in the first round meant taking the No. 9 and then the No. 10 running back. And by this point, the much-hyped rookie may well be gone so the name won’t look nearly so sexy. Just following the running back run twice means that the position won’t be a liability, but it is not going to be an advantage. And in this scoring, only the No. 14 wideout was left to start that position.

Team 12:WR Julio Jones, WR Tyreek Hill, RB Melvin Gordon III

This is one of the most common plans for that final first-round pick. Doubling up on wideouts netted the No. 3 and 4 best players for a huge advantage in that position. Going with a running back in the third is a need pick and means the No. 18 back is your RB1. Should consider running back in the fourth as well and then again at the round 5-6 turn.


QB-heavy league

This sort of league will seed in quarterbacks in varying measures depending on how and why quarterbacks are so valuable. The most common is the ability to start two quarterbacks which change drafts significantly. It will extend the quality of running backs and wideouts deeper into the draft since quarterbacks will go far earlier than the mid-draft that is common in other sorts of leagues. This run-through assumes two quarterbacks and that well over half of the starters are taken by the third round.

Viewing the previous year’s results are best for this sort of starting rule because quarterbacks can go slower – or much faster – than what this draft assumes.

Team 1: RB Christian McCaffrey, RB Austin Ekeler, QB Deshaun Watson

The natural start is followed by the swing pick-ups of an RB2 and one of the top quarterbacks. The No. 6 quarterback is merely average in most leagues but scores like an elite running back – or better –  in this starting aspect. Long wait until Round 5 but can consider any position, including quarterback.

Team 2: RB Saquon Barkley, TE George Kittle, RB Nick Chubb

While this plan ignores the value of quarterbacks, it still starts out with an elite running back and tight end for a definite advantage. Went with running back for the third pick which was certainly a safe option and still netted the No. 13 back because the position falls a bit with these starting rules. Free to go anywhere in their next two picks but should at least consider a quarterback.

Team 3: RB Ezekiel Elliott, QB Russell Wilson, WR Allen Robinson II

This is a standard approach in a QB-heavy league with one of the first three picks. Started running back and then still accessed the No. 5 quarterback. Depending on your league, that may be hard to accomplish but any more attention to quarterbacks prior to this pick only means all other positions fall more. The third round was able to reach the No. 6 wide receiver for another advantage. Very solid opening but running backs have to be the focus for the next couple of rounds unless players fall in other positions.

Team 4: QB Lamar Jackson, RB Joe Mixon, WR Mike Evans

Here is where this league starts to differ. After the top three running backs are gone, a quarterback is a natural consideration. Both Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are likely first-round picks in this format and may even be in the Top-3 overall picks. This is similar to Team No. 3 only with running back and quarterback reversed. Because quarterbacks take up earlier picks in the first three rounds, quality running backs and wide receivers last longer.

Team 5: RB Dalvin Cook, RB Aaron Jones, QB Matthew Stafford

The plan looked great with two Top-10 running backs but by the third round, seven quarterbacks were gone. This should hold roughly true in most of these sorts of leagues. Waiting on a quarterback until the 4.08 would likely mean outside of the Top-10 for the position and potentially well out of that range. Starting with two Top-10 running backs is a solid start, and picking up a quarterback in the third was as much need as a strategy. The next several rounds have to consider wide receivers and a second quarterback.

Team 6: QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Kenny Golladay, WR DeAndre Hopkins

Middle-draft teams have to avoid building an average team and this certainly takes that to heart. Grabbing a quarterback to start is an advantage and then doubling-down on wide receivers netted two Top-8 players. From here until Round 8, running backs and a second quarterback have to be the focus.

Team 7: WR Michael Thomas, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, WR Chris Godwin

This plan does create formidable wide receivers and this format almost always involves reception points as well. While the drafter ignored quarterbacks, making that running back a high upside guy at least makes this feel like a good start. But the problem is that now QB1 and RB2 will be average at best. The team can still recover and build a fine team, but the margin for error is smaller.

Team 8: RB Alvin Kamara, QB Kyler Murray, RB Chris Carson

This is a safe start. Went with the No. 5 running back and managed to access the No. 4 quarterback. There are 15 picks until the team’s third-choice so getting that quarterback there ensures a difference-maker in the highest-scoring position. That third-round pick went with the No. 14 running back over the No. 8 wide receiver but the fourth round selection comes in just eight more turns and can consider wideout or quarterback.

Team 9: RB Derrick Henry, WR Tyreek Hill, RB Leonard Fournette

Opted for the No. 6 running back that fell with two quarterbacks taken. Then a Top-4 wide receiver felt good but delayed the quarterback. Still accessed a solid running back in the third round. This is a safe route, even if it doesn’t pay any homage to the format. Has to consider quarterbacks twice in the next few rounds or have a liability in the highest-scoring position.

Team 10: WR Davante Adams, RB Kenyan Drake, RB Le’ Veon Bell

Team 10 took a similar route as Team 9.  Elite wideout and two good running backs with upside will work but again – have to think about two quarterbacks by Round 5 or 6 or even average scoring will be a challenge. This feels safe but the only difference-maker is a wideout – the deepest position.

Team 11: RB Miles Sanders, TE Travis Kelce, QB Carson Wentz

Opting for the No. 7 running back feels safe and grabbing the best tight end is an advantage, even if it is the lowest scoring skill position. Turned to the No. 8 quarterback in the third round but could have also gone running back there and taken the quarterback in the fourth round. Wide receivers are going to be a liability unless team can land a sleeper or two.

Team 12: QB Dak Prescott, WR Julio Jones, WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Drafting last usually means taking a chance and this plan is solid. Gets that great quarterback and then doubles-up on wide receivers to get two Top-10 players. The next three rounds have to consider running back and even then, get lucky or have a hole in their starters. But if there are reception points, even running backs are deeper and this can work very well.