Everyone wants to win their fantasy football leagues. The $100 question is how is the best way to go about it?
Millions of fantasy football drafts are rapidly approaching, and there are differences of opinion on how to build a championship team. Do you try to load up at one position? Do you heavily factor in players’ bye weeks? Do you stay way from New York Jets like they are contagious colds?
Fantasy owners will always debate which strategy is the best. With a week or less to go before your drafts, it is time for you to make your own decision. Here are several fantasy football strategies and where I would rank them in terms of the best for winning leagues.
Fantasy football revolves around running backs like Cheeseheads revolve around Aaron Rodgers. Don’t believe me? Just look at every fantasy draft you have ever been in and see which position has dominated the first round and/or the first two rounds. Read every fantasy magazine and notice which position has the most players listed in the Top 20.
The fantasy teams with the best one-two or one-two-three punch at running back will normally come out victorious, and that is why going RB-heavy is perennially the top tried-and-true strategy among fantasy owners.
In most fantasy leagues you can start three running backs each week—two at RB and one as your flex player, usually reserved for any RB, WR or TE you want to use. But RB are more consistent at putting up points than receivers are, so if you can stock up on running backs you put your fantasy squad in better shape than Jillian Michaels.
And having a talented collection of running backs really sets apart the good fantasy teams from the bad once the bye weeks start decimating rosters. If you have three or four starting tailbacks, then it is not an automatic loss when one of your best backs is off. Plus it gives you trade commodities if you need a QB or WR later in the season, because most fantasy clubs will need a RB at one point or another.
Quality running backs are harder to come by than in past years since more NFL organizations are deciding to opt for the dreaded running back by committee model. So when you have a chance to nab big-time backs during your draft, loading up on them is never a bad idea.
The NFL has become a pass-first league. Look no further than the last three Super Bowls. The New England Patriots, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts all had offenses that were built around their quarterbacks and receivers, not their running backs.
So between passing being at an all-time high and more (if not most) NFL teams believing a two-headed running attack is better than having a workhorse getting 25 carries per game, quarterbacks are now right up there with running backs in fantasy rankings.
Here is the problem: Most fantasy leagues only make you use one quarterback in your weekly lineup. Because of this, the value of quarterbacks shrinks like Dexter McCluster because there are so many amazing ones available.
Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Michael Vick are all fantasy superstars. Tack on the returning Peyton Manning and rookie phenoms Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, and every team in your league could very well have a premier QB.
Now, if you are in a fantasy league where you must play two QB per week, then going QB-heavy makes more sense. But considering in the average league you can only use one QB but you can activate three RB in your lineup, the QB-heavy strategy has to come in as second-best.
3. Top Player Available
Abiding by this strategy means what it sounds like. When drafting your fantasy squad, instead of worrying about positional need you take whomever is the top player available on your draft board. Could be a wide receiver, could be a tight end, could be a defense.
I am not the biggest fan of this strategy. If you are really lacking running back depth during the midway point of your draft, are you seriously going to pass over a RB for a 900-yard WR when receivers can always be found during the course of a season? Sometimes common sense has to be taken into account.
This strategy may be the best way to acquire talent, but you may wind up with too many receivers and tight ends and not enough quarterbacks and running backs, and there is no guarantee you can make trades to fill the gaps on your roster.
4. Stacking the Bye Weeks
Some fantasy owners pay less attention to bye weeks when they assemble their teams than Howard Stern does to the FCC when he does his satellite radio show.
But some owners prefer to draft players that share the same bye week or weeks, opting to be severely shorthanded for one or two weeks instead of missing a key player during each week of the season.
I personally only pay attention to bye weeks when I draft running backs and quarterbacks. I do not want a situation where my top two QB are off the same week and I am stuck with Tarvaris Jackson as my signal caller. And starting running backs are so difficult to find and hold onto that I never want my No. 1 and No. 2 or No.1 and No. 3 RB vacationing at the same time.
Stacking bye weeks might give you a full squad for most of the weeks during the middle of the season, but who is to say you will not be shorthanded anyway? Injuries, suspensions and players losing their jobs could decimate your lineup just like bye weeks could, and then stacking your bye weeks would all be for naught.
5. Building Around Kickers
Who needs Drew Brees at QB, Arian Foster at RB and Larry Fitzgerald at WR when all you need is a 140-point kicker to win your fantasy league?
Guys who make all their extra points and 80 percent of their field goals are harder to find than porky guys on an offensive line or Cincinnati Bengals with criminal records. This is why if you shock the world and draft a kicker in the first couple rounds while everyone is distracted by 1,400-yard rushers and 4,000-yard passers, you will have a leg up on your competition—literally.
You could make a semi-valid argument that San Francisco’s David Akers won more fantasy leagues for people last year than any other player, thanks to his record-breaking performance. The guy kicked more field goals in a season than anybody in history. That one extra FG he made per week was probably the difference between many fantasy squads making money and making squat.
And the only thing better than having one amazing kicker is having two of them! Take Akers in the second round and then New England’s Stephen Gostkowski in the fourth round! The other owners in your league will be caught off-guard as much as Tom Brady is when he gets sacked. Owners stuck with Nick Folk or Billy Cundiff might come crawling to you for one of your kickers and trade you the world.
Feel free to test this strategy out if you are in a free league or a league where you do not mind flushing money down the toilet.