Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: A Blueprint for Winning Your Fantasy League
Last Saturday was National Draft Day in the fantasy football realm. But if you're like many fantasy owners, there are plenty of drafts left before the season begins.
Need a little guidance? You've come to the right place. Fantasy football drafts are rife with pitfalls and wrong turns that could lead your team to destruction before the season even begins.
Here is a blueprint for success in your remaining drafts based on experience, trends and analysis of the current state of affairs in the fantasy football realm.
Fortune Favors the Bold
Risk averse? Then this advice isn't for you. Move along to the next slide, if you please.
If you are willing to gamble a bit though, it's time you put your money where your mouth is.
Now, if you have one of the top three or four picks in the draft, it's difficult to argue against taking one of the top running backs. You could hardly go wrong with LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte or even Adrian Peterson.
But what if you had an opportunity to have a massive advantage at a position you would otherwise be unable to attain?
That's what New Orleans' Jimmy Graham gets you.
The outstanding tight end severely outscored the competition at his position last season, particularly in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, where his next-closest competitor was 87.7 points behind. Graham scored 303.5 points in the format, and there were only five other tight ends who even surpassed 200.
Of course, drafting Graham presents a problem—what will you do with the rest of the roster? You will have to be sharp to ensure you're not sunk at other positions, particularly running back.
Peyton Manning is staring you in the face late in the first round, or you are sitting on $186 in your $200 auction, hovering over the "bid" button at $43. What do you do?
The answer is you let him pass, unless you are playing in a two-quarterback league.
True, in some ways this directly contradicts the previous slide. Why not go after the top scoring quarterback in the league, cost be damned?
The difference between drafting the top quarterback rather than the top tight end or an elite player at another position—should he fall to you—is positional scarcity.
There is a massive drop-off between Jimmy Graham and the rest of the league save, perhaps, a healthy Rob Gronkowski in New England. That is not the case with Peyton Manning or any of the other elite quarterbacks.
That is, of course, unless you expect Manning to repeat his record-breaking shenanigans from a year ago. He might be great, but expecting that kind of output is like betting on the same lottery numbers with which you just won.
While it's certainly true that Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees will likely outscore the rest of the field if healthy, there are plenty of quality quarterbacks you can take later in drafts who will score well.
Take Russell Wilson, for example. If the preseason is any indication, the Seattle Seahawks starter is primed for a big season, particularly with a finally healthy Percy Harvin as a weapon. Even Wilson thinks he's in for a big improvement this season, per Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com:
It’s been an exceptional offseason for me so far, in terms of getting prepared for football. My body feels great. My arm feels really strong. My knowledge of the game has just grown so much more – exponentially more, I believe, from Year 1 to Year 2 and then from Year 2 to Year 3.
He has the ability to score fantasy points with his legs too, which helps him make up some of the difference with the top guys.
Beware of Your Surroundings
This should go without saying, but it's important to keep an eye on what your leaguemates are doing during the draft.
Say, for instance, you are drafting No. 3 overall and you still need a quarterback in the mid-rounds. Your pick is approaching in the sixth round, and there are other players at different positions on the board who you like. Do the two people picking behind you at the end of the round already have their signal-caller?
If so, you can reasonably assume that your target will make it back to you.
It may seem simple, but keeping tabs on what everyone else is doing could make a huge difference in the outcome of your draft.
Avoid Running Backs Early. No, Wait, Don't Do That!
Depending on whom you talk to, you should either avoid spending big money and drafting running backs altogether in the first few rounds, or blow your budget and go heavy at the position early.
The truth is, you can be successful utilizing either strategy. The question is: What makes you more comfortable?
Harkening back to the advice to be bold, avoiding a running back early takes guts. Most leagues require at least two starters at the position, and there is a definite cliff at the position after the top 20 or 25 guys.
You can avoid running backs early and still field a serviceable stable. Guys like Rashad Jennings, Ben Tate, Knowshon Moreno and Steven Jackson may not be sexy fantasy names, but they are likely starters who will garner plenty of opportunities to score fantasy points and make for solid backups.
Of course, there is something to be said for the tried and true method of starting out your draft with two or three running backs. It might be old school, but opening with such a salvo will ensure consistent production at two or three starting spots should you select the right backs.
A stable of backs featuring Matt Forte or LeSean McCoy and Andre Ellington or Reggie Bush will be among the strongest in your fantasy league. Of course, you may wind up having to play catch-up at wide receiver and settle for a second- or third-tier quarterback and tight end.
The point here is there are many ways to approach the running back position in a draft, any of which could lead you to success.
Waiting at running back means strength at other positions, but it requires more savvy to successfully pull off. Drafting backs early feels safer, but the wrong back could sink your season. Pick your potion or your poison.
Steer Clear of Rookies
It seems like a good idea, selecting a tantalizing rookie with a high draft pick, doesn't it?
The siren song rookies sing can lead to dangerous waters, however. For all the noise they make, highly drafted rookies don't tend to outperform their average draft position.
For example, rookie running backs drafted in the first round of the NFL draft over the past five seasons have been selected as the 23rd running back off fantasy boards, on average. Their average positional rank after their rookie years was nearly six spots lower.
As Andrew Porter of CBS Philly points out, the same is true for many rookie wide receivers:
Last season, Keenan Allen became only the 12th rookie receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in his first season. It’s a rarity. And rookies are “sexy” because we envision their talent and college ability immediately translating into the pro’s.
In other words, the highly touted rookies generally don't meet their value.
Of course, that doesn't mean you should avoid rookies altogether. The later you draft them, the greater chance they will turn out to be worthwhile. But guys like Bishop Sankey and Sammy Watkins—the highest-drafted rookies at running back and wide receiver right now, on average—are likely to disappoint relative to the players being drafted around them.
It's a Trap!
This should go without saying, but it bears repeating—wait to draft your kickers and defenses.
The itch will start early. The Seattle Seahawks defense will be sitting there in the ninth round after you have filled your starting lineup, taunting you.
"We're the best in the league! We have Richard Sherman. You're not gonna get us in the next round."
Don't do it.
It's a fine line between boldness and hubris. It may certainly seem like a bold move to take a defense early, but that's not quite the same as taking a chance on Jimmy Graham in the first round.
The Seahawks may be the best defense in the real world, but they were just the fifth-best fantasy defense in the league last season. The top-ranked unit? Kansas City, which was buoyed by a strong special teams side and some luck scoring touchdowns.
Incidentally, the Chiefs should have another nice year returning kicks, yet they are being taken much later than the vaunted Seahawks in drafts.
As for kickers, there is simply no reason to select one outside the final round, if at all. If you can avoid taking a kicker in your draft to roster an extra positional player, do it. You will have an opportunity to make a trade or one last evaluation before dropping a player and picking up a kicker prior to Week 1.
Above All Else...Have Fun
Fantasy football can be serious business.
Indeed, whether you are playing for $1 million or pride, the competitive spirit can drain any endeavor of its mirth.
Too many Sundays are spent fretting over ulcer-inducing fantasy scores, silently or loudly cursing at a player's performance or an untimely injury.
In the end, this is just a game within a game.
Let go and enjoy yourself. It may not really be advice for winning your league, but relaxing takes the sting out of losing. No matter how good you might be, losses are inevitable.