Fantasy Football Draft Strategy for First Timers and Veterans
Fantasy Football Draft Strategies are like parents with a newborn baby, in that people always believe they have the best one in the world and nobody can tell them different. Well, let me assure you that I am not one of those people. However, I have been playing the game for a solid decade and I think I can offer some sound advice like pointing out a few fantasy football sleepers to draft and busts to avoid. Hopefully in the end it will help you bring home the title of Fantasy Football League Champion.
I plan on running the gamut of fantasy football information. While draft strategy is the meat and potatoes of this piece, I also plan on touching on a few other areas that are important when participating in a fantasy football league. You might think this is unnecessary because everyone already plays fantasy football but I know a few people who have resisted the temptation to play until this year, so this is for them and everyone else out their that is just getting their feet wet in the ocean that is fantasy football.
So without further ado, let’s start with some pre-draft activities that are essential if you’re looking to dominate the competition.
Know the Lineup Positions
The first thing to look into when developing your fantasy football draft strategy is how the team lineups are setup, because in a lot of cases no two leagues are the same. Over the years I’ve played in all sorts of leagues that had lineups ranging from starting two quarterbacks, flex positions (running backs or wide receivers), individual defensive players and even a league where you started a punter. Alright I made that last one up, but the point is you need to know the positions you’re looking to fill before you start drafting players.
If I had to choose the most common setup for a league, it usually involves starting one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one entire defensive unit. So let’s go through the importance of the positions one by one. FYI, this will be more of a general philosophy overview as I will get into specific players later on.
With quarterbacks there seems to be two schools of thought on when you should draft one. Some people believe in drafting an elite quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) early on while others will wait for the middle rounds to draft an under the radar quarterback (Josh Freeman) who could have a big year. It’s a tough call as far is which one is the better strategy because it all depends on what draft position you have and how the other players in the league are drafting.
Next, like the pretty girl in high school, running backs seem to get all of the attention come draft time. But it can be a tricky position to draft given the recent trend of teams leaning towards using a running back by committee approach. I suggest using your first round pick on one of the elite backs to help anchor your squad.
Then we have the wide receiver position. With teams utilizing more three wide receiver sets than ever before, I think this is the position that you can find the most value at late in a draft. Now don’t get me wrong, if you went running back in the first round and someone like Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald is there in the second round, don't be afraid to pull the trigger on that pick.
Finally we’ll wrap this up with the tight end, kicker and defense positions. There are only a handful of tight ends that are really worthy of an early pick and by early I mean fifth or sixth round, after that you might as well wait. You can also wait on selecting a defense until the last few rounds, and in my opinion you should always wait until the last round to draft a kicker.
Know the Scoring System
Now I mentioned that a lot of leagues have different lineups and that it’s important to know how the lineups are set up so you can draft appropriately. Well the same can be said about knowing the scoring system of your league. A lot of them differ on the amount of yards a running back or receiver has to gain before getting a point, and some are PPR which means point per reception. This makes a huge difference when developing your fantasy football draft strategy and makes possession type receivers much more valuable in some leagues.
While it’s hard to nail down the most common scoring format, I’ll give it a shot.
Quarterbacks usually get one point for every 25 yards passing and four points for a touchdown pass. Most leagues also penalize quarterbacks two points for throwing interceptions, so take not Eli fans. In some leagues you may find that they do PPC or points per completion, which really benefits guys like Drew Brees.
Running backs, wide receivers and tight ends all usually get one point for every 10 yards gained, though some leagues push that to 20 yards for receivers and tight ends. They all get six points for touchdowns and if they fumble the ball that’s negative two points.
Kickers get one point for an extra point, three points for field goals under 40 yards, four points if it’s between 40-49 and five points if it’s 50 yards or longer.
The scoring for defenses is fairly complicated so I’ll simply say that shutouts will get you the most points and it decreases the more points your team defense gives up, to the point where if their giving up 24 points or more than you're getting negative points. Interceptions, fumble recoveries and sacks are all worth points and if they turn into touchdown returns than that’s another six points. Also, special teams are usually included with defenses and kick or punt returns are worth six points.
That’s just some of the basic stuff; as you’ll often see bonus points given out for things like a quarterback throwing for more than 300 yards or a running back or wide receiver gaining more than 200 yards. So be sure to look into all of these details before your draft to help you choose which players will be worth more.
Finding the Perfect Name for Your Team
Alright, so this one’s not exactly an essential part of your draft strategy but before you can draft a player you have to have a team to put him on. Plus, fantasy football is supposed to be fun, and naming your team gives you the chance to be creative and original while adding a personal touch to the whole thing.
First things first, aside from being unreasonably vulgar or offensive, I don’t think there should be any rules when it comes to naming your team. Some people like to stick to the classic dynamic of using a location first and then some sort of nickname.
For instance, maybe the Situation plays fantasy football, in which case the Jersey Shore Man Whores would be a good choice for him. Or maybe you’re a Vikings fan who also happens to love comic strips about big goofy dogs, than the Minnesota Marmadukes could be the perfect fit for you.
Another popular method involves taking the name of a player and inserting it into a phrase or pop culture reference. Cardinals fans may be excited for the Kolbert Report or maybe you're one of the often forgotten about female fantasy footballers out there, then something like the Philadelphia Vickzens (like Vixen) might appeal to you.
Personally, I’m thinking of naming my team the Sandman's Squad. That way when people ask me about the name I can cleverly reply, “It’s a dream team baby!”
Draft Time: Who Ya Got?
So you know your league's setup, you’ve looked into all of the scoring rules, and you’ve got a general idea of what kind of strategy you’re going to use, now you just need to know which players will help you get it done.
This is just a brief look and mostly includes my top five at each position as well as a potential bust and sleeper pick too. There are numerous other articles on this site that will give you really in-depth looks at every position if that's what your looking for. Personally I like to wait until after Week 3 of the preseason before I do my draft because of injuries and position battles still being fought. So by next week I should be able to offer you a more thorough list of all the relevant players.
At the top I’m taking Aaron Rodgers over Michael Vick. Even though Vick is the bigger dual threat and will likely have some huge games, I think Rodgers will put up the more consistent numbers and is less likely to get injured.
Then after those two I’d go with Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers in that order.I think Brady has the highest upside of these three and could easily put up the best numbers out of all the quarterbacks if Ocho Cinco can fit in and Wes Welker stays healthy.
When it comes to possible bust candidates I’ll say Peyton Manning. As of now you have to really worry about taking Manning, neck injuries are no joke and at this point I would stay away from taking him at all.When healthy the guy is usually a point scoring machine but it's just to risky.
While I mentioned Josh Freeman earlier, I don't think he qualifies as a sleeper pick because last year he was actually the seventh best QB in terms of fantasy numbers, so I’ll go with Kevin Kolb as my sleeper. Without much of a run game, I look for the Cardinals to throw a lot and when you have Larry Fitzgerald on the outside, there should be plenty of big-play opportunities.
Running Back Rankings
At the top of the heap we have Adrian Peterson who is a beast and a workhorse; in fact he’s inspired me to create the word beasthorse in his honor. The offense as a whole has changed with Brett Favre and Sidney Rice no longer around but they didn't contribute much last year anyways so things shouldn't be much different. And say what you will about Donovan McNabb's quarterbacking skills, but it's pretty hard to screw up a handoff.
After Peterson, I’m going Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles. Rice really intrigues me with Vontae Leach plowing the way and the Ravens propensity to run the ball, so if Johnson’s holdout continues consider moving Rice up.
In terms of a bust, I look at Maurice Jones Drew to be a possible candidate. Last year was a down year for him and he got banged up at the end of the season when it mattered most. So far this year he has yet to play in a preseason game and I worry about his ability to stay healthy and productive for the entire season.
For a sleeper running back, I say take a look at LeGarrette Blount who hardly played at all in the first six games last year but then ran for 100-plus yards in three of his last five games.
Wide Receiver Rankings
While Andre Johnson seems to be the consensus No. 1 pick for wide receivers, I actually like Calvin Johnson just as much. Calvin put up better numbers than Andre last year even with a carousel of different quarterbacks throwing him the ball. He and Matthew Stafford have great chemistry and if Stafford stays healthy I think Megatron has a big year.
After those two receivers I’d go Roddy White, Hakim Nicks and Greg Jennings. Nicks is especially interesting because the Giants' secondary is so depleted that I think they’ll be in a lot of shootouts, i.e. throwing the ball a lot. White had the most targets of any receiver last year and the Falcons added Julio Jones to help open up the field, but it may cost Roddy some looks.
My top bust candidate would be Reggie Wayne, which goes hand in hand with my Peyton Manning worries. Though even with a healthy Manning, the ball gets spread around so much to Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, etc, that I worry Wayne’s numbers will suffer regardless of who's throwing the ball to him
The sleeper spot at wideout was a hard one to figure, but I like Malcom Floyd of the San Diego Chargers. The guy is 6'5" and had an eight catch 200-plus yard game last year when Vincent Jackson was out. Now he’s the third option after Antonio Gates and Jackson, but the Chargers offense is high powered enough that he’ll still get his share of receptions.
Tight End Rankings
Antonio Gates might want to go the Chad Johnson route and change his name to numero uno, because that's what he is in my book. It's crazy to imagine but before he got hurt in Week 8 last year Gates was on pace for 1,326 yards receiving and 18 touchdowns. The man missed six weeks and was still the second highest scoring tight end in fantasy football.
Beyond Gates you should be looking at Dallas Clark, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley. Clark was also having a quality season last year before falling victim to injury, but he's fully recovered and someone the Colts often look to in the red zone. I really like Vernon Davis and would consider ranking him even higher but with Alex Smith at quarterback I just can't do it.
I guess if I had to pick a bust it would be Mercedes Lewis. I'm not sure people are that high on him to make him a bust but technically he was the fourth ranked tight end in scoring last year.
My sleeper pick at tight end is Brent Celek, which is definitely biased considering I own the man's jersey, but not completely ludicrous. Last year he was hampered by a wrist injury and the need for him to play much more of a blocking role with the Eagles line having issues. This year with a clean bill of health and the line in better shape, I think Celek's in for a solid season.
Defense and Kicker Rankings
Yeah I'm combining these two, I mean no disrespect to kickers but... hell I don't care if they are disrespected, I think I could take most of them anyways.
The Steelers, Jets and Packers were the highest scoring defenses last year and they're all just as strong this year. You've also got to be intrigued by the Eagles defense because with the additions they've made I look for their sack and interception numbers to be up, and those interceptions can lead to the always popular pick No. 6.
With kickers I'm not even going to get name specific. Just look for one who plays for a good offense and if he plays in a dome then double bonus, it's a good pick.
The Battle Might Be Over but the War Has Just Begun
The draft is without a doubt the biggest part of creating a successful fantasy football team, but it's not the end all be all. Many a league have been won through smart trades and timely waiver wire pickups. Once you've got your entire team drafted it's important to take a look at what you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses so you can make any necessary changes.
Look around at some of the other teams in the league because often times you'll find that someone might have more players at a certain position than they can fully utilize. Don't ever be afraid to offer up a trade because the worst that can happen is that they'll reject it and maybe send you back a counter offer.
Also make sure to keep an eye out in the season's first few weeks for players who may have been overlooked in the draft. I wouldn't make any drastic changes after one week but if there's a spot on your bench and a free agent that's off to a good start, snatch him up quick before someone else does.
So best of luck to all you fantasy footballers out there. Whether you're new to the game or a seasoned veteran, I hope you found something useful to help make your Sundays more successful.