While daily fantasy sports are all the rage, season-long fantasy football leagues can still be quite satisfying for NFL fans and fantasy enthusiasts alike.
The weekly grind of managing rosters and working the waiver wire does take work, but there's nothing quite like owning bragging rights over friends, family and colleagues when you win it all.
With season-long leagues, everything starts with your fantasy draft. You're likely to struggle if you cannot manage your roster properly, but you're definitely going to struggle if you don't start with a solid foundation.
How do you build a solid foundation? With a winning draft strategy, of course. This doesn't only mean picking productive players, it means knowing when and how to fill out each spot on your fantasy roster.
Here, we'll examine the ideal strategy for each spot on a traditional fantasy roster—quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, defense/special teams and kicker—using a 12-team league as a guideline.
The 12-Team League, 2-Round Mock
We're focusing on a 12-team league here for two reasons. It is a common league size, and it involves a bit more strategy than, say an eight-team league. If you're drafting in a standard snake format, the jump from eight to 12 teams means an additional eight picks will pass between every other selection—as demonstrated below.
This means you have fewer chances to grab the players you really want. You're less likely to end up in a league full of loaded rosters, where luck plays a bigger factor than roster management.
Team 1: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Team 2: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
Team 3: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Team 4: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Team 5: Le'Veon Bell, RB, New York Jets
Team 6: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Team 7: David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Team 8: Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
Team 9: James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Team 10: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Team 11: Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Team 12: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
Team 12: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Team 11: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Team 10: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns
Team 9: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Team 8: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Team 7: Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Team 6: Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
Team 5: Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
Team 4: Damien Williams, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Team 3: Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Team 2: Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Team 1: George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
Running Backs and Receivers
The ideal draft strategy is similar for both running backs and receivers—at least in the early rounds. You want to target clear No. 1 options who are high-volume players and who tend to remain on the field in every situation.
Because of this, every-down running backs tend to be more valuable than elite receivers in standard scoring formats. If your league only awards points for yardage and touchdowns, then a three-down back like Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott is the ideal choice early in Round 1. These guys rarely come off the field and are the centerpieces of their respective offenses.
IF you're in a points-per-reception (PPR) league, however, the gap between top backs and top receiver narrows considerably. Yes, adding points for catches does increase the value of every-down running backs, but it really ups the value of guys like DeAndre Hopkins, who caught 115 balls last season.
If you're going to take a receiver in the first round, however, volume is key. You want to target a player like Hopkins or Davante Adams, who are consistently the focal point of the passing attack.
As Matt Schneidman of The Athletic recently pointed out, Hopkins had 118 more targets than the next-highest targeted receiver on the Houston Texans offense.
Adams had 56 more targets than the next-highest targeted player for the Green Bay Packers. Even if guys like Hopkins and Adams have off days, they're highly unlikely to be a fantasy blank.
When it comes to depth, look for starting backs and No. 1 receiver on mid-level offenses. Adrian Peterson is a prime example. He played on the league's 28th-ranked offense last season (299.7 yards per game) but still managed to produce 1,042 yards rushing, 208 yards receiving, 20 receptions and eight touchdowns.
If you're in a PPR league, also keep your eyes open for pass-catching third-down backs, like new Texans back Duke Johnson—he caught 40 passes in 2018 and has 122 over the past two seasons.
While quarterback is the most important position on a real football team, it's rarely going to be the most important spot on your fantasy roster. This is largely because of how leagues tend to award points at the quarterback position.
Many leagues award one point for 25 yards passing and four points per passing touchdown. Under those guidelines, a 300-yard, two-touchdown game would produce 20 points. A 250-yard, one-touchdown game would result in just six fewer points—roughly the same difference of three receptions and 30 yards for a receiver in PPR formats.
The gap between the top fantasy quarterbacks and the next tier isn't as great as it is at running back and wide receiver. It's nice to land a breakout fantasy quarterback like Patrick Mahomes, but do not overdraft your signal-caller.
If you draft Mahomes in, say, the second round, you might end up with 5,000 yards passing and 50 touchdowns—roughly his numbers from last year. However, you can probably fill out your running back and receiver spots and grab a guy like Ben Roethlisberger in Round 5 or 6. Roethlisberger's numbers last year? 5,129 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Entering Round 6, you should have your top two backs and top two receivers selected. You do not have to have a quarterback by that point. This is especially true if your league awards points for rushing to quarterbacks at the same rate as running backs.
A scrambling quarterback like Russell Wilson or Josh Allen may net you upwards of 10 additional points per week based on rushing stats. They're the type of valuable quarterbacks you can find later in the draft.
Things are a little bit different at tight end. The gap between your top tight ends and the next tier is massive, and it's going to dictate how you should approach your draft.
"Apart from a handful of elite producers, the tight ends group is increasingly becoming a wasteland," Danny Kelly of The Ringer wrote.
Kelly is spot on here.
Top tight ends like Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz should be valued about the same as premier wide receivers—because these guys are essentially the top receiving targets on their teams. These guys can be targeted within the first couple of rounds, but otherwise, tight end is a position that can be ignored until much later in the draft.
Ertz, Kittle and Kelce were the only three tight ends to top 1,000 yards. Jared Cook was next with 896 yards, and he had 20 receptions fewer than Kittle—who had the fewest of the aforementioned three.
If you don't land a premier tight end, ignore the position until the middle rounds at the earliest. There simply isn't a massive difference between a guy like Cook and a David Njoku or an O.J. Howard. There's the elite, and then there's everyone else.
When it comes to drafting your D/ST, it pays to know how your league awards points. These are usually awarded based on the number of real-game points allowed. For example, your D/ST may get 25 points for a shutout, 10 points for 14-21 points allowed and -10 points for allowing 40 points.
Target defenses that don't allow many points—the Chicago Bears topped this category in 2018, allowing just 17.7 per game—but place even more emphasis here if the scoring range for points allowed varies greatly.
If your league awards just a few points more for a shutout than for 21 points allowed, you can probably wait until the second-to-last round to grab your defense.
Just keep in mind to factor in turnovers, sacks and special-teams touchdowns here. If you can't grab an elite scoring defense, look for one that regularly produces in these categories.
Do not draft a kicker before the last round. Pick one who plays for a high-scoring offense, take him with your final pick and don't fret too much about your decision. This is the easiest position to correct during the season via the waiver wire.