Fantasy Football Draft Strategy 2019: Blueprint to Forming a Winning Squad

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2019

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 27: Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys gets introduced before the 2019 NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium on January 27, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Mark Brown/Getty Images

In theory, building a championship-caliber fantasy football team is straightforward. Pick high-scoring players at each position, and you'll do well.

In practice, however, things aren't that simple. Yes, you want to target productive players during your fantasy draft, but a handful of fantasy studs isn't enough to deliver a title. Your entire team must consistently outperform the opposition, so getting value in Round 10 is just as important as picking the right player in Round 1.

Given limited lineup options, managers also have to how heavily and when they are going to prioritize positions. Doubling up on running backs to start a draft is a fine strategy, but placing too much emphasis on the position can leave you without a single No. 1 receiver on your roster.

Here we'll examine some basic guidelines for your fantasy draft, along with some tips and trends specific to the 2019 season.


Know Your Format, Draft Accordingly

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The idea of starting a draft with two running backs has already been mentioned. This is a sound plan in standard-scoring formats but not always the best course of action in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues. Adding an extra point or half-point for each catch heavily boosts the value of wide receivers and tight ends.

For a receiver like the Pittsburgh Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had 111 receptions last season, that's a lot of extra points.

Knowing your format should also help to determine which players deserve to be valued at each position. If you're looking at running backs in a PPR league, a player like James White (87 receptions in 2018) is likely to have far more value than teammate Sony Michel (seven receptions in 2018), even though Michel is slated to be the starter.

Knowing your format isn't just helpful at the skill positions, either. Know how your league awards points for quarterbacks and draft accordingly.

Does your league award points for rushing to signal-callers at the same rate as running backs? A dual-threat quarterback like Josh Allen—who had 631 yards and eight touchdowns rushing in 2018—suddenly becomes a viable starting option.

You may not have to reach for Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers to come out with one of the league's top fantasy quarterbacks. If so, you will be able to use a high draft pick on another valuable skill player. 


Pay Attention to Targets

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When evaluating running backs, it's fairly easy to determine who is a workhorse and who is not. For the top wide receivers, the process is also fairly simple. Guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams and Julio Jones are regularly among the league-leaders in reception.

When you get into the middle rounds of the draft, though, things can get a little trickier with pass-catchers. You can look at Adrian Peterson and see that he had 251 carries in 2018, thereby noting that he had a significant workload.

When you look at, say, Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Dede Westbrook, you'll only see that he had 66 receptions for 715 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers aren't indicative of a heavy past workload or a sizeable on in 2019.

If you take the time to dig through NFL Next Gen Stats, however, you'll see that Westbrook was targeted 101 times in 2018. This means Jacksonville tried to get him the ball at least 100 times last season.

By knowing how often a player might be targeted, you can better predict a player's ceiling. With a more consistent and accurate Nick Foles under center for Jacksonville instead of Blake Bortles, those same 101 targets could turn into 80 receptions for Westbrook instead of the 66 he had last season.

Using Westbrook's 11.4 career yards-per-reception average as a guide, he could see a production increase of more than 200 yards just form improved quarterback play. An increased target rate could quickly push Westbrook past the 1,000-yard mark.

Consider both proven production and potential when evaluating pass-catchers.


Stay Up to Date on Ongoing Situations

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It's always a good idea to stay on top of preseason storylines ahead of your fantasy draft. It's all the more important in 2019, however, because there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding some of fantasy's top stars.

If you're unsure of just how it may affect your fantasy team, consider this: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck announced his retirement late Saturday night.

While none may result in a surprise retirement, there are other situations that bear watching. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, for example, is still holding out for a new contract. The prospect of adding a two-time league rushing champion is enticing, but if Elliott doesn't report, he can't help your fantasy team.

With a deal not imminent, Elliott becomes a huge risk in Round 1.

"I don't think we're close because there's not a lot of activity," Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones told 105.3 The Fan.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, who is staging his own contract holdout, is a similar risk.