Fantasy Football Draft Strategy 2020: Blueprint to Forming a Winning Squad

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 30, 2020

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas warms up before an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

When it comes to playing fantasy football, it's important to remember that winning isn't the most important thing. Fantasy is about good sportsmanship, engaging in a bit of camaraderie and ensuring that everyone has some good, clean fun.

Who are we kidding? You play fantasy because you want to crush the competition, earn bragging rights and maybe humiliate a few friends or coworkers along the way. You're playing to win, and we're here with some tips to help construct a squad that will do just that.

It all starts with the fantasy draft, and that begins with a first-round selection.


Tip 1: Don't Gamble in the First Round

The first round should yield a centerpiece player who only comes out of the starting lineup during their bye week. Ideally, that player will be a workhorse or stud receiver like Christian McCaffrey or Michael Thomas. The one thing you cannot afford, though, is to draft a bust.

The first round is not where you want to take big risks. If you're selecting early, guys like McCaffrey, Thomas, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott should be high in the pick order. If you're at the back end of Round 1, high-volume players like Davante Adams and Julio Jones should be on your radar.

Risky picks include the oft-injured Dalvin Cook—who has missed 18 games over the past three seasons—and Derrick Henry.

While Henry is the reigning rushing leader, he doesn't possess much points-per-reception value. He has just 57 career receptions and is heavily dependent on his rushing workload. He had 303 carries last season, and there's no guarantee that he'll see a similar workload with rookie third-round pick Darrynton Evans in the fold.

Go with "safer" picks if at all possible in Round 1. If you insist on grabbing a guy like Cook or Henry, be sure to draft their handcuffs, Alexander Mattison and Evans, respectively.


Tip 2: Grab at Least One Running Back in the First Three Rounds

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

With No. 2 wideouts routinely topping the 1,000-yard mark, receiver is one of the deepest positions you're going to have in fantasy. It's harder to find high-end depth at running back.

Only 15 running backs topped 1,000 yards rushing in 2019. Even if you add high-end dual-threat backs like Austin Ekeler and Miles Sanders into the mix, you're only going to find 20 or so legitimate RB1 options

Conversely, 25 wide receivers topped 1,000 yards in 2019.

Ideally, you'll want to grab your RB1 before the end of Round 2, but there are cases where it makes sense to double up on pass-catchers. For example, it could make perfect sense to grab Thomas and Travis Kelce in a PPR draft that hasn't seen a major run on running backs.

Waiting until after Round 3 to get tour first running back can be disastrous, however. You can get lucky, of course, but there's a real chance of not even landing an NFL starter at that point.


Tip 3: Know the Latest Training Camp Buzz

While there's no preseason this year to use as an evaluation tool, it's still important to be up to date on the latest information. Keeping up with the latest training camp buzz can help make sense of projected roles and player health.

For example, the latest buzz out of Detroit Lions camp is that rookie running back and second-round pick D'Andre Swift is dealing with a leg injury that could linger into the regular season. This could keep him off the field initially and could limit his role weeks into 2020.

"I think [missing time] in general, with rookies, is a concern," Lions coach Matt Patricia said, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

While a rookie back like the Kansas City Chiefs' Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Cam Akers of the Los Angeles Rams could be worth an early gamble, Swift should be treated as more of a mid-round draft-and-stash prospect.


Tip 4: Do Take Some Risks Late

While it's important to begin with a safe and steady starting lineup, it is worth taking some risks late. While at least one or two of your bench slots should be used on handcuffs and insurance policies, it's worth betting on one or two boom-or-bust candidates.

Rookies are great to target for this purpose because they are unproven and can often be had late in drafts. Denver Broncos rookie wideout Jerry Jeudy, for example, currently has an average draft position of just 103, according to FantasyPros. This makes him roughly a ninth-round prospect in a 12-team format.

While there's no guarantee that Jeudy will quickly become one of Denver's top receivers, he could. Seattle Seahawks wideout DK Metcalf, for example, racked up 900 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie season last year. If Jeudy can have similar numbers, he'll outproduce his draft value and will potentially outproduce players picked ahead of him.

It's worth betting on an upside player like Jeudy rather than taking a middling veteran just because he has proven production. Your bench shouldn't be treated as a holding bin for bye-week fill-ins. You should draft players who can help you win key bye-week situations, not just survive them. And if they really overperform, you suddenly have a premier trade chip once the bye week blues have been navigated.

If one of your late-round gambles looks to be a bust, you can typically still trade him in for a bye-week fill-in off the waiver wire.