Draft day in fantasy football can be one of the most looked forward to days of the year. It’s the day to decide which players you will spend the next four months with, for better or for worse. As fun as draft day can be, it’s a lot less enjoyable if you go in completely unprepared and hate your team two hours later. In an attempt to avoid an embarrassing showing in front of your friends on draft day, below are 12 tips to dominate your draft.
If you remember one thing from this article, remember this: fantasy football draft strategy is most effective when it’s all your own. While, of course, you want to read and listen to everything you can, you should try to go into a fantasy draft with an opinion of players based on your own personal research.
Don’t be afraid to zig when the rest of your league is zagging. If “Zero RB” is a popular strategy one year, that might be the best time to load up on running backs early and buck the trend. If you did that in 2019, you’d probably be in the playoff hunt all season long.
All too often, the new strategies that get passed around as conventional wisdom will fail because the one thing you can count on in fantasy football is the complete and utter unpredictability of events.
1. Expect the Unexpected
The first piece of advice to remember for fantasy football is to always expect the unexpected. That means your contingency plans need to have contingency plans of their own. And in order to make that happen on the fly with the pressure of the clock ticking down in the draft room, you must be as prepared as possible.
Preparation is the biggest factor that will separate the casual fantasy owner who plays for fun, from the fantasy owner that is perennially in the playoffs and cashes checks at the end of the year.
2. Participate in Mock Drafts
The best way to prepare for a fantasy draft is to participate in mock drafts. Mocks are invaluable at informing you of a player’s average draft position, which is the place in the draft where each player is picked on average.
If a player you really want is going on average with the 75th overall pick, and you’re sitting there at pick #70 without another selection on until pick #82, you probably want to take your guy now rather than take the risk and wait for another round.
By participating in multiple mock drafts, this kind of calculus will come as second-hand nature because you’ve likely already played the scenario out in practice. Once you’ve done enough mocks, you will start to develop a plan of attack for your draft. Depending on what players you pick, and from what position you’re picking from, that plan of attack will change and evolve until you have multiple plans for every scenario imaginable.
In a snake draft, there are going to be many times where a player you want gets picked right before your selection. Most teams will panic when this happens. They will frantically pull up player profiles and try to find out who the heck could possibly replace the player they were pining over. If you’ve done your draft prep, however, you will casually select the next best player for your team’s needs without the bat of an eyelash.
3. Don’t Skimp on Research
Mocks are meaningless, though if you haven’t already formed opinions on players. How do you know who you like unless you’ve done the research? You may play fantasy every year and think you can simply remember which players you like and which players you don’t, but that is the fastest way to a losing record. Fantasy football evolves at a frenetic pace, and if you haven’t done your research, you’ll be completely lost on draft day.
Research can take many different forms, but one of the most engaging ways to do your research is listening to podcasts. Find a couple of outlets you like and subscribe to their podcast. This is an easy way to get your prep work in, often on a daily basis if you’re a serious player. You can listen while you’re in the car, taking a shower, or with your morning coffee. For many people that would prefer to listen than to read through multiple articles, podcasts are the ultimate way to prep on the go.
4. Follow Multiple Sources
When listening to podcasts and following experts on Twitter, you will invariably gravitate to the people you like the best. Maybe it’s the chemistry a team has on-air, or you like the writing style of a particular writer. There’s nothing wrong with trusting one source over another, especially when you have a crucial decision to make, and the expert’s opinion is the deciding factor. But during your prep time, try not to focus on only one website or fantasy outlet giving advice.
Hearing multiple opinions on a player or strategy will help you to see each aspect from all angles. You want to be able to decipher both a player’s upside, and his downside, and calculate how likely each outcome is.
Some websites are going to have their favorite players to tout, and if you only follow one source, you will likely end up with a lot of those players on your team come draft day. But everyone is wrong every once in a while about specific players. If you only listen to one source, you may be missing out on many other potentially valuable options.
5. Identify Sleepers and Busts
One of the most popular articles you’ll see written across the fantasy football industry during the draft season is a “Sleeper and Bust” article. The definition of a “sleeper” can vary, but ultimately it means an undervalued player.
A sleeper is usually a late draft pick that you believe will rise to fantasy glory out of the realm of obscurity. But a sleeper doesn’t always have to be a late draft pick; it could also be a fifth-round running back that you believe will return first or second-round value.
Often, word will get out on a sleeper, and that player’s average draft position will start rising dramatically. When the “sleeper” is no longer sleeping, he’s probably a player that you will want to avoid. These popular sleepers not only lose the draft value that was there in early mocks, but they may also now come with a built-in premium that you have to pay on draft day. So, be on the lookout for players that have severe helium and avoid paying the premium.
A bust is a player that you believe will underperform their draft-day value. A bust can be in any round, and accurately predicting which players will bust is the fastest way to a fantasy football championship.
Players that bust usually come into the season with high ceilings, but low floors. You can afford to have one or two of these players, but they shouldn’t be the core of your team. Try to spend your early draft capital on players with high floors, and hopefully, similarly high ceilings.
Players with low floors are often players that have recently switched teams, for example, Odell Beckham going from the Giants to the Browns. OBJ has been a fantasy darling for years, and now he was going to a team with a hot young quarterback and an offensive-minded head coach. Fantasy gold, right? Not even close. Those that drafted Odell in the first or second round will likely pay for it with an uneventful December, on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
When a player switches teams, they have a brand new system to learn, and new players to gel with. Team chemistry can only go so far on the practice field. Once the real games start, teams and players that haven’t played together will often get exposed for a while before finally clicking. So, for this reason, try to avoid players that have changed teams with your early selections.
6. Take the Best Player Available
You’ll often hear the strategy of “take the best player available” in a fantasy football draft. But what does that mean? It doesn’t mean taking the player projected for the most points, because that player will almost always be a quarterback. The issue with taking a quarterback early is that the difference in expected points for the #1 quarterback may not be all that dissimilar than the expected point total for the #8 quarterback.
For example, in 2019, ESPN projected Patrick Mahomes for 342 fantasy points as the #1 rated quarterback heading into the season. The #12 player on their projections was Russell Wilson, projected for 279.4 points. That difference of 62.6 points accounts for just 3.78 points per week. That number is not insignificant, but it’s also unlikely to make a difference in your matchup on a weekly basis.
The unpredictability at the quarterback position is another reason not to draft a QB early. Currently, Russell Wilson is the #1 quarterback in fantasy and headed for a potential MVP season. Yet, if you drafted by ESPN’s projections, you could have been the last player in a 12-team league to take a quarterback and ended up with Wilson.
This ties back into the “take the best player available” strategy because it’s easy to get caught up in the process of filling out each position on your roster during the draft. Say you’ve drafted a stud running back, two wide receivers and a tight end in the first four picks of your draft. You aren’t in love with any of the running backs on the board in round five, so you decide to draft Drew Brees to fill your quarterback position.
You think to yourself, “how could this be a bad strategy?” Even if you reached a round or two early for Brees, you filled out your lineup with a future hall of fame quarterback. Well, the reason you screwed up in this scenario is that you could have likely drafted a quarterback that would come close to equaling or exceeding Brees’ production five or six rounds later. While you may not be in love with the names on the board in round five, you’re going to need as much depth as you can get over the course of an attrition-based fantasy football season.
Depth is an essential aspect of fantasy football and is the primary reason to draft the best player available. Even if it means drafting your fourth running back, in the game of football, injuries are rampant. Especially at the running back position with a player that touches the ball and gets hit 15-25 times a game.
The amount of touches running backs get is also what makes them so valuable, and it’s what makes it even more painful when they get hurt. So, always load your team up with as much depth as possible. And for this reason, try always to draft the best player available even if it’s not an immediate need for your starting lineup.
7. Wait on QB?
Waiting to draft a quarterback is a tried and true strategy employed by most seasoned fantasy owners. However, it may not be as clear cut of a strategy as some have made it out to be. Just when you think you have something figured out in fantasy football, the game will throw you for a loop.
Your strategy for quarterback first comes down to how your league approaches the position. In some beginner leagues, quarterbacks fly off the board early. If this is the case in a league that only starts one quarterback, you should happily draft up all of the talented players at other positions that your league mates are passing up and take the 12th ranked quarterback on the board. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a Lamar Jackson or Russell Wilson in 2019 who competes for the MVP.
However, if you’re in a more advanced league that continues to pass on a quarterback like the plague, don’t be afraid to dip your toes in the QB pool a little earlier than everyone else. If it’s round four and Patrick Mahomes is still available, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
The most important thing to understand at quarterback is what advantage you’re gaining over your league. Having Mahomes puts you at an advantage over every other team when you match up. Drafting Aaron Rodgers may also give you an edge over most other teams. But in other leagues, when quarterbacks are picked early, the advantage you gain by waiting is beefing up your roster at different positions.
The key is to know when your advantage evaporates. At some point, especially if your league drafts backup quarterbacks, you’ll end up rolling the dice with a mixed bag of quarterbacks that may cost you the season if you can’t find a viable replacement. Just ask the Mitch Trubisky owners in 2019 if you don’t believe me.
8. Create Player Tiers
This leads us to the best fantasy football strategy there is, and that is creating tiers at each position. Creating tiers for players is hands down the number one most valuable strategy for preparing for a fantasy draft. With established tiers of players, you’ll have a much better idea of who to draft at each pick.
For example, if there is a deep tier of mid-round quarterbacks available, you can afford to wait and select a QB towards the back of the tier right before it drops off to the group below it. If you notice a tier of players getting shallow, now is the time to target that group.
Most websites will have articles up with player tiers, and while those are valuable on their own, it’s even more valuable if you use those as a baseline to creating your own personal tiers. After doing all this research, you’re likely not going to have the same opinion on certain players as an expert you’re following. By making the tiers your own, you’re also ensuring that you aren’t following the same list as half of your league mates in the draft.
9. Use Average Draft Position (ADP) to Map Out Your Draft
After you’ve created your player tiers, identify the players you want to target and look up their average draft position. Fantasy Pros keeps a database of all their mock drafts, and you can use that to look up where every player is being picked on average. With thousands of mock drafts taking place every day, this is the most accurate way to predict where players will be selected in your draft.
So, you’ve done your research, you know the players you like, and you’ve created tiers to see where the talent drops off at each position. Now that you have your ADP, you can map out what round to target your favorite players. The key here is to have multiple options for every round, and to optimize these players as the last in a tier before the talent at a position drops off.
I like to create a grid with each position I need to fill running horizontally across the top, and each round running vertically down. For every round, there are three areas to fill: early, middle, and late. Using ADP I can see where the players I want to target are being picked, and I’ll try to identify other players that I can pick if that player is gone. By mapping out my draft in this way, I can adapt better on the fly. But this also has a downside, which is focusing in too much on one player.
10. Avoid Falling in Love
It’s too easy to fall in love with a player, and once you’re hooked, you’ll find yourself drafting that player too early, or on too many teams. If you’re a player that plays in multiple leagues, try to spread out your risk with multiple players rather than ending up with the same player on five teams. I made a mistake this year of falling in love with Tarik Cohen, not good. Now not only did I cost myself by counting on Cohen as a #2 running back in PPR, but I’ve also done it to four different teams and severely harmed my chances of competing across the board.
It’s good to have targets, but it’s OK if they don’t end up on multiple teams. When the player you’re targeting gets drafted, if you have a contingency plan ready to go, then it’s a no worry scenario. And if you play in multiple leagues, you’ll probably still end up with your target player at some point.
11. Read the Room
If you’re drafting with a room full of Bears fans, you know that every year the Bears players will go earlier than they should. So, let some other Bears fan draft David Montgomery two rounds too early.
Reading the room is also about paying attention to what players your league mates have drafted. If the two people picking around you don’t have a quarterback yet and neither do you, be ready to take a QB before the position drops off to a lower tier.
12. Remember that this is a Game and Have Fun
Fantasy football can be highly competitive, and to many people, winning is everything. The reason you’re reading this article is probably because of your competitive nature that wants every edge you can get on draft day.
But remember, don’t take this too seriously. Often you play fantasy football with friends, and you don’t want to be known as the guy that flies off the handle and makes the league more dramatic than it needs to be. Part of having fun is the trash-talking you can do, so set up a Google Hangouts or a group text and make sure to get some friendly trash talk going. The more you can interact with your league, the more fun you will have playing fantasy football. And if you’re winning, it’s oh so much sweeter.