We’re three weeks away from the start of the NFL’s preseason, and with the World Cup tournament and NBA season coming to an end, bored fans across the nation are starting to miss the taste of their virtual heroin known as fantasy football. If you’re dead set on winning your leagues championship, I can’t stress enough how important a good draft is. While having a successful draft often seems to come down to pure luck, over the years I’ve been able to compile a handful of strategies that have helped me build solid rosters year after year.
5) Don’t prioritize a quarterback
This should be common sense for anyone who has previously played fantasy football, but I’m consistently amazed at how many QBs go off the board during the first three rounds. No doubt the NFL is a QB league, but your fantasy team should be built in reverse. There’s only a handful of bell cow runningbacks and elite wide receivers, so your goal should be to grab as many as possible before they’re all taken by the fifth round. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are great assets to have but drafting one too early can leave you dependent on them each week because of your lack of depth elsewhere. Wait until the fifth or sixth round and you should be able to snag a quality passer like Matthew Stafford or Kirk Cousins to complement your more important skill positions.
4) Kickers and Defenses should be your last two picks
I put this low on the list because it’s a bit of a controversial opinion that many disagree with me on. Your draft strategy should be based on what positions you consider to be important, and I personally don’t see the value in taking a kicker or a defense before the last couple rounds. Sure, the Jaguars defense put up monster numbers last season and helped many owners reach the postseason but using an early pick on them can decrease the longevity of your team’s success. To backtrack what I wrote for tip 5, RBs and WRs are the most valuable positions in fantasy, and you’ll want as much depth as possible for injuries, bye weeks, and sweeteners for trade proposals. I completely understand wanting Stephen Gostkowski to ensure you have one of the best kickers in the league, but you’re missing out on other solid players by taking him in the eighth or ninth round. Keep in mind that guys like Alvin Kamara and Adam Thielen were drafted after the first ten rounds in many leagues last year, so hold off as long as possible.
3) Know your opponent’s tendencies
You know who I’m talking about. Every league has THAT guy. That guy who shows up to the draft in a Tom Brady Super Bowl jersey, so determined to have the entire Patriots roster that he takes Julian Edelman in the fourth round. While that’s an extreme example, most owners tend to make their selections in unique ways. Some prefer to draft five different positions in the first five rounds to check everything off their list as early as possible; while others will load up on RBs and WRs in the first five rounds. Some wait longer for a QB and some want their favorite in the first round. Having a good idea of what direction your friends are headed in the draft can help you map out your selections in each round by knowing what could still be available when your next pick is up. This may sound a bit daunting but if you’ve played with the same group of people for years, I guarantee you’ve picked up some patterns of how your buddies tend to handle the draft.
Side note: This serves as a good reminder to leave your fandom at the door during the draft. Having a roster full of your favorite players is fun but drafting with your heart can lead to poor and biased decision making that will often comeback to bite you multiple times throughout the season.
2) Don’t overthink yourself
This is something we all struggle with. Especially in the early rounds when we’re forced to rank elite caliber players to one another. We scrutinize on such a micro-level that we tend to put red flags on a player for issues that really aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things. The greatest teacher failure is, so allow me to pass on what I have learned. My league randomizes the selection order a month before the draft and last year, I was awarded the second overall pick. That gave me weeks to decide what to do. Assuming that Antonio Brown would go first, that left me choosing between Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson. Bell had a history of injuries and suspensions but was coming off a season where he managed to stay healthy. Even with that in mind, I elected to go with DJ after deciding he’d be the safer pick. You probably know how this story ends; Bell had fantastic season that earned him a spot on the NFL’s First Team All-Pro roster, while DJ played a grand total of two quarters after suffering a season ending wrist injury in week one. My championship aspirations went down the toilet because I talked myself out of the best player available. Fantasy football is such a crapshoot as it is, so you shouldn’t concern yourself with “what-if” scenarios. Injuries and disappointing seasons happen and they’re usually impossible to predict. There are many reasons to pass on a player: suspensions, age, recently suffered injuries, but don’t miss your chance on a high ceiling player because he’s seemingly riskier than others behind him.
1) Familiarize yourself with the draft board
Every fantasy football site uses a ranking system to create the draft board that owners use while making their selections. Draft boards can vary drastically from site to site, so it’s important to know where your site of choice ranks the players you’re targeting. In my experience, the best way to do this is by participating in several mock drafts. ESPN, NFL.com, and Yahoo all host mock draft lobbies, so take advantage of the opportunity. Since most leagues randomize their draft order an hour before the draft, I’d try to pick from a different spot in each mock to have a better estimation of who will be available to you each round. Be sure to write down the results or have them emailed to you to use as a reference during your real draft. Knowing the draft board helps you map out your strategies for when to reach for a sleeper, how long to wait for a QB, and creating a plan B when something inevitably doesn’t go as planned. It’s certainly time consuming but I promise you’ll be thankful you prepared on draft day.