Fantasy Football Basics: Draft Strategy Guide
Welcome to Fantasy Football. We've been waiting for you.
What took you so long? Have you been finally convinced by your brother-in-law to join the family league? Does your promotion depend on filling a recently vacated spot in your boss' 14-team league? Are you simply tired of being left out of conversations with initialisms such as PPR and ADP?
We're happy to have you, and we want you to succeed. We really do. Unlike in poker, if someone plays fantasy football with no grasp of strategy, it isn't nearly as fun, particularly because their tactics can throw off the competitive balance of the league late in the season.
While there are in-season team management decisions that will consume much of your functioning brain power - waiver-wire decisions, who to start in your flex, spicy wings or regular - this article deals with the draft. Or as some may call it: Christmas.
The anticipation of the draft is nearly as exciting as the draft itself. If you find yourself feeling a little nostalgic for football during the second quarter of the Super Bowl, you know what I'm saying. So why not take the next six months to prepare?
While many of you have a "job" or a "family," there is no reason to not watch the NFL Combine, follow the entire draft and track free-agency signings. If nothing else, you will be the smart guy at the bar and earn the respect of the men in your league and the adoration of the women. Or vice versa.
Preparation begins with knowing your league: What are the scoring settings? Is it a point-per-reception league (PPR)? What is the draft type? What are the rules regarding trades and waiver pickups? Each league has its idiosyncrasies, but proper preparation will lead to a solid draft every time.
Things happen quickly in the NFL, particularly at this time of year. Between injuries, unexpected cuts and position battles that are won and lost in camp, you need a trusted website to keep you alerted. Just being here at Scout Fantasy means you're doing something right. We have articles, rankings and information galore to aid your draft preparation and in-season management.
Mock drafts are a great way to shape your draft strategy, and you can hone yours with our five-minute mock draft tool. Often, the hosting site will provide a list of players from which to choose, a list usually ordered by the site's predictions for the upcoming season. These lists make it easier to do a mock draft, but they also influence who will be selected and when. It's wise to mock on multiple sites so as to have multiple points of view on each player. This will help you adapt to your own draft's inevitable surprises.
This stands for Average Draft Position. Websites such as Scout Fantasy compile mountains of draft results to give you a good understanding of when players are being drafted. You need to know when you can get the guys you want without reaching or overpaying for them. If you want Andre Ellington on your team, find out where he is typically being drafted. If he's going 33rd overall, you know it's unlikely that he will make it back to you in the fourth round, and you will need to make your decision in the third.
Understanding "reaching" in a draft and how to avoid it may be the most important part of draft strategy. Reaching is simply taking a player in a round when it is expected that he will be available in a later round. As the draft progresses, it will become harder to assess when a player should be taken, but before it devolves into a free-for-all, the draft will be fairly predictable to those who have done their research.
When it is Not a Reach
The first round of every draft features the top performers in the game, and because of the predictability of the draft's early rounds, you can safely assume that the first-rounder you love will not be there in the second round. If you are drafting someone third overall that most experts think should be 12th overall, that is not a reach. Other drafters will mock you for reaching, but always remember that taking any player who won't be available in the next round is not reaching.
Let's suppose you have a Philadelphia homer in your league who loves to own his Eagles. However, you also want Zach Ertz on your team at his eighth-round ADP. If the Eagles homer doesn't have a tight end in the seventh round, you can reasonably expect Ertz to be gone before your next pick. So go for it. It's not a reach.
The opposite of the reach is the steal. Taking another owner's target right before they get to pick remains one of the great pleasures of draft day. It's one thing to hear a sincere "Nice pick" after your selection, but there's nothing like hearing expletives from the person who drafts immediately after you. That means you've done it right.
Any player who outperforms his ADP is also known as a steal, but you won't know if you've scored one of those until after the season is underway.
The Running Backs
Considering the nature of today's game, running backs who are not part of a committee are fantasy's greatest commodity. In any given year, you can expect 12-16 running backs to earn the designation of "bell cow" or "workhorse" or some other beast-of-burden nickname assigned to a back that gets more than 20 carries a game. It's not surprising that those running backs are overwhelmingly selected within the first couple of rounds. It's a good idea to get one of these guys in the first two rounds and have two of them by the end of the fifth round.
You should typically end up with five or six running backs in total. Try to come away with a mix of studs, their handcuffs, and sleepers who could possibly break out during the season. Keep track of guys who catch a lot of passes out of the backfield if you are in a PPR league.
A common misconception among new fantasy players is that you must draft quarterbacks early since they score the most points. However, a more experienced player knows that aside from the top two or three QBs, the difference between, let's say, the fifth-best and the 12th-best quarterback is smaller than you'd expect.
Thankfully, quarterbacks are fairly predictable, so if you're new to the fantasy world, you may be best off choosing a quarterback with a consistent body of work. If you nab other positions early, a good strategy would entail finding a QB with at least two years under his belt who is not in a brand-new system or coming off of major injury. Then back him up fairly quickly. While there are many useful QB2s, the outlook for quarterbacks taken in the last few rounds is typically pretty dismal.
The Wide Receivers
With the booming popularity of PPR leagues, receivers often fill not only your WR spots but also your flex position(s). Flex positions are your roster's wild cards. Based on your league's settings, you can start players from different positions in these spots. Most often, fantasy teams have at least one RB/WR flex spot. Filling them with wide receivers means you could have four or even five receivers starting in any given week. That's nearly half of your roster.
The good news is there are plenty of productive wide receivers. The most popular set (or formation) in football is the three-receiver set. That's a lot of players, and that means there will be receivers worthy of your roster throughout a draft. You'll want at least one of the first-tier pass catchers followed pretty quickly by a WR2 who gets a lot of targets. Targets are a great way to determine the consistency of a receiver and should be strongly considered when looking for your second and third wideouts. Later in the draft, after you have those spots locked up, start looking for the high-ceiling, low-floor players. Those are the guys who could break out in a big way or just as easily flop.
Beware of rookie receivers. There are always some exceptions, but wide receiver and tight end prove harder to master for first-year players. If you choose a rookie, make sure your roster won't win or lose based on his performance.
The Tight End
Many leagues are now allowing you to fill your flex spots with tight ends. Even if your league starts only one, consider this a position of scarcity. Much like at running back, after the first handful are off the board, there is a big drop-off. And after 15, there is often a monstrous drop-off. Assuming you start just one tight end, you can probably withstand a "run" - when a position gets selected by several drafters in proximity - and grab a solid guy several rounds later. However, you may be better served selecting a stud if you are concerned about being hamstrung with a second- or third-tier tight end as your starter.
If you draft one of the best tight ends, you may be able to get away with not backing him up at all. Simply find a breakout player on the waiver wire to fill in during a bye week or short-term absence. If you draft a riskier tight end, take a second one a little later. Remember that the tight end drop-off in the teens is really big, so if your fourth-tier guys are all gone, you may just wait for an in-season pickup to fill that need.
The Defense & the Kicker
Newer owners often take these positions too early. While it's nice to have the top-rated kicker or defense on your team, drafting one means you are missing out on snagging a quality backup or sleeper.
The reason why veterans take these positions later in drafts is because they are often unpredictable. No one is saying that a monster defensive outing can't win you a matchup, but it's difficult to know what to expect from a defense each year. You can typically count on two or three defenses to stand out, but they will likely be drafted way too early. Similarly, kickers are largely unpredictable from week to week.
Consider playing defense by committee. Take a serviceable defense in the late rounds of your draft with a good Week 1 matchup. Then be ready to drop that defense for another one with a favorable matchup the following week. You'll need to be savvy on the waivers each week since this is becoming a popular trend among long-time fantasy owners.