Ok so the first question I would ask if I were you is ‘where do you get off thinking you know enough to tell anyone how to do this? Who do you think you are?’ This is entirely reasonable, so I’ll try to address it squarely: the information contained herein is worth exactly what you’re paying for it. Not a bit less, incidentally. I’m not saying that if you heed any of this advice you will be successful, although you may.
I have been playing, with varying degrees of success, for about seven or eight years. I have won a couple of league championships, but mostly haven’t. Looked at one (possibly correct) way, I’ve had much more failure than success. Viewed differently; I have witnessed first-hand that which is required for success and seen how not doing that results in failure. As such I think I have developed a gameplan refined through the years that is, at least, respectable.
Supposing you’re not willing to arrive even at that modest agreement of expectation, I’ll therefore establish my credentials differently: I do know how to have fun doing this. That, after all, really is the name of this game. So I think if you are new and don’t know anything about this (multi-billion dollar) phenomenon, there are worse ways to become initiated. Furthermore, if you are someone who is seasoned, then maybe you might still find some of this information useful. For the rest of you, it could be entertaining.
If you’ve never done this before but are an avid football fan, the most important difference is that this is basically offense-only. Sorry if you’re a strategist (as am I) but here it’s about gaining yards and scoring points. There’s a small place for team defense but the real strategy is about figuring out who will/can gain yards and score the most, and then figure out how to acquire them.
There are basically two (2) main kinds of leagues: “standard” and “PPR” (points per reception). The difference is that in the latter, players are assigned points for each catch they make, not just for the yards that they gain on the reception. So then if you have two players each receive for the same number of yards, but have a different amount of receptions, it wouldn’t make a difference in scoring in a standard league, but it would make a difference in a PPR league.
What that really boils down to is that there is greater value in running backs that are good receivers out of the backfield in PPR leagues than in standard, and there are other scoring differences that are worth looking into in full detail here, but the thrust is that it’s worth knowing the difference before you get started. Plus, if it’s your very first draft and you ask someone, ‘hey, is this is a PPR League?’ whatever their answer is won’t matter: they’ll still think you’re cool.
Now most fantasy rosters are comprised of seven (7) starters. These usually are QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE. However, many leagues do things differently, and instead of three WR’s, have two and then a “flex” player, who can be either a WR, RB, or TE. Once more, if after asking the PPR question you follow up with, ‘do we get a flex?’ they are going to think you are a stone-cold killer rolling up on their fantasy ranks.
These two variables are pretty important in determining who you are going to draft and when, but there are overriding principles that can help you regardless of whichever configuration you are playing in. This is also true with respect to the size of the league itself. I would say most “normal” leagues have ten or twelve teams, with eight being on the extreme light and fourteen being on the extreme heavy. There of course can be even larger custom leagues, but we’re not going down that trail.
There are leagues where you can play multiple QBs, pick individual defensive players, and any number of other wild deviations. Knock yourself out with whatever, but what we’ll be discussing here has to do with the most widely used of the draft formats. I am also leaving out auction drafts, which are a little different way of going about it, but can be a fun exercise (kinda). In terms of preference, I’d say 12 is the right number of teams, PPR and FLEX, but honestly I’m good with whatever. Just none of the weird stuff.
The good news is, if you understand football and have been watching it for a while, you should be able to identify the obvious players that dominate the highlight reels. However you’re going to need to dig a bit to know which players that you will be able to draft can/are likely to do in 2017. As the years go by you’ll get a feel about certain players based on your own observations, but first you just need to know who they are.
Building a fantasy team is about projecting statistical probability, considering an entire universe of varied environmental factors. So, you take all of that into consideration and go about putting the pieces in place. It’s not as simple as just looking at last year’s league-leaders in passing, rushing, receiving, team defense, and kicking, but that is certainly a great place to start!
However, if significant changes have occurred in that player’s career-situation, you need to be careful. Injuries, changing teams, age, teammates leaving/arriving. Take a player like LeGarrette Blount. Last year he scored an eye-popping eighteen TD’s for the New England Patriots. However this year he’s with the Philadelphia Eagles, who employ a different kind of offense. Will Blount get as many chances to score TD’s after a prolific passing game gets him in range? Perhaps, but it’s certainly not a given, and thus you really can’t read his success last season as an indicator of what he can do this year, and overdraft.
At the same time, that player has demonstrated that he can put up ridiculous fantasy stats in the past, and Philly certainly has potential on offense in 2017. You therefore can’t discard a player like Blount completely, especially as he plays at a position of relative positional scarcity. Seeing past the numbers of last year while acknowledging that he still has some value and could be an option (I personally think he could be a 2nd RB/Flex starter for a team heavy at other positions, preferably standard), is what you should be doing with every player.
How To Rank The Positions
There’s something paradoxical in the way FF leagues emphasize value, due to positional scarcity. In real life, the QB is THE most important position on the team. In FF, the highest point-producers by a large margin are the QB’s. You could surmise, therefore, that QB would be the first position you would want to draft, but that’s not necessarily the way to look at it, and it definitely isn’t the way most leagues tend to go in terms of draft-order.
That’s because just as the modern day league has kind of been manipulated to benefit the passing game, it’s had the same effect on FF QB’s. There are 32 NFL starters, and most of them are going to give you fairly decent FF value. There are only 12-14 (usually) teams per league, meaning everyone gets two. That’s not to say there aren’t huge disparities in performance between the top tier and the rest, but it is to say that the difference has to be balanced against the opportunity to draft quality players at less quality-saturated positions.
This is especially so at Running Back. Generally speaking (which is to say not specifically-gleaned from inspecting the rosters of each team this season) many teams have moved/are moving away from having what always been known as a “bell-cow” back, a guy that consistently gets 20-25 carries a game. Many teams don’t have that many rushing attempts in a game, let along individual backs. As such, this is a position that requires intense scrutiny, and has the practical impact of elevating RB’s above most other positions if you feel like there is a relatively good chance he’s going to get a lot of work.
If you figure that (again, generally) about half the league does some sort of “platoon” style to start with, there’s theoretically about 16 RB’s that fit the above criteria every year. Assume that something - age/contract/injury/teammate emerging and taking away carries - is going to happen to about half of those guys. It just always does. Thus, there usually only tends to be about 8(ish) truly reliable RB’s going into a draft, and even that is specious.
However, the RB takes up two positions so you have to be judicious. If you are not in a spot to get a quality RB, then concentrate on fortifying the other ones when you are in a position to acquire top-flight talent. The margins are razor-thin on this stuff so you can’t miss too many times, especially on the high picks.
Wide receivers are very important, in fantasy football. Whether standard or flex, you are usually starting 3 WR’s all the time. The good news here is that there are 64 starting WR’s in the league, with another 30-40 that get starter-reps because of the nature of the offenses they play in. That doesn’t mean that all of them are quality fantasy options, but it does mean you have a deeper talent pool in which to wade.
This is a crucial point where real-life and fantasy intersect: the effectiveness of the passing game (in this case, the WR’s ability to create points) is heavily dependent on who it is that’s throwing the passes. The state of the quarterback position for each team needs to be factored in when selecting WR’s, because his talent alone is not necessarily going to determine his fantasy (or real) success.
This is NOT to say that you can only take WR’s from teams with good QB’s; just that you have to take each team’s situation into consideration. The Jets, for example, are probably going to be pretty bad this year (some think it will be intentional). They’ve got some seriously unimpressive (if chisel-jawed) options at QB. They figure to probably be in situations where they will need to throw the ball a lot, and that may increase targets for talented players like Quincy Enunwa and/or Charone Peake.
However, Ivan Drago IS GOING to get injured at some point early in the year. He will then Cowboy-on and give it every bit of effort he’s got because he’s a beautiful man, but at that point he’s no longer a viable QB. The Jets will therefore be left either with Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg flingin’ around the ‘ol pigskin. Will that increase or decrease the likelihood of Enunwa or Peake (or their TE Jordan Leggette) receiving more targets? That’s the sort of calculation you need to make now, for each team.
At least, for me every team except Baltimore or Pittsburgh, because I don’t draft their players, ever. Mostly true for the Bengals also but there’s a full-on permanent embargo on any player from the Ravens or Steelers. I’m just constitutionally incapable of rooting for either team under any circumstances (except for the two times per year I’m forced to pull for Pittsburgh to beat Baltimore) so I don’t draft their players. If you’re in a league against me, use that information however you want.
When you get to draft day, know first and foremost that it doesn’t really matter when you select, you can still build a great team. Personally, I prefer being either first or last in each round, because then all of my picks are grouped together (last at the end of one round, 1st at the beginning of the next). Yes, there are long gulfs in between where you don’t select, but trust me you can still build a great team by keeping calm and executing your gameplan.
I highly encourage you to do your own ranking of the players. Of course, you can get a great start by looking at what the experts think, but do your diligence to see if you agree. If you don’t see any reason to disagree, then rock on, and use it as a guide. Any draft you are in will have the players ranked already but you should still have your own idea.
If you happen to be a member of Yahoo, they have a great pre-draft ranking apparatus that allows you to arrange/filter players. I’d like to it but you have to be a member to access it. There are others out there as well but I used that one to develop my list. I thought about breaking down each team individually for this article but as I’m not even including two whole teams (and most of a third) I’ll instead provide my personal Top 300 for your review if you care.
Some general drafting tips in no particular order:
BPA is the ONLY way
Once you’ve established where you have your players ranked, be prepared to act once you’re up. Over the years I’ve adopted several approaches; one in particular involved picking RB’s with the first two picks NO MATTER WHAT. This produced mixed results but a consistent one was missing on top tier players at other positions because I was locked in on the backs. To be sure, RB’s are very important - perhaps the MOST important, of the positions. However if everyone is going RB heavy early on, chances are you’re going to have an excellent player at a different position available when it’s your turn to pick.
Other strategies involved ignoring the QB spot until very last, because of the saturation of quality at the position. Again, this is foolhardy if Aaron Rodgers is sitting there and you draft a 4th tier RB instead. At the end of the day, the margins on this are thin, so figure out where you rank your guys, and trust your process - but do be ready to adapt!
Fill out your starting depth chart first!
This may seem obvious, but if you’ve got all but one or two positions to fill don’t start looking for depth at positions you’ve already drafted for. This is why I say you need to adapt; once you start filling out your roster and teams run at the various positions, how you approach drafting needs to adjust in kind.
Your last two picks: defense and kicker
Defenses generally are not going to make or break your fantasy team. You will want to draft a not-terrible one but beyond that; they’re not going to move the needle for you one way or the other. It’s why I recommend shoring up the rest of your bench players, and usually I will add an additional 2 RB’s, 1 QB, 1 TE, and 2 WR’s.
Kickers flat-out need to be your last selection. They are so minimal in terms of impact and don’t control how many chances they have to give points. Any picks used on either defense or kicker prior to the final two really should be allocated to other position players.
Bye weeks: important but not critical
You should be mindful of when your players have a bye, and try not to have every player having the same bye week. Although, another way to look at that is if you DO have everyone on the same bye week, then you only have to do shuffling that one week, but alas that’s not practical or desired.
At the same time, the goal here is to get the best players available, so do that first. If that means you have to get creative in week 4 because three guys are out that’s fine, still better to have those players.
Where byes really are kinda important is when going for depth. You don’t want to draft your bench guys to have off the same time as your starters. That leads to an inevitable waiving of somebody, and while that’s going to happen anyway there’s no reason to force the issue up front.
The most important time of the fantasy year is the playoffs, and there won’t be anyone on a bye then.
This is another area where my thinking has evolved, because I used to be of the school of thought that you just don’t ever have two starters from the same team. This is because there’s just too much dependence on that team performing well offensively. Where my thought-evolution has led me is to revise that so as to include the exception of QB’s and one (1) of their receiving targets.
It does have to be a consistent combo to be sure, but if the QB is healthy and producing and the receiver is doing the same, then you can double-dip on the point totals for when they hook up. I would NOT recommend doing this for more than one (1) receiver, and for the most part do try to get players from different teams on your starting unit.
Another item to consider is “handcuffing”, or basically hedging your bets against a questionable starter. This is usually the case with RB’s because of the aforementioned scarcity at the position. For a Browns’ fan drafting in fantasy it may manifest itself by drafting Isaiah Crowell as your starting RB, but then draft Duke Johnson as depth. If something happens and Crow’s workload (or more or a portion of it) is transfered to Duke, then you are covered. How I’ve been mocking this year is doing this exact thing with Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt; with our own uncertainty at the QB position, I think that one of them could be a decent option, but I’m not positive which. Thus, I take both (if I can) and figure that I can juggle them as the season goes along.
I highly encourage you to conduct your own mock drafts when you have the time to do so. Whatever league you are in has a mock draft platform and there are always dudes looking to practice. By doing these, you will get a feel, though certainly not a totally-foolproof one, of where everyone is going to be drafting. Generally speaking, most people are not going to do all the things being suggested here, and are going to more or less follow the board that’s provided and go with the players they recognize.
If you have completed enough fantasy mocks, you’re going to have a much better idea of the sort of hidden values that are available late. You’ll be much more confident in making your selections because you will have already done the mental exercise of determining which players you like when they are your only options. Instead of sweating it out and just going with whoever is the top-ranked on that particular board, you’ll be just waiting to see which guy on your board falls to you. That’s what the real value of the mocks are - rounds 8-15.
Again, seems obvious, but the way draft rankings are set up do not always take this into consideration. A generally good resource for this is Ourlads.com, which is worth a good perusing before you select players (especially) late. Believe it or not, there are almost always starters available even late in the draft. You just have to know which ones they are.
On To The Season!
After you’ve completed the draft, take a look at the players remaining and start studying them up. This is the beginning of the pool you’re going to have to monitor each week to keep up on the best options to add to your club. Use of the waiver wire is important, as players you pick up through the year could end up being the ones that carry you to victory in the end.
Of course, you don’t want to rely on this this strategy, which is why drafting is so important. However, stuff is going to happen to players you select. It just so happened that the first championship I won came in a year where the first player I selected (Doug Martin) was basically AWOL all year. Except, he was never actually put on IR, so there was always a possibility he could come back, so I had to keep him on the roster.
That hurt, but throughout the course of the season I noticed another running back named C.J. Anderson, who inexplicably was on the waiver wire one week. I snagged both him and Mike Evans, who hadn’t yet established himself either. In both instances I was able to add quality players because I could identify an upward trend in their production before anyone else in my league, and acted accordingly.
Each week, look at the stats, and see which surprise players are performing, and act accordingly. If Tom Brady has a favorite new target no one’s heard of, see if that guy is available! You may have to sacrifice your backup TE but it might be worth it and that’s a risk worth taking. Essentially, don’t let opportunities pass without at least trying.
After all the games are played each week, the players on the waiver wire are eligible to be claimed. When you make the claim doesn’t matter, except that you will want to do so prior to transfer time. This is usually early in the morning on Wednesday or Thursday of the ensuing week. Where your waiver claim position is usually depends on how many claims you’ve made to that point in the year, but you’ll need to consult your league rules to know for sure.
Update your rosters EVERY week!
Again, obvious, but people bail on leagues all the time. Or just get absent minded and figure it’s all set. If you have a starter down due to injury or bye week though, you are going to forfeit two positions on game day, which means you are going to lose.
Set your waiver picks (if there’s anyone worth taking) and then once those have happened, check to see the updated Free agents. It may be that someone in your league has just made a bad calculation and dumped a productive player for a risk. You can then snatch that player up immediately. If you do and once you’ve done so, make sure your lineups are set with healthy starters who are not on a bye.
Also, it’s worth considering (if you have the option) starting someone each week that plays in a late/primetime game. Of course everything has to be considered, but if you are in a tight game with someone and it goes to Monday night, it’s nice to actually have someone in that game.
Finally, know that every week is a contest of matchups. As such, you have to consider the real-world circumstances when considering who to start and when. There’s nothing wrong with acquiring a player because of the matchup they have that week and dumping them the next. This is actually the strategy I typically use on defenses late in the year, and there are always options.
If Matt Ryan gets injured, then that affects him, Julio Jones, Devonte Freeman, and the defense Atlanta is playing against that week. You have to therefore adjust and get creative, which is what makes all of this fun. Know the situations and make your decisions based on them, and your overall team results will show for it.
Hope you enjoyed this, and I now heartily look forward to your feedback in the comments’ section below. Incidentally, I’ll also be furthering this on the ‘cast this week as well as the corresponding article which accompanies it.
Was Any Of This Information Helpful?
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Yes, a lot of new perspectives on this I hadn’t considered
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Not only no, hell no