When thinking of hard and fast rules for draft strategy the number one rule that trumps all of these so-called rules is that there are no hard and fast rules. Always use some modicum of common sense. These are just a few guidelines that should help you draft a competitive team. Your ability to think on your feet and make informed decisions on the fly is what turns that competitive team into a championship team. While this strategy applies to your season-long draft, you can use some of the same principles when drafting the best possible team in our one-week fantasy football leagues here (haven’t tried us out yet? Oh man, you’ll love us. One-week leagues for real money with no season-long commitment).
Wait On Your Quarterback
This is an age old adage that some have tried debunking, but any position where you only start one player means there is most likely value in waiting. There are 32 teams and if you are in a 12 team league, you got it, there are only 12 starting QBs being drafted out of all those teams.
This season is set up to wait on your signal callers even more than usual. The depth at quarterback is better than normal with the inclusion of some young talent like Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick. This makes for a player like Tony Romo, who finished as the 8th best fantasy quarterback last season, to be going very late in drafts as the 12th quarterback taken. Eli Manning who had nearly 5,000 yards passing and 29 touchdowns just two years ago, is now a QB2.
So don’t be afraid as quarterbacks start falling off your draft board. People will fill all their startable positions before they take a backup quarterback and I’d feel pretty good with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III or Tony Romo as my starter.
Draft Running Backs In The First Two Rounds
This recommendation is also an old one, but also based on my recent experience in mock drafts. Every team I’ve put together that took a wide receiver or tight end in the first two rounds was severely lacking at the running back position.
Last year quarterbacks were coming off an amazing season. Three players topped 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns and people drafted relying on those numbers once again. The same was true at tight end and wide receiver, where Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Calvin Johnson put up insane fantasy numbers. So that put the first two rounds of the 2012 fantasy football draft in flux. People were drafting all kinds of positions, especially quarterbacks, and that let some top running backs fall a little further than normal. Well, that isn’t happening this year. People understand they can wait on quarterback and Gronkowski has had some health setbacks.
I’ll be grabbing my top two running backs, which there are some very good ones, in the first two rounds. I feel pretty good about the top 12-15 running backs, which gives me a decent chance to get two of them as long as there are a few of my opponents who select a different position or value the top running backs slightly different than I do.
Reach for the players you want
I learned this the hard way last season. I was very high on Doug Martin, but I always seemed to just miss out on him in my drafts. Don’t play it safe. Don’t worry about looking stupid reaching for a player you like. This game isn’t won by playing it safe.
Draft many backup RBs
The right late round running back is like having a fantasy football golden ticket, but without that crazy chocolate river boat ride. Would you rather have Zac Stacy or DeAndre Hopkins as a bench player? Hopkins is going in the ninth round while Stacy is going in the tenth. Yes, at the end of the season Hopkins could easily outscore Stacy, but the potential for Stacy is much higher. Stacy could win the starting running back job in preseason and Hopkins is the number two receiver on a run first offense. Or even someone like Ronnie Hillman versus Kendall Wright, who is going before him in drafts. Hillman at the moment looks like the backup to Montee Ball, but his potential is still to be a starting running back for the Denver Broncos, which is better in fantasy than being the starting wide receiver for the Tennessee Titans.
I’ve also found that it’s much easier to find waiver wire receivers and tight ends that end up as starters, than it is running backs because people like me horde them! So draft your core wide receivers in the third through sixth rounds and then keep an eye out for those running backs with high ceilings.
This is obvious, but with my suggestion of waiting on a quarterback, I like to get my second quarterback before the pickings get way too slim. There are plenty of good bye-week/injury fill-in quarterbacks this season and you might as well grab one with high upside like Michael Vick or Jay Cutler (both make for great Week 1 FanDuel bargains – join a league and you can roll with either one for cheap here), because they could easily lead you to victory if your quarterback goes down.
Last season I followed this template and drafted Robert Griffin III as my backup and he ended up as my starter for much of the season. You take fliers on other backup positions because of upside, so the same at quarterback.
Get down with ADP
Paying attention to where players are being drafted helps you formulate a strategy for your draft. Much of what I’ve written here is based on ADP or Average Draft Position. These numbers can be found in many places across the internet. Always look for the most updated ADP because it changes pretty quickly. ADP is a bit of a hive mind and any morsel of news is devoured and assimilated. Think of the Borg, but not as nerdy.
You will never know exactly who your league mates will pick every single round, but getting a good feel for how players are valued universally will help you navigate your draft, and having this information embedded into your DNA will give you a big leg up (that’s the DNA causing the abnormally sized leg.)
Know your site’s pre-rankings and set your own
When you are unprepared for a draft you often get caught up in the pre-rankings set up by the site you are using. It happens to all of us and it will most likely happen to some of your opponents. That’s why you come prepared.
As soon as your draft is set, you should be able to go to your team and set your own rankings for the draft. Then you’ll want to compare your rankings to that site’s rankings. There will be some huge discrepancies, and maybe you can use that to your advantage. If there is a sleeper you feel good about and he’s ranked 726th, if you aren’t playing against fantasy football sharks, you should be able to wait on him because your opponents will be in out of site, out of mind mode.
This practice will set you apart from a large percentage of fantasy players and is probably the most practical advice I’ll give you, so take heed!
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Use a tiered cheat sheet
So you have your rankings, but there’s no way you got them perfectly. I like to use a bigger picture tiered approach so I can see how I value groups of players, so I’ll know how many players from each tier remain. If, say there are two wide receivers left in your third tier and four tight ends left in your third tier for tight ends, maybe it would be a good idea to grab one of those wide receivers, because the drop from each tier is going to be drastic and you might be able to get one of your tight ends next go around. It’s in no way an exact science, but neither is fantasy. Here are my drafting tiers for reference.
Don’t draft a D or K until the last two rounds
I debated on putting this in here or not, but I see people still picking kickers and defenses so much earlier than they should, that I had to throw it out there again. Defenses and kickers are known for their inconsistency in fantasy football from year to year. The Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers ranked fourth and fifth in fantasy points scored last season. The Chicago Bears were easily the best defense last season, but in the second half of the season they ranked as the eight best fantasy defense. The New England Patriots were the team you wanted to own in many second half weeks, but if you owned the Bears you weren’t going to stop starting them after such dominance in the first half. So for me, matchups for fantasy defenses usually work out better than starting any one defense every game. Last season, playing defenses against the Cardinals, Jets, Chiefs and Jaguars worked out quite well. We’ll have to see who those top matchups are again this season, but they are out there, just waiting to suck.
Mock draft as much as you can
Many of your run of the mill fantasy leagues have very few bench spots because people have to go see Fast And The Furious 12 or play hopscotch with their cat or some other nonsense, so it’s often difficult to make up for bad draft picks with late upside bench players. This leads to you needing to feel comfortable drafting from different positions. There are plenty of places to find mock drafts, but try to find a group of like minded people to mock with. Many of the draft lobbies on bigger sites fill with people who don’t really care or are just picking randoms to be jerks. You can also try out a mock draft simulator.
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