With the Hall of Fame game come and gone, the NFL season and the beginning of fantasy football are just over the horizon. It’s been a long and grueling offseason (by the time the Eagles and Falcons kick off on September 6 at 8:20 PM ET, it will have been over 210 days without real NFL football), and it’s time to get back at it and play some fantasy football! Today, I’m going to give you some general tips you can put in your draft tool belt, as well as some over-arching draft strategies so you can draft with MORE POWER! Let’s get into it.
General Draft-Day Tips
Know your scoring and league formats
It’s kind of a “no-duh” statement, but it’s important. Are you using standard scoring, 0.5-PPR, full-PPR, or something else? The scoring format can determine if Christian McCaffrey is worth more than Devonta Freeman and so on – it can have a big impact on rankings and your overall team composition. This goes beyond scoring format. How many bench spots do you have? The default in NFL.com leagues is six, while the default in ESPN leagues is seven. Do you have an injured reserve spot? Do you have to draft a defense and kicker in the draft or can you hold an extra player through the preseason? Is your flex position limited to just running backs and wide receivers or can you flex a tight end?
Things can get especially tricky if your league switches between different formats or websites with different defaults. Be sure to note all the details of your league, or talk to your commissioner, before the draft.
Know who you’re drafting with
For those in new leagues with players you’ve never drafted with before, this may not apply. If you’re like me, however, and have been playing with the same people for years, it’s an opportunity to take note of your league-mates’ tendencies and draft a better team. For example, I know that in my league of Packers fans, Aaron Rodgers will never make it out of the first round. This tells me that I can always get a first-round stud in the second round because at least one person will take Rodgers instead of a running back or wide receiver. Another common theme entails fantasy owners drafting players from their favorite NFL teams – I know I’ve taken a Green Bay receiver a little earlier than I should just so I could root harder for my Packers on Sunday.
If you want to get super intense, pay attention to who your league-mates are hyping up over the offseason. It could tip you off to whether you should go for that player before them or if you can have a chance to get a different player at a value.
Mock draft, mock draft, mock draft
The big thing with mock drafting is learning how you draft. You might notice that you go for the same players each time or have certain tendencies – like not knowing which players to take in later rounds. In addition, find rankings you like (or make your own) and be prepared. The important thing is to be aware of how you draft so you can improve when the big one comes around. I’ll talk a little more about mock drafts later.
Personally, I use the FantasyPros Draft Wizard app on my phone or online for my mock drafts. Occasionally, when I have more time, I enjoy joining mock draft lobbies on ESPN’s fantasy site. Mock drafting against computers, like in the Draft Wizard app, is a better alternative when you don’t have as much time but still want to decipher how you draft. You also don’t have to worry about the other 11 people in your 12-team mock draft lobby leaving after the second round (shout-out to those guys, you know who you are). The live lobbies are a good chance to draft against people and it’s different every time, just how each league is different and each draft is different.
The draft only sets the foundation for your season
You may have heard the saying, “you don’t win your championship at the draft”. There are few statements truer than that. You enter your draft 0-0 and you leave 0-0. The only thing you accomplish at your draft is setting the foundation for your season. There’s still so much left to do and dominate after your draft such as owning the waiver wire, nailing the start/sits, and most importantly STAYING ACTIVE in your league. I think I speak for a lot of fantasy players when I say that the draft is arguably the most exciting day of the fantasy season, but that’s no reason to quit before the season is over. I know I speak for a majority of fantasy players when I say not much can put a damper on a season faster than someone who taps out after Week 2 and never touches their lineup again.
Specific Draft Strategies
There are many different ways to compile your fantasy teams over the 15-or-so rounds in fantasy drafts. Some are loose guidelines while others are gospel, it just depends on the intensity to which you want to follow the strategy. Like I said before, it’s important to know who you’re drafting with. It’s usually more important than any general strategy, like the ones I’ll be going over in a second. My point is: know your audience because it’ll go further than any strategy. That being said, once you know your league-mates, feel free to apply a draft strategy if you see fit.
Below I’ll be outlining and analyzing three specific draft strategies: “zero RB”, “zero WR”, and “QB late”. Be sure to remember my tip from earlier: mock draft, mock draft, mock draft. This is especially important because you can try out these four strategies, as well as many others, in mock drafts without consequence and see which one fits best.
The “Zero RB” strategy entails not taking a running back until about the sixth round (although, for research purposes, let’s say after the fourth round instead). Essentially, a strategy like this comes from either being dissatisfied with the running backs in the early rounds or being especially pleased with the wide receivers in the early rounds.
By following this strategy you’d be giving up any running back in the fourth round and, instead, settling for running backs after the fourth round to carry your team. Some running backs going before the fourth round include…
Running backs going after the fourth round include…
With how valuable running backs are in 2018, I just can’t prescribe this strategy in any format, especially in PPR formats because of how involved the top running backs are in their offenses’ passing games. As I’ll discuss in the next strategy, the pool of wide receivers is very, very, very deep, and I don’t agree with giving up the top tiers of running backs for a few more top-tier wide receivers. The drop-off between the top tier of running backs is just too huge (if you do end up with a good team using the “Zero RB” strategy, @ me on Twitter, @QLynchUW).
Just as in the “Zero RB” strategy, the “Zero WR” strategy involves not taking a wide receiver until after the fourth round. This is one strategy that I have used in mock drafts quite a bit. The results are usually very positive. Take the aforementioned list of running backs going before the fourth round and imagine getting three or four of them instead of just one or two without taking a hit to your wide receivers. Some wide receivers going before the fourth round include…
Some wide receivers going after or around the end of the fourth round include…
- JuJu Smith-Schuster
- Brandin Cooks
- Demaryius Thomas
- Alshon Jeffrey
- Larry Fitzgerald
- Allen Robinson
- Jarvis Landry
All of the wide receivers going after or around the end of the fourth round all have the potential to, or even have, finished as WR1’s. Just look at Larry Fitzgerald, who has caught over 100 receptions in his last three season, or Jarvis Landry, who led the NFL with receptions in 2017. There is talent to be found in wide receivers going after the fourth round. Couple that with an extra top-tier running back, or even a top-tier tight end, and I think you have a pretty solid team.
You’ll hear many a fantasy expert preach this strategy. Taking a quarterback late takes a good amount of patience and requires you to be observant. The theory behind the “QB Late” strategy is that the weekly parity amongst the top-12 quarterbacks is substantial. Aaron Rodgers might score 20 fantasy points most weeks, but if you can find a rotation of quarterbacks who, based on matchups or other factors, will also get you 20 fantasy points a week from the quarterback position, then why spend your valuable draft capital on Aaron Rodgers in the third round when you could snag, say, Matthew Stafford in the ninth and take Mike Evans with your third-rounder instead? It’s a very effective strategy because there are always good quarterbacks to pick up off the waiver wire, plug in for a week, then drop for a different quarterback the next week. Not spending high draft picks on a quarterback also gives you the opportunity to drop your lesser quarterback for other quarterbacks on the waiver wire who appear to be heating up and developing into weekly starts (like Carson Wentz or Deshaun Watson last season).
I mentioned that drafting a quarterback late can take patience and vigilance from the fantasy player. One technique I like to do when waiting on a quarterback in drafts is keeping tabs on how many teams have already drafted a quarterback. If nine other teams have already drafted a quarterback, I know that I can wait for a few more rounds and grab another running back or wide receiver before pulling the trigger on a quarterback.