Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
There’s no better time of year for fantasy owners than draft day! It’s like Christmas as a kid. All the rosters have been reset and you salivate over the thought of hoarding all the talent in the NFL on your way to the 2014 fantasy championship. Here’s a fantasy football draft strategy that will give you the best chance to bring home the trophy this season. Keep in mind, this information is based on a 12 team fantasy football draft strategy.
The first thing a smart fantasy football owner does is his or her homework. The number one tool that an owner has is a cheat sheet that includes rankings of the top players at all of the positions, QB, RB, WR, TE, PK and Def. The key is gathering as much information as possible. Leverage the experts by compiling rankings from a large list of experts. Individually, an analyst could be way off on specific players. That’s why it’s important to gather a consensus of the top picks. How many players should you have on a cheat sheet? Well, it depends on how many players can be rostered at each position. For example, with a 12 team fantasy football draft strategy that allows 5 running backs per team, have a list of the top 60 RBs. For 12 team leagues that allow a maximum of 6 RBs per team, have a list of 72 RBs. Continue this strategy for each position.
Every year I see owners scrambling toward the later rounds just trying to identify a player that hasn’t been drafted. By compiling a list based on the maximum allowed for each position, you’ll be prepared throughout the entire draft.
It’s important in every fantasy draft strategy to understand your league’s scoring rules. Sure we know points are awarded for TDs and yards, but where is the emphasis? Does your league reward length of touchdowns? Many leagues provide a bonus for touchdowns beyond 40 or 50 yards. My auction league awards points incrementally for the exact length of touchdown. In this case, you will want to favor RBs and WRs with breakaway speed, such as Chris Johnson and DeSean Jackson, over designated goal line backs.
Does your scoring system award points per reception (PPR)? In this system, players like Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb. They may not top 125 yards, but they might catch 10 or more passes in the process, which can be huge in PPR leagues. Look for cheat sheets that designate standard or PPR scoring that matches your league rules.
You’ll also need to know whether it’s a 10, 12 or 14 team league. Be realistic with your targeted players by round based on the number of participating teams. A player with an ADP of 21 will be gone by the end of round 2 in all likelihood. Most of the following strategies are based on a 12 team fantasy football draft strategy.
Number of Starters
The best fantasy football draft strategy is to look at the number of starters required for each position and target those players first rather than building depth during the draft. This applies as a ppr draft strategy or auction draft strategy. Use free agency to discard underperforming players, but only target studs and starters during the draft. In other words, don’t pick a backup quarterback until all starting wide receivers and starting running back spots have been filled. It might even be tempting to select a backup running back, for fear of injury, before taking a second WR, but don’t give in to the temptation. Fill all starting spots first!
The only exception to this rule is waiting on kickers and defenses. I’ll provide more information this later.
Value versus Need
Should I always take a RB in the first round? When should I pick a QB? Should I pick a RB or WR? These are the most common dilemmas facing any fantasy owner on draft day. Allow me to show you the best fantasy football draft strategy. The method is most commonly referred to as average draft value (ADV).
The heart of a great fantasy draft strategy is finding great value – not need. Even though you “think” you might need a RB, follow this formula to pick the best “value”. This is the only quantifiable method for comparing value across positions. The number of deviations from average is the key that allows comparison across all positions. In a nutshell, pick the player that has the highest value over his average replacement.
Target the position with the greatest drop-off and wait on positions that have greater depth.
It’s not the most points, it’s the most points relative to other players within that position that matters. If you can find a comparable player later in the draft for one that you pass on earlier in the draft, your team will maximize its points.
Here’s how it works:
1) Get a list of historical points for your league, by position, for the past three seasons and average them. Post them into a spreadsheet.
2) Find the total # of starters per position. Our example lists 1 QB, 2 RBs and 2 WRs.
4) Calculate the standard deviations above/below the position average and repeat for each player category. Note: Some systems will use the replacement value of the lowest starter within the position as the baseline. Although slightly different than I am describing, this method is fine too. However, I like to consider the depth across all players within the position (as an average) rather than using the last single player in the position as the baseline.
The results in the final screen capture to the left reveal some interesting information. While it might be tempting to take the #1 WR (Calvin Johnson) or #4 RB (Lynch) with your first pick, the numbers tell us it’s better to take the #1 QB. Why? Because the value for taking the top QB (Rodgers .314) is greater than the top WR (CJ .284) or 4th best running back (Lynch .172).
Let’s say you have the 4th pick in round 1 and the 9th pick in round 2 (21st overall) and you want a QB and RB in the first two rounds. Choosing Rodgers and Alf Morris will yield 1272.5 points versus 1173 points for taking Lynch 1st and Brees 2nd. Following this same strategy over the course of 17 rounds will maximize your total team points, which is your objective.
Note: The strategy looks at the point value of each slot rather than the player himself; therefore, it’s important to separate the value strategy from the player rankings. These are two separate tasks in your preparation. A key assumption is counting on accurate player rankings. You have to trust your rankings. We recommend using a composite list of the top 20 fantasy analysts for rankings.
Lastly, the replacement value emphasizes the replacement cost versus the position average not the next highest ranked player within the position. There’s no way of knowing whether the next best player will even be available the next time you pick. Simply refer to the chart and take the player with the highest remaining STD Dev from avg.
Fantasy Football Draft Strategy PPR
As mentioned previously, know your scoring system and whether or not it rewards points per reception. This impacts your rankings more than anything else. There are certain players like Amendola, Welker, Harvin and Cobb that excel in a PPR league due to their ability to acumulate lots of short yardage receptions. Big play threats, such as Torrey Smith, have decreased value in most PPR leagues because they run deep, low percentage routes and catch fewer passes.
Fantasy Football Snake Draft Strategy
The primary strategy outlined in this article is based on a snake draft or serpentine style draft. In a snake draft, owners pick in reverse order of finish from the previous season. The team that finishes 1st in the previous year will pick 12th (in a 12 team league) in the first round. It’s called a snake draft because the team that picks last in the first round will pick first in the 2nd round. That same team will pick last in the 3rd round and 1st in the 4th round etc…
Fantasy Football Auction Draft Strategy
An auction draft strategy is entirely different. The two most common approaches are value and depth versus top-heavy.
1) Depth and value approach. In this strategy, owners should be careful not to overspend on any one player, but should be focused on building a roster with lots of depth. This auction draft strategy can better withstand unforeseen injuries during the season, but may fail to maximize points at times.
2) Top heavy. Spend on the stars. This strategy aims to spend the majority of cap money on a small handful of stud players with little consideration for backup players. This is the strategy that I prefer for auction leagues. The points are in the star players. Backups and bye week replacements can be had on the waiver wire, but seldom do top producing players emerge after the auction. The downside is that the star players have to perform and injuries could derail this team. It’s a high risk high reward fantasy draft strategy.
In general, the best strategy is to avoid unproven rookies at most positions. Rookie quarterbacks rarely produce decent fantasy numbers. Andrew Luck is by and far the exception. Many rookie quarterbacks flat out bust their first season. Likewise, rookie wide receivers seldom finish in the top 10 of their position. However, rookie running backs can be viable fantasy options in their first year. This is due to the nature of the running back position. It’s easier for a newcomer to learn the play book as a RB than any other position. Also, running backs tend to have shorter careers; therefore, more opportunities exist for the young guys. The key factor for running back opportunities is their ability to pass block. Beware of coach speak that touches on a rookie’s ability to pass protect. This generally means he will play sparingly until he proves he can protect the franchise QB. QBs and WRs usually take two or three seasons before really learning the nuisances of the position, which results in reliable fantasy points.
It’s critical to nail your studs in the first few rounds of the draft. The top two rounds have to pan out if you want to win your fantasy league. Rounds 1-3 are not times to take chances on unproven players. Select players that have produced consistently in the past and are poised to repeat. While I generally like to take a RB in the first and possibly even second round, refer to the star players atop the std dev list outlined previously. Having a solid, reliable base is required for building that championship team.
It’s ok to target a list of unproven (sleeper) players, but please wait until the later rounds to pick them. Last season, I’d heard all the hype on Josh Gordon and knew that I should own him on all my teams. There was some risk, however. Gordon was suspended for the first two games and had a limited track record. I took the gamble in round twelve or later in all my drafts and boy, did it payoff. Gordon finishes the season as the top fantasy receiver. Choose players that have great upside potential.
Don’t pick a kicker or defense until the final two rounds of the draft. In fact, backup your QB or handcuff a RB before taking a kicker. Don’t worry about getting a backup kicker or defense either. You’re better off taking a flyer on a rookie or unproven player with tons of upside like Gordon in those later rounds rather than picking a bye week replacement for your defense. The difference between the top kicker and 12th ranked kicker is minimal and when it comes to these two positions, the top players may not even get drafted.
I personally don’t pay much attention to bye weeks unless I’m looking at kickers or defenses. If the majority of my roster happens to share one or two bye weeks, so be it. Most of the time, the roster will turnover to a certain degree before the bye weeks hit anyway and if that hasn’t happened, then I’m pretty satisfied with my draft production and willing to take a small hit on the given bye week. Too many owners overemphasize bye weeks. It’s better to focus on drafting the best available talent. Don’t let the schedule sway your draft decisions unless it’s considering a kicker or defense on two separate weeks.
In closing, I think you’ll find this draft approach to be the best fantasy football draft strategy. If you follow these basic tips and apply our quantitative approach for drafting, you’ll build a solid foundation for a fantasy championship. Re-read the section value versus need and apply these principles. Use this approach in a mock draft scenario during the preseason and evaluate how your roster looks. Most of all, have fun! Participating in a fantasy football draft is perhaps the best point of the season.