If you’re reading this, you are almost certainly in the minority. You probably either play fantasy football, have played before, or you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the water for the first time.* An estimated 57.4 million people played fantasy sports in the U.S. and Canada in 2016. Fantasy sports are literally more popular than they have ever been. But surprisingly, that means that on average, only about 1 out of every 6 people in North America play fantasy football. So for the uninitiated, now seems like a good time to debunk the biggest myths of fantasy football.
*If you’ve never played fantasy football, what are you waiting for? Go join a league!
Myth #1: You Must Draft an RB in Round 1
Drafting a running back in the first round was once considered a fantasy football commandment. For most coaches, drafting a running back in Rounds 1 and 2 was more or less a given; it was simply the way you constructed your roster. However, the fantasy football community has come so far on this idea in recent years that there are now increasingly popular alternative strategies, like “Zero RB,” that are built around ignoring the running back position until much later in the draft, and sometimes entirely. In PPR formats, only three running backs outscored the top three wide receivers in 2016. So if you’re drafting outside of the first few picks and the top-tier RBs are off the board, you should consider taking a top-tier player at another position instead of settling for a second- or third-tier RB. Bottom line: draft the best value in Round 1, regardless of position.
In 2016, I won two leagues in which I employed a Zero RB draft strategy. In another, I lost in the first round of the playoffs to a coach whose first two draft picks were RBs. There are many different paths to fantasy football glory (more on this in a moment).
Myth #2: You Should Not Draft Players with the Same Bye Week
To a degree, not collecting multiple players who share a bye week is sound advice (although, deliberate bye week “stacking” is actually a thing). But too many coaches take this concept to its literal extreme and miss out on better players just to avoid one or two bye week conflicts. It’s important not to overemphasize the potential state of your team’s starting lineup for one week at the expense of costing yourself a better player for the other sixteen weeks. Notice that I said “potential.” Because your league’s schedule does not begin on draft day, you don’t have to have all of your bye weeks in perfect harmony by the conclusion of the draft.
Let’s say your WR1 is the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, whose bye is Week 11. Does that mean you have to avoid other wide receivers with the same bye week, like Jarvis Landry and Donte Moncrief, later in the draft? No chance!
The entire landscape of the league may be different by late-November. Perhaps one of your bye-week-11 WRs will get injured. Maybe you will trade one of them to a team whose WR1 is hurt or suspended, or maybe you will find a waiver wire gem. Since we can’t predict the future, your goal on draft day should be to acquire as much value as possible without looking too far ahead.
Myth #3: You Must Handcuff Your Best Players
Drafting a handcuff is like taking out a cut-rate insurance policy: technically, you’re covered in case of an accident, but in the event that you need it, you’re pretty unlikely to be fully compensated for your loss. Let’s say Rams’ running back Todd Gurley is your RB1, and you draft his backup, Malcolm Brown, “just in case.” You are playing for the worst-case scenario–a season-ending injury to Gurley. And by tying two roster spots to the production of one position (starting running back for the Los Angeles Rams), the result is a net loss in the total value of your fantasy roster. Brown is taking up a roster spot that you won’t be able to use on a timeshare player, high upside rookie, etc. Furthermore, even if Sean McVay’s worst nightmare comes true and Gurley tears his ACL in Week 1, your handcuff strategy will have left you with a player who averaged all of 2.2 rushing yards per attempt last season (almost 2 entire yards lower than the league average of 4.19). Breaking news: backups tend to be less talented than the players starting ahead of them.
Myth #4: Your Late-Round Draft Picks Don’t Matter
Matt Ryan finished his fantastic 2016 season as the #3 overall fantasy player and QB2. In standard scoring leagues, he was the 19th QB taken in drafts, coming off the board at pick #129.2. To put it another way: Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, had an 11th round ADP. Dak Prescott was fantasy QB6 last year, but had a 12th-round ADP. Saints’ rookie Michael Thomas finished as WR7 in standard leagues, despite his 11th-round ADP. Terrelle Pryor, who had a 15th-round ADP and went undrafted in many leagues last year, finished as fantasy WR20. Proof positive not only that late round picks do matter, but that good ones can make your season.
Myth #5: You Should Always Start Your “Studs”
Matchups, injuries, and busts are three reasons that “always start your studs” is an inherently flawed fantasy football commandment. There are very few players who are truly “matchup-proof” in fantasy football. Even the consensus first-round picks who manage to live up to their lofty expectations can lay the occasional egg. Antonio Brown, the 2016 #1 overall pick by ADP, who finished as fantasy WR1, only scored 8 total points (standard scoring) in two games against Cincinnati last year. If one of your studs is injured, struggling, or has a particularly poor matchup on a given week, and a player on your bench is ranked favorably, you shouldn’t feel compelled to start the stud simply due to draft status. Stubbornly refusing to bench a high draft pick who struggles for prolonged stretches of the season (e.g. the 2016 Allen Robinson Experience) is a common mistake that can sink your season. If one of your studs has a lingering injury or is questionable throughout the week, then is inexplicably active on game day, he’s probably not about to have the game of his life.
Don’t ignore red flags and don’t let the “stud” status (or perceived “stud” status) of your players cloud your common sense when submitting your lineup.
Myth #6: You Should Have a Single Plan for the Draft and Stick to It
Related Myth: You Should Not Deviate From Your Rankings During the Draft
In a 12-team league, you will decide what happens for precisely 1 pick each round. That means that 11 out of every 12 picks–over 91% of the draft–will be out of your hands. The other 11 coaches do not care about your draft plan. They will draft players you covet. There will be runs on positions you need while you watch helplessly from the other end of the draft order. I am not telling you to do nothing to prepare for your draft, or not to have a plan. What I am saying is that you have to be able to make adjustments on the fly if and when your plan goes awry. Your #1 job on draft day is to react to the other 91% — the part you can’t control.
And if your plan becomes impossible after a couple rounds, why panic? There is no such thing as a correct (or incorrect) strategy for drafting and constructing your fantasy football team. Any strategy can succeed, and any strategy can fail. Some coaches prefer to draft a full starting lineup before drafting any bench players. Other coaches load up on running backs and wide receivers before drafting a tight end or defense. We all have hunches and gut feelings about certain players, and you should follow your instincts on draft day.^ If you want to reach slightly for a player who is a few spots down on your rankings, go for it, and don’t think twice. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there are many ways to build a winning fantasy football team.
^Unless you happen to be my good friend, Pitts. Pitts, if you’re reading this, do not follow your instincts. They suck. Your instincts are like the Sex Panther cologne from Anchorman: “60% of the time, they work, every time.” Except, you have never won a league title. So your instincts are actually less effective than a fictional cologne that’s illegal in nine countries. You should consider doing the exact opposite of what you would normally do on draft day.
Myth #7: Only Football Experts or Diehard Fans Can Win At Fantasy Football
Related Myth: Fantasy Football is Only Fun if You Win
Anyone can win a fantasy football league championship. My wife, who is neither a football expert nor a diehard fan (I’m looking forward to sleeping on the couch tonight), has won multiple fantasy titles in a keeper league with active, knowledgeable coaches. I was once in a 12-team league in which a guy, let’s call him “Greg,” who can generously be described as a passive NFL fan: (1) auto-drafted his entire team without making any of his own draft picks, (2) did not make a single roster move or lineup change (not one!) throughout the entire season, and (3) won the league championship.** Fantasy football is not a science. It’s wildly unpredictable. I have been in leagues where experts lose and novices win. Preparation will certainly increase your chances of success. But even when you don’t win, fantasy football is an exhilarating, frustrating, hilarious, heart-breaking, and rewarding experience for invested coaches.
**I will neither confirm nor deny that Greg was cordially invited to exit the league after that season. If hypothetically, he was not invited back, I would venture to guess that the mere mention of his name would still, to this day (over 10 years later), elicit vengeful responses and a flurry of expletives from the league’s other coaches. Not that any of them are still bitter. Hypothetically.