Fantasy Football Draft Tips
It’s finally here! The time of year all of us fantasy football fanatics look forward to like we’re little kids waiting for Christmas. While some of us are already a handful to over 100 drafts in, especially the dynasty and best ball crowds, some of us may just now be digging in to see what’s what in the 2018 fantasy football landscape. If that’s you, here are few handy guidelines to work with from draft prep to in-draft strategy.
Most people are probably familiar with the Bruce Lee quote about being like water. This is a great philosophy that can be applied to many things in life. Its primary lesson is to be adaptable. After all, adaptability is the key reason a species can survive. A portion of the famous quote I find especially relevant to redraft and best ball formats is when Bruce says:
Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
In every traditional style fantasy draft, we are assigned a draft position. That is our crack for making it through the process. If we come into our drafts rigid, forcing a particular strategy that we’ve read about on the internet or magazine, and the draft does not disclose itself to flow that way, then the results could be a disaster and you end up donating your entry fee to your league mates. This leads us to our first rule of drafting.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #1: Be Adaptable
This is the most important rule of all. Don’t reach into lesser tiers forcing a position to fit a strategy, or even a need when there is still a great value at other positions on the board. Don’t talk yourself into drafting Joe Mixon over Michael Thomas in the second round because your desired strategy says you have to take 3 RBs in the first three rounds. Don’t pass on going QB earlier than you planned when guys like Rodgers fall into the 6th round, or Russell Wilson or Cam Newton is still there in the 8th. If you continue to build with the appropriate value in the early rounds, you will be able to fill in positions and needs later in the draft with players that can still return good value.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #2: Have a Cheat Sheet
If you’re a seasoned player and can build your own projections, rankings, and tiers – do it and stick to them! If you’re not quite to that point, find rankings and projections you can rely on. I would recommend using an online source with rankings that are continually updated, rather than buying a magazine off the shelf that was written in June and is outdated by the time you walk into your draft party. Gridiron Experts have their rankings posted here. They have 14 of their staff rank each position, which is valuable in the fact you can see 14 different perspectives on a player. Not all of your league mates will be using the same cheat sheet or have the same opinions, so this is a way to calibrate a range of value for each player. Guys you like, look at the higher end of the range to see where you should probably take that guy if you want to have the best chance at landing them.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #3: Do some research
Take a look at your cheat sheet and try to understand why players are ranked the way they are. If you don’t understand why someone is ranked so high or seems too low, get online and start Googling or doing Twitter searches to find out if you agree with the ranking. Do the same with any player or team you are unfamiliar with. I have a list of beat writers for all 32 teams pinned to my Twitter profile that can be an excellent resource. The first reply by @aronro explains how to use it to search for posts related to a single player, or you can read through a team’s page.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #4: Have an Opinion
This is the most intuitive concept to consider – take players you want. Every year, you’ll read posts on Twitter or other forums of how great a certain player is and that we should totally be taking them no matter what. But, if we’ve done our homework properly, and we’re not feeling it, don’t draft that guy! What’s happens when you let someone else indirectly make a decision for you and they were wrong? You end up kicking yourself for it and saying “I should have trusted my gut”. You’re right, you should have. Win or lose, do it with players you want on your team(s).
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #5: Have a Plan
Something I like to do in my drafts is prioritize some late-round guys heading into my draft. Either highlight them, bold them or circle them on your draft board and know what round you will likely be able to grab them in. When you do this, you can tentatively plan to have them on your roster and draft around that knowing you have a few aces up your sleeve for later. It’s not always reliable, so you do still need to take the best players you can get early, but there are several times I have come out of drafts this year knowing I will end up with Peyton Barber in Rd15 or Javorius Allen in the 18th, and most of the time I can get Spencer Ware or Corey Grant in the last round of best ball drafts. Applying this concept, I know if I want to do a 6 RB roster construction I have 2 or 3 late fall back options if I don’t have all the horses falling to me early. @FF_Wheeler wrote a terrific series that covers this topic over the summer.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #6: Understand Opportunity Cost
Opportunity cost is the concept of what you lose when you have selected something else. This concept tends to be more pronounced earlier in the draft and flattens out as the draft goes along. If we’re forcing positions in the top 5-6 rounds instead of taking the best player on the board, we might end up with a shaky roster we might not even like when we’re done. If you’re the first to take QB in Rd4, you’re passing up a chance to draft a difference-maker at RB or WR. Instead, wait on that QB and build your RB and WR corps in the high leverage rounds. Gronk and perhaps Kelce are the only non-RB/WR worth the pick if you deviate from those two positions in the top six or seven rounds.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #7: Have “Cut-offs”
“Cutoffs” are another strategy I’ll employ. Last year I had cutoffs for my QB1, where I was targeting Russell Wilson or Tom Brady if they fell to the 6th, and if I missed out on them, my cutoff for a QB1 was Cam Newton or Marcus Mariota in the 9th Rd. Mariota wasn’t himself last year, but this strategy worked out where I got a lot of Wilson and some Brady, and even Cam had enough spike weeks to produce value in best ball. This year the QB pool is so deep, I don’t have a cutoff for that position, but I am finding I prefer to have at least one stud TE this year. If I’m toward the back end of Rd2 and the RBs and WRs I want are gone, I’m taking Gronk. When I don’t get Gronk, my cutoffs are Kyle Rudolph in the 7th/8th or George Kittle in the 9th/10th. There have been times when I’ve had to patch together some lesser TEs and take 3, but I prefer not to have to do that, so setting these cutoffs gives me some direction to navigate with.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #8: Watch the Draft Board
As we are “finding our way through it” in our drafts, we need to anticipate position runs as the draft progresses. This can give us an edge. It is typically easier the closer you are to either side of the turns in a snake style draft. If there are two teams with two picks between us and our next pick, and both have already drafted a TE or two, we can take that calculated risk that we can hold off on a TE and take another player we’re eyeing instead. Positional runs occur with the “onesie” positions – positions that only have 1 starter per week, like QB, TE, DST. In some cases, you might want to be ahead of the run and get a player from the first tier of that onesie position. If our draft board has a group of players we’re comfortable with waiting to see who makes it back around to us at our next pick, we can grab that QB ahead of the 2 guys after us who might not have one yet and trust we’ll probably see one of the players in that group we passed on come back to our next pick.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #9: Wait on selecting your D/ST
One position I am perfectly content to wait on this year is DST. The DST pool has so many sleepers this year. Teams like TEN have a very strong foundation and now have Dan Pees as their DC who was with BAL the past few years presiding over their stingy defenses. CIN has a strong core of defenders emerging and make for a great last round DST2. Sometimes I’ll take the Bears when they last to round 17 or 18 in best ball because I see another overlooked defense with major upside in them.
Fantasy Football Draft Tip #10: Don’t draft a Kicker, Defense, or IDPs Unless You Have Too
In redraft leagues where you’re not forced to take a K, DST, or IDP in your draft to fulfill position requirements imposed by the website, then don’t take them. This is a stronger strategy the earlier in the offseason you draft. The idea behind it is that most of those guys are replaceable and you’re going to end up streaming those positions during the year anyway, so why waste roster space on them now? Take extra offensive players and use that as leverage in trades to try and produce a moderate upgrade to a position by throwing out a bunch of 2 for 1 trade proposals. It also gives you a buffer from preseason injuries, and might even give you the guy who takes over for a guy like Spencer Ware when he got hurt in preseason. If no trades or injuries work out, then wait until the night before waivers lock to reconfigure your roster to meet requirements met for opening day so that no one in your league can scoop your buried treasure until after all the games are played.
The majority of these strategies will work for both redraft and best ball, the last strategy is not for best ball though. The great thing about best ball though, is we have 18 or 20 rounds to make our way through the cracks. There’s even less pressure to force a strategy or “recommended” roster construction in this type of league. Another thing I like about best ball is it’s a good way to do mock drafts all offseason to prepare for your home league drafts, since everyone playing best ball has some skin in the game, making them more reliable than doing free mocks on other sites. They’re also a way to spend $1 to $10 to find out if a particular strategy is going to work for you or not. However, the thing you can’t account for in best ball drafts is the unpredictability of your friends in home league drafts. Guys with die-hard loyalties to players or teams that are willing to take “their guy” more than a round or two early, or the guy who is somehow in your head and sniping all your sleepers a round ahead of you. Just remember the key to it all is to be adaptable, so have fun with it all and “be like water”!
Bonus Tip: Get a League Trophy!
Fantasy Football draft season is everyone’s favorite time of the year. You put in countless hours studying, negotiating trades, and strategizing on which players to keep. The season is a long grind and the league winner deserves more than a few bucks. Get your Fantasy Football champ an awesome trophy from Fantasy Jocks!
They have everything from traditional trophies to championship belts. Check out Fantasy Jocks Today!
NorCal native Jesse Jones has been obsessed with fantasy football since joining and winning his first league in 1994. He has been a leader in looking for an edge, while others showed up to drafts asking for a cheat sheet and a pencil. He’s been writing his own rankings and mining data to build spreadsheets for 12+ years. Jess puts in hundreds of hours of research and analysis each offseason to build his own database and identify targets for Redraft and Bestball. During the season Jess pours countless hours into DFS research. All of his analysis and findings are passed onto you as the reader.