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Fantasy Football Draft Tips for a Winning Strategy
As fantasy draft day approaches each year, we all begin to question our strategies and conventional wisdom that make our selection the key to a winning season.
To help you make the right choice, we’ve compiled a list of the best strategies and tips that have proven themselves successful across many leagues and many years. We’re not giving you a prescribed strategy for every round, but rather we are helping you guide the creation of a great fantasy draft roster and perhaps the selection of the right fantasy football draft tool.
These thoughts will help you build a great team this season and every season that follows. Now, let’s get into creating that team with new knowledge and tested gems.
Learn Your League
Your first and best lesson before adopting any fantasy draft tools or building out your best fantasy draft roster is to learn how your league operates and think about what this means. There are a lot of different rules and quirks that apply to different leagues, and these can make strategies change drastically when comparing any two.
For example, some leagues have adopted performance scoring that may award more points for sacks and turnovers than standard leagues, but have a more balanced approach to scoring passing and running yards gained. This can make your quarterback have a very different role and emphasize a strong wide receiver if you have a quarterback capable of running the ball.
Another recent addition is the distance-scoring model. This means that your league may give more points for scoring on plays with a greater distance involved. For example, a touchdown from inside the red zone will be worth less league points than a touchdown from near the 50 yard line. Kickoff and punt returns may also be scored higher because they involve a longer play and typically more distance.
Quarterbacks and Scoring
The worth of your quarterback can vary slightly based on your league, but you’ll always need a good QB if you want to dominate the leaderboards. When you choose your quarterback, his overall value depends a lot on your league size and how it scores points and achievements.
Leagues typically run either 12 or 14 teams, and the fewer the teams in your league the less you need to focus on grabbing a quality quarterback early. In any given season, you’ll find that at least half of the 32 teams in the NFL have a good quarterback that can properly manage the field. So, in 12-team leagues you don’t need to prioritize a quarterback and can typically pick up a decent QB late in the draft or even through a waiver. Wait until late rounds to pick up your quarterback unless you see a very high-profile player get passed up; it can be worth it to grab a good leader if he’s undervalued.
If you play in a 14-team setup, you’ll want to pick up a quarterback earlier in the draft, though typically not in your first two to three rounds. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to move to the bottom of the barrel for top-tier QBs, and in the NFL there aren’t that many second-string QBs that will perform consistently well when used in a fantasy league.
If your league allows two quarterbacks, they become a chief target for early draft picks because having two stars can make your team great while also hurting your opponents significantly. You have a reliable backup in case of injury and you’re limiting the likely passing yards of others. Here, it’s worth spending your early draft-round picks on quarterbacks.
Scoring from the league gives you a secondary measure for the value of quarterbacks and should be used to determine how you pick them for your fantasy draft roster. Quarterbacks usually get between three and six points for each passing touchdown and lose points whenever they throw an interception. Passing yardage also earns points, though this can vary widely between leagues.
The lower the amount of points awarded for a passing touchdown, the more value you should place on quarterbacks who can also run the ball well. This is because they have more options for gaining yardage and aren’t as penalized for running when they’re open.
In every league, the more points taken away for each interception, the worse the value of the quarterback. These penalties also make all of your other players more valuable because they can reduce your opponents’ scores. For big penalty leagues, you’ll want a safe quarterback and strong lineup that can cause interceptions in your opponents.
Problems With Dual-Running Back Builds
Pick nine is usually when people select wide receivers and running backs, according to most fantasy football draft tools. Different fantasy football draft analyzer setups will pitch different combinations for this round, but you’ll want to look at league stats more than these suggestions.
Tools often highlight the benefits of a dual-running back selection because RBs can often bring home more points than a wide receiver. RBs are high earners because they get more passing and rushing yards due to more plays that involve RBs throughout a game. The typical RB is a consistent scorer, even if the number is low, and makes a good draft choice.
The two downsides to focusing solely on running backs are injuries and receiver losses. Running backs get injured more often than wide receivers during the season and your fantasy league is going to reflect this. That means a dual-RB build could leave you without two stars at some point during the season. Pushing for RBs also limits your selection of wide receivers in later draft rounds.
One note about running backs is that you shouldn’t be looking at anyone over age 30, regardless of the workload you’re expecting from your team. Because of injuries and strain it’s a young man’s position, and the older they get the more running backs slow down from age or injury.
Once you drop away from top-tier WRs, expect to see their performance all over the place each week. You won’t get star performances most weeks – probably very few weeks – and you may end up seeing a lot of missed opportunities if you’re forced to select an unexceptional WR.
Top-tier WRs can give you consistent scoring and help keep games close, especially since they’re less injury-prone than RBs. Unfortunately they’re limited on plays and stuck to receiving-only yards. A good place to look for WRs is in their third year, which is typically a breakout year for the position because they’ve had enough time to learn the game and get used to the position’s complexity. Third-years can be a little under the radar, but they’re young and now experienced enough to provide you more consistency than fresh blood.
You’ll need good players in these spots, so you’re in good shape for flexibility and score by selecting a RB/WR draft round or focusing on at least one RB who plays more like a WR.
What’s Your Tight End Worth?
When it comes to fantasy football draft tips, your tight end usually gets the short end of the stick.
Unfortunately, in fantasy leagues they deserve it. Tight ends are injury-prone, and going for a great player early doesn’t have many benefits. Even the best tight ends in the league still fall short of the top overall receivers in terms of scoring; this puts them behind the league’s top 25 running backs in most years.
Check your league requirements and see how many you’re required to start; it’s often just one. Strong tight ends will be around late in most drafts, and the real NFL has continually added good tight ends since the early 2000s, so you’ve got a lot to choose from.
Use some fantasy football draft tools to monitor which running backs and wide receivers are being picked. Once this moves away from top-tier players, you’ll want to start grabbing a good tight end and quarterback.
Draft Dangers: Sleepers and Surplus
Sleepers present the most tempting mistake for a fantasy draft roster. Sleepers are those players who may be considered up-and-coming or a great dark horse who’s overlooked. While this can be true for NFL games themselves, especially as the season wears on, it’s never a sure bet in a fantasy league. Fantasy leagues depend much more on existing stats than future, untested potential.
Loading up on sleepers once you’ve got a proper lineup or picking a sleeper too early in the draft can damage your team by limiting the value of the other players you’ve got. They can also cause problems when a sleeper fills in for a starting lineup and simply can’t perform.
That isn’t to say sleepers are bad or won’t perform, but they shouldn’t be picked over reliability. You may be surprised with one or two sleepers performing well, but if they don’t you’re still not out a major loss if you got them late in the draft. If you pick up sleepers at a bargain rate, however, the more popular ones can give you some good trading fuel.
Rookies operate in much the same way.
Some ultra-hyped rookies will get picked early, but there’s no way to reliably guess and measure their performance ahead of time. They can end up creating a big hole in your lineup. We all want to pick the next Odell Beckham Jr. and have him masterfully bring us from nothingness to greatness, but don’t forget he’s one out of dozens and dozens of newbies who never rise above the field.
If you’ve got a lot of faith, go for your favorite in the mid-round picks when you already have a solid lineup forming. It’s too much of a risk to add them in your major selections.
Why Bye Weeks Aren’t Worrisome
There’s a lot of talk about bye weeks, but you’re not in any significant danger from them. Every team has to deal with them, and there’s a lot of opinions on whether they’re best clumped together or spread out for your players. Top fantasy leaders online have had bye week plans all over the place, so there’s no single strategy that has emerged as king.
A single caveat to the bye week issue comes with your quarterbacks. You don’t want your starter QB and your backup QB to have the same bye week because then you’re left in the dust and guaranteed some major issues.
Beyond the quarterback double-checking you need to do, take bye weeks as they come and focus on a stronger team instead of the calendar.
General Fantasy Football Draft Tips
We could go on and on when it comes to fantasy football draft tips, so let’s wrap up with just a few that will help you on draft day itself:
Always watch the draft and, if possible, run fantasy football draft tools while you’re watching to examine what your opponents are picking. Paying careful attention can help you determine if you need to adjust an existing strategy and pick up a new receiver or quarterback earlier than you expected. It can also help you grab the last elite players in key positions before they’re all gone.
Pay attention to what’s going on behind you. It’s easy to follow the teams ahead of you, but don’t forget about those who pick after you. If those around you have picked up their quarterbacks already and you still see a few goodies left in the mix, you can likely wait a round or two to pick them up. With larger leagues, paying attention to what’s behind you can also give you a clue about when to start picking up your secondary players.
In just about every league out there, defensive lines and kickers are left to the late rounds because they’re simply not as important. Overall, your defense and special teams will matter little in scoring – they prevent the other side from earning a variety of points but generate very little of their own.
Avoid doubling up on kickers and defense unless it’s been an especially injury-prone season for the NFL overall. In this case, which is rare, the backups that you should gain through the waiver wire could prove to be good trading options and may fill in tougher positions as the season carries on.
Since you’re starting fewer of these positions, you can often leave them for the waiver and still get a wide variety of great choices to make up a solid team. Also, fantasy football draft analyzer options on the market have tended to show that these positions have a large variability, even among top players. This means that you’re not able to select consistently good performance, so they’re not worth anything except late-round draft picks at best.
Picking a Fantasy Football Draft Tool
There are plenty of fantasy draft tools available for use, with many free and paid options. Selecting the right tool for you is a matter of what you want to pay and how much information you want to get. Your best bet is to look for a plan that offers you a choice of tier in your fantasy football draft tool with a mix of player stats, as well as trade value rankings and settings in a draft-analysis format.
Advanced features can also be a saving grace if you’re not a big number cruncher. Looking for a feature set like scoutPRO’s ability to optimize your fantasy draft roster on a weekly basis can save you hours of work and keep the game enjoyable.
With the multitude of services on the market, you’ll want to find the fullest complement of data that backs up your analysis. Look for a fantasy football draft analyzer that uses objective statistical analysis with player modeling to automatically keep your players and teams up-to-date so you know exactly how to play the hand you’ve picked.
In addition to our season-long offerings, scoutPro has also formed a partnership with daily game leader DraftKings.com to give subscribers access to exclusive daily games draft tips from our experts and our new daily games software. Our weekly rankings and mid-week reports have everything you need to make decisions ahead of the weekend games.