Week three of the preseason has come to an end and that means it is time to rejoice! We are just one more meaningless game away from seeing real, honest to goodness football once again.
Many of you have already held your fantasy football drafts, but if you are in a league that has yet to do so, I would like to welcome you to my first ever draft guide. Whether you are a first time player looking for advice, or are experienced and looking for someone to scoff at and reaffirm the opinions you’ve already formed, I hope I can be of service.
Before we get rolling, I think this would be an appropriate time to establish what our relationship is. Too many fantasy “experts” sell themselves as all-seeing, all-knowing authorities. They come at you with a whole mess of numbers, assuring you they have the best rankings and sleepers. They profess the importance of value based drafting, the zero running back approach, or even the upside down draft. Each promising their audience that winning is just as simple as doing exactly what they say.
The thing is, if you’ve played fantasy football for long, you know that the only thing certain is that fantasy football is hardly ever predictable. Injuries destroy the best laid plans. Coaches don’t see the same potential in players that you do. Once great players lose a step. Nobodies become superstars practically overnight — how many of you drafted David Johnson in 2015 or Jordan Howard last year?
All of this is just my long winded way of saying that while fantasy columnists are certainly a helpful tool for fantasy football owners, they aren’t psychics. We’re more like stock brokers. We look for patterns and offer our best guesses on which players might get you the best returns on your investment. And some of us our pretty good at it.
I’ve been playing fantasy football since I was 15, and I’ve won my fair share of leagues. And while I’ve never finished in last place in any league I’ve ever played, I’ve had my fair share of nightmare seasons as well (thanks a lot 2015 Eddie Lacy).
My point is that I promise to never sell you snake oil. Moving forward I will write about players I believe in and warn you about players I don’t. What’s important for you is to have your own opinions and to stick with your gut. If you truly believe in a player that I or some other analyst is down on, go with them. It’s your team and you should run it how you sit fit. That’s what makes it the greatest game on the planet.
With all that said, I do have some tips I think will help you navigate your draft and manage it once your season begins. Let’s get rolling.
1. Know your league
Ok, this one may sound obvious, but as someone who been the commissioner of multiple leagues, trust me when I say you’d surprised how many fantasy owners go into the draft not knowing what the rules of their league are.
Is your league PPR or standard? Does your league score for every yard or increments of 10? How big is your roster? Does your league start two quarterbacks? Does your league have an injured reserve slot(s)? If so, how many and are suspended players eligible? Can players earn points for special teams contributions? Will your league be drafting team defenses or individual defensive players? Does your league allow keepers? Are you in a dynasty league? Are there punishments for the teams that finish last? These are all important things to know so you can target players best suited to help you win your league.
Part of the beauty of fantasy football is that it is highly customizable game. Unless you are playing in a truly standard league, chances are your league will have wrinkles you won’t find in another league. For example, I play in a keeper league where teams must have a rookie rostered at all times and can keep that rookie for up to four years.
Your league might have it’s own quirks. Knowing them is half the battle.
2. Don’t be rigid in your draft planning
Each year, countless draft guides are produced for and consumed by fantasy owners. Typically, the guides will promote a specific strategy or tell you in which round you should draft a position. I’m here to tell you it’s all hogwash.
Now, I’m not saying these advice columns are useless, far from it. But in my experience, the best fantasy players use elements of multiple strategies.
Let’s use last season as an example. Fantasy owners were burned badly by the running back position in 2015. A perfect storm of injuries and underperformers saw several big name players heading into the season — Jamaal Charles, Lesean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, Le’Veon Bell, Demarco Murray, Eddie Lacy, Jeremy Hill, CJ Anderson, just to name a few — drafted early in drafts only to disappoint. Add in underwhelming performances that year from rookies like Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon, and it’s understandable why owners and experts alike were sour on the position heading into 2016.
So what happened? Experts began touting the importance of strategies such as the zero running back approach — a strategy where drafters avoid running backs until after a predetermined round, usually after the third or fourth round at a minimum.
Was that a bad thing? Not necessarily. If you utilized this strategy last year and were thrifty enough, you could have ended up with backs like LeGarrette Blount, Mark Ingram, Isaiah Crowell, Tevin Coleman, and maybe even scooped up Jordan Howard off the waiver. All were solid contributors and would have paired nicely with the Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans pick you likely made instead of going running back early.
But on the other hand, if you decided to try upside down drafting — a strategy where you decide that using the same strategy as everyone else in your league actually diminishes the quality of your draft, and thus do the opposite — you could have landed studs like David Johnson, Bell, Zeke Elliot or even rostered McCoy and Murray during their big comeback years.
The point is no strategy is guaranteed to work. Football is too unpredictable to be rigid in your draft planning. The best thing you can do before your draft is highlight which players you like, research when they are being taken, compare that to the picks you have and gameplan a few scenarios that might force/allow you change your approach mid-draft.
3. Don’t draft a quarterback early
I know I just gone telling you not to listen to pundits that tell you when you should draft a position, but hear me out.
One thing most fantasy experts agree on is that the benefit of drafting an “elite” quarterback early is far outweighed by the amount of points you lose at other positions by doing so. Obviously there are some exceptions — if you play in a 2-QB league, a league where QBs are awarded six points for passing TDs, or even in some dynasty leagues — but in your typical redraft league, you’re actually hurting your odds of success by taking Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers in the third.
If you took Rodgers last year, you likely would have had to select him by the 19th pick, according to his ADP. What you got was the top scoring quarterback in all of fantasy with 380 points, for a weekly average of 23.75. Now let’s assume you are in a 12 team league and compare Rodgers to the thirteenth highest scoring quarterback — Marcus Mariota. Mariota started 15 games before he was injured and was able to score 259.9 points. That’s number may seem far less than Rodger’s, but resulted in just a little over six less points per week than what Rodgers put up, and Mariota was being drafted as a QB16 and went undrafted in many leagues.
Let’s compare that to running backs. Last year David Johnson did the unthinkable, he outscore all QBs in fantasy, a position that is a lock to have some of the highest season totals in all of fantasy. Johnson posted 407.8 points in PPR leagues last year. That’s an insane 25.48 weekly average from a running back.
Last year’s 12th highest running back? The ageless Frank Gore who scored 214.2 points — just barely more than half of Johnson’s total — for a weekly average of 13.38. You don’t have to me a math genius to realize that is a significant drop off. Even if you wanted to throw out Johnson’s ridiculous year and use the second highest scoring RB — Zeke with a 325.4 and 20.33 line — you realize that the drop off at running back is much steeper than a quarterback. Especially when you realize most leagues start two running backs. The difference between Johnson and last year’s RB24, Darren Sproles, was 15.33 points a week! And it only got wider the farther down the list you went.
Similarly at wide receiver, the difference between PPR’s top wideout Antonio Brown (19.2 PPG) and the 24th highest receiver, Pierre Garcon (12.56 PPG) was just under seven points per week.
When you spend a early pick on a quarterback, you are leaving a ton of points on the table every week that could have been yours.
4. Keep up to date with NFL news
Something I think a lot of casual and inexperienced players don’t realize, is the key to draft prep and in-season management is simply following the news.
I hear so many people say, “I don’t know that much about football,” when things go wrong for their team. The truth is, you don’t need to be a former player or even a math genius to succeed. The biggest thing you can do is to simply pay attention.
I know our lives are hectic, but it’s as simple as taking a few minutes each day to peruse the headlines on website — I happen to know of a good one — and see what coaches are saying. See who is hurt, who is struggling and who has been getting praise from team leadership. From there your can make educated guesses on what moves to make, and it only takes a few minutes each week.
That’s it for my guide, I hope you found it useful. I’ll be back soon with a list of sleepers and value picks I like in this year’s draft, and which players you should keep an eye on as potential waiver pick ups once the season gets underway.