Fantasy Football Drafting Philosophy
The idea for this column came about because so often we receive emails from readers asking for general advice about how to define their strategy for their upcoming draft. However, most of the time they do not define for us the parameters of their specific league. While fantasy leagues may not be snowflakes, it is rare that any two are exactly alike. Here are some answers (or "Rules to the Road") to some of the most common non-player fantasy questions and what you need to know to help give you the best strategic chance at winning it all.
What is the best drafting strategy?
Before you get specific as to whether you plan to go RB/RB or WR/RB or whether you want to take a TE in the first five rounds or not, here are the two simplest keys to help get you ready for draft day.
Rules - The first thing any fantasy owner should do each year (whether they are a grizzled veteran who plays in several leagues or a green rookie just starting out) is to familiarize yourself with the rules for your specific league. As someone that plays in multiple leagues -- and leagues that often tweak rules -- confusion can easily occur as to which rules applies to which league.
Questions that come into fantasy writers can be hard to answer, but not because we can't offer an opinion on whether we would prefer Rodgers or Brees or if we would start Chester Taylor over Jerricho Cotchery at a flex position; the issue is we are not often provided with any context as to your league rules.
Let me use my three friends' leagues as examples as to why that information is important to determining the best course of action:
League #1 – standard scoring and starting lineup of eight players
League #2 – QBs are awarded six points per touchdown; WR and TE are lumped together, start three
League #3 – standard scoring with modified PPR (3 rec = 1 pt); start nine players, but you can go with standard 2RB-3WR-TE or 1 RB-4WR-TE or 2RB-2WR-2TE
It should be clear that the same strategy across the board will not work. In leagues 1 and 3, I will guess there is at best a 50-50 chance that a QB will not get picked in round one and certainly no more than one. In league two where TDP = six points, Brees and Rodgers are locks for round one, while Manning and Brady won't be far behind.
In the third league, RBs are still very important, but you only have to start one. Also, a player like Reggie Bush will get a little more love because of the PPR aspect, while Shonn Greene (with the no receptions last season) will likely drop a spot or two. Also, since an owner will likely start three wide receivers and there is a PPR component, there is no need to overreach and draft Cedric Benson when a solid/safe WR like Marques Colston is still on the board.
In #2, there probably will not be more than 10-12 tight ends drafted at all because while a Jeremy Shockey or John Carlson have some value in leagues that require a TE, their upside is lacking compared to receivers like Mike Thomas, Mario Manningham or Austin Collie. Of course, in #3, even if I take Dallas Clark early on, I can still draft Brent Celek if he slips to the 8th round because of the option in this league to start multiple tight ends.
Tiers – This applies more to the post-round 3 portion of the draft, but you want to determine where the drop off occurs within each position. It is not enough just to go with the "all I need is a list" strategy -- though I love when my opponents do just that -- even one as well-researched and thought out as the FFToolbox version (yes, I am a company man).
Ex: There will come a point where there is a run on passers, say in the 4th or 5th round, and you don't have one yet. Like me, you are a fan of the top 7 options and plan to get one of them (if it works out). Rodgers, Brees and Manning are long gone, while Brady and Schaub went within the last 10 picks. Now it is easy to get caught up and feel like I better take one now or else; that impulse is fine if you are getting Tony Romo or Philip Rivers -- the last two QBs that I say are worth being selected that high.
Of course, that urge will look much worse if you end up taking Matt Ryan immediately after those players. It is not that Ryan is a bad player (though I am not a buyer this year), but his value at that point of the draft is not good as he is not projected to offer the same upside as the previously selected passers. As someone that has studied the board, I feel like there is a drop off after Romo/Rivers, but that does not mean you are dead meat if you do not get one (as the next level has several options). Maybe I take Ryan, but a round or so later. I'd also be happy with Favre, Kolb, Cutler, Flacco or others down the line because to me those players are comparable. Plus, I would like pair two from this tier that also includes Eli Manning, McNabb and Palmer. And we have not even mentioned the up-and-comers like Mark Sanchez or the suspended Ben Roethlisberger, who is looking like a steal in round 11, which is where he fell in a recent industry mock draft.
So while I will wait on QB, the owner with a list who has not differentiated the difference between the names on his list and is sweating bullets because the signal callers are going will likely just take the next name on his sheet. That is not winning fantasy football.
In other words, there is no one perfect strategy for each league and even once you understand your league rules and come up with one, you must be ready to implement Plan B. Obviously you need to have a good feel for the actual players and be on top of what is going on with the NFL teams, but a little light reading (rules) and research (tiers) will help with your competitive edge. Stubbornly trying to put the square peg into the round draft hole is not the way to go.