The fantasy football season is finally almost upon us, making it’s triumphant return into our lives, and bringing with it all the excitement, aggravation, and trash talking one can muster. Whether you're brand new to this vast, intimidating world of FFB, or a self-proclaimed seasoned pro, it never hurts to do some homework. One thing is for sure: there’s an overwhelming plethora of information out there fighting for your eyes and ears, all claiming to hold the secrets to the fantasy promised land. So what makes this different? I’m a player of the game just like you - an obsessive one at that - and a commish with mountains of experience that I want to bestow to you. No frills or gimmicks; these tips I literally use myself to win leagues. You can get stats and sleeper lists anywhere. This was designed specifically with the intention of steering your draft in a successful direction.
There is no one single way to come out victorious, and the draft is only half the battle. Actually beating your league-mates will also incorporate studious time wavering, trading, setting lineups, etc. The team you draft in the coming weeks will (or absolutely should) look monumentally different at the end of the season. Like I said, consider it half the battle in a larger 17-week-long war. So without further ado, to start your season off with a bang. The following are the top 15 tips for dominating your draft.
15 Make Your Own Rankings
No need to be a professional NFL Combine talent scout. By “your own rankings,” I simply mean take an aggregated ADP list available via FantasyPros or other numerous sites, and tinker it to your liking. Know this: ADP, or average draft position, should be utilized as a guild line. ADP only represents averages based on cumulative public interest, kind of like stock prices.
Invest chunks of time researching individual players and their recent news bits/outlooks. Insert a “notes” column next to every name and (where needed) add little tidbits and reminders for yourself to reference during the actual draft. If that sounds too involved, do what I do: use a +/- system; every name in my rankings has anywhere from one-to-three plus or minus signs associated with them, perfectly streamlining my rankings.
Finally, generate tiers for each position. Two-to-four sets should do just fine. Somewhere down the line in your rank lists there are going to be drop-offs. Example: at RB, mid round round, it goes from Matt Forte, Jeremy Hill, Jonathan Stewart, DeMarco Murray - to Ryan Matthews and Matt Jones. Despite the fact that they're ranked one after the other, there is a fairly significant drop off from Murray to Matthews. Draw or insert a horizontal line to better define these drop offs for easy reference during your drafts.
14 Mock Makes Perfect
Mock, mock, then mock some more - draft a little different each time - get a sense of how others draft and ultimately how your team looks at the end. Did you take Rob Gronkowski first, only to feel in the end like you were lacking in the other skill positions? Good. Then don’t do it again. Do you like how your team looks every time you start off drafting WR-WR? Great! Now you have a tentative game plan for your real draft when it actually matters.
Go crazy. Draft a QB first and a TE second then watch and see how difficult it is to recover your other skill positions. Most importantly, as is the case in many leagues, you're unaware of what position you will be drafting, so be prepared for all of them. Just because you like your team every time you start off WR-RB-RB doesn't mean it'll look anything similar to that format. Fully prepare at every draft spot to get a general sense of what you're dealing with no matter what.
13 Don’t Believe the Hype
NFL beat writers and the Twitter echo chamber often get caught up chasing news bits like candy. I can almost visualize them all in a stockbroker-like 1980s smokey office, chaotically led by that loud-mouthed newspaper editor from Spider-Man. (J.K. Simmons I think it was?) Anyway, you get my drift. While breaking news can be valuable, watch the tape yourself. Watch the games when you can, gather player’s stats over more than just five snaps in a single preseason game, and pass judgement accordingly. Nothing is surefire in fantasy, but the more data points you have, combined with eyes on the field, is as surefire as it gets.
Breaking news via Twitter, Rotoworld, etc. becomes far more valuable for reaction times in waiver acquisitions. But as far as the draft itself goes, avoid overreacting to a news piece reporting that a player came to camp "overweight," or that Josh Gordon is great car salesman (yes, that's an actual thing).
12 Ignore Bye Weeks and Strength of Schedule
As often as these are mentioned in consideration of player selection, I can assure you they’re almost completely irrelevant on draft day, and only serve as distractions. Judging a particular team’s schedule difficulty outside of fantasy is certainly doable (to a degree), but it doesn’t translate well to fantasy “strength of schedule.” No one knows what November or December football will look like; things change, and this stat quickly becomes less and less accurate as the season chugs along - just save yourself the headache and ignore it when cited.
Bye weeks are in this same boat: generally ignore them. You’ll figure it out when the time comes, and by that time, your roster will likely look very different anyway. Skipping on drafting a player you truly wanted because you have two others with that same bye week is just silly. Don’t be silly.
11 Reserve Upside for Your Bench
Call them what you will: sleepers, lottery tickets, etc. Round out the last few spots on your bench with these guys. I’m talking Sterling Shepard, Kevin White, Stefon Diggs, Christine Michael, James White, Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon. Those are just a few examples, but generally around that range in rounds 10+ for standard leagues, 10-12 teams. Someone will ‘hit’ around this range, and the ‘tickets’ you reserve deep on your roster could pay off big somewhere throughout the season. Not to mention that holding them yourself denies your opponents the opportunity to hold or waiver them. Last year Jamaal Charles went down and I was able to recover solely because I was holding Karlos Williams. Hitting on upside will make or break your season.
10 Skip the Backups
No handcuffs, backup QBs, backup TEs, or God forbid backup D/STs and Ks. Your bench should literally consist exclusively of RBs and WRs only. There are certain exceptions to this like drafting Tom Brady and holding two QBs until Week 5, but mostly everything else can be managed throughout the season. Waiver your bye week fill-ins as needed; don’t clog up valuable space with clutter that you won’t/can’t use barring injury to the starter or other unpredictable scenarios.
Drafting even a handcuff to an injury-prone RB like Jamaal Charles only means you must continually sacrifice an invaluable bench slot for a player that can only hold value under the condition something happens to Charles, before bye weeks. In weeks 8-9 when seven NFL teams are on bye, suddenly that handcuff won't seem so important to hold. Maybe I'm in the minority with this line of thinking, but I cannot stress this point enough! Trust me, I’ve been there, and I continue to see it every year - people are drawn to the perceived security of backups, but it doesn't pay off.
9 Select Kicker/Defense Dead Last
This could be considered one of the more straightforward tips, although if you’re newer to the fantasy world it can be an easy trap to fall into. Don’t take the bait! Understand that these positions represent the two most disposable and easily replaceable aspects of your roster, and thusly, under no circumstance should you place emphasis on drafting them anywhere other than dead last. Consider kickers as inconsistent/unpredictable bonus points for your team. Try to nab the best one available in the second-to-last round of your draft - this way you’ll likely have a top tier guy without reaching.
Select a defense dead last, with a nice Week 1 matchup. After Week 1 you will probably drop said defense and begin streaming. That’s right I said streaming. Each and every week you’ll drop and pick up new defenses as the match-ups prove to be advantageous. Increasingly this strategy has proved time and time again to collectively score around the same points at the end of the season as the #1 ranked defense does all season. That is to say - someone who plays Seahawks all season long may score 150 points over 16 games, whereas the collection of waiver added defense points scored will also average around that same total or slightly lower. Stream your defense and don’t be that guy in your league who drafts the Broncos in round six.
8 Leave Your Heart at the Door
I know, I know - drafting players you personally feel some weird affection for can be fun, and I’m not necessarily railing against that principle. Just don’t draft all Eagles because you’re from Philadelphia, or pass on Andrew Luck falling to round eight because he burned you last year. If someone asks you why you reached for Tony Romo in round six when five QBs ranked before him will finish with similar fantasy points, and your answer is "it's America's team, man!" that was probably a poor decision. We’re all human and emotions can skew otherwise concise evidence surrounding a player’s outlook, but strive to avoid playing favourites like your boss does at work with that exceedingly annoying coworker of yours. In the end, you need to choose your team with your mind and not with your heart.
7 Know Your League Scoring
Unless you’re the commish, go check your scoring. Right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait here…….. So? Find anything important you weren’t previously aware of? I bet you did. Important as in, your league is actually two full points-per-reception (skyrocketing receiver value), or maybe your points-per-passing touchdowns is only set to four (decreasing QB value, but boosting rushing QBs considerably). If the scoring settings look like calculus to you, reach out to your commish to discover if/how your scoring settings differ from the default.
Defensive scoring can get especially wonky. Some start with 10 points and tick down as yards/points are conceded to the offense. Some award kick-return yard points which fling players such as Tyler Lockett into a completely different tier of importance. The devil is in the details ladies and gents, so pay attention.
6 Do Not Draft for Trades
You know who I’m talking about; he’s the guy who blows up everyone’s phone two days post draft trying to pawn one of the four QBs he drafted for your RB-Two. The problem with this (other than pissing off your fellow league-mates), is if that guy doesn’t succeed in pawning those players, he’s stuck with them or is forced to drop them to free agency. That, my friends, is a massive waist. Draft a team you want. Counting on your opponents to cooperate with trade deals because you hoarded a certain position or handcuff is presumptuous and sloppy. Feel free to waiver bid a handcuff RB for the starter who you don't own when he goes down; those scenarios are different. Trade bait and buying low/ selling high are excellent strategies. This is not that strategy. Don't be that guy and just draft an entire roster you yourself want to own.
5 Avoid Backfield Committees
Not only has the NFL become more and more of a passing league (obviously decreasing RBs stock), but now more and more teams are opting into a RBBC system, or running back by committee. Owning a back who is part of an RBBC makes his production extremely difficult to predict and start with confidence. I’m talking Melvin Gordon/Danny Woodhead or T.J. Yeldon/Chris Ivory. I’m aware most teams have at least some sharing system, and some of these guys are pass-catchers, but these are some of the more prominent splits to steer clear of, unless you enjoy aggravation.
I've sometimes received the question, "Is it okay to start both backs in a committee on the same roster?" No, almost never. Unless you're out of options, (or the particular offense in question is extremely volatile) the backs will essentially cannibalize each other's production capacity, rendering two roster spots both risky starts. Separate yourself from the worst RBBCs like oil to water.
4 Wait on a QB
You might've heard this one before; you heard it before for good reason. Unless top-tier guys like Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and the like drop into rounds four-five or later, resist the urge of the shiny big-name QBs (caveats being if your league starts more than one QB and/or your scoring settings inflate the position value). Past years that aren’t Peyton Manning's ridiculously monster year, always spell out the same slightly varying situation: the difference in points scored over 16 games between the QB-One and QB-Twelve are minuscule - about 50 points on average. Now divide 50 by 16 games and that’s around three points difference per game; aka not warranting reaching for the position so early. You only start one and there are a plethora of possibilities. Cam going in rounds two-three might get you 26 fantasy points per game, yet Tyrod Taylor going in rounds eight-nine might get you 22-23. Get the picture?
3 Wait on a TE
Dare I say Gronk may not be the far-and-away #1 this year? With the inclusion of Martellus Bennett running two TE sets and no Brady until Week 5 makes me feel a little hesitant. Sure I know the history with Gronk putting up WR-One numbers consistently (even with Aaron Hernandez, mind you), but for where he’s going in drafts, it’s a big investment you have to be willing to make. I’m here to say don’t make that investment; let someone else go TE in round one.
After Gronk it’s a big group of shaky let’s-cross-our-fingers-and-hope guys. Jordan Reed gets concussions from walking down the street, Greg Olsen's offensive production is spread thin, Travis Kelce is inconsistent, Tyler Eifert is made of glass, blah blah blah. So as is similar to the QB position, just wait late enough in the draft to where you’re not throwing out an otherwise value pick that could be put to better use drafting a RB or WR.
2 Stack RBs and WRs Early
Here it is: the bread and butter to fantasy success. Make no mistake, it’s not crazy and actually a distinctly competitive strategy to literally draft nothing but these two positions (provided your league allows it). You can viably stream every other position if you’re prepared to run your team accordingly, and I would strongly suggest trying it out. All winning fantasy football teams will be made up predominantly of RBs and WRs, period. They are the most scarce, highest scoring (outside of QB), and volatile in terms of breakout potential, or conversely, consistent elite level production. You must start five-six of these guys, so grab as many as possible and make it count. Do not hold back on this tip as played correctly can make the difference in your league.
1 Zig When Others Zag
You never know how your league will draft, but try to take advantage of trending positions flying off the board, while simultaneously watching what other teams have/still need. The impression this year is that WR is dramatically safer than RB, which in many leagues across the US in the next couple weeks, will cause a mad rush at WR. (Thanks to the RB apocalypse that occurred last year). Now, which position is actually “safer” as demonstrated over more than just last year’s sample size, is in fact the wideout position; but it’s not as dramatic a difference as people perceive it to be.
Some numbers: in 2015, six of the top 12 RBs were busts compared to only three of the top 12 WRs. However in 2014, it was three of 12 RB busts, and three of 12WR busts. 2013 held four of 12 busts for both positions. This pattern continues of virtually similar bust percentages between the two positions, WR occasionally coming out ahead. So what does this mean? It means that if, for instance, your league decides to generally hate on a specific position like RB this year, jump on RB early and get value where you can. Zig when others zag.