Fantasy Football Draft Strategy

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy

Your ultimate guide to fantasy football draft strategy.

In this article we are moving on from our basic fantasy football tips for beginners to teach you how to perfect your fantasy football draft strategy.

In this article we’ll cover the trends, values, and styles of players that affect how you should determine the best strategy for you.

Here are 9 things to do to ensure you have a killer draft strategy!

1. KNOW YOUR LEAGUE SETTINGS

The first and most important tip I can provide is to know your league settings. How fantasy points are distributed can drastically alter a player’s value. Are you playing in a PPR (points per reception), Half PPR, or standard scoring league? Does your league start one or two quarterbacks? Are there other scoring settings you need to account for? Answering these questions and reviewing league settings is the first and most important piece to succeeding in your league.

Try and understand the strategy and thinking of other team managers you will be competing against. Most people play in fantasy leagues with friends or family, so this can be a helpful advantage to think through pre-draft.

ADP (average draft position) is great to help gauge player’s values and prevent biases, but that doesn’t mean other managers will adhere to it. Is your competition high on a specific position? Do they fill out the starting roster before looking for bench depth?

Knowing how your league thinks will help you plan ahead and provide you an edge during the draft. 

2. PREPARE FOR YOUR DRAFT SPOT

Planning for your draft position is very important. If you are drafting on the ends, you have to hold ADP very loosely. If you’re looking to fill a position and there are limited options, go against ADP and get your guy. There may be a chance those players are gone when it comes back to your turn. Don’t be afraid to reach a little if it means getting your guy. 

If you are drafting near the middle, however, you are able to adhere more to ADP because you will have a shorter waiting period. You also have the advantage of seeing the roster construction of other league members and using it against them. Anticipate their next positional move and get ahead of it. If you are eyeing someone you think they might take, draft that desired player ahead of them and fill another roster spot on the way back. 

3. BE RISK AVERSE

Nobody likes betting high on unproven players and flopping, so don’t do it. Period.

The first players selected for each position should be proven stars. This is usually the case in the first few rounds. Don’t chase last year’s one hit wonders, but choose players that you know will do great. This allows you to take risks on less predictable players later in your draft strategy. 

4. DRAFT FOR HIGH UPSIDE

There are always gems later in the draft. Every year there is a star who emerges in the latter part of the draft. Players like Odell Beckham Jr, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson were all late round fantasy picks before they broke out. All unproven players come with draft risk.

The player could be great or they could bust. The hope is your team is solid enough in the early rounds to handle the busts. If you take risks too early and they bust, you won’t have the foundation needed to win your league.

5. DRAFT RUNNING BACKS EARLY AND WIDE RECEIVERS LATER

The next thing to account for is positional value. After researching this year’s fantasy players to avoid and players to target by round, I noticed a trend in running back and wide-receiver ADP’s. Typically the running backs were being drafted 1-2 rounds ahead of where they should be valued. Wide Receivers are 1-2 rounds behind. The early round running backs are less affected but the later the round, the greater the variance. 

Running backs have the potential to score more than receivers, but the market for running backs is much smaller. In 2019, there were five running backs that scored more than 280 PPR points compared to only one receiver. In fact, when comparing the top 10 running backs to the corresponding top 10 receivers, it’s very apparent those running backs score more fantasy points.

If we look at the top 10 at each position, you’ll see that the first nine running backs score more points then the top 9 WR. The gap between each rank decreases with each step but evens out at 10. 

% More than WRRankRank% More than RB
22%RB1WR1
8%RB2WR2
8%RB3WR3
12%RB4WR4
13%RB5WR5
5%RB6WR6
7%RB7WR7
5%RB8WR8
2%RB9WR9
0%RB10WR100%

Looking at ranks 11-20 we’ll find that the percentages shift in support of receivers. I included rank 30, rank 40 and rank 50 comparisons to demonstrate the bigger positional discrepancy the further down you go. The gap between each step continues to increase as well. 

% More than WRRankRank% More than RB
RB11WR112%
RB12WR123%
RB13WR137%
RB14WR146%
RB15WR159%
RB16WR1611%
RB17WR1712%
RB18WR1811%
RB19WR1911%
RB20WR2012%
RB30WR3023%
RB40WR4019%
RB50WR5052%

At RB9, the running back position quickly loses the positional battle for points over wide receivers. Below is the reason this occurs. The drop off for running backs is much steeper than receivers.

Functionally, this makes perfect sense, but we don’t think too much about it. Teams predominantly utilize “11” personnel, which means a single RB and TE along with three WR on the field. There are three times as many receivers to use as there are running backs in fantasy.

On top of this, NFL teams simply pass more than they run. The number one team in passing percentage in 2019 was the Atlanta Falcons with 66.97%. The team who threw the least was the Baltimore Ravens with 45.93%.

The real interesting statistic is that the median is between the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers who both held a passing percentage of barely over 59%. This statistic is much more inline with the Falcons (a difference of 7%) then the extremely run focused Ravens (a difference of 14%).

Running Backs% DropPoint DropWide Receivers% DropPoint Drop
From RB1 to RB557%164.1From WR1 to WR546%116.2
From RB5 to RB1022%51.7From WR5 to WR108%18
From RB10 to RB1515%30.2From WR10 to WR156%12.9
From RB15 to RB208% 12.8From WR15 to WR204%7.7
From RB20 to RB3030% 43.2From WR20 to WR3018%32.2
From RB30 to RB4030%34.9From WR30 to WR4016%25.3
From RB40 to RB5013%23.7From WR40 to WR5016%21.1

The point being made is to understand the value of having top RBs on your roster. However, it’s not always as simple as it should be to predict the top running backs due to unpredictable usage, running back committees, games missed due to injury, and now Covid-19. Running backs are much more likely to get injured than receivers.

The best method to counter this is to acquire as many top running backs as possible while still executing a balanced roster. I personally think it’s fine to concentrate the first few rounds on running back and fill out the rest of your roster with your remaining picks. Below is a more in-depth look at various drafting strategies.

6. WAIT ON QUARTERBACK

The foundation of any fantasy football team is solidifying the running back and receiver positions. In order to accomplish this, you’ll have to sacrifice at the quarterback position. But don’t worry, It’s not really a sacrifice.

Unless you’re a die hard Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson fan and you have to have your guy, you should be able to wait to acquire your QB in the second half of your draft. The difference between top QBs and bottoms QBs is very minimal in comparison to other positions. As the GM (general manager) of your team, it’s your responsibility to balance out the talent of your entire roster and not blow everything on 2-3 draft picks. The best and safest way to accomplish this is by waiting on a quarterback.

**DISCLAIMER: Waiting on a quarterback is a good strategy for single QB leagues. If you are in a superflex league, there are three main thoughts on QB acquisition:

  1. Get two studs early. You’ll be weaker in other positional spots, but the two studs will help cover gaps.
  2. Get one stud and one late QB.
  3. Get two middle/late QBs. Eventually the gap between quarterbacks evens out. Certainly don’t wait too long and have a fringe starter as your second QB, they could end up losing their job. Find that sweet spot where you have security and consistency, but don’t have to reach for a quarterback. 

7. WAIT ON TIGHT END

Having an elite tight end on your roster is great, but it’s all about value. You can argue that stars like Travis Kelce and George Kittle are worth drafting mid-late second round. However, it’s harder to argue for someone like Zach Ertz as a fourth round pick.

If you don’t draft one of the elite tight ends you know will provide your team consistent points each week, wait until later rounds to grab a tight end. Kelce and Kittle are highly valued because they are safe, consistent and a focal point of their offense – a trait not typically found in tight ends. 

Waiting on a tight end is a great draft strategy as the point differential between the 3rd or 4th best tight end isn’t drastically different from the 8th-10th tight end. If you have the opportunity to draft an elite tight end in the second or third round, definitely consider it, but know you will  have plenty of viable options to fill the position in later rounds. 

Tight end is a position filled with sleepers later in fantasy drafts. Guys like Tyler Higbee (11th round), Mike Gesicki (13th round) or Jonnu Smith (16th round) all have breakout potential in 2020 based on their 2019 production and upside. Any of these guys could land in the top ten tight end rankings or, even better, establish themselves as an elite fantasy option.

8. BALANCE YOUR ROSTER

As mentioned, draft wide receivers and running backs early, but be balanced in all of your decision making. Consider things such as age, injury history, snap percentage and risk/reward. If you draft rookies that bring risk, make sure you have a strong foundation of consistently producing running backs to balance out your roster. If you’ve drafted a few boom or bust receivers (inconsistent, big play receivers), make sure your roster also includes receivers that have high reception rates.

You can win games with booms, but you can prevent losses with safe players. Putting all of your eggs in one basket is a very poor fantasy strategy. 

9. DRAFT DEFENSE AND KICKER LAST

Unless your league has some crazy point system to favor these positions, draft your defense and kicker in the late to last rounds. Trust this advice. 

FANTASY FOOTBALL DRAFT STRATEGY CONCLUSION

Overall, have fun with it and don’t be afraid to create your own rankings. No one says you have to follow any rules. It’s called fantasy for a reason. If you want Patrick Mahomes, draft Patrick Mahomes, even if that means reaching a little for him.

Consider consensus rankings and then blow them up and create your own. This way, you’ll always be happy with your team because it’s the team you believe in

Finally, be sure to check out our 2020 draft kit for rankings and an even bigger competitive advantage.

Follow Jeff Roberts on Twitter @FantasyRoberts.

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