Alright, you’ve made your handy dandy cheat sheet, done your research like I recommended in Fantasy Football for Beginners – Part 1. You’re so ready for this draft, right? Well you certainly are on your way, but here are some important strategy tips for constructing a spectacular team and things that you might not realize you need to consider if you haven’t played before.
Part 2: The Draft
1. Keep in Mind Your Starting Lineup
Standard leagues have a QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, a Flex (can be WR/RB/TE) a TE, a Defense, and a Kicker. You’ll in general want to fill your starting RB, WR, and Flex before you start getting bench players. QB, and TE are a little more flexible and can be picked up at any point, because both are pretty deep (especially this year). So it’s ok to wait on those positions if you want, but I don’t recommend getting, say, a backup QB until you lock up the other positions.
2. Rankings are a Guideline not a Rule
Whatever rankings you choose to use, don’t follow them to the letter. You should reevaluate the rankings you have on the fly, adapt to how people are being drafted, and keep in mind what positions you have open and still need to fill. In addition, keep track of who has been taken. There is nobody worse than the person who tries to draft someone who has already been chosen every single round. Don’t be that guy.
3. The Studs Will Go First
I know what you’re thinking: “Duh Cozy, everyone knows that the better guys go first.” Well it’s just good to keep in mind that if you wait to draft a certain position, you’re not gonna get a stud. if you don’t draft a QB the first few rounds, you won’t get a top QB. Same is true for every position. There’s no secret to getting a stud every round, it isn’t going to happen. Even if a couple of your sleepers pan out and you get great value for them, in all probability, you will not get stud value at later rounds. The reason the later guys are going later is because there’s typically a concern: they have upside but… insert concern here: injury history, unproven, backup to another player, declining veteran. So just make sure you understand their trade offs.
4. Think about a WR at Flex. Actually, Absolutely Draft a WR at Flex.
But really though. You will get better value for a WR at the point you’re drafting a flex player, plus they’re a little more reliable than RBs. I’m not saying you can’t start a RB at flex come the season when a sleeper RB starts doing really well. But I’m saying I don’t recommend you draft one. But hey come draft day, if there is a great RB left when you’re looking for flex options, take them, but in general, WR is probably the way to go.
5. Sleepers and Busts
Ah yes, those mysterious words that every analyst throws around with gusto when talking about draft day. So what exactly do they mean when they say this term?
A Sleeper is a player who outperforms their draft position, say they’re drafted outside the top 20 at their position and make it into the top 10. That’s a sleeper who pans out. Every analyst has different sleepers, they’re your rookies who suddenly do great, your veterans who bounce back from a bad year, your players who suddenly take off with a new team/offensive coordinator/overall situation.
A Bust on the other hand is someone who performs far worse than their draft position. Last year, Ray Rice among other notable RBs devastated teams by being a first round picks who performed very poorly and are this year is going in the early 6th round where he probably should have gone last year.
Here’s the thing. You don’t know whether someone’s a sleeper or a bust until the season is over. Yep, so what analysts are referring to as sleepers are guys with high upside, or a good chance to do very well. However a lot of analysts “sleepers” could end up being busts. These two terms are all about value. And frankly after the 8th round or so, most of your picks are potential sleepers (to avoid confusion some people call them flyers). These are the players you love that you think will do much better than their draft position. These are super important because you could have tremendous value on your hands if a flyer does really well (last year Peyton Manning was a sleeper, so was Randall Cobb 2 years ago were both sleepers, albeit in different tiers). That’s why its important to research ALL the players you could potentially want to draft.
A handcuff is a player’s backup. This is really important for running backs (where typically there is one main starter who gets the majority of carries) especially injury prone ones. A handcuff will only do well if the starter gets hurt, so if you draft a running back with injury history, it’s a good idea to pick up their handcuff. For instance: you draft Le’Veon Bell, his handcuff is LeGarette Blount. If Bell gets hurt, Blount is the guy. If you have both on your team, you have a little bit of safety in case something happens to Bell. Also a handcuff has very little value unless their starter is hurt, so know that if you draft a handcuff for a RB you don’t have.
7. Defense and Kickers (This is last for a reason)
Defense and Kicker should be your last 2 positions filled, in that order, in the second to last and last picks of the draft. As Matthew Berry points out every year in his Draft Day Manifesto (which you should for sure read), “Over the last four years, on average, only five of the teams drafted as a top-10 defense actually finished the year as a top-10 defense.” Yep 5 out of ten. That’s why I’m not reaching for a defense early. I would rather have a sleeper at that position, and defenses are horribly unpredictable. I’m not saying you can’t draft one early, but I’m saying don’t do it unless you have a really good reason (especially if it’s your first year playing fantasy). If they don’t end up doing well, it’s very easy to pick up a different defense/kicker, or pick up a new one each week based on match up (that’s called defense or kicker by committee and can work really well if you didn’t draft the top defense).
Practice Makes Perfect – Mock Drafts and Football Discussions
Mock drafts. I cannot stress the importance of mock drafts enough. ESPN has a great mock draft lobby where you can find a league similar to yours (in terms of amount of teams, type of draft) and choose your specific draft position. The best way to practice for the day of the draft and get used to how it will be like to draft against real, unpredictable people is to do lots of mock drafts. They help you get a feel for who will be left in what round. They let you try out crazy strategies like not drafting a running back until the 6th round. After each mock draft, look at how your team ended up and see if you are happy with who you have starting and how your value stacked up. If you aren’t pleased with a position, do a different mock draft, try a new strategy and see how that affects your final team. I cannot stress how important mock drafting is especially if you have never done a draft before. It will make you feel a lot more confident going in to draft day!
Alright, now the final bit about practicing, you know the person that dragged you into this in the first place? Talk to them about fantasy football! They love this game too and I bet they’d love to answer your questions, hear your opinions and maybe clue you in on stats or news you may have missed. Don’t be scared to ask them for tips or advice, you are new at this and there is a lot to learn.
One Last Thought
After you’ve read everything there is to know about players and teams and sleepers and handcuffs and injury risks and studs, what’s most important is how you feel about each player. At the end of the day, YOU have to love your team, so pick guys you love. I don’t care what some analyst says, if your gut tells you a player isn’t going to do well, don’t take him. Don’t let some analysis or specific rankings make your decision for you. Because even if that guy busts you took a chance on someone you believed in than having drafted someone you didn’t really like because of else’s opinions. Plus every person has different preferences. I like reliability, someone else might like upside, someone else might not worry about injury risks. It doesn’t matter, but if you’re gonna have fun, YOU have to love your team.
Best of luck on draft day! If you come prepared, you will draft a great team! If I left anything out or you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to comment!