Fantasy football draft season is officially upon us. Between the Athlon Sports 2016 Fantasy Football Guide and other content you can find online at AthlonSports.com, you should be plenty prepared come draft day.
If you are new to fantasy football you may be worrying about not knowing draft strategies, positional importance or how to evaluate your league’s setup. I don’t blame you one bit as it can seem like an overwhelming task. Having that guy who eats, sleeps and breathes fantasy football in your league also can be daunting.
The more you research and time you put into draft prep can only ready you for the upcoming drafts, as well as prepare you for the unexpected. It also can set you up for success and allow you to surprise and bury your know-it-all leaguemates.
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That is right, no matter how many mock drafts, leagues you have been in, or championships you have won you still need to have a plan and be ready to toss your strategy in the garbage if it isn’t working out.
So what do you need to do to prepare for your drafts and smother your opponents with your greatness? Here are a few tips:
1. What are League(s) Rules and Scoring?
This is the most critical step of all in my opinion. Many re-draft leagues have a standard format by default (QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, Flex, TE, DEF, K) and standard scoring. It is YOUR job to know and understand roster requirements, as well as the scoring.
Scoring rules and understanding them are equally important and detrimental to developing an overall strategy as well as increasing (or decreasing) your hopes for success in your league. Study the scoring and understand it. If you are new to the game ask questions, or make sure you are using the right rankings, guides for your prep.
If you are in a 2-QB league, Super-Flex league, IDP, or PPR league you need to make sure you are accounting for this in your draft prep. You don't want to use a top 300 list that isn’t aimed at PPR, or fails to list Individual Defensive Players (IDP) when in fact that plays a major role in that particular league.
PPR leagues are becoming the new normal, so this may not be as big of a surprise, however if you are in a non-PPR league you must account for this. Running backs that catch a lot of passes simply are not as valuable in standard leagues. Danny Woodhead, Darren Sproles and other third-down backs are hugely valuable in PPR. Standard leagues? Not nearly as much.
The bottom line is know your league rules, understand them and if possible make note of them on your draft day cheat sheet, spreadsheet, fantasy guide, or whatever you will be using in the heat of draft battle. Sound overwhelming? Well, it kind of is, but if you put the work in, you will likely have an upper hand on other owners who may not do the same. Especially in startup leagues.
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2. What is Your League Format?
Is it an auction league? A keeper league? A dynasty league? A standard re-draft league? Unless you are a complete rookie to fantasy sports this is one of the first questions asked prior to joining “What kind of league is it?” Make sure you know the format and adjust your preparations accordingly.
Auction leagues are a completely different animal and acquiring the players to fulfill your planned strategy will not always work. You need to have a plan, and know when to sit out on the bidding, or when to go all in. Are you going to spend heavy on four or five players and dig for value to round out your roster? Or will you get a few studs and seek out balance the rest of the way?
Another key to auction leagues is to know your budget and adjust whatever auction values you are using to study, or create accordingly. If you are in a $150 budget league and you are using a standard $200 budget cheat sheet you will need to adjust inflation accordingly.
In a dynasty league the will to win now should still dominate your strategy, BUT you also need to consider the future. Drafting a seasoned veteran here or there is ok, but if you draft too many you may end up with a one-year wonder, or worse. The same goes the other way, if you draft too young you may never achieve the success you need to win. Having a young team with so much potential can be great fun, BUT the key word is potential, and you simply may end up being a team with, well potential, and no championships.
Keeper leagues are a different animal in their own right. Are there contracts? Do you lose draft picks depending on when your keeper was initially selected? Or is it a zero punishment keeper league? How many keepers can you keep each season? Answer these questions prior to your draft and while you prep and you will not regret it.
Be sure to study up on the types of leagues and be prepared for your upcoming drafts.
3. Do You Make Your Own Cheat Sheet?
This one is pretty simple. Study your league rules/scoring and roster requirements, and make your own sheet to utilize during the draft. A top 300 alone just won’t cut it. It doesn’t account for when to draft a TE or a backup QB for example. Live draft rooms are helpful as they typically show who was drafted, your roster, and allow you to build a queue of targets.
However, what if you are at a friend’s place during a live draft and your wireless connection drops? Having a typed up or handwritten cheat sheet can be a life saver. Technology can be amazing while making things smooth and easy for you in your prep/draft.
I typically make a spreadsheet, keep it simple, or as complex as you want. You can simply do players and rounds projected (Utilizing ADP), or bolster it with last year’s stats, projections, points, etc.
If you’re in a dynasty league consider adding the player’s age. Auction leagues add dollar value, or perhaps an estimated balance ledger.
Use as many tools as you want, but your cheat sheet is your best weapon! Make it your own.
RD - Pick
1 - 4
QB TE RB
2 - 21
3 - 28
WR BN (x6)
The Player A, B, and C columns should be obvious. It's your top three choices. I typically do these based on ADP and rankings. So, if you have the fourth pick in the first round, and pick 21 in the second (as demonstrated above), you will want to focus on targeting guys in the ADP of 17-24 range. Be realistic. Listing players who are going at pick 14/15 on average shouldn't be on your sheet for pick 21. It doesn't mean if they are there you don't take them, just save time and be realistic. Don't be that owner who shouts "NO! That was my pick” and then take an extra 10 minutes or more to scramble and search for another guy.
4. Are you Combining Rankings and ADP?
I typically utilize multiple sets of rankings, and combine with ADP on some of the fantasy sites. You can find Athlon’s positional rankings, which include my input, here.
Related: Top 200 Rankings
There are numerous sites and resources out there for you to consult, which will offer a myriad of opinions. This should help you get a general idea where certain players are being ranked across the industry.
Utilizing ADP can help tie it all together by looking at a ranking and then Average Draft Position of said player. For example, let’s say you see Denver's C.J. Anderson ranked 34th overall, 14th amongst running backs. Can you plan on him being available in the third round? Perhaps, but if his ADP is 28, and you want him, plan accordingly.
I encourage using multiple sets of rankings and consolidating them into your own master list. This takes time of course, but can be well worth it the effort in the end.
There also are sites that can create rankings/customize for you based on your league parameters. They are rarely free, but can assist in doing all of the grunt work for you.
5. Utilize Tiers!
If you know me well, or have gotten in a fantasy argument with me before you will know I am a HUGE tier guy. I love them, I don’t live strictly by them, but for the most part I use them in every sport and every draft.
Just like positional rankings, you can find tiers on different sites. Just find the ones that best fit your tastes/needs or use them as a guide to build your own.
Why do tiers work? It can help by breaking down positions, by player potential and ceiling. So if you are torn between a RB or WR, and there is a Tier 2 receiver available, or a Tier 3 running back, you can consult your tiers to help you make your decision. Of course your existing roster, and remaining draft picks all need to be accounted for. So if you don’t have a running back, or only one and need another, due to depth you may opt for the Tier 3 RB over the Tier 2 WR.
It’s always up to you, but remember tiers can shrink a position into chunks that if used effectively will help you dominate your draft.
6. Don’t Draft Defensively or Rely on Handcuffs
In my entire fantasy career there have always been instances, especially in football, where an owner will try to get smart and draft defensively. That’s the person who says to himself, “He drafted Ryan Mathews. I am going to draft Wendell Smallwood early to block him.” The thought process is of course that the Mathews owner will be desperate for his handcuff, the owner sniping him will rattle the Smallwood owner so much they’ll draft terribly, or come groveling to him midseason “Please, please! Trade me Smallwood! I’ll give you Josh Gordon for him”
Other owners draft multiple top-15 quarterbacks, which doesn’t make sense in a standard league. Some fear losing their quarterback and not trusting the waiver wire. Others do it hoping another team will be stuck with a lousy quarterback, setting the table for a lopsided trade down the road.
The idea isn’t terrible; the problem is it rarely (if ever) works out. The NFL is too deep. There are plenty of solid players and though it can be annoying for a Mathews owner not to have Smallwood if he goes down it most likely won't single-handedly ruin their team, chances to win. What if instead of that defensive move you had drafted a Dorial Green-Beckham-type player instead? The options are endless; my point here is that one cannot become too one-dimensional when it comes to draft technique.
If you take anything from this portion of the piece I'd like it to be this – quarterback is the deepest position in terms of your draft. If you draft a quarterback simply for trade bait YOU. WILL. FAIL.
7. Finally, Keep an Eye on Positional Battles and Injuries
Knowing who is next in line, or competing for a starting spot can be a huge weapon on draft day. That poor hapless owner with his top 300 ranking list from a fantasy guide printed in May could very well be oblivious that his target, listed as a starter is hurt or sharing play time with a rookie.
Keeping tabs on this is time-consuming, but can be made a bit easier utilizing online resources, Twitter or even NFL team sites.
Also understand the impact of third-down backs in both PPR leagues and standard leagues. A player like Seattle’s C.J. Prosise may not hold as much value in standard leagues, but he will certainly impact starter Thomas Rawls in touches. He also becomes a valuable piece in PPR formats.
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.