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Fantasy Football Draft Strategy

Learn fantasy football draft strategy

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by Mike Laverdure, Guest Writer

Updated: July 4, 2014
Original Release: September 4, 2004


OK, you've done your homework.  You've made your predictions.  You've evaluated your fantasy football sleepers, reviewed the NFL schedule, and you have checked out plenty of Fantasy Football Mock Drafts.  Draft day is rapidly approaching and you're feeling pretty confident.  Now comes the test.  How do you make sure that you have a successful draft? With a good fantasy football draft strategy. There are several general recommendations that you can see on various fantasy football websites or fantasy football magazines.  I will mention these in passing, but I want to provide new thoughts and ideas instead of the canned suggestion box material.  Obviously, you should take the best player available in most occasions; however, the hard part is how to make a better player available when it is your turn to draft.  In this article, I am going to divulge my recommendations on how you can improve your draft.   You may not be Mr. Popular at your draft (especially if you perform Steps 4 and 5 well), but hey, you will be on your way to dominating your league, and which is more important? Exactly.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy - Recommendations on Improving the Results of your Draft:

STEP 1:  Re-evaluate your league setup / structure
Do you know your scoring system inside and out?  What are receptions worth?  What are completions worth?  Are there points for Running Back Carries?  You should have this info cold. You also need to know your starting lineup requirements inside and out.  Do you start one Quarterback or two? Is a Tight End required? Do you have a flex position in your league? ... etc.  I participated in a 12 team league a few years back that started three running backs, and I drafted five.  Do the math - there are 12 teams in the league drafting five running backs.  That's 60 Running Backs drafted and 36 required to play each week per team.  With only 32 NFL teams, at least four starting RBs were going to be backups on their respective NFL team with limited action. Note from Docs: This is why we created our Fantasy Football Draft Software, which generates custom rankings and fantasy point totals based on your league's scoring system and setup.  Supply and demand cannot be ignored, and the Draft Advisor helps immediately identify positions that will be in high demand relative to the available talent pool and starters in the NFL for that position.

I made a HUGE blunder here that cost me the season a few years ago.  Drafting in the #7 spot, I saw all the premier running backs disappear.  Six picks and six running backs come off the board.  So seeing the run on running backs, yours-truly goes with the best quarterback in the game at that time.   With my second pick, seeing the best wide receiver on the board still available while the best running back was only of middle quality, I grab the best receiver.  I did grab a running back in round three, but at that point things were very nasty on the running back front and the damage was done.  Although my receivers and quarterback outscored the opposition every week, I was clobbered in the running back department, which also had more weighted points available.  I failed to understand the scoring system and the impact of drafting so many running backs, and I was the 8th seeded playoff team and ousted in Round One. Disappointing to say the least.  Sometimes it is indeed OK to continue the run on a position during your draft if it is a position of value for your league setup.

STEP 2:   Know your opposition
I liken the draft to a poker game.  You need to be able to read your opponents' body language and figure out their draft strategy.  You should know everyone's favorite teams, players, and how they tend to draft.  Let's face it, at least one guy in the league comes to the draft wearing his favorite player's shirt.  Guess who he is looking for in round one or two?   A guy who typically takes a quarterback early will tend to do it year in and year out.  I always keep a list of who was taken by each league member in the first three rounds.  You can see who was picked, and who was left on the board by each of your opponents, as well as what positions are favored by certain people in your league.  After a couple of years in the same league, such a historical list can expose tendencies you can use to your advantage during the draft.  We had a guy who was a huge Bucs and Jets fan.  His first picks were always Jets or Bucs players. I knew I would not have a crack at those players if he wanted them, so I needed to act a little earlier if I wanted them.

Checkout the Fantasy Magazines and website information each member in your league is using.  If a guy is using your magazine or website info, chances are, he knows all the sleepers that they recommended.  If you were seriously considering those players, your opponent has his eyes on them as well, which may require you acting a little earlier than you originally thought.  You should definitely have at least two magazines and a questionable, unreliable website openly displayed so you can disguise your draft strategy, but at the same time you can monitor the sleepers the other guys are thinking about.

STEP 3:  Do not overrate sleepers and rookies
Every year there is someone on my list that I denote the ultimate sleeper.  I am always tempted to take this player earlier than I should.  My rule of thumb is this: when you are ready to take your sleeper pick, wait one round.  If he truly is a sleeper, he will still be there.  I don't recommend waiting much more than one round, as I have lost many a sleeper by waiting two or three extra rounds.  My "one-round rule of thumb" has worked quite well so far.   Rookies are typically tough to predict and bring risk to the table. More often than not, rookies play like, well rookies, with exception to one position. Note from Docs: Learn what that position is in our article, NFL Rookie Fantasy Football Draft Strategy, as well as see who all the new rookies are for this season in our article, NFL Rookies

STEP 4:  Psych-out your opponents
You need to pay close attention to whom they are talking about.  Now this is the real trick: You want to be disruptive without being obnoxious, and you can't go to the well too often or they will catch onto your plans.  Try picking on one or two guys in the league and focus on them.  I am always willing to chime in with a "I don't know about that one - Third Round is a little early to be taking Player X." In this case, "Player X" should have indeed been taken in the third round, but I am trying to plant seeds that could yield fruit in later rounds.  If I am lucky, the next time that guy drafts he may wait a little longer on a player thinking it's "too early".  I always come up with at least one "What the heck were you thinking with that pick?", followed by mocking laughter.  Once you break someone's confidence, you own them for the rest of the draft.

I also recommend offering trades as it is getting close to an owners time to draft.  I shoot for at least two trade offerings during the draft, possibly three.  Again, the key is to disrupt without being too obnoxious.  Unless of course you like being pummeled by nine or more of your closest friends.  By setting distractions, you can disrupt their focus, and at times help people into making a bad pick.

If you know someone is leaning towards a player that you want, you can lead him away from him. If I hear someone asking about a player, and its someone I am interested in, I always come up with the phantom injury or that the coach isn't in favor with him.  The trick is subtlety:  "I hear Player Z's hammy is really bothering him -OR- I hear Player Z and his quarterback are really having issues... what have you guys heard?".  You direct it at the league and not the person thinking of drafting him.  Bingo, the guy passes on Player Z and you snake him a round later and justify it by saying that you were willing to take that chance in round 6 but not round 5.  Always offer up an opinion when one is asked, and always adjust your comments to whether or not you want to draft the guy.  Never give your true opinion (see step 5 below).

You can also use this technique to make someone take a player earlier than they should.  My league uses Individual Defensive Players (IDP), and one of the guys is in love with a particular linebacker (see point 2).  He comes to the draft in one of his five jerseys of that linebacker.  Now in our league this linebacker is the #15 - 20 rated linebacker.  However, someone always says earlier than you should consider him "Is it too early to take him now?  What have you guys heard about him?"  Invariably, this linebacker is always one of the top ten linebackers taken as the discussion forces the issue, and my buddy wearing the jersey panics.  It never fails.

STEP 5: Do not help your opposition
The fact that I even mention this amazes me, but it happens all the time.  If you are in this to win, helping your opposition really hurts your cause.  Someone always says, "What do you think of this guy?" during the draft, and someone always helps him!  This especially sucks when it was a guy you were ready to pounce on.  Now instead of wanting to pummel one guy, you have to vent your anger in two directions, and it's always tougher to fight two battles than one.  If someone asks you for help, lead them in the direction you want them to go in.  ALWAYS HELP YOURSELF FIRST!!!!  If someone says I'm thinking of drafting Player A, what do you think?"  If you want Player A, play the "role in the offense changing card" or "back-up pushing him for the starting job" card. If you don't want Player A, sell him on Player A because if he takes Player A, he doesn't take your guy.  Just be sure you can sell both sides of the story convincingly, and you will have no problems.

STEP 6:  Leave NFL team and player loyalties at the door
I am a HUGE Patriots fan (season ticket holder). I rarely have more than one Patriot on my team.  The Pats are a great NFL team, but more years than not, they are Fantasy Challenged (I think that's the politically correct terminology).  I would never touch a running back on the Patriots; there are too many options in the backfield that can get involved (The infamous Running Back by Committee, RBBC). Drafting players because you are a fan rarely works, as it gets your emotions involved, which typically leads to drafting these players earlier than they go. And it tips your hand (see Step 2).

I also am a big fan of a particular player.  He is one player I tend to overpay for but not by much.  If there is a player you have to have prior to the draft, pick the earliest possible round you would think he is a break-even value (not a steal, but not too early either).  You can select this player no sooner than one round before that round via mock draft information and Fantasy Football Player Rankings.  If you think he is worthy of a 5th rounder, do not touch that player before round four.  In the fourth round, he is slightly overvalued, which is something you should be able to live with, but you are pretty much guaranteed to get him.  If he is gone by the 4th round, someone seriously overpaid for him, and it won't be you if you stick to this recommendation.

STEP 7:  Keep track of the player positions drafted for each team
This final recommendation will require some work, but it is hugely beneficial.  I use a basic spreadsheet that has all the drafted positions under each person's name in my league.  I cross out each position as the picks are made.  You don't have to do it for every position, but I do.  This information is huge.  Let's say you drafted with the 8th pick overall, and you are in the later rounds of your draft.  Let's also say that the 9th - 12th guys all have taken a starting quarterback already. You have not.  Take some other player at a position other than quarterback as you send the draft to the 9th - 12th guys behind you.  Odds are good your quarterback will still be there on the other side once it is your turn to pick again. In the meantime, you increased the odds you were able to select a better player at another position than otherwise available after the 9th - 12th guys had a chance to pick. Be careful though, as this can work against you if you take too much of a chance. Especially if you have someone like me keeping track of this sort of information and looking to punish you for trying such a move, and there are several players between you and your next pick.

Well there you have it.  Hopefully these fantasy football draft strategy tips are helpful for you and improve the results of your draft.  Drafting is like buying a car:  you want to get the most for your money without over paying.  Good luck.

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