There is no perfect way to approach a fantasy draft. They tell you to wait on a QB, but the only time I’ve taken a QB in the first round (Peyton Manning, 2008), I went to the championship game. They tell you gotta load up on RBs early, but in 2013 I went WR-WR-WR, and guess what? I won it all. The truth is there is no secret formula to drafting the best fantasy football team. It’s mostly luck!
So I’m not going to sit here and give you a bunch of rules you must follow to have success in your fantasy draft. Instead, I’m going to give you three basic tips that I would suggest everyone to keep in mind.
1. KNOW YOUR RULES
This one is vitally important. Not all fantasy leagues are the same. The most common differences between fantasy leagues is whether they are standard or PPR (point-per-reception). PPR leagues are just like standard leagues except that players get a bonus point for each catch. This is pretty significant.
First off, the balance of power between RBs and WRs changes drastically between the two scoring systems. In standard leagues last year, the top 25 RBs all outscored the top 25 WRs, making the RB clearly more valuable. But in PPR leagues, only the top 6 RBs outscored their WR counterparts, putting the two positions on a much more even playing field.
Secondly, RBs who catch lots of passes gain value in PPR leagues. Here are eight guys who are substantially more impactful in PPR formats: Danny Woodhead, Theo Riddick, James White, C.J. Prosise, Duke Johnson, Darren Sproles, Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell. Those small Wes Welker-type WRs who catch a lot of underneath passes but don’t score a ton also gain value. In my rankings, I tried to split the difference between standard and PPR, so keep that in mind if you’re using those.
Other less-common rule variances that should change your draft strategy:
D/ST scoring – The value of a D/ST can change greatly depending on your scoring system. In my league, we’ve toned down D/ST scoring to the point where I’ve actually taken a kicker before my D/ST (which reminds me of another tip: kickers should almost always be taken in the last round, and whoever takes the first kicker in your draft should be heckled mercilessly). But I’ve been in other leagues where D/ST units can get massive bonuses based on how many points/yards they give up. In those leagues, taking a D/ST in between rounds 5-8 is worth a shot. But most standard leagues stand in the middle of those two extremes. In those, I’ll fill out my starting lineup and build at least one layer of depth at RB and WR before dipping into the D/ST pool.
6-pt pass TDs – Most fantasy leagues award four points per passing TD. But there are still a few that give the full six. In those leagues, QBs basically run the show and you should put a premium on getting one early.
2-QB leagues – I hate 2-QB leagues. But they do exist. If you get stuck in one these miserable societies, try to get two good ones because they’ll be tougher to find on the waiver wire and in later rounds. My buddy Pete is in a 2-QB eight-team league, so I told him to go QB-QB since the small league size will give him plenty of RB/WR options in the later rounds.
Return yards – I’ve never played in one of these, but there are leagues out there that award points for punt and kick return yardage. If you’re in one of these leagues, know which of your WRs double as elite return men.
2. LOCK ‘EM UP
When I saw “lock ‘em up,” I mean handcuff your running backs.
A handcuff is when you take the direct backup of one of your starters. For Ezekiel Elliot, that’s Darren McFadden (who is due to put up big numbers with Elliot suspended the first six games). For David Johnson, think Chris Johnson. And for Le’Veon Bell, target James Conner.
Think of it like an insurance policy. RBs get injured ALL THE TIME. But if you insure yourself with your stud RBs primary backup, you’ll automatically have someone to slide into that starting spot the following week.
3. PRAY TO THE FANTASY FOOTBALL GODS
This one is probably the most important. I’m not a very religious person. When you’re raised jewish in Texas but also celebrate Christmas and Easter, it’s hard to take that stuff too seriously. But I do believe in sports gods, and none can be more merciful (other than possibly the golf gods) than the fantasy football gods.
Back in 2012, I went on an epic road trip during football season. Since I was afraid this road trip would keep me from devoting the amount of time I usually give to fantasy football, I asked my buddy Cole if he’d want to co-own a team with me. Cole agreed and together we fielded a pretty awesome squad that went all the way to the championship.
The morning of the championship, however, I called him and learned he didn’t believe in the fantasy football gods. I asked him, “Does this mean you haven’t prayed to the fantasy football gods today?” He laughed and said “Of course not, fantasy football gods don’t exist.” To which I exclaimed “THE FANTASY FOOTBALL GODS ARE THE ONLY GODS THAT DO EXIST” (sorry to my religious folks out there, but again, your reading the thoughts of a jewish Texan who for some reason had a Christmas tree in his house and hunted easter eggs every April). I demanded Cole to go outside and pay respect to the gods. But he refused.
Fast forward to that evening, and we’ve lost the championship by less than five points. We’re both deflated. We had a great draft, made all the right in-season moves (including a highway robbery trade for Tom Brady and a savvy late-season pickup of Knowshon Moreno), but Moreno had a one-yard score vultured from him by Jacob Hester (who scored only three TDs in his short, nondescript five-year career) and Jimmy Graham collected an extra two catches for 33 yards (5.5 PPR points) in overtime because Tony Romo threw a game-tying TD pass with 15 seconds left in regulation. We didn’t have any players who got to pad their stats with an overtime period.
Which means there’s only one explanation. We lost because Cole didn’t pray to the fantasy football gods. I make sure to say a sweet little prayer before every draft. I don’t say it out loud. Just a little something in my head to let them know I love them and will do anything to stay in their good graces. When it’s late in the season or in the playoffs and I’m in win-or-go-home mode, I usually do it again. The fantasy football gods control everything, and they must be respected. Don’t be like Cole. Always pray.
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