Fantasy Football Draft Strategies

Fantasy season is heating up now that preseason is almost over. There are several strategies to take in fantasy, especially with fully customizable leagues that have unique scoring rules. But for now, let’s take a look at the common draft strategies for standard scoring leagues. That is, leagues where running and catching a touchdown yields six points and passing for a touchdown is worth four points. And standard scoring usually does not include a point per reception, so we will forget about that for now.

1. Running backs, running backs, running backs…
The old school strategy to winning fantasy football. Back in the day, when most starting running backs got around 20 carries per game, this was an easy way to draft players who would definitely get plenty of opportunities to make plays every game. You could count on Starting Running Back X to get enough touches per game to be worth starting. Nowadays, most teams have running back timeshares to prevent injuries and keep players fresh. Other than the cream of the crop running backs, most running backs are not guaranteed to get at least 20 touches per game. There are two ways to interpret that. Some people ditch running backs if they can’t get one of the top guys. They decide to grab a top quarterback and load up on wide receivers, realizing that they’ll have to scrap in the mid and late rounds for competent running backs. Other people see the scarcity at running back as a reason to load up on running backs, early and often. Their cardinal rule is to spend their first two picks on running backs, no matter what. Or at least spend two of their first three picks on running backs. If you can start two reliable running backs, while everyone else is scrapping to get one, you’ll have a huge advantage.

I wouldn’t call this strategy obsolete, as much as it is risky. You are aiming to draft players in the first few rounds with the smallest risk. Wasting an early pick on a player who won’t help your roster is lethal. Those who load up on running backs think they’re minimizing risk, loading up on arguably the most important position. But really, drafting running backs in the first round is much riskier than you’d expect. Over the last five years, running backs taken in the first 12 picks have ended up being busts 43% of the time. The days of having two stud running backs might be over. Instead, getting one true stud running back, and a very good group of wide receivers seems to be more popular now.

2. Wide Receiver, wide receiver, then worry about everything else.
Lots of people think that wide receivers are the new running backs of fantasy football. The new rules on hand-checks make it considerably harder for cornerbacks to stop wide receivers. The league is moving to more pass-oriented spread offenses, where quarterbacks often pass the ball more than 40 times per game, and sometimes more. This strategy is gaining popularity now and revolves around getting two superstar wide receivers to begin. Then you’ll probably have to take a running back in the third round, and load up on mediocre running backs, hoping that one pans out. People who go with this strategy go into the draft perfectly content with having average running backs, as long as they have something like Calvin Johnson-Dez Bryant at wide receiver. If you are drafting at the end of the first round, this can be the way to go.

Feel free to wait on running backs if you have the chance to get Calvin.

Feel free to wait on running backs if you have the chance to get Calvin.

3. Superstar quarterback first, questions later.
Hmmmm. Should I grab Peyton or Brees with my first pick? I want to. I really really want to. But I just can’t force myself to do it. Pretty much everyone outside the top five has this thought process, at least once. They see that Peyton led all scorers last year. But, that’s not the way to think about it. You’re better off drafting based on relative value:

“The value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores, but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.”

The truth is, quarterback is a very deep position. There are lots of really good options at quarterback. Do you really want to take Peyton fifth overall when you can take Jay Cutler or Tony Romo or Philip Rivers in the 100s? Some people do. I’m not one of them. Of course, it’s not that cut and dry. I wouldn’t take Peyton or Brees in the top seven or eight, probably. But if I could snag one of them at ten, I might do it.

4. Double down on one team.
This swing for the fences strategy hooks up a quarterback and his favorite pass-catcher. You’d get Jimmy Graham and Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas, for example. Or Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford. The strategy is very risky, especially if you’re using your first few picks on players from the same team. It’s a little different, but still risky, if you draft Brandon Marshall in the second round and then Jay Cutler in the 11th. But you’re still putting a lot of faith into one team. In the weeks when it works out, you’ll look like a genius. When Matt Stafford throws three touchdowns to Calvin in a game, you’ve pretty much got a guaranteed win. And when the Lions get shut out? You’re toast. Proceed with caution.

5. Draft the best player on the board. Forget about need.
You just drafted Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall with your first two picks. Now, you can go with a surefire stud Jordy Nelson or a borderline unproven running back Montee Ball. You neeeeeed a running back, but Nelson is so good and he’s Aaron Rodgers’ top target. You can’t possibly draft three wide receivers with your top three picks. Can you? According to this strategy, drafting the best player is always the best way to go. Worst case scenario, you’re very top heavy at one position and thin at another. You can always make trades, and in a few weeks, you can go after whatever position is lacking. This strategy is usually pretty good, as long as you use some sense. Should you really use your top four draft picks on wide receivers? No, that’s probably not a good idea. Should you draft Peyton Manning and Drew Brees if they’re both the best player on the board at the time? No. If you use your head and refuse to constrain yourself, this can work well. What often happens is you draft two wide receivers with your first two picks, grab a stud quarterback, and then come to a halt: you see mediocre running back like Trent Richardson on the board next to a proven stud like Roddy White. You really need a running back, but Roddy White is a much safer pick. It’s really difficult to force yourself to take the best player in this situation, but patience can pay off greatly.

6. Get Jimmy Graham at all costs.
This isn’t a joke. This strategy comes from those who believe in value-based drafting. That is, getting players who hold an extreme advantage over the rest of the players at their position is invaluable. In other words: Jimmy Graham is SO much better than any other tight end (unless Gronk is healthy) that if you get him, you’ll hold an extraordinary advantage at tight end. The kind of advantage that no one else will have at other positions. If it confuses you, think about it this way: Jamaal Charles is really really good. But he’s not that much better than LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, and Adrian Peterson. Or: Calvin Johnson isn’t THAT much better than A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, and the other stud wide receivers. Even at quarterback, aside from Peyton’s historic year last year, he and Drew Brees aren’t lightyears better than the other top quarterbacks. But Jimmy Graham is significantly better than the rest of the tight ends in the league.

Jimmy Graham holds a huge advantage over other tight ends.

Jimmy Graham holds a huge advantage over other tight ends.


These are just a few of the strategies that are commonly taken in fantasy. If you play in a league that rewards receptions, then wide receivers, tight ends, and versatile pass-catching running backs like Matt Forte are more valuable. If you play in a league where passing touchdowns are worth six points, then obviously quarterbacks are more valuable. Your league rules guide how you should draft, but for standard leagues, these are common ways of drafting.

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