Fantasy Foundation: Block III

III. Develop and Follow a Fluid Draft Day Strategy

Honestly, this is so essential that it could have been #1 but alas, I decided to put these rules in some sort of chronological order as well as order of importance.  Establishing a sound draft strategy is vital in ensuring that a team will be on route to a championship before the season even begins.  Any good draft strategy MUST be fluid; things can change at a moment’s notice and ruin a game plan that is ultra-specific.  Besides, it is far too much work to highlight every player expected to be available during a pick and have positive and negatives for each player.  Instead, come up with a general game-plan and properly execute it over a few mock drafts.  If it seems to work out and the final results are pleasing more often than not, then it is viable to use on the big day.  A few things to consider while developing a draft strategy: what type of draft the league uses, what the draft order is, knowing when certain strategies are appropriate to use, finishing the draft by taking fliers, deciding which players are undraftable, and understanding the value of drafting handcuffs.

  • There are many different types of drafts every fantasy owner needs to be aware of, and no, I do not mean beer.  There are snake drafts, linear drafts, 3rd round reversals, auction drafts, and auto drafts.  Naturally they can all be done online or they can be done in-person (I cringe at the thought of an in-person, auction draft).
    • Snake drafts are the typical drafts almost every league uses.  The draft order is determined before the draft starts and selections are made in sequence, team 1 first and team 12 last (or however many teams are in the league).  In all even-numbered rounds, the order is reversed and team 12 gets to pick first and team 1 picks last.  This is nice because it gives the teams at the beginning and end of the 1st round two consecutive picks throughout the draft.
    • Linear drafts are similar to snake drafts except that every round starts with team 1 and ends with team 12, I have never done this and doubt many leagues do this anymore as I am sure this was common when fantasy football first became popular.
    • 3rd round reversals are becoming more popular as of late.  The first two rounds go about just like any regular snake draft, but then in the 3rd round, the order is switched and remains switched for the rest of the draft.  So, round 1 goes 1-12, round 2 goes 12-1, round 3 is then 12-1 again, and 4 switches back to 1-12 and continues to snake for the remainder of the draft.  The reason this type of draft was invented was because having the first few overall selections in the draft were deemed so valuable that the teams picking toward the end of the 1st round felt they needed additional compensation.  I have never done a 3rd round reversal but I can see the appeal.
    • Auction drafts are an entirely different animal than snake drafts.  Get it?  Snake, animal…whatever.  Anyway, auction drafts are exactly what they sound like, auctions for each individual player.  Players are individually selected by owners to be placed out for bid.  Once a player has been chosen, owners get to bid on him, just like in any auction, and the highest bidder gets the player once the bidding war is over.  There is still an order for when owners get to make their selection for who they want placed out to bid.  Anyone who has not done an auction before, I highly recommend it.  It is a unique way to build any time you want; it is very possible to own Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and Julio Jones, all on the same team.  That team will never win a game though.  Every auction has a budget and budgets can vary widely between auctions; the amount of the budget impacts nothing, as players are perceptibly valued based on what percentage of the budget is spent on them.  How the budget is spent is up to each individual owner.  My recommendation is to avoid spending a ridiculous portion of the overall budget on one particular stud.  Instead, simply look for players that aren’t going for as much as they should be worth and pounce on them; this could potentially be a stud in beginning of the draft, so be ready for it.  Auctions are meant for serious fantasy football players since there needs to be a general opinion on each individual player and their perceivable worth.  Setting a dollar amount on each player prior to the draft is a good idea, just be prepared to spend a few extra dollars on greatly desired players when their time comes.  This will keep owners from grossly overpaying for players because getting caught up in a bidding war is far too easy.  There is also strategy in who to place out for bid.  If an owner keeps throwing out players he or she really wants and then bids a ton for them then they will be out of money very quickly.  Instead, they should remain unpredictable and throw out some players periodically that they have no intent on winning the bid for, this will throw off the other owners.  Auction drafts take forever, it is important not to spend the entire budget immediately as there will be nothing to do until the end of the draft when players start going for $1.  Settle down and be prepared not to win or even bid on a number of players at the start of the draft, smart owners know a player’s value and stick closely to it.
    • Finally, we have auto drafts.  Auto drafts are drafts where there are no selections made by owners.  Owners may or may not have the option in setting pre-draft rankings.  What this will do is it will force the drafting system to draft players in order of the owner’s preference.  This can take quite a bit of work to do; if that much effort is being put in then they might as well do a snake draft in my opinion.  Auto drafts are best used in leagues with novice owners or leagues where the level of experience varies widely.  This gets everyone off to a level playing field for the draft and from there, in-season management is the determining factor for who the champion will be.
  • Draft order should be determined at least two weeks before the draft, in my opinion.  This gives everyone ample time to prepare for the draft and their drafting position.  If an owner does not know how to draft from their slot then it can ruin their season before it even begins.  I explain runs and how to avoid them in block IV later, but essentially, if someone drafts toward the back end in a snake draft, they better have an idea of what will be available for the 3rd and 4th rounds for their turn. If they don’t, they may be looking at a roster of four WRs come the 5th round, that is not good.  If draft order is determined on draft night then don’t sweat it, nobody else has an advantage either.  Be sure to follow block VII and do a few mock drafts from different positions in this event to have a slight advantage over the competition.
  • What kind of strategies are there and what typically works best?  I’m glad I asked.  There are many different drafting strategies out there, the key is not to stick to just one.  Be relaxed and ready to adjust during the draft, don’t try and create a cookie-cutter system to follow or the end results will be nothing but disappointing.  I deploy multiple drafting strategies for my own drafts and they each have their own value at different times.  Blocks V and VI below are two strategies I follow in almost every draft.  They are so important that they are considered building blocks here rather than simple draft strategies.
    • Best player available (BPA) is a good general rule of thumb to follow if there is uncertainty regarding what to do with the pick at hand.  BPA is quite literally taking the best player available at the time, regardless of position.  This is the best way to start a draft in my opinion.  If a draft is started by following BPA, rounds 3-6 are then typically used to even out the number of RBs and WRs based on what the first two selections were.
    • I never have, and never will, follow no-RB theory, anyone who thinks that is a reliable strategy should go read something else.
    • One thing I will say, even though it seems unnecessary, is to have a cheat sheet available during the draft.  Even if the draft is online and there is a pool of players available for the draftees to observe, print off something else.  Everyone in the draft is looking at that same list; having something else to reference is only going to be beneficial.  I typically make my own sheet but I don’t expect anyone else to do that.  Finally, use the later rounds to fill holes in the roster by…
  • Taking fliers.  I don’t mean boom-or-bust type players like DeSean Jackson, I mean players who have seemingly little value now but could have great value toward the end of the season.  Rookies make up a large part of this group of players as their actual value is unknown at the start of the season.  I typically like to have one or two rookies on my bench that were drafted either highly in the NFL draft or as a great need for a particular offense.  Other players to target as fliers include newly-acquired players via trade or free-agency (FA) during the off-season.  They are similar to rookies in that it isn’t completely known how they will be used in a new system but we have some understanding of their ability to play in the NFL.
  • Decide which players are undraftable.  I always go through and remove a number of players on my draft sheet for multiple reasons, these include:
    • Players that have burned me multiple times before (try and give players a 2nd or 3rd chance, but know when to draw the line).
    • Players that have suffered a potentially career-ending injury that has ruined the careers of many who have suffered them before (patellar tendon ruptures are tough to come back from and re-occurring concussions are a problem).
    • Players I personally hate or are simply on teams I really do not like; I don’t generally advise people to do this but hey, this is fantasy football, have fun with it.  Learn to ignore these feelings as members of more competitive leagues.
    • I also always have a cheat sheet I go off of during the draft.  I draw a thick, red line to indicate the end of my comfort level at each position.  For QBs this line indicates the last QB I am willing to start on my roster; if I haven’t yet taken a QB and only two are left above that line, I am jumping on one right now.  At RB and WR I draw a different line; I draw a line under the last player I would consider a “stud:.  Having more than one player at each position above this line is a very welcoming sign that my draft is going well.  TE is the same for QB and I don’t draw a line for defenses or kickers as I never want to feel the need to draft one of them early.
  • Taking handcuffs is something many writers tell readers to do.  It is something I tell people to do, but within reason.  Just because an owner has a stud RB does not mean that his backup is worth a damn.  Some RBs are good because they are freakishly talented, some run behind an amazing O-line, and some are just in a good system; I only want my stud RBs’ backup if he falls into the latter two categories here.  There is little point in owning a handcuff RB that will be stuck in a committee in the event the starter goes down.  How can one tell if their RB will be in a committee?  Well, is it indisputable who the studs’ backup truly is?  Has he had success in the past on different teams or even on the same team?  If the answer is no to either question, he’s in a committee.  I heavily recommend owners taking the handcuff to a player they do not own in the event that their stud’s handcuff isn’t worth a roster spot.  This is a great way to hamstring another team by having desirable trade value.  Another reason to potentially not draft a stud’s handcuff is if they will have a high price on draft day.  Some people are willing to take a backup player as soon as the fourth round, I am not.  Someone drafted there is obviously going to be great if the starter goes down (recent memory points to DeAngelo Williams as the backup for Le’Veon Bell) but the issue is IF the starter goes down.  I would rather take an acceptable RB/WR2 or 3 in that spot over a backup that may not see the field.  Another thing to note is that the backup obviously has the same bye week as the stud, now there are two players on the team out that week instead of one, just some food for thought.

* This is block 3 of an 11-part series that will be posted over the course of the next week.  It will then be posted in its entirety at the conclusion of the series.  Thank you for reading and be sure to come back tomorrow to the Overtime Network for the next blocks!