The busiest weekend of the draft season is upon us, a time that millions of NFL Football fans will gather around the table, perhaps logged into a live draft room with cheat sheets printed and laptops open to QBList’s fantasy rankings. Like most fantasy footballers, this is the best time of the season when we all walk away happy with our teams, feeling unstoppable and ready for the kickoff of Week 1. With endless fantasy content available in your hand its easy to go astray from a plan, panic when “your guy” goes off the board or freeze when you are on the board.
Fear not, we are here to give you a simple list of tips to keep you focused on crushing your draft.
Organize Your Draft Lists into Tiers
We here at QBList firmly believe in rankings players in tiers against each other when most industry rankings will only list players one after the other. Tiers are helpful because they quantify the difference in draft round value against each other. Group all skill positions into tiers and cross out names as you go. If you are in round 4 and you have just one RB left in your second tier but four remain in your highest remaining WR tier then the choice becomes easy. This also keeps you from reaching for a single player because you should expect each tier to perform similarly.
Be Prepared to Change Your Draft Strategy
Zero RB, Late Round QB, Robust RB, Stud TE. Whatever this year’s most popular strategy, your league isn’t won on draft day alone. It takes weekly attention, trades, waiver wire, smart lineup choices and luck to win. For every owner that I’ve met who’s won a league with ‘strategy of the year’ you will find ten others who’ve lost with it. Pick two strategies based solely on your league’s rules, scoring and tendencies of the other owners. Be willing to adjust if the strategy isn’t going your way, don’t reach. If you built a proper board of tiers your strategy will present itself.
Track Other Owners Picks
I track all positions drafted in snake or auction drafts and use a simple tracker I made available here. Whether it’s a live draft or an online draft I print this out and make quick position notes on each selection. As the draft moves on you will begin to see where your opponents are strong, what positions they selected, have left to fill and you begin to anticipate picks. For instance, if are picking 9th in a 12-team league and it’s on you in the 7th round. You see owners 10, 11 and 12 have a starting QB and it’s unlikely they will draft a second so early. You can comfortably pass on a QB in the 7th and take the best remaining RB/WR. As expected the next 6 picks are all RBs/WRs and the QB falls into your lap in the 8th. The strategy works well in an auction too as you are often able to see bluffs and/or know when to be more aggressive or less based on the opponents’ roster construction.
Don’t Believe the Hype
Be cautious when following beat writers. They spend the year chasing the next story, not watching game tape. The hyped rookie may be “lighting it up” but that doesn’t mean he will have the opportunity to produce without several things breaking his way. I love James Washington in Pittsburgh, but he has the unquestioned best receiver in the league and an ascending second wideout that is primed to breakout. That doesn’t leave much opportunity in a re-draft league. Use your eyes on the field to dig further into a player who piques your interest, then go watch his preseason game. Don’t just trust the camp reports blindly. Always remember opportunity rules all in the NFL, a point we will touch on shortly.
Rookie Running Backs Often Are Worth the Risk
Since 2000, 36 rookie running backs have finished in the top-24 PPR. If you must have a shiny new toy, the odds are in your favor at RB. Just be sure he has a clear path to the field and can handle a heavy workload. Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Jordan Howard, and Zeke Elliott are recent examples. If you want to draft a rookie RB, your best bet is to identify the backs that are expected to get 200+ touches on the season. In the past, I would have said carries but with a new generation of players like Alvin Kamara and Christain McCaffrey, it makes sense to simply look at touches.
Rookie Wide Receivers Often Aren’t Worth the Risk
Since 2000 just 17 rookie wideouts have finished top-24 in PPR scoring. Three of those came in the historic 2014. That’s just one start-able rookie WR a season. Good luck in picking him. D.J. Moore, Courtland Sutton, Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk are all long shots in year one to return starting WR value when you can find a reliable veteran WR in the same tier. Still not convinced? In 17 seasons only three rookies have finished in the top 12 in PPR scoring: Odell Beckham, Anquan Boldin, and Michael Thomas. Your odds suck at finding a stud rookie WR in year one. Rookie WRs are worth taking a shot on, just be careful to draft them as if they will be reliable starters.
Targets Are the Key to WR depth
120 targets are the golden rule for a starting fantasy WR. For years now, if a WR gets to that number, about 7.5 targets a game, they will be a WR2 or higher. Every year receivers propel themselves into this group with fewer targets but it’s not often that players with more than 120 finish outside of the top 24. If you identify players expected to get a lion’s share of targets you will be choosing a weekly starter. Last season 14 players received 120+ targets and 13 of them finished inside the Top 24 WRs. Dez Bryant collected 136 targets and finished WR25. Targets matter.
Avoid the Rookie TE, Target the Vet
In the past twelve years, just a single TE that topped 650 receiving yards in his first year: Evan Engram. Engram finished with 722 on 115 targets and this anomaly was truly a result of circumstance. The Giants had a difficult time finding anyone to throw the ball to last season, which forced NY to feed Engram. Gronk did have ten touchdowns in his rookie year but five of them came in two games and he avg less than 30 yards till week 9. The tight end position is often said to be the most difficult position to develop in the NFL. They are asked to play a lineman and receiver when the typical rookie can focus on just one. If a rookie TE presents himself they will start slowly and be available on the waiver wire. Focus on the vets in good situations. The typical productive fantasy TE is finishing his first contract, emerges around 26 and is productive well into his early-30s.
Don’t Let Common Draft Worries Affect Your Pick
- Bye Weeks – It stinks to have your studs with the same bye week but it’s much easier to figure out in-season than to pass on the value on draft day. Don’t let it be the deciding factor on who you draft. I don’t even pay attention to this and worry about it later.
- Strength of Schedule – Today you may look at a player’s “fantasy playoff” schedule and salivate but truly there isn’t a single person who knows what December football may look like. Making a choice on a player based on his Week 13-16 schedule seldom works. You have to get there first. This could be a tie-breaker but should not be a strategy.
- RB Handcuffs – Handcuffs is a decades-old strategy that made sense a decade ago. At that time teams were relying heavily on a feature back who never came off the field and his backup could replace the starter should he go down. Handcuffs were clear and easy to identify. Nowadays, with the rise of Running Back by Committee and Specialist backs, identifying a direct replacement is difficult. Whats worse is when owners draft the “handcuff” to an unproductive running game, thus wasting two picks as opposed to just one. I love backup RBs, I just prefer to identify the situations where there is a direct replacement and opportunity to produce.
- Teammates – Big time QBs or efficient/high volume offenses can support multiple fantasy studs. In the past few seasons, we’ve had deadly combos that have finished in the top 5 at their positions. 2014/2016 Le’Veon/Antonio, 2015 Julio/Freeman, and 2014 Dez/Demarco. Last year Kansas City did something truly incredible with a top 5 player at QB, RB, WR, and TE in standard scoring. Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Big Ben have multiple seasons supporting top 10 guys at skill positions. Don’t be afraid to draft two stud WR/RB/TE from a great offense. This even helps to even out your weekly scoring as it is unlikely both top guys will be held down in the same week, thus giving you a consistent point total each week.
Pay Attention to the Offensive Coordinator
Andy Reid, Kyle Shanahan, Todd Haley, Scott Linehan, Sean McVay, Josh McDaniels and Sean Payton are the best of the best. Each has multiple seasons of producing studly offensive output from skill players. Reid alone is responsible for five 300+ point RB seasons. Linehan was calling plays for Moss when he dropped 400 points. On the flipside, crappy OCs are the killer of your fantasy team. OCs that aren’t risky, have a slow pace of play or aren’t creative limit the upside of your studs. If you are facing a tough choice between players, always break the tie with the better play-caller.
Leave Your Heart At the Door
I think we all love our favorite team but be cautious to reach for a player simply because you will be cheering him on Sunday. This is why using tiers and building a draft board are so important. Trust your board which should have similar players grouped into a similar range of outcome. If you miss out on your favorite player, you will have comfort in knowing the name right next to him will be as productive.