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Fantasy Football: 4 Draft Strategies to Consider

NFL Fantasy Football - Aaron Rodgers

With the 2018 NFL season technically arriving with the Hall of Fame game on Thursday night, there is a lot to be excited about.

For one, you can bet on NFL games again. In short time, you’ll also be able to create weekly rosters and try to win money in daily fantasy football contests at DraftKings and FanDuel as well.

Both of those things are fun and potentially profitable, but nothing hits home quite like your yearly fantasy football league’s draft.

Even in leagues where you don’t play for money, you’re playing for something arguably invaluable; pride.

Whether you’re trying to prove yourself in a work league, take down family members or just besting your buddies, there’s no way you want to lose in season long fantasy football.

This is precisely why mastering your fantasy football draft strategy is so important. The pressure leading into the draft can be intense and when you add any potential winnings to the pot, well, forget about it.

The good news is it’s really easy to prepare for your league. Once you know the league size, the format and all of the roster and scoring settings, you can start to formulate a fantasy draft strategy.

Before you finalize yours, however, consider these four angles for 2018:

1. Late-Round QB Strategy

This is a popular fantasy football draft strategy that asks you to wait on drafting your starting quarterback.

More specifically, you don’t invest an early pick on an elite fantasy passer.

Most leagues only require you to start one fantasy quarterback each week, so even in the face of some elite options, you could realistically locate some nice value, pick up two viable quarterbacks and rotate them each week based on matchups.

Please Note:

Even the best fantasy quarterbacks aren’t ranking #1 every week and will have bad weeks, while Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz all showed last year that quarterbacks aren’t immune to catastrophic injury.

The former was an early pick in a lot of leagues and people that invested that high of a pick in A-Rod probably saw their season go up in smoke.

The value associated with waiting on your fantasy quarterback is the real selling point here, though.

Every year someone rises up the ranks or simply vastly out-performs their perceived value.

Just last year, nobody really expected much out of Carson Wentz, yet he went from being taken in the 12th round or later in most drafts (ADP via Fantasy Football Calculator) to fantasy’s #6 option at the position.

That, by the way, was despite missing the end of the year with a torn ACL. Yeah, dude was a beast.

Wentz isn’t the only example. It really does happen almost every year, while it actually happened quite a bit just last season.

Cam Newton was taken in round 7 or later in most drafts and was the second best fantasy quarterback in 2017. Tom Brady, taken four rounds ahead of him, finished right behind him.

Some guys just don’t get any respect, either. Philip Rivers seems to always be in the hunt for an impressive fantasy finish, yet he was taken in round 9 or later in 2017.

Rivers was drafted as the 13th best fantasy passer, yet he finished 8th on the year.

The year prior, nobody was on Matt Ryan. Matty Ice was literally going undrafted in most fantasy leagues, yet he blew up in a career year, finishing just behind Aaron Rodgers as fantasy football’s #2 quarterback.

Dak Prescott, Tyrod Taylor, Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr were all taken off the draft board in round 9 or later that year. They all cracked the top-10.

The actual research to locate the value and/or gauge who is ready to make these huge leaps comes down to you and the experts you trust. However, you don’t need a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers to compete (or win) in fantasy football.

It sure helps, but by waiting on a quarterback, you can potentially land a guy way later in the draft that can either contend with the top quarterbacks on the year as a whole or at least give them a run for their money in any given week.

By doing that, you not only land elite value at quarterback, but get that early draft pick to spend on a more pressing concern like a stud wide receiver or running back.

And then there’s that…

2. Zero RB Theorem

I will admit I prefer to take running backs early in fantasy football drafts.

The very best stud rushers are found in the first 1-2 rounds and in a passing league where a lot of teams roll out a committee approach, true feature running backs are not easy to find.

After all, you still have to invest those first few picks in somebody, so injury or over-hype aside, it does make good sense to chase the monster upside and relative safety of said stud backs.

They do get hurt and they do bust, of course.

David Johnson lasted a game in 2017 and Todd Gurley was a bust the year before turning into a fantasy phenom. Every year is different and you can’t predict injury, so you really just go with the cards you’re dealt.

The latter is where I’d allow this fantasy draft strategy to trickle in. If you pick late in your draft and the league is fairly big, I’d certainly consider one of the following:

  • Taking an elite WR
  • Taking an elite QB
  • Waiting on RB

The only real reason you don’t take a running back in round one is because there isn’t one you love or feel comfortable with.

That first round pick needs to be the cornerstone of your fantasy squad. They may not necessarily carry you to a win each week or a title at the end of the year, but they have to churn out reliable, high-level production.

More than anything, they have to not bust.

If there isn’t a running back you believe in come pick 8, 9, 10 or whatever it may be, why force it?

There’s nothing worse in fantasy football that drafting a guy you don’t want or going after a position just because you hadn’t filled it yet. There is logic in drafting certain positions early, but I am a big believer in allowing the draft to dictate your moves.

If you have a flexible plan in place, this should not be an issue and you can just adapt on the fly.

For me, it starts with honing in on and ranking the only running backs I’d take with my first round pick and maybe even my second. If they’re not there, I can consider kicking the late-round quarterback strategy to the curb or taking a stud receiver.

The good news is if you feel compelled to wait on running back, there are a plethora of options waiting for you.

It’s true that there are only so many stud feature rushers, but for about 65% of the league, there are a bunch of running backs sharing the rock and fighting to earn more touches.

If you can’t get the very best running backs, you can get elite wide receivers, tight ends or quarterback and then wait to get the second or third level options.

You can even wait longer and stack up promising rookies or bench players who could either earn a big role or may be one key injury from rocketing up the rankings.

Missing out on that stud rusher doesn’t have to to be the end of the world. Of course, you do have to do even more research and not just pinpoint the running backs to target, but actually, succeed in drafting them.

There is danger in that, but at the end of the year pulling off a successful zero-running back draft strategy could be the reason why you win a championship.

3. Best Player Available

I saw some fantasy experts on social media laugh off the idea of “best player available” being a fantasy football draft strategy. It might be a fairly obvious one, but it absolutely still is one.

It’s basic at its core concept; note value and don’t let it get away from you.

However, too many times we can get that value wrong or we value a position or roster need over the actual player value.

I’m not saying you draft Travis Kelce with your next pick after taking Rob Gronkowski. To some degree, positional need and value does have to come into play.

However, if you don’t have a running back yet and you’re looking at Alex Collins and Ajayi or a falling Mike Evans, most would agree that taking a chance on Evans might make some sense.

This is just one example, but the idea of collecting elite fantasy talent instead of merely going through the motions and filling out your roster isn’t one to scoff at. It’s one to embrace.

4. Wait on Kicker and Defense

This is a staple of fantasy football experts and it’s gotten to the point where it’s pretty well accepted no matter what league you’re in.

It sounds obvious, yet I can’t tell you how many leagues I’m in where someone takes their defense in round 10 (five rounds before the draft is over and 2-3 before anyone else even considers it) or a kicker before the final round.

The main reason I say to wait on defense and kicker (reserved for the final two rounds, with defense taking priority) is because there is so much fluidity with both positions.

Kickers are people, I know, but they’re still just kickers in the game of football. Their value can shift drastically from one year to the next, while they are quite dependent on their surroundings.

No matter how good a kicker is, he can’t make his offense score touchdowns or get in position for him to boot a field goal in. Kickers also can’t control the weather or the playing conditions for their kicking, while kickers who get in slumps don’t score many fantasy points and are at risk of being flat out cut.

Needless to say, investing even a middle-round pick on a kicker is just a huge waste. Those picks can be spent stacking running backs, wide receivers or finding a suitable backup at quarterback or tight end.

I’d be okay with taking the right defense slightly earlier than their ADP would suggest.

That’d be to beat the rest of the league to the punch, but I’m only doing that if there is an elite defense I love and I already like where my roster is at. I also probably need to have a large crop of late-round picks I covet that I feel will still be around if I spend that pick on a team defense.

Usually, though, I’m waiting on both. The top defense changes almost every year and teams try hard to improve their weaknesses in free agency and the draft.

Just last year the New Orleans Saints got markedly better defensively while going into 2018 the Packers could easily move from a bad defense to a fairly viable one.

You don’t need to take shots on bad defenses, though. Just don’t reach for the good ones before you need to.

Summary

The point here is not to just look at one of these fantasy football draft strategies. It’s to blend them all together as best as possible.

I am not a huge fan of the Zero Running Back Theorem, but I do understand it’s place in fantasy football and in the right draft, it can be rather useful.

Very rarely do I go into a draft ready to completely bypass any position and running back probably tops the list for what I’m looking for early on, though.

I understand the desire to land sleepers or lock up wide receivers (who tend to be more reliable), but what those zero-running back theorem drafters aren’t admitting is that if they don’t draft perfectly, that strategy is going to fail horribly.

You aren’t the only person looking at a long list of sleepers or ranking players.

Bypassing Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and the like for a stud wide receiver might work out, but the receiver could still fail and then you’re left with no viable running backs.

I think it’s a personal preference. I’ve been burned both ways and it’s worked both ways. However, in my experience, the base strategy of valuing positions in the following order is what works the best:

  • Running Backs
  • Wide Receivers
  • Tight Ends
  • Quarterbacks
  • Defense
  • Kicker

How you view these fantasy football draft strategies individually and how they’d work for you together absolutely can change depending on the league.

For instance, if a league’s starting lineup required two quarterbacks or had a “Super Flex” position where quarterbacks were available – then no, I’m not waiting on a fantasy passer.

Or if your league offered more than the usual three slots for running backs or wide receivers, you probably might want to think about specifically loading up at those positions.

Whatever you do, I think it’s important to at least consider implementing these fantasy football draft strategies.

Hopefully, this post helps you prepare a little better this year. Either way, good luck with your draft and enjoy the 2018 NFL season!

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