Fantasy Football Strategy Guide
Fantasy Football is serious business. If you are being invited to participate in your first fantasy football draft or if you are playing Daily Fantasy Football online for money, you’ve come to the right place. If you are a veteran football fantasy league player you have found a draft strategy guide that will help you go from a middle of the pack player to your league’s championship. Our draft strategies are for all types of fantasy football drafts so read through them and apply the ones that work best for the draft that you are entering into.
There is no “right way” to draft a team. A lot of fantasy players enter with their own clutter on how to pick the best players but the simple fact is that the fantasy teams that have the healthiest and the best players all year are the ones that win. The players in your league that assume risk with over hyped rookies or misjudge a player’s talent usually perform the worst. You must research heavily to weed out the one year wonders from the studs and still be flexible enough to adapt to a change in your draft philosophy when players you keyed in on are taken.
Types Of Football Pool Drafts
Snake Draft – Snake drafts are made up of teams that range from 8 to 20 teams (even larger) where typically the draft order is decided by picking numbers out of a hat or with some online software programs the draft order is chosen randomly. It is called a snake draft because it starts with the first pick and continues to the last pick, then follows back down the draft order back to the number one pick. Some people value having the 1st overall pick whereas some prefer to pick further down in the draft order to allow for a more balanced selection in the first few rounds.
Example: the 1st pick in a 10 team draft get the 1st and then the 20th pick in the draft whereas the 5th pick in that same 10 team draft selects 5th and then 16th.
Every fantasy player has a preference but ultimately you never get to choose where you draft.
Auction - An auction draft (also called a rotisserie draft) assigns a set amount of fictitious dollars for fantasy players to build their team with. Owners or managers then get to bid on players one at a time to fill their roster. Given that there is a salary cap that you can spend, owners must manage their money and pick players that will fill their roster without running out of money.
Head To Head – A head to head draft can be done with either an auction draft or a snake draft. Once teams are chosen, a season is scheduled pitting teams to play against each other in a weekly football game using a starting lineup made up of players that you chose. If you are in a typical league you must decide which of your quarterbacks will have a better fantasy game on that Sunday, which running back will score you the most points etc. If your team outscores your opponent, you get a win for that week. The season continues usually until week 13 of the NFL season so that the top teams can enter into a playoff to determine over the next 3 weeks who the league champion is.
Overall Points – With a chosen fantasy football team, leagues determine the scoring for each position and how fantasy points are rewarded based on NFL statistics. Typically a TD thrown by a quarterback is 4 points where as a TD scored by anyone else on the offense is 6 points. Running backs who rush for a certain amount of yards are allotted points and if you have an individual defense there are points allotted for those players as well. Based on your leagues scoring system the points are calculated and the fantasy team with the most points at the end of the season is crowned the champion. Some leagues reward weekly standings, some are just for the total season. Many times an overall point’s pool and a head to head pool are combined into one pool to allow for multiple prizes to be awarded in the league.
Keeper Leagues – Some fantasy leagues allow you to keep a certain amount of players from last year’s draft. Some allow for any player to be kept, some will only allow for players that were drafted after a certain round. It is important to know if you are entering a keeper leagues for two reasons:
- In drafting your team in later rounds it may be worth considering a player that may be a back up this year but could be a starter next year.
- If you are new to a keeper league, you will want to know how many players are kept from last year and who they are as well you may be entitled to pick a player from last year’s remaining players to help ease a new owner into the fantasy league.
The Basics Of Fantasy Football Pools
For any fantasy football league, a corner stone of its success is having a good league commissioner. You need someone that everyone trusts, respects and one that knows all there is to know about fantasy football. The commissioner will be the one who organizes the draft, collects the entry fee, keeps track of waiver wire requests and submissions, decides on trades and ultimately oversees the league scoring. This can be a challenging and difficult job and in some instances is split amongst a few league players but still there is usually one person who ultimately keeps an eye on all the events of your football pool. Some leagues that permit trades will create a 3 team committee to decide if a trade is fair or not and some will entrust their league commissioner to make that decision as well.
Know The Rules
A fantasy football draft can be won or lost long before the actual football games are even played. Knowing the basics of your pool rules will help you develop a game plan that will aid you in picking a better crop of players.
You must know the scoring structure – how are points allotted to players? Are quarterbacks worth more than running backs? How much value does a wide receiver have for your team? How important will picking a defense be? Analyzing the point structure will help you decide between players when you need to make a choice.
You need to know the roster structure for your league. Some leagues require 2 quarterbacks, some want 2 kickers, some draft individual defenses and some draft just one NFL’s whole defensive team.
Knowing the rules allows you to exploit situations that you can gain points over your opponents. Others who may not fully know the rules may draft a 4th string receiver simply to fill rosters, where as someone who understands the points structure may draft a second kicker to gain overall points which can be the deciding factor at the end of the season.
Know Your Opponents
How Many Teams In The League - Knowing the exact amount of teams in your fantasy football pool will help you prepare your list of players to consider taking. If you are in a 10 team league and only need to take 1 kicker and one tight end, researching the bottom third in the NFL at those positions is a waste of your time. If you are in a pool with 18 teams and each team needs to draft 2 quarterbacks, your research better include the backups of all the NFL teams as 6 teams will not have access to a starting quarterback for the second QB pick. Having an accurate amount of teams will simply allow you to create a more concise cheat sheet for yourself and allow more time to do research on other facets of your pool.
Fans of teams – Try to do some reconnaissance work and find out everyone’s favorite NFL team. People tend to overvalue their favorite teams and during an auction draft. Knowing your opponent’s preference will help you analyze how much higher they may be willing to bid on a particular player.
Philosophies – Every fantasy football pool player has their own philosophy in how they pick teams. Some will only take running backs the first 2 rounds, some will take a QB first, running back second, and some will avoid the wide receiver position until the later rounds. In a snake draft having this info about the players drafting just before or after you could help you make your picks more strategically. Ex: If you are picking 8th in a 10 team league and you know that the person behind you never picks a QB in the 1st 4 rounds, you can take a gamble on your pick assuming that the 10th pick won’t be picking 2 QB’s in succession (unless his philosophy is to always pick QB’s). You may pick a RB with your first pick if there are 2 QB’s on the board and you have faith that at least one will fall to you for your second pick. To know players philosophies is to listen when they chatter, or listen in on their conversation with others in the pool. Every edge helps and sometimes, just knowing a players tendencies when picking will give you a competitive advantage.
Read everything about fantasy football news - Find sites that you trust for information about fantasy players and keep up to date on news. Are they injured, is it a contract year, are they getting a lot of looks and reps in training camp, did the player add/lose weight during the off season. The more you read, the more you will know about what is happening with potential players. There are tons of online publications and printed magazines for you to immerse yourself in fantasy football news. Also, sign up for RSS feeds of the major newspapers sports sections or follow the Twitter feeds of the NFL reporters that cover the teams day to day.
Watch the games - For all the reading that you do, actually watching games will help you immensely. Watching how a team runs their offence, how much focus is there on running the ball/passing the ball, do they favour a short passing game or throwing bombs down the field. All these factors may not make it into the fantasy update pages but you can see yourself. Also by watching the games you get to hear the analysis of the broadcasters who spend a lot of time with the players. Most of the colour commentary comes from coaches or players and their analysis of team dynamics and individual abilities can help you make more informed choice for weekly player pickups as well as give you ideas of what some teams may be looking for for next year.
Knowledge is Power! - The more you know about NFL players, team lineups and depth charts, injuries, sleeper picks and bust predictions, coaching changes and coaches philosophies, schedule and bye weeks, holdouts and arrest warrants, the better you will be when selection players in your draft.
Don’t key in on players that won’t be playing – Some rookies are drafted in the NFL and many fantasy players are ready to anoint them as taking over the starting position that season. Even if it does happen, they usually have a learning curve and have poor numbers because of it. If you are drafting them for next year, then you are probably going to give away your money this year. Same goes with suspended or injured players. Players that are facing a 4 or 8 game suspension or injured players that won’t return until after week 5 will fall in the draft. They can reward you at the end of the fantasy season and possibly for next year in a keeper league, but by the time they start to play and get a game or two to get going, it may be too late to help you salvage the season.
Don’t get caught up in a position run – If you are all set to take a top linebacker with your next pick and a run of tight ends begins, don’t get caught up in the frenzy and feel you need to fill the position. If you’ve done your homework, stick to your plan.
Filling your Fantasy Football Roster
Strong Offensive Positions
Quarterback - It used to be that running backs were the top ten picks and made up of 80% of the first round of a fantasy league draft. In the last few years, that balance has altered to a more even mix of running backs and quarterbacks being taken in the first round. More and more teams are beginning to run 2 man running back committees to keep their backs fresh but killing fantasy players looking for top tier running backs. Quarterbacks are the field generals and are on the field 100% of the time that the offense is out there. Their numbers have increased while watching the running back numbers decrease.
Running back – Despite the above analysis, running backs still can rack up large fantasy points every week. If there is a clear number one running back, focus on those first, then research what the breakdown is in carries with a 2 running back system. Usually there is one back that gets more goal line carries which leads to more touchdowns, usually one of the backs is leaned on to close out the games, either in garbage time or to protect a lead. These backs may not get the touchdowns, but they may rack up 100 yard games scoring points for you that way. Also look for the running backs that are good receivers, they will get more playing time as well have more chances for points being used as a receiver during the game.
Strong Defensive Positions
Linebackers - If your fantasy league splits the roster with offense and individual defense then one of your top players to choose will always be linebackers. Middle linebackers are the quarterbacks of the defense and are usually watching as the play unfolds to clean up missed tackles at the line or short dump passes in the middle. Many middle linebackers will average 7-10 tackles per game and will be good for the odd sack and interception. To have a player in your weekly roster that averages 7-10 points per week is a great starting base to build the rest of your fantasy team around.
Safeties – A safety on a defense is like a rover, they can help double cover the wide receiver; they make tackles when a running back or wide out breakthrough the front seven, and they are called on to blitz a quarterback. They can be unpredictable for their numbers year to year, but they can rack up some big points fast if they have the free will to run around a football field.
Weak Offensive Positions
Tight Ends – Unless you draft one of the top five Tight Ends in the league, don’t worry about wasting a pick until later in the draft. Some teams use their tight ends like wide receivers and some simply use them for blocking purposes. Learn what the team’s offensive coordinator’s philosophy on tight ends is and draft accordingly. Also, with tight ends, don’t chase the touchdowns; if a tight end had 4 touchdowns the previous year but 100 yards catching, chances are that those 4 touchdowns were a result of luck more than talent. Look for number of receptions; if a tight end catches an average of 4-5 catches a game, that’s pretty good and may result in bigger numbers the next year.
Kickers – The top 20 kickers usually end up with very similar total fantasy points at the end of the year so don’t over value a kicker and take them too early in your draft. In an auction draft, they should be one of the lowest priced players on your team.
For kickers, look for offenses that can score, but may not be a high powered offense. You almost want to aim for a team that is good enough to move the ball into the opposite field, but can’t quite get the touchdown…usually resulting in a nice 35-40 yard field goal. High powered offenses resulting in more touchdowns leads to fewer kicker points because they are mainly only kicking extra points.
Also be wary of accuracy, missed field goals hurt more than no field goals.
Wide Receivers – Wide receivers have never been a favorite position for most winning poolists simply because they rely too much on other factors. How good is the quarterback? How good is the other team’s corner that will be covering the wide-out week to week? Does the team have a run first philosophy? It is not uncommon to have a wide receiver be great for 2-3 years in a row, then drop off the face of the earth because the starting quarterback gets injured or the other team just double covers the receiver and passes go to the number 2 or 3 receiver. There are just too many unknowns!
Weak Defensive Positions
Linemen – If you are drafting individual defensive players (IDP) for your defense, one of the weakest fantasy points positions is the lineman spot. Unless you pick up one the top sack leaders in the league, linemen collect the fewest points per week. Another caveat when looking at linemen, those sack leaders can get stifled at any time. If a team loses a strong lineman on the other side, the sack leader the previous year may get double teamed thus losing his sacks. Also, a change in defensive coordinators can kill a lineman point totals with different attacks on the offense.
Corners – Some of the best NFL cornerbacks are the worst fantasy players…if they are that good, quarterbacks won’t throw their way and they won’t get the chance for interceptions of tackles. You almost want to key in on the weaker cornerbacks as they will have the ball thrown their way more often and get more chance to make a tackle or interception. Just hope they aren’t so bad that the corner gets benched due to poor play.
Injuries, Holdouts & Rookies
Injuries – It’s football! Football is a tough sport and injuries happen. When they happen they can kill your fantasy team if you don’t pick the right replacement on the waiver wire, or have already drafted a handcuff (back up) to the injured player already. It seems like almost every year a top 20 fantasy player goes down with an injury within the first few games of the season (remember Tom Brady in the season opener recently?). If you are lucky enough to be low on the waiver wire, you may get his replacement but if the rest of your team had a great week scoring fantasy points, you may have just lost your 1st overall pick and be left with scraps to replace him with. You can’t predict injuries: top NFL quarterbacks get knocked out, star running backs get hurt and number one receivers all get injured. When you’re your time, it’s your time. Again, scouring the waiver wire and hoping for a bit of luck is all you can do to minimize your losses.
Holdouts – These poor football players sometimes are a product of too much bad advice. A mediocre player who has one good year automatically wants to renegotiate his contract and get paid like a top performer. In some cases it is warranted, in most cases it the greed of the agent and the player that inevitably create a holdout. When a football player doesn’t report to camp on time he automatically falls behind in conditioning and team building. When you are drafting your fantasy football team, be wary of or completely stay away from holdout players. If they return after the season starts it will take them a few games to get back into the flow of the team and that will cost your team valuable points. Also, sometimes a player returns only to discover that his replacement has made such an impact on the team that he no longer will get the scoring opportunities that he did before. When drafting, it may be best to stay away from a player holding out unless you are in a keeper league that if the player doesn’t return in a timely fashion, you get the benefit of his fall in draft position for next year.
Rookies – Rookies are many times overvalued. On defense or in the position of running back or wide receiver, rookies can still shine and they have a greater success rate in their first year. Rookie quarterbacks are another story altogether. Unless you are drafting for a keeper league and plan on leaving your rookie quarterback sitting on your bench all year, do not draft a rookie quarterback. Because of high signing bonuses rookie quarterbacks are often rushed into the starting lineup and fail miserably trying to adjust to the speed and complexity of the NFL. You could probably count on one hand how many 1st round quarterbacks succeeded in their rookie season and of those, their numbers were still only passable. A novel could be written detailing the 1st year disasters at quarterback who may have eventually gone on to good, if not great NFL careers, but in that 1st year…it is best for you to take a proven player and let someone else play for next year.
Fantasy Football Draft Tips
Some Auction draft tips
Nominate Fantasy players you don’t want – Other players will spend money on a guy you have already ruled out for your team.
Watch out bidding on players you don’t want – There’s nothing wrong trying to bid up a player but be wary, if you get stuck with him, you could really mess up your own draft strategy.
Nominate the big names/Hot names – Rookies are always hyped at a fantasy draft, nominate them early and watch the money fly. Same with big names, they will cost a lot and the earlier they go, the more they will cost other owners.
Watch your Fantasy budget – If you spend big at the beginning, you may get stuck with little to choose from in the end. Pick your spots wisely and save some money to out bid other players later on in the fantasy draft.
As and addition to the above point... keep track of your finances – there is nothing worse than bidding on a player and finding out that you can’t afford him because you lost track of how much you had left.
Some Snake Draft Tips
Keep track of who your opponents draft – This is not easy to do at times, but if you can glance down at your own sheet and see how many more wide receivers still need to be taken or who else needs a second string quarterback, it will help you in deciding who to take in the later rounds when the talent pool starts getting thin.
Try to learn what position you are drafting in as early as possible - If you know that you are picking 1st overall, you need to really decide who the best fantasy player in the NFL is. If you are picking 8th overall, you can cross off the top five picks off of your cheat sheet and re-rank who you want as your 1st pick in the eighth spot.
Bye Weeks – When drafting your fantasy team, keep an eye on when the bye weeks are for the players you’ve already drafted. Nothing can kill your season more than drafting 2 quarterbacks that have the same bye week all but guaranteeing that week’s loss. Same goes for running backs and wide receivers.
If your league has a flex position you may want to use it to pick up a kicker or tight end when they are on bye week.
Stay Focused - Towards the latter stages of the pool things will slow down, it’s nice to be sociable at the pool but this is real business for real money. Take the time to look over who is still available to draft and start to decide on who your next pick will be. If you already know, then start chatting people up, it’s a great strategy to distract them from doing their own research during the pool.
Stay flexible – Sometimes the best laid plans go awry when owners do the unpredictable. For example, in a draft where you pick 8th overall and decide to take one of the top 3 quarterbacks available based on the notion that not all 3 would be taken in the first 7 picks. Suddenly a player falls to you that many publications ranked as the top 4 player in the NFL – forget the QB…take that player instead! You sometimes need to adjust your initial strategy and simply take the best player on the board and sometimes you need to go with your gut.
Some other Fantasy Draft day Rules to live by
Don’t drink any alcohol – It will impair your thinking, make you tired and less focused. You spent all this time researching and then you blow it over a few beers? Have a pop instead.
Find out if there will be a meal break or if people will order food for delivery - Pools can last from 3 hours to 8 hours depending on how many people in your league. If nobody can give you a straight answer about food at the pool, pack a sandwich or some other snacks. Hard to concentrate when you can’t hear over your stomach growling.
Turn off the phone – People who start to text and tweet and Facebook, talk to their wives and girlfriends and the miss out on good players.
Don't Believe Everything You Read - A lot of fantasy football publications say don’t take a kicker until the very end, but remember a good kicker can average just as many points as a linebacker or running back. If some get taken early, don’t panic but keep an eye on your draft list and if too many start to leave the draft board, pull the trigger and grab one.
Don't Let The Crowd Get To You - Just because people laugh at your pick, doesn’t mean it was a wrong pick. Look around at your other competitors - none of them are doing this for a living and they know as much as you do, if you were wrong, you’ll get ribbed, if the pick was a good one, you get to brag.
Follow All The Picks - Pay attention to who is already taken or injured and out for the year – nothing slows down a pool more or causes more laughter than picking a player already taken or out for the year.
Have a sleeper list handy – If you are stuck on whom to take next, check the sleeper list and see if they are still out there. If you’ve done your research and really believed in the players there, take a chance (only in the latter stages of the draft) it may pay off in the end.
Stay Home? - A lot of pools are being done online. Decide if you want to avoid the distractions and stay home where you can have all the fantasy resources at your fingertips or do you want to do the pool live and see the people you may not get to see on a regular basis. Remember, there are distractions at home as well (kids, spouse, pets, chores) decide which location has the least amount of distractions.
Remember the most important rule of fantasy football…have fun, it’s just a game!