How To: Draft the Ultimate Fantasy Football Team

With August comes the kickoff of football and if you are one of the 41 million people who play fantasy football, that means it is time to get down to business. Whether you are joining a league in your brokerage or being recruited by a former client to a new league, adopt these simple strategies and you’ll be on your way to crafting a dominating roster, regardless of your knowledge of the sport.

Check Your Biases at the Door

There’s always that one person in every fantasy league that has an illogical attachment to a specific player or team. While drafting, don’t let your attachments get in the way of developing a competitive roster. Ideally, you want a diverse lineup consisting of the top scorers from multiple teams.

Rare exceptions exist (such as Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker from the 2015 Jets), but two wide receivers from the Dallas Cowboys, for example, will likely limit your ceiling; there’s usually not enough opportunity for everyone on one team to perform at a satisfactory fantasy level in a single game. Also, keep in mind that biases run both ways; if Antonio Brown falls to the middle of the first round, don’t let your distaste for the Steelers stop you from grabbing him.

Participate in Mock Drafts

Without some degree of football knowledge, it’s hard to make a judgement on player values. How will you know if a steal slips down one or two rounds? That’s where mock drafts come into play. Mock drafts are usually done online against computer algorithms built to give accurate assessments of player draft positions based on performance trends, injury histories, team situations, and other variables that might affect a player’s fantasy value. After participating in a few of these, you’ll have a good baseline assessment of where players are being taken each successive round.

In the Early Rounds, Draft Safe

There is always a degree of luck associated with fantasy football. Every year, one or two players come out of nowhere to take the league by storm — and the lottery winner who happened to draft those players in the late rounds reaps the rewards. These “flyer” picks are not what you should be targeting in the early rounds — especially in round one. Your goal is to keep risk at an absolute minimum by drafting a player you are 99% certain will put up quality statistics on a consistent basis. Most experts recommend targeting a premier running back first such as David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, or Le’veon Bell. You can also target a stud wide receiver such as Odell Beckham Jr. or Julio Jones, but the idea remains the same; regardless of position, minimize risk in the early rounds as much as possible. However, there is one exception to this rule:

Wait to Draft a Quarterback

If you ask the casual football fan to name a football player, chances are they are going to name a quarterback. Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers — these, for many, are the faces of the league. It makes sense that these players might be tempting to grab in the first and second round. However, quarterbacks, at least for fantasy purposes, are easily replaceable off the waiver wire throughout the season. In fact, there is relatively little variation between top-tier quarterbacks and mid-tier options. Some veteran fantasy football managers even forego drafting quarterbacks through the first ten rounds in favor of streaming options off the waiver wire with favorable matchups throughout the season. A good rule of thumb is to wait until at least the sixth round before considering a quarterback — and use your early draft picks to build depth at other, needier, positions.

Quality starting running backs are not only scarce, they are also — by the nature of their position — prone to injury. A “handcuff,” in fantasy football terminology, is a backup running back who will take over the starting job should the first-stringer get injured. Some teams have a clear handcuff (such as Derrick Henry on the Titans or Tevin Coleman on the Falcons), while other teams have a much murkier running back situation (the current New England Patriots). To minimize risk, invest in a safe starter in the early rounds that you know has a quality backup. Nothing is more frustrating than having a dubious backup running back on the bench only for the starting job to go to a completely different player. In addition to the aforementioned Falcons and Titans players, the Cowboys, Panthers, Bills, and Saints all have good handcuff options for the upcoming 2017 season. Situations vary, but generally you should consider drafting your handcuff somewhere between the 8th and 12th round.

A hard lesson everyone must learn sooner or later in their fantasy football career is that it’s a very long season. Sometimes your best-laid plans will blow up in your face, and that’s okay. Be patient — eventually weeks will come where all your hard work pays off. And when that happens, it’s a wonderful feeling.

– Contributed by Logan Wamsley