Fantasy drafts are a nerve-wracking time for many fantasy managers. There are so many possibilities and opportunities to mess up that it can be an intimidating experience. And while luck plays a large role in determining success, the draft is step one toward a potential championship.
There are many different combinations that can lead to a good draft. But we are less concerned with RB-RB, RB-WR, WR-WR starts than we are with providing you with smart insights that can be more broadly applied.
If you follow these 10 rules then you should have an advantage in your draft that could pay big dividents by season's end.
Only Draft First-Round Running Backs With League-Winning Upside
Fantasy players oftentimes fall into the trap of drafting a running back in the first round simply because they believe they should do so. And while drafting a star RB is one of the smartest moves a manager can make at the top of the draft, there are massive implications for whiffing on your top pick.
Players such as Christian McCaffery, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara obviously possess legendary upside because, well, they’ve already had historic seasons and are in their primes. This rule is meant to avoid players such as Nick Chubb, who is in a timeshare with Kareem Hunt and doesn't catch passes.
Other than the tight end position, star running backs are a hot commodity because there are so few of them. But it’s important to accept sometimes that an elite back isn’t available, and that you should probably target another position.
Don’t Draft a RB In Rounds 3-6
This is referred to as the RB “dead zone," which is basically a trap that disguises average running backs as potential RB1s. Think D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins and Myles Gaskin. These are all running backs who are set to gobble up a fair share of volume but may not receive enough touches to justify their draft position.
Taking one of these backs likely means forgoing the opportunity to draft a wide receiver with WR1 upside. Historically, middle-round running backs have severely underperformed their draft status. Don’t fall into this trap.
Take Advantage of Ridiculous Rankings
Every fantasy football site — from ESPN to Yahoo to Sleeper — have their own individual player rankings that are incredibly easy to take advantage of.
Each site is different, sure, but make sure to explore the rankings before your draf to know who is overrated and underrated.
Most players stick to the individual sites' rankings, which is a huge advantage for anybody who pays attention, which should be you.
Draft A Top-3 Tight End
Finding an elite tight end gives players a huge advantage in leagues.
Many managers will decide to go the streaming route for tight ends, but you should zig when everyone is zagging by actually slightly overvaluing the position.
Last season, Travis Kelce and Darren Waller led the way with 312 and 278 total PPR points, respectively. The third best tight end? That was a tie between Robert Tonyan and Logan Thomas at 176 total PPR points. That discrepancy is a huge advantage for anyone who has a top tight end, and it’s fair to add the excellent George Kittle to the elite tier now that he’s finally healthy.
That gives the managers who have one of the three elite tight ends, a weekly advantage over the competition.
Try to Avoid Timeshare Backfields
This is a more common suggestion, but that doesn’t make it any less important. This situation specifically hampers the running back position. It drove Aaron Jones managers nuts over the past few years. It doesn’t matter how good your preferred running back is; if they’re losing carries in a timeshare, they’re not as valuable.
Unfortunately, the NFL is trending toward timeshare backfields, which gives bell-cow backs a legitimate advantage (see: Tip No. 1). Players such as Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Najee Harris and Ezekiel Elliott are just a few of the backs who are expected to see 80% of their team's offensive snaps.
So much of fantasy comes down to opportunity, and timeshare backfields directly have a negative impact on both players’ fantasy production. It’s best to just avoid these situations entirely and save yourself the headache.
Only Draft QBs With Rushing Upside
Similar to the tight end position, managers were able to stream quarterbacks in 1QB leagues, but things have started to shift in the fantasy football world.
With the proliferation of athletic, mobile quarterbacks, there are a handful of elite fantasy football QBs who give players a distinct advantage because of their running ability.
Mobile QBs are a cheat code in fantasy football and their value is starting to be realized. The best running QBs — like Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson — are like having a QB1 and RB1 in the same spot and it gives fantasy manager's a strong floor in case their skilled position players have off weeks.
It might be tempting to draft Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in your fantasy league, but they need to be incredibly efficient to pay off while even a mediocre passer could outscore them if they offer rushing upside.
It may be true that quarterbacks are not as valued in traditional fantasy leagues, but quarterbacks with rushing upside should absolutely be drafted earlier.
When In Doubt, Chase Volume
In fantasy, quantity can be quality.
One test case of that theory this year is Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris. Harris is set to run behind a totally new offensive line that doesn’t inspire much confidence. It’s entirely possible that the rookie hovers around three yards per carry all season.
But none of that will matter if Harris receives the monstrous amount of touches he’s set up for. The Steelers used a first-round pick on Harris, so they’re naturally incentivized to get a return on their hefty investment. Pittsburgh also historically loves having a bell-cow running back, even when that back isn’t exactly a superstar, such as DeAngelo Williams or Rashard Mendenhall.
Harris possesses a three-down back skill set so he won't come off the field on passing downs. And with Ben Roethlisberger's arm starting to look like late-career Drew Brees, Harris could receive a ton of checkdowns. He’s the perfect example about how chasing volume is more important in fantasy.
The more touches a player receives, the more chances he has to score the football and accumulate fantasy points. A lot of this is a numbers game, and chasing volume is one of the best ways to play.
Don’t Be Afraid To Take Risks
By the end of fantasy drafts, every team already has a very good idea about the core of their roster. It’s virtually impossible to lose your draft in the later rounds, but that’s not an excuse to play it safe. In fact, the final rounds are where you should be swinging for home runs.
The last rounds of a draft are a prime breeding ground for potentially league-winning picks. Players such as Lamar Jackson, Stefon Diggs and Alvin Kamara have all helped their team win thanks to fantasy managers taking late-round swings.
This is the chance to take risks on rookies whose roles could grow or players with ambiguous roles on offense who could potentially see their playing time increase.
The truth is that most late picks turn into nothing anyway, so why waste your time drafting some veteran who will average five fantasy points per game?
Swing for the fences! Be bold! It might just win you your league. If the pick doesn’t pan out? Just drop them and move on.
Don’t Worry About Bye Weeks
Something many fantasy managers too often fret about is having multiple players on a bye week at the same time, and it actively impacts their draft strategy. We are here to tell you to not worry about it. Seriously, the most bye weeks deserve are a cursory glance. They’re just not meaningful enough for a variety of reasons.
Fantasy rosters change so much throughout the course of the season that it’s silly to worry about initial bye weeks. Trades, injuries, new waiver wire pickups and other factors are all variables that drastically alter a roster’s composition.
Also, if you’re in position to draft a player you believe in, you shouldn’t stop yourself just because their bye week happens to overlap with other players you drafted. If that ends up being the case, trust your waiver wire instincts to try to survive the week.
Understand Your Work Is Not Done
One of the truest cliches about fantasy is the season is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t rest on your laurels if you think you had a great draft, because if you do, the fantasy gods will wash you away.
Unfortunately, injuries play a big part in every season. Just this preseason, the Jaguars lost talented young back Travis Etienne for what could be the entire season, opening up more volume for James Robinson. Setting alerts on your phone for major newsbreakers will give you an advantage over your competition.
Complacency is death in fantasy. Just because you drafted a good team doesn’t mean there aren’t excellent waiver wire options available that you should try to pounce on. The same is true in the reverse. If you had a bad draft, your season is far from over. Work the waiver wire, make smart gambles and try to nail your weekly lineups.
Every week, there is a fantasy free agent who balls out. There is always hope, but at the same time, you need to be focused on the entire fantasy season. If you let your guard down, it will eventually come back to bite you.
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