As you prepare for your upcoming draft, the following is a list of fantasy football draft tips to help make your big day a successful one.
Draft Day is the single most important — and most fun — day of the fantasy football calendar.
(Seriously, is anything better?)
It’s the day that more often than not determines if your team is headed for a fantasy football championship, or is destined for a season of mockery and despair.
These tips are here to help you accomplish the former and steer clear of the latter.
Tip #1: Put more effort into your fantasy football draft prep than you did for your high school biology exam
There might be no more important tip I can give you. You must put the time and effort into preparing for your draft. Read news and analysis, check rankings, study and participate in mock drafts. Don’t wing it!
Tip #2: Participate in a fantasy football mock draft on a regular basis
I have a saying: “A mock draft a day keeps the mocking away.” It’s a spin on the “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” expression. If you don’t want to get mocked at your real fantasy football draft, then participate in several mock drafts in the run-up to the big day.
Tip #3: Collect fantasy football intel on your league opponents
Joe likes to draft quarterbacks early; I don’t have to worry about him stealing that wide receiver I’ve been eyeing. John is a sucker for the zero running back strategy; there will be one more waiting for me at my pick. Jack is a homer; he’s going to load up on players from his favorite team. Simply put: talk to the other owners in your league and figure out what makes them tick. It’ll help you formulate your draft strategy.
Tip #4: Don’t show up to your draft without knowing all 32 NFL depth charts
No, I don’t expect you to actually memorize 32 NFL depth charts. Print them out beforehand, or have them readily available on your phone, tablet or laptop. But it’s imperative that you know which players rank atop their respective teams’ depth charts.
Tip #5: Create a list of fantasy football sleepers ahead of time and bring it with you to the draft
Even a novice owner by now realizes the importance of fantasy football sleepers. Unfortunately, too many owners wait until it’s their pick in the 12th round before first seeking a sleeper. They frantically flip through pages in their draft guides. Or they thumb through websites on their phones looking for one. First, this will piss off your fellow owners because you’re taking too much time. But second, it’s not the most effective way to find these types of players. Prepare the list of sleepers ahead of time and bring it with you to the draft.
Tip #6: Be mindful of offensive line rankings
Take the most talented running back or the best passing quarterback in the NFL and stick him behind five turnstiles and you’ve got a terrible fantasy football option. Conversely, take a marginal player at either position and let him graze freely. Suddenly you have something effective. Check offensive line rankings for an indicator of potential backfield talent.
Tip #7: Know your league’s fantasy football rules and draft accordingly
Is it just me, or should this be common sense? I wish it were. But you’d be surprised how many owners will draft a quarterback too early in leagues with low scoring in the passing category. Or, draft a pass-catching running back in non-PPR leagues. Or, snag a slot wide receiver in a non-PPR league who catches a lot of balls but doesn’t churn out the yards or touchdowns. The list goes on.
Tip #8: Always draft the best available player in spite of your team needs
Question: Who should I draft in the first round of my fantasy football draft? Answer: The best player available. What about the second round? The best player available. And the third? Same story, different round. I don’t care if you have four running backs and five wide receivers through nine rounds. Draft another one in Round 10 if he is the best player available. Fill in your needs after that.
Tip #9: No matter how strong your fantasy football draft strategy may be, maintain flexibility to alter it on the fly
Diligent fantasy football owners spend months — and even years — preparing and honing their fantasy football draft strategy. Wise owners adapt that strategy during the draft, if necessary. No one ever knows how a draft will play out, so you can’t expect your draft strategy to be flawless. Like most strategies in life, you have to have a Plan B (and C, D, E, etc.).
Tip #10: Always be ready for your next pick
It’s proper etiquette and courteous to your fellow owners to be in your seat, ready to make a pick when your time is on the clock. But, to hell with ‘em. It’s more important to be prepared for your next pick for your own selfish needs. As soon as you’ve made a selection, start scanning your list of best available players for your next pick.
Tip #11: Don’t make an emotional pick
The worst mistake you can perpetrate in a fantasy football draft is to make an emotional pick. (Actually, it’s to take a kicker before the final round, but that’s another story). Don’t be overexcited about who you draft. Do not make a spiteful or “protest” pick. And don’t callously throw out a name because you’re angry that the guy you really wanted was taken with the pick just before yours. Make a calculated, level-headed choice with every draft pick.
Tip #12: Don’t let past fantasy football failures make you become the scorned ex-girlfriend
I learned this one the hard way in 2016. After a promising rookie season, I drafted Todd Gurley with the first overall pick in our draft. He went on to have a sophomore slump of the worst imaginable kind. After that, I felt bitter toward him and promised to avoid him at all costs. That was before he rattled off two of the best seasons for a fantasy back in 2017 and ‘18. Let bygones be bygones and re-evaluate players from year to year.
Tip #13: Track every draft pick so you know everything your fellow owners need
If you’re participating in an online draft with a short time limit for each pick, this will be difficult to do. But it is a must for live drafts. You can do it by hand if you feel ambitious, but at least plug the names in digitally. The more that you know about other teams’ rosters, the better idea you’ll have about potential available talent and when to strategically take a targeted player.
Tip #14: Line up players in a draft queue and replenish it after every pick you make
This is another dual-purpose tip. Not only is this courteous to other owners in your league so that you don’t take 15 minutes to make a 12th-round pick, but it helps you avoid a “panic pick,” or other irrational mistake. The way this works is that you count how many draft picks are before your next selection and you must choose that many players (plus one) that you would consider taking with your next pick. That means that even if every player chosen before your pick was from your “queue,” there’d still be one player left for you to take. Do this every round, after every pick you make.
Tip #15: Stick to business: Avoid falling in love with your favorite players
Every draft choice must be a detached business decision. You have to look at each pick as a matter of which available player would most improve your team. If you add a player to your queue for whom you have a special fondness, you’re liable to draft him too early, or throw a fit when he’s snagged before you.
Tip #16: Don’t be a fantasy football homer
Along the same line as not falling in love with your favorite players, don’t fall in love with your favorite NFL team’s players. Even in today’s uber-offensive NFL, drafting too many players from any one roster is not a good recipe for success. Not only that, but targeting a player from your favorite NFL team opens the door for you selecting him far too early.
Tip #17: Don’t reach for a player by more than a round or two
Don’t be afraid to take a player a round earlier than his ADP (average draft position). After all, if you’re convinced that the player will be good and you think he’ll be drafted before your next pick, then just take him. However, don’t get so overzealous for a particular player that you draft him more than two rounds early. That’s just poor value.
Tip #18: Avoid drafting good players on low-scoring teams
In 2018, the Arizona Cardinals scored a league-low 14.1 points per game. They were awful. As a result, this infuriated David Johnson owners and probably caused weekly migraines. As good as DJ is, the prudent owner recognized the holes in Arizona and stayed away from him (or, at least, let him slide down their draft boards).
Tip #19: Don’t avoid heavily used players on bad teams
There’s a flip side to the tip about avoiding good players on low-scoring teams. Fantasy football is all about touches and opportunities. Thus, even bad NFL teams could have good fantasy football players who touch the ball a lot and even score in losing ways. The Steelers, Falcons, Panthers and Packers are teams who had moderately bad seasons in 2018 but still had good offensive production. The Browns just might be one of those teams in 2019.
Tip #20: Don’t pass up better players because of their bye weeks
Do me a favor: if you hear any owner utter the phrase “bye week” at your draft, smack ‘em upside the head. The incorporation of the “bye week consideration” into draft day strategies might be one of the most overrated — possibly dumb — factors in the history of this great game. If you bypass a good player because he has the same bye week as one or two of your other starters, shame on you. Always take best value first! You can use the waiver wire or make a trade later.
Tip #21: Use the NFL strength of schedule as a guideline, not a rule, when drafting certain players
The NFL strength-of-schedule rarely transpires the way it is projected, because there’s so much unexpected change from year to year. For that reason, you can’t base your draft strategy on how strong or weak a player’s season appears to be. However, it still is a decent indication of what might happen and it could serve as a tiebreaker if you’re deciding between multiple players.
Tip #22: Don’t chase last year’s fantasy football breakout players — use foresight, not hindsight
It doesn’t do you a lot of good to eagerly go after Patrick Mahomes in this year’s fantasy football draft. He was a sleeper last year and offered good value. This year, he’ll probably be overdrafted. You have to try to predict (I know, easier said than done) who will be this year’s breakout star(s). That’s how you find good bang for your buck.
Tip #23: Avoid the runs: Don’t draft an inferior player because a string of players at his position were drafted before him
We’ve all been there before. Three teams in a row select a player from the same position right before our pick, and we think to ourselves, “Uh-oh, I better take one of them, too, before all the good ones are gone!” The problem with this mentality is that if you become the fourth team to take — oh, let’s say a quarterback — in this “run,” then you theoretically just selected the fourth-best among them. Why settle for that when there could be a better running back or wide receiver available?
Tip #24: Don’t get lazy or succumb to draft fatigue; drafting sleepers can win titles
Draft days are long events — at least those that are done live in person. They can take several hours and drain your energy. But they’re supposed to be fun, not a pain in the ass. If you get to the back half of your draft, you could very well be tempted to put less emphasis on who you pick because “they’re just backups, anyway.” That’s a loser’s mentality. Championships can be won or lost by who you select later in the draft. Put as much effort and concentration into the back half of your draft as you do for the front.
Tip #25: Safety first, take risks later
Always aim for taking “safer” options with your first few draft picks. Don’t waste your early picks on unproven commodities. Try to get as close to a “sure thing” with those picks. Later in the draft is when you can take risks on players with low floors but high ceilings.
Tip #26: You don’t need to fill your starting lineup before drafting backups
Just because you need to start a quarterback, a tight end, a kicker and a defense (in most leagues), that does not mean you have to take any of those positions before you start drafting backup running backs and wide receivers. In fact, I’d advise against it. You can find quality starters at quarterback, kicker and defense late in the draft.
Tip #27: Draft pick slotting is a guideline, not a rule
I’m sure you’ve seen them before — hell, I’ve probably suggested things like this before. Beware the draft strategies that vaguely suggest: “Draft a running back in Round 1. Select a running back or wide receiver in Round 2…” and it proceeds to list in what rounds you should target what positions. That’s a poor strategy, but an okay guideline. Always take the best available player, which most of the time is a running back or wide receiver. Kicker is the one position you can always slot in the last round.
Tip #28: Create a list of fantasy football draft tiers and select players accordingly
If you don’t want to do the work for this, or don’t know how, there are websites out there that offer it. The point of this exercise is to target players from a particular tier at their position before there’s a big dropoff in talent or production. It’s about drafting value in the right places.
Tip #29: Try to stay one draft tier ahead of the game at RB and WR
If you have 12 teams in your league, then running backs ranked between 1 and 12 would be considered “RB1.” Running backs 13-24 would be “RB2,” and so on. Your goal, at the expense of the other positions, is to try to draft an RB1 that you can start as your second running back. And an RB2 that you can slot as your RB3. And so on and so forth. Same idea with the wide receiver position.
Tip #30: A workhorse running back who touches the ball frequently is the most valuable asset you can attain
The first type of player that you want to draft is a running back who touches the ball at least 20 times per game — a “touch” being defined as either a rushing attempt or a pass reception. Statistically these are the most valuable fantasy football players.
Tip #31: Avoid the running back by committee whenever possible
It’s been many years — at least a decade, if not two — since we’ve seen three-down backs as the rule instead of the exception. These days, most NFL teams have carved-out niches for their running backs, which takes away production from the starter. However, there are still offenses where the lead running back can play all three downs. It’s the running back committees that feature three completely equal parts that you need to avoid.
Tip #32: Situational running backs who are targeted in the passing game have good mid- to late-round value
Assuming you participate in a point-per-reception (PPR) league, you can get good value by selecting a complementary running back who is primarily a pass catcher. Such players from 2018 included James White, Tarik Cohen, Jalen Richard, Nyheim Hines, Theo Riddick, Dion Lewis, and T.J. Yeldon — none of whom were highly-drafted players but all factored into their team’s passing attacks, catching at least 50 balls.
Tip #33: Kick the tires and check the tread on low-mileage running backs
The running back position is the most easily replaceable position on an NFL team. And the players who fill that position don’t last long, either. This is the one position where drafting them young is the way to go. Select guys who touch the ball a lot, don’t have a lot of mileage (usage) on their bodies, and are still relatively young.
Tip #34: Avoid rookie wide receivers at all cost
On the opposite end of the spectrum from running backs is wide receivers. While selecting young running backs — even rookies — is advantageous to your fantasy football team, selecting rookie wide receivers is almost a wasted pick. It takes a long time for even the best wide receivers in a particular draft class to contribute fantasy-worthy numbers in their rookie season.
Tip #35: Beware the rookie hype train
As mentioned in one of the first tips I provided, it’s important to study by keeping up with all the latest NFL news. One trap that unsuspecting fantasy owners might be lured into is hopping on the “hype train.” This typically occurs for rookies — although improved veterans undergo this treatment as well. But the reason why excessive hype is prevalent for rookies is because A) they’re shiny new objects straight out of the plastic wrapping, and B) they haven’t played an NFL down yet so nobody knows how they’ll actually fare when the pads and bright lights come on.
Tip #36: Be the last owner to draft a quarterback in your fantasy football league
This is a challenge as much as it is a tip. There is so much talent at the quarterback position as it pertains to fantasy football that you’d be a fool to be one of the first owners in your league to select a quarterback. I challenge you to let every other owner select his starting quarterback first and then you be the wise owner who gets great value later in the draft.
Tip #37: Don’t select a defense in fantasy until every other starting position — besides kicker — is filled
Defenses are often hit or miss from year to year and there’s not much variation between the best one and the one that you’d start if you were the last team in your league to draft one. Therefore, you’re not going to get great value by taking one of the “best” ones early in the draft.
Tip #38: Don’t draft a kicker in fantasy until the last round — if at all
Just as it is with defenses, kickers are so interchangeable — even to a greater degree. I’ve heard many leagues electing to forego the kicker position altogether because it’s become somewhat of an afterthought. You do not need to draft a kicker until the last round. And even that’s not entirely true. You could pick one up off the waiver wire before the first game. Just release some other player that you drafted that gets hurt or cut in the preseason or doesn’t look like he’ll be effective.
Tip #39: Don’t marry yourself to the fantasy football handcuffs
It’s become somewhat vogue in fantasy football circles to draft a player’s “handcuff.” What does that mean? It means if you draft a stud running back in the first round, then you should draft that player’s immediate NFL backup late in the draft in case your stud back gets hurt. That’s stupid. That’s called an insurance policy, and you don’t win with insurance, you survive. Why would you take a gamble that your stud running back “might” get hurt and waste a roster spot on his backup? It’s better to draft a player who has a higher outlook instead and use those final draft picks on backup quarterbacks and tight ends as well as your starting defense and kicker.
Tip #40: If your league allows it, trade down to collect draft picks in the early middle rounds
Obviously, this tip is not for leagues that draft online. But if you’re in a live draft scenario and you’re allowed to trade draft picks, you can strongly consider trading a second- or third- round draft pick for multiple picks in the 3-6 range.
Tip #41: Never waste a draft pick!
This tip is one large “catch-all” for stupidity. A wasted pick can come in many forms, including, but not limited to: drafting a backup from your favorite football team, drafting a marginal player you’re personally fond of, drafting a player because he has a funny name and you want to generate a laugh in the draft room. The list goes on and on, but I’m sure you get the point.
Tip #42: Don’t go on auto draft (or auto pick) unless it’s an absolute emergency
If you’re in an online draft, never — repeat: never — go on auto draft unless it’s an emergency. Think: I just ate some bad guacamole and have to run to the bathroom. Or: my wife is in labor in the other room and I should probably be there for the delivery. Auto draft is not a sophisticated piece of artificial intelligence. It simply picks the next available player from rankings that you preset — and oftentimes, owners don’t even pre-rank players, so the rankings are default to whatever website you’re using to draft.
Tip #43: Avoid the temptation of name recognition
I get it. A lot of newbie fantasy football owners aren’t familiar with the Top 200-or-so offensive players in the NFL, thus, they’re going to rely on name recognition — i.e. players that are popular in the media. This is not the best strategy to use because, as we know, a player can be popular without being good. Do the research and familiarize yourself with as deep a fantasy player pool as you can.
Tip #44: Don’t let principle get in the way of production
A man who beats his wife or children is despicable in my book. So is a man who organizes a dog fighting ring. Or one who drinks and drives. One who cheats on his girlfriend. Or commits any number of misdemeanors. None of these guys I’d want to associate with if I were running an NFL organization. But I’m a fantasy owner, and I want to win, and if they are playing on Sundays and producing at a high level, that’s good enough for me.
Tip #45: When in doubt, go with the high ceiling over the high floor
There is one exception to this rule: your first few draft picks. Remember one of the previous tips: your first few draft picks need to be safe, “sure things.” As you move on in the draft, if you find yourself debating between two or more players, I’d be more aggressive and choose the one with the most upside rather than a “high-floor” guy who might post modest numbers but isn’t likely to explode.
Tip #46: Stay sober: Friends don’t let friends draft drunk
Fantasy football drafts are supposed to be fun, so I’m not trying to drain you of that experience. If you want to have a drink or two, go for it. Tell some jokes or share some laughs. But don’t be like one of those idiots who shows up to the draft half in the bag, or pounds so many drinks that he keeps attempting to draft players who were already selected six rounds prior. Your team will suck for sure if that’s you.
Tip #47: Block out all the noise from the war room
When you get a bunch of dudes in a room drinking beer and having a good time, you know that anything can happen. Get ready to hear snarky comments after almost every draft pick. In fact, even sober owners can be wise-asses. You know who I’m talking about: the know-nothing, know-it-alls who think they’re Mel Kiper Jr. and offer their insight on every player selected. Block out all that noise. Formulate a plan and stick to it.
Tip #48: Don’t hold your fantasy football draft until after Week 3 of the preseason
This might be hard to accomplish if you’re not the commissioner of your fantasy football league. But hopefully you’ll at least have a say in this process. Week 3 is considered the “dress rehearsal” of the preseason when the starters typically play into the third quarter. Obviously, more game time means more time during which they could possibly get hurt. One of the most frustrating occurrences in fantasy football is drafting a player and watching him get hurt in the preseason. This is why it’s good to wait until after the dress rehearsal.
Tip #49: Keep your TV off during the preseason
Speaking of the preseason, don’t pay attention to the results. Very rarely does the regular season emulate what happens in the preseason. Don’t get excited when a backup player rips off a 75-yard touchdown run against defenders who are going to be cut and bagging groceries in a few weeks.
Tip #50: Be at the draft! Don’t let someone else draft for you — and don’t draft for others!
Whether you’re drafting online or in person, be at the draft. Please. As a veteran of 25 years of fantasy football drafts, the worst kinds are the ones where owners can’t show up for one reason or another (usually never a good one) and they ask you (or send somebody in their stead) to draft for them. Don’t do this. If you’re the owner who can’t show up, your team will not look as you’d like it to. And if you’re the one asked to draft for someone else, your attention will be distracted from your own team and strategy. It’s always lose-lose.
You can never be too prepared as you head into your draft. There are a lot of things to consider, but once you get in the habit of practicing these fantasy football draft tips, you’ll be able to execute them by second nature.