How To Dominate Your Fantasy Football Draft

Mike Donnely with a simple guide on how to dominate your Fantasy Football Draft

Ahh, the end of August. To many, that signals a dark time as the summer is winding down and your time at the beach is coming to a close. Well fear not, because the end of August also signals the return of fantasy football! It’s that time of the year where fantasy begins to take over the lives of many dedicated fantasy ballers. Heck, even if you’re only a casual player, you’re probably getting consumed with rankings, draft strategies, and the like. I’m not going to bore you with a standard list of my fantasy rankings or anything like that, but what I am going to do today is give you a simple guide on how to dominate your fantasy draft so that at the end of the season you’re the one taking home the prize money. You’ll thank me later.

(And in case you’re one of the stragglers still just putting their leagues together, be sure to check out my 8 Rules For a Perfect Fantasy League)

1. Don’t Blindly Follow “Expert” Rankings – I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to check out the rankings of some people online, because they can certainly be a valuable tool. It’s good to do some research and get the opinions of a few people who know what they’re doing. HOWEVER, you should absolutely not take the rankings you find as gospel and adhere to them blindly throughout your draft. Just because some of these people consider themselves “experts” doesn’t mean they actually are. It just means they spend more time doing this than you do. They’ll still swing and miss more than occasionally.

If the list you found has Tom Brady ranked ahead of Robert Griffin III but you really want to draft RG3, then go ahead and do it. Remember, it’s YOUR team. You are the one who has to play out the next four months with the roster you draft, not the “expert” you found online. If you think the rankings have a player you like ranked too low, then go ahead and move him up, and vice versa. Every year I hear people getting too wrapped up in Average Draft Position (ADP) of players and rankings lists they find and they end up filling out a roster they aren’t happy with. If it’s the 6th round and you want to make sure you get Andrew Luck even though the lists tell you to wait til the 7th or 8th, then pull the trigger and make sure you get Andrew Luck. You don’t want to end up leaving your draft full of regrets.

2. Don’t Blow Round 1 – This seems simple enough, but it’s a major key to building a championship team. In Round 1, you want to get as much of a “sure thing” as you can. I know that’s easier said than done and there’s really no such thing as a guarantee in fantasy football with injuries and all, but there are definitely a few things you should be looking for. First and foremost, you’re going to want to take a running back in the first round, with Calvin Johnson being the obvious exception this year. The RB position is very scarce and you want to get one that you can rely on. You want to avoid getting too cute with your first pick, and avoid guys with red flags. If a player has been sitting out all preseason and promises he will be ready to go week 1, don’t believe him. If a guy is recovering from a major knee injury, you probably want to skip over him unless his name is Adrian Peterson. If you think David Wilson is going to have a huge year, that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean you should reach for him in the first round when it’s a certainty he will be there in the 2nd round (or later). Be smart with your first pick, your season depends on it.

3. Identify Your “Do Not Draft” Players – Just as important as identifying the guys you want to target, is identifying the guys you want no part of in 2013. There are pretty much two categories here. One is the list of players you want no part of whatsoever, which is self-explanatory and the other is the list of players you would prefer not to have, but would be Arian Fosterwilling to take if they fell into your lap a little later in the draft…usually much, much later for me to consider, though. Basically you think they’re bad value for where they’ll be drafted but a few rounds later and they’d suddenly become too good to pass up. Fox example…

This year my list of notable players that I wouldn’t draft at all includes Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, any Steelers running back, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Miles Austin, and Antonio Gates.

My “probably not” list has Marshawn Lynch (just a feeling), Arian Foster (too many red flags), Maurice Jones-Drew, the entire Rams offense (Schotty!), Frank Gore (think they’ll scale his carries back a little), Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe, Torrey Smith, Stevie Johnson, Colin Kaepernick, Kyle Rudolph, and Tony Gonzalez.

Take a look at your own lists and then identify these types of players. You’ll be happy you already made up your mind on these guys come draft day when you’re on the clock and staring Darren McFadden in the face.

4. Take Some Chances – When making your rankings, take some chances and shake things up. If everyone is drafting with the same basic rankings and ideas then its harder to separate yourself from the pack, so put your own stamp on your rankings. Identify the guys you want to target in the mid-rounds, starting in about round 3 and slide them up your rankings a little bit. Just because Wes Welker is ahead of TY Hilton on all the lists doesn’t mean you can’t draft Hilton while Welker is still on the board. With your first (and probably second) round picks you want to draft “sure things” but after that, it’s anything goes. I’m not saying go crazy and make crazy reach picks, but you should absolutely target high-reward type players. You want to draft guys based on what you think they’ll do in the future, not what they did last year. We have a pretty good idea what to expect from someone like Frank Gore this year, but there’s a chance Eddie Lacy or Gio Bernard might explode and be way better. Don’t be afraid to take chances like that and go for the home run.

Guys I would recommend in the middle rounds who could outperform their draft position are: Chris Johnson, Reggie Bush (a superstar in PPR formats this year), Eddie Lacy, Shane Vereen, Ben Tate, Bilal Powell, Bryce Brown, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antonio Brown, TY Hilton, Josh Gordon, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Kembrell Thompkins, Ryan Broyles, Vincent Brown, Jeremy Kerley, Ruben Randle, Jordan Cameron, Jermichael Finley, Tyler Eifert, Fred Davis, Andrew Luck, and Michael Vick.

5. Kickers and Defenses – Should go without saying but for the love of God, please don’t draft kickers or defenses before your last few picks. And if you even consider drafting a backup kicker, just donate your league entry fee to a charity before donating it to your future league winner and let’s not waste everyone’s time.

6. Know the Other Teams – If you’ve been in a long-running league with the same group of people, know their tendencies and what kind of players they might be going after so you can plan your strategy accordingly. Likewise, during the draft pay attention to every other team’s rosters because that could help you when deciding who to target with your next picks. If the teams drafting behind you have quarterbacks already, maybe you don’t have to take one that round and can wait until your next pick since in all likelihood nobody is going to draft a backup QB early. If the team drafting after you has 1 running back and it’s the 6th round already, he or she is probably going to be looking for RB’s. So if you have one you want, make sure you snatch him up before you lose the chance to. This can all be tricky if you do a live in-person draft, especially if alcohol is involved (and let’s face it, there’s going to be alcohol involved). You don’t want to drive yourself crazy analyzing every pick, but just keep an eye out and pay attention to these things.

7. Have Fun – This one should go without saying, but keep in mind that fantasy football is supposed to be fun. You’re getting into a four month long roller coaster with a group of friends, and while it’s nice to win — really, really nice — it’s important to have fun while trying to win as well. Think of it as your hobby and your chance to talk trash to your friends rather than a job or business investment, like far too many do. There’s only one winner at the end of the season, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time throughout the season if you’re one of the 11 losers.

And that’s about it. There are tons of other little tidbits and pieces of information you can use to try and get an edge on your league, but follow these few easy steps and you’ll be on your way to a solid and successful fantasy league. Make your own rankings, target the guys you want, and channel your inner Ron Wolf as you wheel and deal your way to the trophy. Remember, it’s YOUR team. Have fun with it, do the best you can, and things will all fall into place for you.

Author: Mike Donnelly

Mike Donnelly is a Staff Writer and life-long Jets fan, who was previously a featured columnist at multiple other New York Jets and fantasy football websites. He lives and works in finance in the NYC area and will help lead our Jets and NFL coverage in 2013.

  • Ben

    I agree with a lot of this. I just don’t agree with this list – “This year my list of notable players that I wouldn’t draft at all includes Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, any Steelers running back, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Miles Austin, and Antonio Gates.” Greg Jennings, Mike Wallce, Miles Austin, Mathews, McFadden & Gates can all have breakout seasons.

  • Mike Donnelly

    They could… But they won’t. Gates and Austin are shot, Wallace and Jennings are going to be busts, and McFadden and Mathews will get hurt like they always do. But that’s the beauty of fantasy, you can pick or not pick whoever you want. Good luck this year.

  • joeydefiant

    Even if McFadden only plays the first 8 games and gets hurt the numbers he will put up in those 8 games is worth the 3rd-4th round price tag…

  • Mike Donnelly

    Joey, no they aren’t. Couldn’t disagree more, I wouldnt even think about taking him before the 5th or 6th round. He will ALWAYS let you down..

  • Erock

    Also make sure u have cheat sheets ready. Fftoolbox. Com has cheat sheets for the schedule and depth charts.

    Always like having th #2 wr from all good qb teams starred off.

  • David

    A few things I disagree with:

    1) I don’t think a RB in round 1 is a necessity for a few reasons. #1, so many teams now days are going to 2 backs as compared to 5 years ago. There are very few teams like Minnesota, Houston, and teams like that where you know who the #1 back is and by a large margin. Even a top back like Ray Rice, do yourself a favor and get Bernard Pierce because Pierce is going to take carries away. #2, I can see a person taking a RB if you get the chance to get like an AP, Doug Martin, Lesean McCoy, Arian Foster in picks 1-5. But when you get to say #11 or #12, would you rather have a RB like in the mold of like DeMarco Murray, Ryan Matthews, or would you rather have a top QB like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or perhaps a top WR like Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson. I think I’d rather have the top QB or WR than a 2nd tier RB. Once you get past the top 5 or 6, there isn’t much difference between say #7 and #20.

    #2– Kickers and defense: If you look at some of the defenses and kickers last year, depending on the points, they probably gave you more consistency and points than a #3 WR or even some tight ends. I’d gladly take a defense like San Francisco, Seattle or Houston earlier than some #3 WR’s.

  • KAsh

    I do not do much fantasy, but Mike said that you will want to draft a RB in the first round, not that you must draft a RB. Fantasy is not football, and just because not too many teams have a single, dominant RB does not reduce their fantasy value. In fact, it increases it, especially since many teams still rely on them to score in the red zone. But a diamond or a gem among pebbles is inherently valuable the rarer it is.

    So, in the beginning of the first round, you should go for your favorite RB. Otherwise, he will not be there for long. If it is the middle of the round and he is still there, then you should remember Mike’s rules #4 & #6. Calculate the odds that your RB will still be there in the later rounds and maybe go for the top QB or receiver that you want. Shake things up is also important here. As well as have fun!

  • John C

    I have the first pick in our draft – I figure I have to take AP. That’s a no-brainer, correct? But then I don’t pick again till I get both the 23rd and 24th picks. What would you guys think for those spots? I’d probably lean towards whomever I think is the best QB and WR. Does that sound reasonable?

  • KAsh

    It sounds reasonable, but your picks should be heavily dependant on picks #2-22, so it is hard to give you concrete advice. Consider targeting a TE if those picks have leaned heavily on WRs, RBs, and QBs. Ideally, you want to have a top eight list for each of those three groups, so that you have an idea of who is left and who might have been overlooked.

  • Mike Donnelly

    John, AP is a no brainer.. With that 2nd and 3rd round pick you should take the two best players available.. I would actually suggest taking a RB with one of them if you can and if Jimmy Graham is there jump all over him. I would wait on QB for the next go round of picks you have actually

  • John C

    Thanks for the advice guys. I’ll have to see how the others play out. Guess I’ll think like the pro draft in the 2nd & 3rd – best available (in my opinion anyway) player. I would be willing to take a TE if someone like Graham is available, but TEs usually hang around in this league.

  • David

    @John C: Hey man, I just wanted to let you know I had your scenario last night in a fantasy league– #1 pick in the draft. I took AP with the #1 pick and when it came back around, I took QB Tom Brady and TE Jimmy Graham.