Commish HQ: Feel Like Tinkering with Your Draft Format?

By Reginald James
Reginald James

If you’re reading this, chances are your league uses a draft format called a “snake draft.” If you’re new to fantasy football, and you’re wondering what I’m talking about, no problem, we’ll get into the details shortly. The purpose of this particular Commish HQ is to toss out another drafting option for fantasy commissioners (especially first-timers) to consider: the Third Round Reversal format. We’re going to discuss and compare three draft scenarios, or formats, as if  we’re drafting in a 12-team league.


S-S-S-Serpentine Standard


“Snake" refers to the way the draft order reverses back and forth, reminiscent of the pattern a snake’s body makes as it moves. In a snake draft, the order in which teams choose players is reversed after each round. In Round One, Team One drafts first, then Team Two, then Team Three, for example. The player selection continues until Team 12 makes their first pick. This will be the last pick which ends Round One. At the beginning of Round Two, the selection order reverses direction, where Team 12 who picked last in Round One, now picks first. Team 11 will get the second pick in the second round. Draft selections will continue until Team One makes the final pick in Round Two. We’ll go one more round, Round Three, because that’s where the difference lies between two of the drafting formats we’re going to cover. The draft order will reverse once again, going back in the opposite direction. For instance, at the beginning of Round Three, Team One picks first. Did you catch that Team One gets two picks in a row? In a snake draft:


• Team One gets the last pick in Round Two (24th overall), and then the first pick in Round Three (25th overall).


You may have already noticed that Team One is not the first team to get back-to-back picks. This happens first with Team 12:


• They get the last pick in Round One (12th overall).


•Then, when the draft order “snakes back,” they get the first pick in Round Two (13th overall).


Fast-forward back to the Third Round, where each team continues picking in the manner described until the end of the draft. If you have a completed draft board to look at, you’ll find that if you trace the draft order with your finger starting with the first pick and continue to follow the order of the subsequent picks, you will trace a serpentine, or snake-like, pattern: a nod to the format’s name. Cool, huh?


There’s an old-school draft format where Team One, for example, would get the first pick at the beginning of every round. Subsequent picks would follow suit in the same order each round. This draft style has gone the way of the dinosaur for most leagues, although I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still some leagues drafting this way. Standard snake drafts are popular because, it’s believed they balance out the perceived advantages that some teams would have if they repeatedly drafted earlier than the other teams, as in the last scenario I just mentioned. In a snake draft, while teams picking earlier in the first round seemingly have the advantage of choosing the best players, they also have to wait longer between picks in the rounds that follow. Conversely, it may seem that teams picking later in the first round may have a disadvantage. However, Team 12 for example, may benefit by getting back-to-back picks, which could give them an advantage in the later rounds.


I personally can’t say that someone drafting in an earlier position has a distinct advantage. There are those that would vehemently disagree with me. I would offer that it’s all a matter of perspective. Lots of fantasy players have a favorite draft position, which may vary from manager to manager, depending on their own personal draft style. I for one, hate getting the highly coveted first overall pick. I’d rather pick closer to the end, say, picks 8 to 10.


Third Round Reversal


Earlier, I specifically used the language “perceived advantages” when describing the possible benefits of a standard snake draft for a reason. Some feel that Team One getting the first overall pick, then picks 24 and 25 is unfair, and see the Third Round Reversal as a way to address this. You be the judge.


I usually hear about the Third Round Reversal style in regards to high-stakes leagues. That doesn’t mean “regular” leagues haven’t adopted this style, or that you shouldn’t consider this format for your league. Also, if you talk to old fantasy heads, you may hear stories about how lots of “regular” leagues converted to Third Round Reversal because of the popularity of an all-purpose running back named LaDainian Tomlinson. There was this whole thing that getting him gave managers a major advantage over other players. I guess I’m one of those old heads, because I was also playing fantasy football then. I however, didn’t feel compelled to change the draft format of my league. LaDainian Tomlinson is no longer playing so I wonder how many of those leagues switched back after he retired. Okay, let’s jump off this tangent and get back on track with the topic at hand.


Let’s imagine that once again, we start our draft exactly the same way as described above, where Team 12 that picked last in Round One, gets to pick first in Round Two. Rounds One and Two are executed the same way, with the same teams selecting picks 1 through 24 just like above. Using Third Round Reversal, the change happens at the start of Round Three where the order reverses but:


• Team One who picked first in Round  One, will now pick last in the Round Three.


• Team 12 who picked last in tRound One (12th overall) and first in Round Two (13th overall), now also picks first in Round Three (36th overall).


The draft then continues all snake-like just as any other standard snake draft. Fans of this format will offer the same praises as those who use a standard snake draft. Similarly, there’s a perceived safeguard preventing teams with an early drafting position from having a significant advantage by always picking early or late in consecutive rounds. Obviously, the funky turn at the beginning of Round Three may flip the drafting strategy a bit from your standard draft, yet again, I think it’s a matter of perspective depending on your individual drafting style which may already depart from the status quo.


“Third Round Reversal” - Every Two Rounds:


Once we get past Round Three, what if, instead of continuing to follow a standard pattern after the Third Round Reversal (as above), the order reverses every two rounds? Both Teams One and 12 would still get back-to-back picks. However, this would happen every other round. Does this format do a better job at balancing the advantages and disadvantages of a specific draft position throughout the draft? This is the very same reason folks give for choosing the two formats we’ve already discussed. Is there really that big of a difference between the three options, or does it just seem like we’re doing something grand and uber-strategic, but not really? Let’s take a closer look.


Apples to Oranges to Kiwis?


Let’s compare the first five overall picks of Team One, Team Six, and Team 12 using the three different draft formats:


Standard Snake Draft:

Team One: Overall picks - 1, 24, 25, 48, 49

Team Six: Overall picks - 6, 19, 30, 43, 54

Team 12: Overall picks - 12, 13, 36, 37, 60  


Snake Draft with Third Round Reversal:

Team One: Overall picks 1, 24, 36, 37, 60

Team Six: Overall picks - 6, 19, 31, 42, 55

Team 12: Overall picks - 12, 13, 25, 48, 49


“Third Round Reversal” Every Two Rounds:


Team One: Overall picks 1, 24, 36, 37, 49

Team Six: Overall picks - 6, 19, 31, 42, 54

Team 12: Overall picks -12, 13, 25, 48, 60


Do any of the above scenarios clearly stand out as one that promotes the most fair and competitive balance during a draft? If so, how much more than the other two? Would the members in your league benefit or appreciate a change? As a commissioner, you should always be looking to increase the competitive level of your league. Would tinkering the way your league drafts accomplish this goal, or would it basically be a lateral move? Hopefully, I’ve given you, fellow commissioner, something to think about that may help you maintain a happy and successful league.




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