Winning Fantasy Football Draft Strategies

By Marcella Surra
Marcella Surra

There are several things you need to understand and do to become a fantasy football champion. First, you need to do your homework. Before your draft, look at the teams’ depth charts and find out which players are starters and which ones are back-ups. Find out if those starters are aging or injury-prone and look at which back-ups have the potential to become fantasy football lottery tickets.

You also need to have more than just one strategy for draft day. Some leagues have predetermined pick positions for the draft and others determine draft picks randomly about a half-hour before the draft. Whichever position you end up in, you need to figure out who your first-round draft pick will be should you draft first, second, third and so on. In fact, you should have a pretty good idea of who your first five draft picks will be, whether you’re drafting second or tenth. If your draft position is predetermined, then you can easily do your homework in advance. If it’s random, and you won’t find out until draft day, then my advice to you is to study the depth charts, last year’s rankings for all positions, and do several mock drafts to see which players are being drafted when.

You need to have a contingency plan should all the top running backs, quarterbacks, and wide receivers be taken before your pick comes along. Create a list of your must-haves, favorites, and sleepers. Make a list of second-tier players that you think may have a breakout year. Maybe they’re players that got moved up on the depth chart or maybe they’re rookies who did well at the combine. You may want to draft some back-up players that you think will move up on the depth chart later in the season.

Usually, every season there are NFL players that initially are below the radar or low-ranking; many of these players become tier-one players throughout the course of the season. If you’re able to draft or pick those players up off the wire and combine them with the tier-one players you drafted, then you have a team that is unstoppable. Fantasy football championships are won because you keep your ear to the ground and find those breakout players that end up near the top fantasy point rankings.

After you’ve done your research and you have a list of sleeper picks or under-rated players that you think will have a breakout season, look at your list of must-have players and determine whether or not they’ll be available when your draft pick comes around. If you conclude that you have a good list of wide receivers who you can draft in the late rounds, then maybe you can use one of your early picks on a top-tier tight end like Jimmy Graham. Or if you believe through research that having a top quarterback like Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers is overrated, and you can wait on a QB, then you can stack your wide receiving or running back core. However, keep in mind that your strategy should all be dependent on your draft position and the availability of players you want.

If you have a first-round draft pick, and there are twelve managers in your league, after your initial pick, your next pick is the 24th pick. Look at the rankings and find out who will be available at that point. It’s the same situation if you’re drafting twelfth; all of the top eleven players are gone. Hence, you need to figure out which top-tier players you can draft at that point and have some sleeper picks ready to draft.

The one thing you need to do in order to win in fantasy football is constantly try to improve your team. Keep an eye out on the waiver wire, injury reports, and team news. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of new acquisitions to create a championship team. St. Louis Rams RB Zac Stacy was not on the radar in the beginning of the 2013 NFL season. However, savvy fantasy football owners that snatched him up went on to have a solid running back for the rest of their season. In fourteen games, RB Zac Stacy rushed for 973 yards, 4 of those games were 100+ yards, and scored 7 TDs. Because most top-tier running backs typically get drafted in the first round, snatching up Stacy later in the season essentially afforded fantasy teams with two top-tier running backs, assuming they drafted a good running back in the first round. This is a perfect example, of how a new acquisition can strengthen your fantasy team.

In the same token, you have to be careful not to draft some picks too early in the draft. Sometimes players move to new teams and don’t have the fantasy value they once had. Sometimes how a player ranks is reflective of how he performed the previous year. Some ranking algorithms don’t anticipate how a player will perform under different playing conditions. For example, if a wide receiver all of a sudden gets stuck with a crappy quarterback or vice versa, they’re numbers may not be as good as their previous season’s fantasy numbers.

Case in point, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan’s fantasy season was in a shambles after he lost this two top wide receivers to injury. Also, we all know that WR Larry Fitzgerald is an amazing wide receiver. However, we also know that Arizona has had some quarterback issues. Although he is talented, he may not be the best top-tier option for your team, so be careful in what round you draft him, if you decide to draft him. If he’s the best wide receiver you have, then he may not give you the consistency you need to win week in and week out. However, if he’s your WR3, and you got him in a late round, he may be a benefit to your team.

Another winning strategy in fantasy football is to stack your bench. Your bench can sometimes make or break your season. Any seasoned fantasy football player knows that bye weeks and injuries can cripple your team if you are not prepared. Be aware of bye weeks and injuries when you draft. Sometimes, it’s okay to draft injured players if they’re really good and you’re getting them in a very late round; sooner or later they’ll help your team. However, if you draft someone that is injured and you’re unaware of it, then you’ll end up scrambling to fill a position, which is never good. Also, football is a dangerous game and any player can get hurt at any time. Make sure you have a back-up for your most important players, especially if you know they are injury-prone, aging, or have an upcoming bye week.

Ultimately, the best fantasy football managers are prepared for any occurrence. Being prepared is dependent on what you know and when you learn it. News today happens in real time. Don’t let the other managers in your league be the first to snatch up a player off the wire that could have helped your team. Find the weak spots in your line-up and constantly strive to strengthen those spots through waiver wire acquisitions or calculated trades. Fantasy football seasons often don’t start perfect, but with dedication, research, and focus, your season can end perfectly with a fantasy football championship.