2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Fantasy Football Draft Tips: Rule Your Draft


So you’re new to Fantasy Football. A spot has opened up in your workplace league and you’ve decided to get in to see what all the fuss is about. You need help to make a start, but every website you go to for guidance seems to cater to experts and fantasy junkies. Practical advice for the novice seems scattered and complicated.

Of all the major sports, Fantasy Football is the one most people start with before trying the other ones. Even if you are just a single league casual player, you still want a strong presence in your league. Might as well make it worthwhile, right? Part of the fun of Fantasy Football is preparing for the season and there are so many tools out there to give you a heads up advantage.

Maybe this is your second year and you don’t want to make the mistakes you did last time and get off to a better start. This, of course, all begins with the draft. Being ill-prepared for your league draft can devastate your chances of having any hint of competitiveness through the season. You have to be sharp and strong-willed to defeat all your league opponents no matter the occasion, but the draft is where your team foundation should be strong.

Fantasy Football Draft Tips

I cannot tell you who to draft because that’s entirely up to you. I can, however, give some good advice on how to approach a draft. If you come into your draft room without any sense of what you are in for, then you are probably going to be an “also ran” when the fantasy playoffs come around.

For the sake of conciseness, these tips are based solely on the snake draft system. The other main system people draft with is the auction, in which very different strategies are involved.

For further draft advice; more on the side avoiding missteps, check Kevin Huo’s article here.

Be Prepared

Always check the dates of NFL player information that you Google or Bing. Older info can be useful, but keep it in context.

Instead use sites like this one you are on now to get up-to-date rankings, injury news, position previews, busts, sleepers and more.

Also, don’t use just one site. I know we aren’t the only opinion out there and we shouldn’t be because we are not 100% right. Nobody is. If they say they are, immediately close their site because they are full of it. Use these other sites along with ours to collect all the information you need and ultimately come up with your own opinion on things. It will make you ready for whatever the draft may throw at you.

Remember too that the NFL season in fantasy terms is a fluid. When I say you should develop your own opinion, ensure you keep the picture in focus by not getting overly hyped by dark horses. Conversely, give the consensus “bust” candidates a fair hearing in your courtroom of prospects to avoid dismissing them.

The Mock Draft

The best way to prepare for any real draft is practice.

The mock draft obviously ranks as the most essential tool in the run-up to the real thing. I would suggest not just any mock draft, but especially a mock on the website that your league is hosted on. You want to familiarize yourself with the platform and how to draft and mark your targeted players. The platform orders the players on an in-house cheat sheet based on aggregates of mock drafts and expert analysis.

Know your league setup to do your mocks properly. You can simply find the league rules or ask your commissioner. A common draft set is: QB – 2 RBs – 2 WRs – TE – FLEX (RB or WR) – K – DST – 6 BENCH.

League rules will vary depending on the commissioner and whether your league counts a point for a reception – known as a “points per reception” league or PPR. The point system is important to consider in your mock draft because some players may have higher drafting value depending on those rules.

Don’t worry, the platform player order usually reflects the point system the league has selected in the real draft. So PPR and Standard scoring lists are usually different. Again, gear your mocks accordingly.

Try Off-Platform Mocks Too

Mock drafting against other people can take a long time. You can get a good feel for drafting and do fast mock drafts at fantasypros.com – with various ways to configure a league setup. They use an AI system at the site which seeks to resemble human opponents using the expert rankers (ECR) at Fantasy Pros.

What about ADP and ECR?

The Average Draft Position (ADP) is a cyclical aggregate of where people are drafting players in fantasy drafts both mock and real. If for instance, a player has an ADP of 47, that means on average that player is being drafted 47th overall. ADP and Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) can be very different.

Which should you go by? The answer is both. Sometimes, depending on current player news that hasn’t entered into the ADP cycle or experts haven’t evaluated yet, some out-of-date variance may occur. Generally, the ADP is a good guide and useful for not reaching too far or gaining a steal. The ECR should not be ignored either and you can customize your league draft table using those rankings or a mixture of your own.

Use ADP and ECR to make comparisons of player value versus where they are being drafted. Myself, I tend more bias toward ECR over ADP, but you should never neglect either. At fantasypros.com you can select a modified ECR for mocks with experts of your choice.

The Cheatsheet

One of the great misnomers of Fantasy Football. You aren’t cheating by making your own list of player ranks.

Most drafters will simply refer to the pre-ordained consensus draftboard ranks on the platform for making their selections. These are, of course, adequate enough for the casual player.

Most platforms allow you to customize that list with your own cheatsheet. I should point out that cheatsheet building is an advanced endeavor. It is time consuming and must be reasonably accurate. Deviating too far from consensus ranks of ECR and ADP could prove costly in a draft.

You can use your cheatsheet as a “best of both worlds” approach as a leaning reference between it and the platform ranks. I would suggest this for those wanting cheatsheet experience without spurning the platform’s recommendations.

Finally, test out your cheatsheet in the mocks. This goes without saying, but if you know your draft number well in advance of the draft, then all the better.

Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect

It’s easy to fall into bad patterns of drafting in your mocks. Mix up your choices to include players of less interest. Challenge yourself by taking players outside your ideal. You can easily get locked into an idyllic habit when drafting, so prepare for awkward situations by making your mocks awkward.

Try mocking with a deep league of 14 or 16 as this will have an effect like a baseball doughnut for those in 10 or 12 team leagues. Again, by making your mocks difficult and challenging will give you a strong feel for whatever draft position falls to you.

Don’t Make it a Prime Objective to get a Good Evaluation

Some mocks rank your draft based on a number of criteria, but I would try to ignore getting “good marks” for a draft.

It’s fine for a guideline, but not as the goal you should try to attain. So don’t stumble over yourself to try to achieve high marks based on these. You are drafting for what you think will be a good team and not someone else’s idea. Often, drafting a backup quarterback skews an evaluation too favorably on some sites; thus giving dubious accuracy.

Again, evaluation grades can have the effect of creating a sense of false achievement. Try to attain a balanced team and the players you want. If you reach down the rankings for player in the mock, then test it out to see how things develop. This is why we mock – to experiment.

Player Positions to Draft in the First Three Rounds

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Before 2016, the orthodoxy for drafting was to typically take running backs off the board first, then wide receivers. After the third round of snake drafts, you just filled up with everything else. With the rising popularity of the PPR and especially the Half-PPR formats, some of the old orthodoxies have gone out the window.

I’m probably the not the best person to advise on how you should draft in the early rounds. Anyone who has faced me in a league will tell you I’m notoriously unorthodox. I’m not a maverick archetype, at least I don’t think so, but I’ll admit I certainly have some stripe.

How I attack a draft depends a lot on my draft position. The players and positions I select may vary greatly depending on that. You may not know your draft position until you enter the draft room, so prepare to adjust the script as matters warrant. In a 12 team league, for example, a contingency plan for high (1-4), middle (5-8) and end (9-12) draft positions is something you can sharpen for in your mock experiments.

Above all, I find the best strategy is to try and maintain a balance. Let the draft come to you. Do not sieze players for the sake of preventing your neighboring draft opponents acquiring them. The idea is to build your best team and not to necessarily impede others. If you follow the flow of your draft on sound principles, you will outmatch your opponents without resorting to disjointed tactics.

Drafting Two Quarterbacks

Whether you want to draft quarterback early or late is up to you. Drafting a second quarterback in a single quarterback league is excessive in cases where you have one ranked in the top 5. If you prefer drafting quarterbacks late, then you should consider keeping a second and play the matchup start-sits.

However, if you have a top 5 quarterback and his bye-week is before Week 7, then you may want to have a extra one aboard decent enough to cover those crucial early six weeks of the season.

The best case scenario for those wanting an elite quarterback, is to target one with a bye week deep into the season – say Week 10 or later. This way you can put off any thought of an extra quarterback during the draft and concentrate on rounding your roster with other skill position prospects.

In 2-QB leagues, it’s a wildly different strategy. The form of the draft will lean toward getting those elites. Again, do the mocks to find the best roster suiting your style.

I prefer to have set-and-forget quarterbacks and not leave it to chance with start and sit advisories.

Playing it By the Book Does No Harm

For anyone testing the waters in Fantasy Football for the first time, they should try to stick to the tried and true. The bottom line is that you can’t go wrong playing it by the book and you are at least certain of having a decent level of competitiveness to start the season.

If you want to know what a basic or by the book player selection generally looks like, then simply enter a mock draft and watch how the auto drafter builds a team.

Be Flexible

In contrast perhaps to some of the above, I tend to “play” a draft as though it was a game of chess against my opponents. After all, they are your opponents all season and you want to defeat them. Just as in a game of chess, you survey the draft board looking for the best move. Your situation in a draft room often calls for quick thinking and cunning.

There are times when doing something outrageous can work to your advantage. I’ve always felt that dogmatic drafting is pale and unadventurous. Those that play it by the numbers or stick to various strategy conventions without wavering aren’t necessarily doing anything wrong, but it’s a style I find rather passive.

The other side, of course, is being overly aggressive. Getting the balance right with even temperament will make you a strong player in a fantasy draft. That’s why you should be flexible. When sailing a ship, you’re not just letting the wind and currents decide your destination. You navigate the seas as the circumstance necessitates.

Check the Status of Injured (INJ) or Similarly Marked Players

In your mocks or the real thing, you’ll come across players marked as injured on the list. If a particular player interests you with an INJ tag, check how current the information is. I’ve found that ESPN, Yahoo and even NFL.com can be behind in updating the status of player injuries to their rank lists.

Drafting players under a league suspension is fine, but duration is critical. ADPs will give a good indication of player value in these instances.

Keep Track of Bye Weeks

When drafting, keep an eye on those bye weeks. No matter what you do, there will be weeks that you are missing some key studs and you’ll really need a good dose of bench power to get through. Bench power requires that those players are not also sharing the same bye week! The evidence of how bye week dynamics play out are impossible to see until the time arrives, but you can formulate a safe pattern with certain techniques.

You want to try and only have one bye week that your strength is at the lowest. It isn’t easy. Selecting players too scattered over the bye weeks isn’t good either. It means every week during mid-season, you’ll be without at least one stud. If you have full strength over the mid-season except for one week, your opponents will think you are unstoppable.

You want there to be only one lucky opponent that catches your worst bye week lineup. The rest of the bye week phase of the season will give you a major advantage against the rest.

If You Can’t be Present For the Live Draft…

You should try to make it to the draft room early and be present for the draft. No matter what.

If you aren’t sure that you can, most sites will have provision for selecting your main targets if available for the auto drafter. As a courtesy, inform the commissioner if possible that you won’t be able to make the draft.

I would only allow an auto draft as a last resort. I have only missed one or two live drafts out of too many to count. These drafts probably didn’t have the players I liked and I didn’t enjoy managing those teams. So if life’s commitments force you to miss the live draft, you might draw a decent enough team, but without your signature. Some people, and some very notable experts in the industry as well, just let the auto-draft do it all. For me, that’s just not fun.

Charge Your Phone

Another related aspect is drafting using your phone away from home. Ensure your device has a solid charge and you aren’t going to encounter dead zones of poor WiFi in your travels. There have been a few times in my experience where someone has left halfway through a draft because they lost connection.

90 Seconds is Plenty of Time to Choose a Player

Most leagues allow 90 seconds to decide on a player, some are 60 seconds or less. Check your league rules. In the early rounds, most people select fairly quickly. If you don’t select in time, then the auto draft kicks in and selects for you. Take your time for deciding and don’t be intimidated by the clock or that you are holding things up. The time is all yours.

Conversely, spare a thought for your rivals under the same pressures. The extra time someone takes in selecting allows you to analyze the developing situation in the draft.

A Bad Draft Isn’t the End of the World

Everyone comes out of a draft room feeling they could have done better. By the end of the season, your team becomes so transformed you will wonder what you were worried about.

Tons of things happen in the NFL season. Players rise up and players fall off. Injuries galore. Trades and other unexpected happenings occur all the time. Always be on the ready with news from NBC Sports Edge or Rotowire to make a race for the waiver pile. These sites have phone apps too.

Prepare to Trade

One of the reasons people do trades is to get the players that they missed out on in the draft. At some point afterward, look around the league for other teams that lack what you have and have what you lack. You might be able to help each other and reach an agreement.

Don’t covet a player to the point of making a bad trade for him. Some of your opponents might know you are particularly high on a certain player and try to maneuver you into an unbalanced trade on that basis. Never rush a decision right after a draft.

Drafting is fun

A fantasy draft provides a tension-filled experience; making it a main highlight of every fantasy football season. It is the overture to a series of weekly dramas yet to unfold. Drafting is so involving and exciting that the popularity of DFS owes a lot of its success to redraft fantasy leagues. It’s so much fun that fantasy enthusiasts do it every week.

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So have fun in your 2021 draft later this summer, whether you are a multi-league expert or a casual player with one team. After that, the season and more thrilling moments await.

Get prepared for the 2021 Fantasy Football season by checking out the rest of our Fantasy Football content.

About Richard Savill

Richard is an NFL Fantasy Football Writer and Editor of Fantasy Six Pack. Host of The Fantasy Edge Podcast. FantasyPros Contributor. Member of the FSWA. Richard is known for his "outside the box" insight into NFL fantasy football. Winner of the 16-Team 2015 FSWA challenge.

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