Drafting is probably the single most important aspect of fantasy football. It allows you to build the core components of your team and can set you up for success or failure down the road.
The very success of your fantasy team hinges on your draft picks. Therefore, learning how to draft for fantasy football is a must if you want to be a successful fantasy player.
Luckily, I have compiled a step-by-step plan that will have you dominating your leagues all thanks to excellent drafting fundamentals. Just reading this article will put you way ahead of your buddies and will bring you closer to that big money prize.
Resources needed to follow this guide
Step #1: Know Your League
The first step to drafting a team is to know which league you’re joining. The available sports vary depending on your fantasy football platform. Most fantasy sites carry the major leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, PGA) and various types of leagues. Knowing which league to join is important because you have to know the basic details such as the draft date and the league’s scoring format.
By far, the most pertinent piece of information you have to remember is the day your draft is taking place. Mark your calendars, leave yourself some post-it notes, book the day off, or do whatever you need to do to make sure you do not miss your draft!
All your hard work and preparation will completely go to waste if you aren’t there to make the selections for your team. Instead, the computer will generate the draft picks for you, based on the player rankings you have (hopefully) compiled.
Even if your player rankings are solid, there is a lot of minutiae and subtle details that only you can pick up on when drafting. After all, you are drafting against human opponents, and there is nothing more unpredictable than humans.
Know Your League’s Scoring Format
Scoring rules matter as they can greatly affect the value of certain players and even entire positions. For example, some leagues award points per reception, which skews value in the favor of wide receivers as well as running backs who are receiving threats.
Scoring rules are unique for each league, the standard/default scoring rules go as follows:
- TD Pass = 4 pts
- TD Rush = 6 pts
- TD Reception = 6pts
- Every 25 passing yards = 1 pt
- Every 10 rushing yards = 1 pt
- Every 10 receiving yards = 1 pt
- 2 point conversion = 2 pts
For more information, including the customization options for scoring rules, check out ESPN’s article here.
Step 2: Plan Your Draft Roster
You can’t go blind when drafting your roster. Here are the NFL positions to help guide you:
Running Backs vs. Quarterbacks
An axiom of fantasy football that has held true since the dawn of time: running back is the most important position!
Why? Just check the scoring rules.
An average-to-great running back will net approximately 100 yards and one touchdown per game. That is 10 fantasy points for 100 yards of rushing, and six fantasy points for a touchdown. Overall granting a total of 16 fantasy points. That is a solid, consistent production you can count on.
Furthermore, there are fewer “great” running backs than there are great quarterbacks, so you will want to prioritize picking up running backs before picking up a quarterback. There isn’t as much fantasy difference between Tom Brady and Dak Prescott as there is between Saquon Barkley and Brian Hill.
Further to this point, you will want to ensure that the running back you pick is a “workhorse” back and not one that is used “by committee”. For example, Miles Sanders is a great running back in his own right, but he has in the past split time with Jordan Howard.
That means that stud, workhorse backs are rare. With the league moving more and more towards a passing league, you are less likely to find a contributing running back in the later rounds than you are to find a quarterback.
Additionally, you should consider picking BPA – the best player available. This is because things change fast in the world of football (with injuries and the like). So, you might consider drafting four stud running backs early, in the hopes of trading one later on for, let’s say, a stud quarterback.
It is better to pick up Ezekiel Elliott when you already have Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey than it is to pick up Andy Dalton, even if you haven’t already drafted a quarterback. Do not draft for need, because needs change fast.
Receivers are more likely to play every game over the course of the season than running backs do. Receivers are more reliable and provide more consistency in terms of fantasy points, though their total fantasy output is usually lower than running backs.
Wide receivers typically see the ball less, and their fantasy points usually come strictly in the form of receiving yards and scores. Their play is also directly tied to the quarterback who is throwing them the ball, so you will want to make sure that the quarterback is good too.
When drafting a wide receiver, make sure that he is the quarterback’s favorite or go-to receiver. If not, try to pick up a wide receiver that is trusted in the end zone. Or, you can also pick one that can score on special teams, if special team points are awarded to receivers.
For example, Torrey Smith used to be a great value pick because he could pick up a lot of receiving TDs. His height and verticality was useful in the endzone – even if he was never truly a #1 receiver.
I would recommend drafting a receiver as early as possible, because great, consistent receivers are even rarer than running backs. A tough spot to be in is to have two second-string receivers who net you no points.
That being said, you definitely want to nab a running back before a wide receiver. It’s just that if you’ve already named a top tier RB like McCaffrey, you may consider grabbing a Julio Jones or Michael Thomas with your next pick… Especially if you think they won’t be around for much longer.
There are a lot of productive tight ends in the NFL today. Yet again, with the league moving more and more towards passing, the value of pass-catching tight ends has actually gone down.
This is good, in a way, because it means you can draft a solid tight end in the middle-to-late rounds without really compromising on production. Even a tier 1 tight end is likely to only provide as many fantasy points as a tier 5 wide receiver, so there is likely to be a larger pool of tight ends in the later rounds than productive wide receivers at the same selection.
Moreover, you typically only need to start with one tight end on your roster, so you’ll really only need to draft one or two tight ends. This depends on whether you are planning to make a splash in the free agent pool.
Compare this number to the four or sometimes five wide receivers you need to pick up to fill your roster, and it’s easy to see why wide receivers are more heavily prioritized.
In short, it’s easier to find a Zac Ertz type player, who will net you around five to ten fantasy points per week, than it is to find a mediocre running back who will net you the same. Therefore, prioritize tight ends after running backs and wide receivers.
Kickers & Defense
Kickers and defense positions are typically afterthoughts. They are such coin-flip positions that provide few points in the grand scheme of things. If a kicker scores, let’s say, 13 points, that is HUGE production for that position, and yet, it’s just 13 points.
Defense is similar in the sense that sometimes, the best defenses in the NFL do not match the best defenses in fantasy.
This inconsistency is due to the fantasy scoring system that promotes defenses on the field often, where they can score points for sacks and/or turnovers. Defenses that cause three-and-outs are less valued, because the “Yards Allowed” stat does not grant as many points.
Moreover, a lot of defenses allow yards and touchdowns in garbage time, where both teams are just looking to run out the clock. It’s infuriating as a fantasy owner because you can find that your defense loses 10 to 15 fantasy points in the last two or three minutes of the game alone.
Ask any fantasy owner, and every single one will tell you how they got screwed out of a win because of garbage-time defense.
Premium Tool That Can Help: Cheat Sheet Creator
Having a cheat sheet is the easiest and most effective way to build a fantasy football draft board.
A good cheat sheet creator will allow you to update and adjust the rankings, plus enable you to create tiered lists. You can place multiple players of the same skill/demand in the same tier.
This feature is useful if there are several players available in one tier but only a few available in another – it allows you to draft smarter and more efficiently.
Step 3: Review and Optimize Your Draft using a Draft Wizard
A Draft Wizard is important because it gives you the security and comfort of knowing you have an Assistant GM backing up every draft selection you make. A good Draft Wizard will keep track of your draft and offer consensus recommendations from fantasy experts at every selection.
A great Draft Wizard, meanwhile, will provide instant analysis of your mock and real drafts. It will give you an idea of how your team will stack up against your opponents and will present to you an analysis of your team so you can break down its strengths and weaknesses.
You can find several great Draft Wizards at FantasyPros, Draft Dashboard, Fantasy Nerd and Rotowire.
Step 4: Mock Draft
Practicing to draft in mock drafts is imperative if you want to have a successful draft. You need to find a good draft simulator, such as the ones you can find on FantasyPros, Fantasy Nerd, DFS Army and Draft Dashboard.
The mock drafts offered by these services are great because you can complete them in minutes. You do not have to wait between picks because the computer will make their selections quickly.
If you choose to use another service, know that good mock drafts give you the option of customizing your draft with settings that factor in your league’s scoring rules and draft format (e.g. snake vs. linear vs. auction). Customization gives you the opportunity to run drafts that closely mimic what you will experience on draft day.
My personal recommendation is to run at least three mock drafts before draft day, especially if you are a beginner.Plus, use a draft analyzer that frequently is included in bundles for mock drafts.
A great Draft Analyzer will provide instant analysis of your mock and real drafts. Additionally, it will give you an idea of how your team will stack up against your opponents. All this while providing you an analysis of your team so you can break down its strengths and weaknesses.
Step 5: Draft Day
Come draft day, ensure that you have your player rankings and cheat sheet on hand. These are usually issued digitally if you have a subscription to a premium service, like Fantasy Pros or Draft Dashboard.
It is also good to have a draft plan of what position you want for each round. Of course, you don’t and shouldn’t have to follow the plan exactly, as the draft is unpredictable. However, it is important to follow your players rankings because it will help you base decisions and focus on what you want.
Here’s an example of a draft plan by position.
Next, you will want the official NFL schedule on hand, so that you can go through and see what matchups will give certain players more potential and when certain teams have bye weeks. As we’ve said, it’s important to not have too many players on the same bye week, as you will certainly take a loss.
Try to get some backup players with different bye weeks than your starters to mitigate the impact of losing a starter.
As the draft goes on, make sure to cross players off your rankings sheet so that you can quickly look at who is the best player available when the selection is yours.
The most important thing is to have fun, as the draft is a unique process that is ever-unpredictable and can feel overwhelming at times.
Knowing how to draft for fantasy football is definitely an acquired skill. It involves eliminating a lot of the guesswork and doing your own research to build the best possible fantasy team you can.
Luckily, if you’re reading this article, that means that you’ve already committed to researching more about fantasy drafts. Drafting isn’t easy, but it’s fun. Always keep that in mind when playing fantasy football. Find the “fun” and build your strategy from there. Good luck!
Let us know in the comments below if you have pointers for drafting your fantasy team!