Fantasy Football: Draft Strategy for Beginners

Football season is still up in the air as we’re still not really sure exactly how the season is going to go due to COVID-19 (so tired of this thing, WEAR A MASK IF YOU WANT FOOTBALL). However, the NFL’s plans right now are to have a season play through, with or without fans in attendance. With that said, it only makes sense to prepare for the season like it’s going to happen. It’s early July which means it’s time to start preparing yourself for fantasy football.

Now, you may be new to fantasy football, or a seasoned vet. Maybe you’re trying it out for the first time, or your coworkers kind of forced you into their league, or maybe you’re just looking for a second opinion on different strategies. Either way, this advice works for everybody, and can really give you a boost in your fantasy football experience. So if you’re that guy that’s never played before, or that gal trying to dominate her coworkers in the office league, or the person just seeking some extra help, this article will provide you with a solid game plan on how to approach the first three rounds of your fantasy football draft.

Type of League

Keep in mind, there are tons of different fantasy football leagues out there. I’m going to keep this one simple and focus on the most common fantasy football league type that most people play, which is a Points Per Reception (PPR) league, that consists of 10-12 teams, conducting a snake draft. If you already know what that means, go ahead and skip down to the “Three Strategies” section. If you don’t, the PPR points system means each player receives points every time they touch the ball. So Running Backs and Wide Receivers who touch the ball a lot for their team will earn extra points. It’s important to know this, as the ranking system of the players will be based off the points system of your league. The snake draft means that each team alternates the draft order every round based off your first round selection. If you have the 1st pick overall in round one, then you will have the last pick in the second round, then have the 1st pick again in the 3rd round, and so on and so forth. Throughout this article, I’ll be using the 2020 rosters as my examples of “possible players available,” so you can take this strategy right into your draft.

Three Strategies

10 team and 12 team leagues are relatively the same. The only difference being that in a 10 team league, the available player pool is going to be better than the 12 team league. Either way, the first three rounds won’t be that much of a difference, and right now, I’m just focusing on your first 3 picks. Everything you’re going to be reading will be based around a ranking list I found at: “https://www.fantasypros.com/nfl/rankings/ppr-cheatsheets.php.” Fantasy Pros is really helpful for anyone and offers an easy to use interface that makes it clear to navigate through. You can even conduct some mock drafts on their site, either with other people, or against a simulation. They also have insider tips and tricks that you can pay for, but that’s up to you if want to go that route.

The three strategies are based on “Early,” “Mid,” and “Late,” round picks, and each strategy is based on your 1st round position. For a 10 team league that would consist of the following: Early = Picks 1-3, Mid = Picks 4-7, Late = Picks 8-10. For a 12 team league it would consist of the following: Early = Picks 1-4, Mid = Picks 5-8, Late = Picks 9-12. So once you know which selection you have in the 1st round, you can then use the strategy that best fits your draft position to get the most bang for your buck (if you’re playing for money).

Early – RB Heavy

This is one of the oldest strategies in the book, and when I first started playing fantasy football, this was a strategy everyone followed no matter what pick they had. The NFL is a passing league, but in fantasy football, a top RB provides you with solid consistency, which is really all you can ask for. If you’re lucky enough to have an early pick in the 1st round, I highly advise focusing on the RB position from the get go. In the first round, guys like Christian McCaffrey, Saquaon Barkely, Ezekiel Elliot, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara will all be available to you. Pick one of them and give yourself an elite RB to rely on every single week.

So now that you have an elite RB on your squad, you get to sit back and wait for your second selection, which won’t take place until late in the 2nd round. A plethora of great players will be selected in between your first two picks, and there’s a chance you’ll start feeling antsy about who’s being drafted. But don’t worry, as there is still plenty of talent available at the back end of round 2. Now, the reason why focusing on the RB position is smart here, is that your RB situation is going to give you a huge advantage every week, and when it comes to figuring out your starting lineup, your RB group will be a no-brainer, stress free decision. Basically, it’s just going to make your life easier. Here’s a few RBs that could be available late in the 2nd round: Nick Chubb (if you’re lucky), Joe Mixon, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, Kenyan Drake, and Austin Ekeler. Each one of these guys have the potential to play as an RB1, and will provide you with the best RB group in your fantasy league.

You now have 2 solid RBs, now it’s time to switch it up and go for a WR. In fact, your RB group is so good, you can afford to go a couple rounds without drafting one and load up on other positions. By taking a WR with your 3rd pick you’ll be giving yourself a reliable low-end WR1/high-end WR2 for your fantasy lineup. Some solid WRs that could be available to you are Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Kenny Golladay, Mike Evans, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Amari Coooper. So, if you followed this strategy, you’re now sitting with 2 legit RBs, and a strong WR, which is going to make you a tough matchup throughout the year.

Mid – Spread the Wealth

As you conduct your fantasy football research, you’ll find there a lot of people who complain about having a mid-round selection in a snake draft. The main reason being, that the alternating selections are not all that different. In a 12 team league you might have the 6th pick in the first round, and then follow that up with the 7th pick in round two. The other complaint is that, for teams with early picks, they get an elite guy on their roster, while teams with late picks have the pleasure to make two selections back-to-back. I’m here to tell you though, that having a mid-round selection can be a huge advantage if you play your cards right, and I’ve actually had my most successful seasons after having a mid-round selection. The strategy I like to follow is something I call “Spreading the Wealth.” Basically that means I focus my draft on selecting a different position with my first two picks, which then opens up the rest of my draft accordingly. For example, with your first pick, you’re going to have a great option of RBs and WRs to choose from, and it really doesn’t matter which one you pick, as long as you believe he’s the best available player. For RBs, you’ll likely have a chance to select Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, or Derrick Henry. As for the WR position, you may be able to choose between Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, or Tyreke Hill. Each one of these guys are worth a 1st round selection, and should be able to provide you consistency throughout the year.

Round 2 is where the strategy really begins. After your first selection, choose the opposite position of what you just took. If you drafted a RB in the first round, then draft a WR in round 2. If you drafted a WR, then go with a RB in 2nd round. This is going to give you the opportunity to have a solid RB1 and a solid WR1 on your team. Not only does this help your team’s chances of winning games, but this also puts you in a better position to be more flexible with trades once the season begins. So, if you selected a WR in the first round, the possible available RBs include Derrick Henry (he’s dropping into round 2 in some mock drafts), Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, Kenyan Drake, and Austin Ekeler. If you went the opposite route in the first round, then the possible WRs you could choose from might be Tyreke Hill (he’s dropped just like Derrick Henry), Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Kenny Golladay (he might be a bit of a reach here, but trust me, Golladay is a LEGIT option at WR).

So now you have a great RB and WR on your roster, and in round 3, you can pretty much do whatever you want, just DON’T draft a Defense or a Kicker here (unless your name is Taco). But you have the choice to load up on your RB position, or stack your WR group. If you want, you can continue spreading the wealth and take a TE or even a QB (if one of the elites is available). If you choose RB, you could draft Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, or Leonard Fournette. As for WRs, you could go ahead and snag Odell Beckham Jr., Adam Thielen, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, or even Calvin Ridley. If you’d like to spread your team out a bit and snag a top TE, there’s a chance you could draft Zach Ertz or Darren Waller. And if you want to draft a QB, there’s only 2 worthy of taking in the 3rd round, and if these guys aren’t available here, you might as well wait until round 8-10 to take a QB (possibly even later). But the two potential options in the 3rd round are Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. Anyone else would be a huge reach.

Late – WR Heavy

This strategy is rather similar to RB Heavy, only instead it puts focus and attention on your WR group. The reason why it’s a smart decision to go with back-to-back WRs with your first two picks is because: 1.) An elite RB will not be available to you in the 1st round. 2.) You’ll be drafting two elite WRs onto your roster, giving you a huge advantage, and easy decision making throughout the year. So if you’re in this situation, you could have the pleasure in drafting Michael Thomas (if you’re lucky), DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Julio Jones, and Tyreke Hill.

Depending on how many WRs were taken in the 1st round, you could get lucky and be in a situation where you’re drafting a 1st round graded WR in the 2nd round. Your chances of that happening are rather high, since having a late 1st round pick, your 2nd round selection follows it up immediately (especially if you have the final pick in the 1st round). So, some WRs that could be available to you here are Davante Adams, Tyreke Hill, Chris Godwin, and Mike Evans.

Alright, it’s round 3 and you likely have the best WR group in your entire league. Now, going this route with your strategy means your RB situation is going to be on the weaker side of things, so it’s important to do your homework and find out who you think are the best RBs available in rounds 3-5. Luckily, a lot of RBs will be taken in the first 2 rounds, which means most of round 3 will be WRs being drafted. That means the RBs available in rounds 3 and 4 are still going to be good enough to be solid RB2 options with low-end RB1 potential. Here’s a list of RBs that could be considered steals in rounds 3 and 4: Chris Carson, Melvin Gordon, James Connor, David Singletary, Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Jonathan Taylor, and Mark Ingram.

Conclusion

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been starving for sports. Football is my favorite sport and in July, I’m usually sitting at home studying fantasy football and twiddling my thumbs waiting for football to begin, regardless if there’s a pandemic or not. At the end of the day though, there are a ton of ways to find information about fantasy football, and if you’re new to the game, utilizing these strategies can be a great way to help you get off to a fast start. But at the very least, you can enter your fantasy draft with these strategies and come off as a pro. I can’t guarantee that utilizing any of these strategies garners success, as there is always the possibility of drafting a player that ends up being a bust, and typically, nobody really knows who is a good or bad pick until the season gets going. Hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope it helps you out. Feel free to leave a comment with any tips you have, or questions you might have too.

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