I don’t sleep the night before the draft. I’m excited, sure. But what really keeps me up is knowing this fantasy team, more than anything else, will determine my overall happiness level for the next 4 months.
If my players blow up, life is good. I live on the league website. I talk smack, do research, and sometimes just stare at projected point totals as I touch myself.
But when my team is shit, I have to PRETEND fantasy doesn’t matter, which of course is the saddest lie. I don’t check the standings. I won’t talk to other league members. I hole up in my house and listen to my wife say things like, “It’s just a game.” AND “Aren’t you too old for this?” AND “Honestly, Dominick I find you less attractive when you’re drunk and bitter every Sunday.”
Fortunately, fantasy has been good to me. Over my ten year career, I’ve drafted 28 teams within 4 competitive leagues, missed playoffs only thrice, and amassed 12 championships. Welcome to Titletown.
I tell you this not only as a blatant brag and in-your-face declaration of fantasy superiority, but for credibility. Because while I don’t have a fantasy official website, what I do have are 3 fantasy teams that
I care more about than I do my own daughter are very important to me and a 43% title rate (suck on that!)
Anyway, what follows is the draft strategy responsible for all those titles.
1. Practice Safety First
Spoiler alert: This year, many of you will see Cowboys rookie running back and offseason hype train Ezekiel Elliott drafted before 2015 rushing champ and first ballot hall of famer Adrian Peterson. Another spoiler: You will not see this kind of draft day recklessness from me.
I don’t gamble in the first round. I understand Zeke, running behind arguably the best O-line in football, offers mouth-watering upside. But what’s the floor for a player who has never so much as sniffed an NFL jockstrap?
If you swing and miss while your opponents obtain first round, seen-it-before production from guys like Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, you’re in big trouble, mister — ask anyone who drafted Eddie Lacy last year.
For my first round money I’ll take AP, you know, the guy who spent the last 8 seasons in which he played 12 or more games finishing as fantasy’s overall running back 2,6,1,8,3,2,3 and 3. You can roll the dice with the rook.
2. Later, Draft for Upside
Jonathan Stewart finished as the 16th overall running back in 2015, so why am I targeting him in exactly none of my drafts? Because I know his history.
In 5 seasons with Cam Newton as his quarterback, Stewart has
- Never scored more than 7 touchdowns
- Played 16 games only once
- Never rushed for 1,000 yards
- Caught more than 25 passes only once
Given this information, I think running back 16 is the best case scenario for J-Steady, and while his 11 points per week is nice, it’s not gonna win your league. At a 5th round cost, I’ll gamble on Jeremy Hill, Ryan Mathews or Matt Jones — riskier players who have a chance to be this year’s David Johnson.
3. Invest in Wide Receivers
More than any other position, I’m willing to invest early draft picks and fat stacks of auction cash in wide receivers because they are:
- In higher demand – Most leagues start 3 (as opposed to 2 RBs, 1 QB, and 1 TE).
- Less often injured – Of running backs and receivers drafted to be fantasy starters last year (so top 20 RBs and top 30 WRs), running backs missed an average of 3.9 games due to injury, while receivers missed only 1.7.
- More indispensable – Backup running backs win fantasy titles. Backup receivers? Not so much. Like if Antonio Brown goes down week 1, Sammy Coates isn’t gonna step up and match AB’s production, something that’s entirely possible at the running back position — as we saw last year with Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams.
4. Collect Running Backs
I collect running backs like ex-running back Travis Henry collects kids from different mothers. It’s all about the the quantity.
Quantity trumps quality because running backs are disposable. They get hurt, wear down, and are therefore relatively more available on the waiver wire. In fact, I’d argue that shrewd waiver play is more important than the draft when it comes to maximizing points from your running backs.
Check out the top 5 runners in last year’s fantasy playoffs, courtesy of FantasyPros.
Of the five, only Crowell and Gurley were projected starters before the start of the season. David Johnson and Tim Hightower, who apparently is still alive, didn’t start until weeks 13 and 14, respectively.
Bottom line: You can win a fantasy title without a running back intensive draft strategy. Want an example? Here are last year’s championship WR/RB corps from each of my three leagues.
5. Draft Tight End and Quarterback Based on RB/WR Availability
I’ll draft receivers and running backs until either a) I don’t like who’s available, or b) I think I can wait a round to select my next target. Then, and only then, do I draft a tight end or quarterback.
Make no mistake, I’m not ignoring these positions — last weekend, I selected Jordan Reed in the 4th round using this strategy — I just think there’s plenty of late round value.
6. Use a Cheat Sheet
Pictured above is Document 55, the cheat sheet that has accompanied me to every draft since I created it in 2008.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s tiered. This helps me make positional decisions. For example, if I’m drafting at 8 and deciding between receiver and running back, I’ll check the current tiers. If 4 running backs are available and only 1 receiver, I’ll grab the wideout and hope one of the similarly valued running backs comes back to me.
You’ll also notice it’s contained on a single sheet. I’m not flipping through pages of positional ranks like some dumbass noob. With a single glance, I have all the necessary information:
- Individual player availability
- The status of each position as a whole
- The number of tight ends and quarterbacks that have been selected
What you won’t find on Document 55 are kickers and defense and that’s because, as far at the draft goes, kickers and defense aren’t important.
7. Draft a Defense in the Second to Last Round
I stream defenses based on weekly matchups. I’d much rather start a mediocre D at home vs Blaine Gabbert than a ‘good’ D in Foxborough against Tom Brady. So because the defense I draft is for week 1 only, I’m not willing to burn anything more than a bottom two pick to obtain one.
8. Draft a Kicker in the Last Round or Sometimes Not At All
Don’t reach for a kicker before the last round. Why? Because the difference between the best starting kicker and the worst starting kicker is virtually nothing — less than 2 points per week in each of the last two years.
For reference, here is 2015’s average points per game (PPG) differentials for starters at the remaining positions (based on 10 team leagues).
Wide receiver (WR1 vs WR30) 8.1 PPG
Running back (RB1 vs RB20) 6.7 PPG
Quarterback (QB1 vs QB10) 6.7 PPG
Tight end (TE1 vs TE10) 5.6 PPG
Defense (D/ST1 vs D/ST10) 2.6 PPG
Also, preseason or not, a lot can happen in 2 quarters of football. Therefore, if I draft at any point before the week 3 dress rehearsal, I’ll ignore the defense/kicker positions entirely and instead roster a guy like Tevin Coleman — a backup who, if Freeman went down, would immediately become a fantasy starter.
9. Exploit the Recency Bias
If you burned a top 3 pick on Eddie Lacy last year, then not only did you endure a very sad fantasy season, but you’re also likely never drafting Eddie Lacy again.
I get it. It’s tough to forgive a bust that big. You likely don’t care that in his previous two seasons Lacy finished as the RB6 and RB7, or that he spent the offseason training with P90x guru Tony Horton. All you remember is Fat Ed arrived at camp out of shape and ate your $100 league fee.
That’s fine. However, I am more than happy to make your loss my gain and take a more objective approach to Eddie in 2016. Jordy Nelson’s return, Randall Cobb reverting back to a complementary role, and an in-shape Lacy in a contract year all are good omens, making him a tantalizing option in the 3rd round.
10. Shy Away From Players Coming Off a Career Year
I’m a big fan of Cam Newton, and although he’s fresh off the greatest fantasy performance since Peyton’s historic 2013, it’s unlikely he’ll be on any of my teams this year.
The problem with drafting 2016 Cam is that you’re paying for 2015 Cam. And the problem with 2015 cam is that his numbers are unlikely to be repeated.
Would I draft Cam over any other quarterback? Yes. Would I draft him at his current average draft position — the middle of the second round? No. Because that’s 1 round before Rodgers, 2 rounds before Wilson, 3 before Brees, and 10 before Cousins. And at that cost, it’s going to be nearly impossible for Cam to return value.
11. Completely Ignore Bye Weeks
My favorite part about the preseason is that I get to hilariously believe that I know everything. I solidify a bulletproof draft strategy, execute it perfectly, then drool over my roster until the season starts and some guy named Kevin Ogletree scores three TDs, and I have to wonder how in the hell I missed that call.
The NFL changes weekly. By October, a third of your drafted team will be hurt or on the waiver wire. Don’t make draft day decisions based on bye week conflicts of players who may or may not be on your roster.