NFL fantasy football is perhaps one of the most popular pastimes in the United States. In terms of official public and private leagues, there are almost 50 million fantasy football team managers participating each season, not to mention the many more that establish their own mini leagues in the office or with a group of friends. The popularity of the competitive game has grown exponentially in recent years – back in 2005, there were less than 13 million players in total including both Americans and Canadians.
This figure has more than quadrupled in the intervening years as more people discover the excitement of managing their own fantasy team and explore the potential to win cash prizes, some of which can be life changing. For example, the winner of the FFPC Main Event grand prize takes home an astounding $500,000. While most leagues contain fewer players and doffer lower prizes as a result, there are plenty offering rewards of tens of thousands of dollars for those that make it to the top.
The first and most important stage of creating a winning NFL fantasy team is the draft – this is the first and best opportunity to secure some top quality players that are most likely to score plenty of fantasy points throughout the season. Selecting the best players requires careful research and a well-thought out draft strategy planned in advance.
1: Focus on Running Backs Early On
Each team requires several running backs and there are only so many studs to choose from, so a good draft strategy focuses on securing some of the top running backs in the earliest rounds.
2: Forget About Team Allegiance
It will always be tempting to draft players from your home team, and choosing one or two is fine, but grabbing numerous players from the same team, no matter how good they might be, is almost always a mistake. Check out the NFL odds in order to get an understanding of which teams can be expected to win.
3: Utilize Mock Draft Simulators
Putting things into practice always helps people to see where improvements can be made or where mistakes need rectifying. There are plenty of free to use mock draft simulators available online that can help prepare potential fantasy team managers for their real draft.
4: Hold Off on Drafting Quarterbacks
A typical fantasy team only really needs two quarterbacks – a starter and a back-up – and there are plenty of great quality quarterbacks to choose from, so these choices can usually be safely held off until the middle rounds of the draft.
5: Check the Fantasy Rankings
Fantasy football has slightly different objectives to real-life NFL, so the players who look best on paper may not be the best picks for a fantasy team. Research the number of fantasy points each potential pick has delivered over the past few seasons, rather than just their player stats.
6: Weigh Up the Opportunity to Cost Ratio
When spotting a top ranked player open for selection in any round of the draft, it can be tempting to grab them. However, in each round, players should always weigh up the opportunity to cost ratio before making their selections. In other words, look at what you will have to give up in order to secure the player you are looking at before making an irreversible decision.
7: Pay Attention to Runs
When several team managers in a row pick players from the same position, this is called a run, and if it happens, it may mean re-thinking your overall strategy. For example, you may have been planning to hold off on defense picks until round eight or nine, but if there is suddenly a run on defense in round six or seven, it can be a good idea to get in there so your top choices are not all gone by the time your plan calls for selecting defense.
8: Accommodate Bye Weeks
While having two top players who are on the same bye weeks is not a disaster, bye weeks should be considered when making player selections. If opportunities arise to get hold of two or more top-flight players who happen to have the same bye weeks, then pick them, but be sure to accommodate those bye weeks in later rounds.
9: Plan a Budget for Auction Drafts
Most fantasy football leagues use the serpentine draft system, but some will offer players at auction instead, which requires careful budget planning. Typically, allocating at least 50% of the budget to secure two to four of the very top players will leave enough to round out the rest of the team successfully.
10: Be Adaptable
Having a well-thought out strategy is essential for making the right choices at the right times in the draft. However, there may arise unforeseen opportunities or challenges at any point during the draft, in which case it is vital to be adaptable. Make a solid plan but be sure to have back-up plans and a B-list in place in case things do not turn out the way you wanted them to.
The draft is one of the most important parts of a fantasy league, but it is not the only time when decisions can be made that have a strong impact. Therefore, take the draft seriously, but not too seriously – at the end of the day, fantasy football is a game that is supposed to be fun. Enjoy playing but try to remain committed for the whole season once you have started – once you have joined a league, the rest of the players are relying on you to keep going. There are still plenty of opportunities after the draft each week to make tweaks, alter your line-up and work towards scoring more points than your competitors.