NFL Fantasy Football Draft Kit – How To Build A Winning Team

It’s going to be the first full week of September any minute now, and with that comes the start of the NFL season. If you’re like millions of Americans playing fantasy football – you are likely staring at your upcoming draft countdown after months of waiting. If your commissioner cares about you at all (and history tells us they probably don’t), your draft was scheduled to occur after the preseason – and, therefore, after the first noteworthy injuries happened. If your league already held a draft….I hope you didn’t invest in an injured running back. 

If you haven’t drafted yet, your main concern at the moment should be who you’re going to take in round one. For the sake of simplicity – and because it’s still the most popular style of fantasy football – we’re going to discuss head-to-head re-draft leagues with a snake-style draft here. If you’re in an auction, keeper, or dynasty league, you probably need to look for help somewhere else. Or, more than likely – you’re more advanced and don’t need help. You should be spending this time cleaning your trophy room and telling soon-to-be bored people about your past triumphs. 

For your first round pick, you need an ace. An ace is a can’t miss player that all experts agree is a top 10 ranked stud. We’re not talking about your favorite player, or the one you think is slated for a monster year despite projections saying otherwise. The first round is not a time for silly mistakes or reaching for players that you can probably get later. Now say you’re in a 10 person league and you’re picking first overall – you won’t pick again until the last pick of the second round. That’s a ton of top talent going between your first two picks, so choose wisely. There are plenty of experts and self-proclaimed experts out there, and you can bet all of them have something to say about who you should pick. Feel free to listen to them, but keep in mind that they are all trying to prove how great they are. They have no investment or concern about your team. For the record, I am just passing along the info; I am not an expert. You and you alone are responsible for your choices, and you will either prevail or fail based on them. 

Below are the top 19 players based on projected points for the season (regardless of position) according to Yahoo as of this writing. These rankings might shift if a certain player has a setback, so make sure you check for updates. Also, make sure that you know the rankings for the players you want before your draft, so you’re not surprised if a player you planned to target is not falling where you expected to see them. 

You might notice that 8 of the top 10 players and 12 of the top 19 players shown are running backs. If there are 32 starting running backs in the league, why are running backs so high on the list – if you’re in a ten-person league, won’t you all get two starters with more than enough to spare? The short answer is no. There may be 32 starters out there, but there aren’t 32 quality starters – there’s barely 15 of them, and that number shrinks depending on who you talk to. Some folks believe there are only 10 quality running backs out there, and remember – you need to start two a week unless your league is running some strange custom lineup. 

The position with the greatest demand and shortest supply goes; first, that’s the rule. So if you’re in a 10 person league and you need to start two RBs each, you need to remember going in that at most, there are 15 really good RBs. You need two of them, and so do the other nine people in your league. That’s 10-15 players available and ten people fishing for 20 of them. To get two good options, you need to be good at drafting, and more than likely, you need someone else to mess up. Whatever happens, you need to be aggressive and make sure you keep RBs at the top of your priority list because it’s likely going to be a high priority for everyone else. 

Taking a look at the top RBs, you’ll notice there are eight in the top 10, four more in the top 20, and just five more in the top 40. That means a significant drop-off in points between the RBs in the top 10-20 and those in the top 40 and beyond. Once you get past the top 20 players, Yahoo thinks about the same of the player at 21 that they do at 40. That should tell you that your first two picks should be running backs. You’re welcome to take a detour, but you’re likely passing on a player you won’t be able to make up for later on unless you hit it big with a low-ranked player – which you cannot count on. 

If you aren’t going to take a RB with your first pick – that’s your call. Hopefully, you have a plan to go after that position with your second pick, and you get some luck that a high-rated player slips. Speaking of running, make sure you follow the runs in the draft. For example, if the first round is going running back heavy, you must get one before they are all gone. There won’t be more later on. But if you feel like risking your season on taking, for example, a top receiver with your first pick and going all-in on a second round running back, no one would fault you if the weekly returns are there. But if your team struggles, you’re going to wonder what might have been. 

Watching runs doesn’t just apply to the first round. Don’t worry about your draft grade or reaching (slightly) for a player you know will produce. If you have a player on your shortlist and are confident they won’t be there the next time you pick, don’t hesitate to take them. But don’t do so at the risk of having a shallow roster. If receivers are going like crazy in the second and third round – and they likely will be – don’t use this chance to draft your third-string running back. You might be thinking you’ll be able to make due with second and third-tier receivers if your running back room is stacked, or you might be able to parlay that depth into a lopsided trade later. But if your league requires the other managers to vote on trades, you likely won’t get something like that passed. And if you don’t hit on all of your receivers later, you probably won’t be very competitive, and you might be the one making a trade out of desperation later on. 

If your favorite player happens to play QB, don’t draft them early just because you like having them on your team. Patrick Mahomes might be one of the most electric players in the league, but he has no business going before the third round. Mahomes is the top-ranked QB, and looking at the chart below, he’s not expected to be off the board until pick 29 – which in a 10 person league is the tail end of the third round. If you’re taking a QB with your third pick, you better have a great plan for getting RBs and WRs later because you are passing on some great talent to get your QB. Obviously, every league has at least one manager that likes to get cute and take a player way too early. Don’t worry about that one manager or that one player – unless they start an unexpected run. It’s amazing how quickly even the most experienced managers get pressured into taking a player early because they don’t want to miss out on a top player at that position before they are all gone. No one wants to run their season with a second-rate player as a starter; it’s a terrible feeling setting your lineup and thinking you’re behind before the games are even played. 

So instead of taking Mahomes in round 3 – think about taking a guy like Seattle QB Russell Wilson in round 7. Wilson should thrive in a new and modern offense – and yet Yahoo doesn’t expect him to be drafted before the 7th round. So you could get two RBs, two WRs, and a TE before you even think about going after a QB. If you’re after older but reliable QBs like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers – they aren’t expected to find a team until round 8. So even if you see a couple of QBs go earlier than you expect, wait to see a run happen before you reach for one. 

Receivers are the deepest position in the sport, so you will see their rankings scattered all over the place. There are only two ranked in the top 10, another four in the top 20, and a whopping 16 more in the top 50 players. So even if you go RB-RB with your first two picks, you’re likely to get a pair of great receivers with your next two picks – and that should give you a lot of breathing room to draft a quality QB and TE in the next two rounds. 

TE is the trickiest position to draft this year. For example, the top three players at the position are ranked 15, 23, and 36. You would think that such a shallow position would have players ranked higher, right? If you can get one of the top five without reaching – go for it. But if you miss one of those players, you can probably wait until after round 8 to look for one. What that tells you is that no one expects you to build a team around TE. It’s been a streamer’s special for years now, and this year is no different. For those new to the game of fantasy football, streaming means using a player from week to week and finding a replacement on the waiver wire that has a favorable matchup. So rather than forcing a pick on a player you don’t trust, you can just wait to draft one that has a good matchup on paper in week one and then swap that player for another each week and so on. 

As far as strategy for defense and kickers – I’ll leave that up to your best judgment. I usually draft these two spots last since it requires years of fortune teller training I have not completed to know who is going to be a good option in the coming year. Like TEs, many folks like to stream these two spots rather than go all-in on one in their draft. But other folks would have you draft one much earlier, so again I leave it up to you to decide when is the right time to draft one. Another option is to skip drafting them and pick up two extra bench players if you aren’t sold on a couple of players you drafted earlier. Then you can wait until late in the first week to decide who you are keeping and swap them out for a defense and a kicker. 

And that’s how you build a team – on paper, at least. Whether your draft plan is to go RB-RB-WR-WR or RB-WR-RB-WR, WR-WR-RB-RB, or RB-WR-TE-QB, or any number of other options, just have fun with it. If you don’t have much on the line, don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Most people can forgive a player who is simply unlucky (and some people are just bad at this!), but something they cannot forgive is a lazy player. So whatever your draft strategy, if you have committed to a league, stick to that commitment even if you struggle to win. Most importantly – make sure you set a valid lineup every week. Not every other week – set your lineup every week. 

About Casey Mabbott 190 Articles
Casey Mabbott is a writer and podcast host born and raised in West Philadelphia where he spent most of his days on the basketball court perfecting his million dollar jumpshot. Wait, no, that’s all wrong. Casey has spent his entire life here in the Pacific NorthWest other than his one year stint as mayor of Hill Valley in an alternate reality 1985. He’s never been to Philadelphia, and his closest friends will tell you that his jumpshot is the farthest thing from being worth a million bucks. Casey enjoys all sports and covering them with written words or spoken rants. He has made an art of movie references, and is a devout follower of 80's movies and music. I don't know why you would to, but you can probably find him on the street corner waiting for the trolley to take him to the stadium or his favorite pub, where he will be telling people the answers to questions they don’t remember asking. And it only goes downhill from there if he drinks. He’s a real treat.

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