Draft Strategies (aka Philosophies)
Alright, so lets talk about draft strategies. (Pause) No! Let's discuss draft philosophies instead. It's not hard to draft an average fantasy team. If that’s what you’re looking for, then when you log into your draft, just use the provided rankings. But, you're not here because want an average team. You want the best possible team. You want to #DominateYourLeague. Now, you’re gonna need to find your draft strategy. Which requires insight, data analysis and experience. (But Marc, this is my first year playing, or I don't really know what I’m doing!) Well then, let's get right into it. Most fantasy football champions, (clear throat) whether they know it or not, use the same process for honing their fantasy skills for draft day. Which is: Draft Philosophy, Mock Drafting, Analyze Drafts, & Player Research; and you can start anywhere in the process. Maybe you already have some assumptions of player values and strategy. Fantastic! Then, you can begin mock drafts, analyze them to see how they went, and continue the process with what you learned. Or screenshot them and hit me up on social media, I can give you a grade and let you know where to improve. There’s a cycle of refining your draft philosophy by doing actual mock drafts, reviewing the results, researching players, and using what you learn to adjust your philosophy.
A draft philosophy is different from a specific strategy, such as Zero RB. The philosophy demonstrates that you hold certain values, but you aren’t pre-committed to use any specific strategy. Flexibility is key. You never know what is going to happen during your draft, and all drafts are different. If you are dead set on one strategy, you may leave value on the table during the draft by forcing a pick that you shouldn’t have done. Despite that, we need to start by reviewing different strategies, so that we have a framework for discussing player values.
Value Based Drafting
First one up is, VBD (Value Based Drafting) is an old-school concept created by Joe Bryant at FootballGuys. The summary of VBD is: Rank players according to the points they score above a players baseline at their position instead of their total points. For example, quarterbacks score a lot of points. But ALL quarterbacks score a lot of points. Therefore, the top quarterbacks are have a lower VBD value than running backs or wide receivers. Let’s use a 10 team league, with normal positions, 1QB, 2RBs, 2WRs, and a flex. Take the top QB, his total points for the year is 300. Then take the 10th ranked QB, his total points for the year is 270. Thats a difference of 30 points. Then take the top RB, his total points for the year is 250. Then take the 25th ranked RB, why because there are 10 teams and you have 2 RB positions and a flex. His total points are 150. A difference of 100 points. Now compare the differences between the QB and RB. Thats 70 points, thats a lot! How do you make up this difference? Late Round QB! Some version of value based drafting is at the core of all draft strategies. The main problem with drafting strictly by VBD is that nearly everyone already knows about it. Therefore you don't really have that advantage anymore. It’s been around for over 20 years. If you don’t go above and beyond VBD, you’re not going to beat your competition.
Mid Round QB
So I mentioned Mid Round QB. Back in 2012, the first round of fantasy drafts contained four quarterbacks. Every year since then there have been either zero or one QB. The change was due to a larger number of NFL quarterbacks becoming fantasy relevant. This philosophy is highlighted by the Late Round QB trend popularized by JJ Zachariason. If there are about 12 QBs who are all putting up solid fantasy stats, then every team in the league has a good QB. The difference between the best and the worst starting fantasy QB is not as big as one may think. So you’re able to wait a longer time and still have a solid quarterback. If you take Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes at the top of your draft, thats like drafting a sports car! You have the sexy, great looking QB! But if you wait on value and take a Prius that gets solid MPG, like a Dak Prescott. Yeah its not sexy and frankly its ugly! But, it still gets the job done! Plus what happens if you get in an accident, like an injury? How do you replace that value on your sports car? You’re going to have to trade away one of your top players to get another top QB. Now if you had the Prius, you can find an easier replacement car like an Matthew Stafford!
Zero RB / Hero RB
So then there are strategies like "Zero RB" which is a strategy of not drafting a running back in the early rounds. Instead, draft many in the later rounds. Taken to its extreme, it can be a bit risky. Yes, you will end up with stud wide receivers, but you are gambling on several high risk running backs later in the draft. Also, keep in mind that Zero RB is also much more of a successful strategy in Full PPR leagues than non-PPR leagues. I have also seen a variation of this, which is the Hero RB, 1 RB in the first round, and then load up on your wideouts/tight end. It seems to be the more popular trend going on this year.
Nothing impacts your draft more than the draft spot you pick from. That is another reason why you need to be flexible, especially if you don’t know your draft spot until just before the draft starts. To be fully prepared, you need to be doing mock drafts from many different draft positions. I personally don’t like being at the end of a round, too many players get taken between my picks. Also, you will have to reach on certain players, and it’s harder to predict position runs. I like being in the middle, I can spot trends and player runs a lot easier.
Lastly, You MUST know your league settings well in advance of your draft day. Is it PPR? Half-PPR? Non-PPR? Do you Start 1 QB? or is it a Superflex? Where you can start 2 QBs. How many flex positions? Is there a player bonus? Like if they pass for more than 300 yards in a game, they get another 5 points. You need to make sure you know those details and adjust your strategy appropriately.
Finally, you need to be aware of the pros and cons of every strategy, and try them out by mock drafting. Generate your own strategy and find what your tendencies are. Remember to be flexible, don’t lock in on a specific strategy. (Like saying you’re going RB,RB,WR,WR with your first four picks.) You need to practice enough to build your own gut feeling of when to stick with it, or when to pivot. And that usually comes with experience, so practice plenty.