You’ve made it through the April NFL Draft, drudged through the NFL preseason, and finally, you’re ready for your league’s fantasy football draft — the importance of which cannot be understated.
With arguably the most crucial event on the horizon, now’s the time to create a master plan for your favorite picks. Whether you’ve been the elite of your PPR league for years or you’re easing into the nuances of a superflex league, formulating your draft strategy and possible contingency plans can make or break your season.
So pop open a beer, grab your list of coveted players, and get to work. Your success depends on it.
Before diving into draft strategies for fantasy football, you must sort out a few things. Doing so in advance can avoid any misfires, allow you to draft players with the best value, and ultimately, give you the best chance to score fantasy points.
If you’re new to fantasy football or joining a different type of league, always make sure you know the type and the scoring system. Without this knowledge, you’re farting into the wind, so to speak. If you don’t know, ask the commish or a league-mate where to find this information. Whether you’re playing on Yahoo, CBS, or ESPN fantasy football, this information should be readily available on your league page.
Some of the most common leagues/scoring systems include:
Beyond the type of league, you should also be aware of the draft format and the number of opponents in your league. Auction leagues will require a different draft strategy than leagues using a snake draft, while 10-team leagues give you more versatility over your picks than 12-team leagues.
Several draft strategies for fantasy sports have emerged over the years, and fantasy football is no different.
For example, a Zero RB draft strategy has recently gained momentum. This philosophy and strategy involves waiting until the mid-rounds to select a running back and loading up on wide receivers in the early rounds. If that’s the case in your league, you might be able to snag some running backs with your first or second draft pick that will add touchdowns, value, and fantasy points each week.
Sometimes, these aren’t even strategies — people in your league just want their favorite player from their favorite team. As a result, you have a basic idea of what other people will do. Use this to your advantage, handcuff or block your opponents with your picks, and build the best fantasy football team by damaging your opponent's strategies.
Keep in mind this is secondary to your overall draft plans. But if you’re fairly certain that an opponent will select one of your coveted picks earlier than expected and it’s a low-risk play, go ahead and use your pick to one-up your foe.
A cheat sheet is essential to your draft strategy for fantasy football. It’s your go-to when you’re drafting, regardless of what happens with other players.
This document lists all the players in the league worth drafting (about 300 depending on your league type and the number of teams), including last year’s fantasy points, stats, team, ADP (average draft position), and projections. Depending on your comfort level, you can assemble your own spreadsheet with this information or use a cheat sheet app/software to do it for you.
You can go as deep as you want with a cheat sheet based on your interest level and time constraints. But the more time you put into it, the better your results will be.
Whether you’re in a snake draft or auction draft, you need to adjust based on your draft position. You might land the best players on your draft board if you get the top pick. But if you’re relegated to the bottom of the draft order, you may have to feng shui your cheat sheet to accommodate this downside. In the meantime, use a mock draft with variable draft positions to get your bearings.
Even the glass-half-full fantasy football player should stay vigilant to potential pitfalls. Players are human — even if they may not seem like it on Sunday.
Keep an eye on players who could cause potential rifts throughout the NFL season, such as pending suspensions, coming off injuries, or a contract holdout. While they may have the potential of a sleeper pick, they also come with risk that could derail your season. Opt for the safe pick if you’re on the fence about a player or draft players that tend to stay free from injury and trouble.
Now that you have sorted all the introductory information, you can put effort into crafting a strong draft strategy for fantasy football. Not all of these strategies will appeal to you, but mixing them up into something that makes you comfortable is half the battle. Depending on your draft and league type, you’ll also have to tweak these, but that’s part of the battle.
If you ask a veteran fantasy gridiron player, they’ll immediately tell you that selecting a quarterback in the first round is a poor draft strategy. With an increase in throw-first offenses and high-pedigree QBs, selecting one too early spells trouble.
However, sentiment is beginning to change, mainly because elite-level QBs are becoming far less frequent. In 2023 for example, Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow are far and beyond the best QBs for your fantasy team. But you can still get value further down in the draft.
If you’re in a superflex league, snagging a QB early is often a smart move. That’s not to say you should ignore your cheat sheet or draft board. You need to see who others select and adjust your QB rankings and prioritization accordingly.
As the name implies, average draft position is a projection of where your league-mate will likely draft a player. However, it’s not the actual ranking of a player; you have to make that distinction on your own.
Nevertheless, ADP is a great starting point to assess a player's perceived value. As an example, here are the top 10 ADP players in 2023:
Again, this list is merely a jumping-off point. These lists are assembled by fantasy football fans and pundits, which could put a subconscious bias on particular players (see Aaron Rodgers). Don’t go into your draft party with simply an ADP list or it could spell disaster.
Mock drafts are the lifeblood of draft strategies for fantasy football. After you compile a cheat sheet, listen to podcasts, and glance over your ADP, get your mock draft in order. ESPN’s fantasy football pundits put together a pretty solid mock draft each year that can provide the insight you need. (Side note: a QB wasn’t selected until the third round, so do with that what you will.)
Outside of the ESPN mock draft, you can quickly search online for mock draft simulators. These can give you some real-life scenarios that allow you to adjust your initial picks all the way to the later rounds.
Whether you’re talking MLB, NBA, NHL, or NFL, everyone has their favorite player, but don’t let that obscure your view. If you put a heavy level of favoritism on a single player, you’ll likely overspend in an auction draft or waste a snake pick far too early. You don’t have to snub your favorite pick, but keep your eyes on the prize.
Value goes hand-in-hand with avoiding the pitfalls of ADP. You always want to put a premium on value. That means you shouldn’t always go with the ideas that others have. A strong draft strategy for fantasy football prioritizes the players that will score the most points and send you into the playoffs — that’s all there is to it.
So if you’ve placed value on a player with a low ADP, you can always wait a bit longer to take them. But like the NFL Draft, selecting the best possible player will rarely lead you astray.
The first three or four rounds are your breadwinners, but a strong supporting cast and balance are crucial.
But oftentimes, this plays into what your opponents do in the draft. If you have league-mates who buy into Zero RB draft strategies for fantasy football, you can steal an elite RB at the top. Or if your opponents don’t believe in grabbing a QB off the board in the first few rounds, go ahead and pull the trigger on one.
Late-round picks can be a crapshoot, but you can often find high-upside tight ends like Kyle Pitts or sleeper WRs like Skyy Moore. Depending on your league’s scoring in the last round, a solid kicker might shore up the roster nicely. Flexibility is key.
Geno Smith put together an unbelievable 2022 NFL campaign, but like the stock market, past performances do not guarantee future performance.
Speaking of prior performances, don’t let your own results destroy your draft strategies for fantasy football. Stick to your plan, trust your gut, and you should see the results.
Rarely do draft strategies for fantasy football go entirely in your favor. You have to make a few adjustments, select lower down the ADP than anticipated, or cross your fingers that a sleeper has a breakout season.
Regardless of what happens on draft day and whether your fantasy football draft strategy comes to fruition, keep your eye on the prize. Faithfully set your lineup each week, glance at that waiver wire, use your bye weeks wisely, and let Wise Guys Edge help you along the way. Compare five players at once using Vegas sportsbook odds with Wise Guys Edge, and give yourself a sizable advantage over your competition.
You may not have the starting lineup you anticipated before the draft, but with some thoughtful moves, a watchful eye, and a desire to win, you could still be the trophy-hoisting champion when it’s all said and done.