If you're one of the 41 million people who play fantasy football, you know that winning requires a fair amount of skill, more than a little gridiron smarts, and—let’s face it—a shitload of dumb luck. Since you can’t control what thunder the football gods will send on “any given Sunday,” it’s your blood, sweat, and tears—aka countless hours reading articles like this—that will turn you into a true fantasy champ.
Let’s assume you’ve scrutinized the ream of player rankings and convinced yourself you’ve plotted the greatest draft strategy since the 1974 NFL Draft, when the Steelers landed Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, and John Stallworth all in one fell swoop.
Good, because that planning is important: If you’re participating in a timed draft online and you’re selecting the last pick in the first round, you’ll have two picks back-to-back and not much time to make decisions. “Plan ahead or you’ll run out of time and get stuck with an autodrafted player,” says fantasyguru.com’s John Hansen.
So, let’s get on to making your picks. There are a variety of draft types: autopick, snake, auction. In auction drafts, each team gets a budget it can use to fill its roster. Don’t blow your load on just a couple of guys—you’ll risk getting stuck filling your roster with one-dollar players who may never see the field.
No matter the format, the key is to get the most bang for your buck. Forget filling your roster with the highest ranked or most expensive players. Draft guys who appear to provide value for their projected point totals.
Finally, a note on scoring: If you and your buds like high-scoring affairs, opt for PPR (points per reception). This scoring twist is a game-changer that will require you to approach your draft differently than you would in a standard league.
Some leagues also give bonus points if a player reaches 100 yards rushing/receiving or has 300 yards passing in a game and yards for TDs. WRs and RBs who often surpass 100 yards—Jordy Nelson, LeSean McCoy—are worth more than those who rely just on TDs for points. Same goes for QBs like Drew Brees, who in 2016 tossed three fewer TDs than Aaron Rodgers but outscored Discount Double Check, 9-6, in 300-yard passing games.
6 fantasy football player selection tips
1. Check a player's ADP
The average draft position, which measures when a player is typically drafted, will keep you from wasting a valuable pick on some bum you could have drafted two rounds later and for less money.
2. Don't draft trade bait
Unless your league is notorious for trades, this is a bad move. You don’t need three QBs, and no one’s going to trade you David Johnson for Russell Wilson. Pick players you need, not players someone else may need.
3. Don't scoff at injuries and off-the-field issues
A player’s value hinges on his ability to play. Be cautious when drafting someone who’s constantly questionable or has a long list of suspensions.
4. Save the foot for last
Last year, one guy in my league went kicker/kicker in the first two rounds. He ended the season 1-12; his wife left him for a Ruby Tuesday’s dishwasher.
5. Think: bad teams = bad player
Certain players (Isaiah Crowell) on awful teams (Cleveland Browns) can seem enticing—don’t be a stat whore. Lower-volume players (Spencer Ware) on exceptional teams (Kansas City Chiefs) are often more reliable.
6. In PPR leagues, draft players who get a high number of targets
Boom-or-bust receivers (Torrey Smith) aren’t a commodity in standard leagues. Unless a player who fits this mold routinely racks up yards and TDs, you’re best to avoid them. Also, focus your attention on top RBs who catch passes out of the backfield (Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon).
5 best fantasy football lineup tips
Hopefully you’re now the proud owner of 15 or 16 workhorses you can rely on for fantasy glory. Follow these weekly game strategies to keep your ship afloat while you “manage” your team from your couch.
1. Hone in on key matchups
Some defenses are better against the run, while others have stifling secondaries. If you’re torn between two flex players—try to determine which one has the more favorable matchup: For example, play Ty Montgomery (RB) against Buffalo (29th against the run in 2016) over DeAndre Hopkins (WR) against Denver (first against the pass in 2016).
2. Plan ahead for bye weeks
If you know you’re going to have three RBs on the same bye week—though you should’ve known that going into your draft—keep your eye on the waiver wire weeks in advance, and stockpile guys you can plug in during the bye week.
3. Pay attention to the NFL schedule
There are games most Thursdays, and sometimes on Saturdays late in the season, so set a reminder to check and set your lineup for those games.
4. Dealing with injuries
If a top performer gets hurt, pick up his handcuff (the player next in line on the position depth chart) on the WW and stash the injured player—but only if injury reports indicate he’ll return before your league’s postseason begins. If you’re playing in a league in which waiver order isn’t based on standings, Hansen advises not wasting a waiver pick unless necessary. “This will allow you to move up in the waiver order, which will come in handy when a star player emerges."
5. Avoid the flash in the pan
The biggest mistake fantasy players make is scooping up guys on the WW who had a big game the week prior. See what the experts say before you waste a pick on a one-hit wonder.
Top 6 "best value" players in the NFL
Hansen gives us his top pick at each skill position, based on early average draft positions:
- QB: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
- RB: Ameer Abdullah, Detriot Lions
- WR: Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams
- TE: Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks
- D/ST: Kansas City Chiefs
- K: Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots