Let’s get one thing straight. This article is only to be used for fictional purposes. None of what follows pertains to anything remotely real. Despite this, millions of people across the world invest hours of their life trying to perfect a false reality. As a three-time champion myself, I can confidently say every second of fantasy football is totally worth it. That is why by following these unwritten rules you can also enjoy the same success that I have had.
(Before I get into the good stuff, it’s understandable if you have zero faith in me. A quick
bio about my recent fantasy endeavors: my team last year consisted of David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Jordan Howard, and Michael Thomas. Even after losing Eric Decker and Gio Bernard to season-ending injuries, I still won my league. Also, unless otherwise stated, all stats and rankings derive from an ESPN standard scoring league.)
DO: Research players
This is by far the most important thing to do in leading up to the draft. By researching the players, you should figure out why he performed so well last year. Some questions that should be considered: Was it an easy schedule, a good offensive line, or he is just a very skilled player? Also, you can determine the player’s situation, like is he healthy? Does he have a good offensive line? Will he get opportunities to touch the ball? For example, going into last season, Jeremy Langford was the number one running back on the Bears’ roster. After all, Langford averaged 26 snaps a game in 2015. Per FantasyData.com, that made Langford the seventh-highest running back in fantasy points per 100 snaps. At first glance, Langford was a very good pick because anytime a running back averages over 24 snaps in a season, they end up being a top-20 running back in fantasy. However, anyone that watched Langford’s tape knew that he was awful. He was a slow, indecisive runner who lacked receiving and blocking abilities. Also, his stats were inflated by goal-line carries, hence increasing his touchdown volume. Luckily, the Bears drafted Indiana running back Jordan Howard in the fifth round. Watch Howard’s college tape and you’ll see a powerful yet quick runner with great vision and patience. Knowing all that probably could have convinced people to avoid Langford and take Howard very late, like I did. These are just some of the things to consider when contemplating to draft a player and show why it is important to truly know who you are out to draft.
DON’T: Use just one source of information
If a diehard Miami Dolphins fan tells me the team will have a monster year, does that mean the Dolphins will perform well this season? Definitely not, that is just one person’s opinion. Similarly, just using one website, magazine, or any other source for fantasy information is like shooting yourself in the foot. The best way to form an opinion on a player is by using multiple sources. That way, you can form the best, widest largest picture of how the player might perform this season. Last year, ESPN ranked David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliot behind Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley. Johnson and Elliot had tremendous seasons, while Peterson and Gurley were complete busts. If you followed ESPN’s rankings and had a high pick, chances are you unfortunately took Peterson or Gurley over Johnson and Elliot. While Peterson did get hurt in week 3, he was still on pace for just 328 rushing yards for the season. Meanwhile Johnson and Elliot rushed for 1,239 yards and 1,631 yards, respectively. If you did a little more research, you would have seen that websites like 4for4.com and numberfire.com, both smaller fantasy sites that have win awards for fantasy accuracy, both had Johnson and Elliot ranked higher than Peterson and Gurley. Of course, those were just two sources, but ones that have proven to be more accurate than ESPN. Make sure to utilize every source possible instead of tying yourself to one source’s predictions. The more information, the more confident you can be in your drafting ability.
DO: Determine a player’s ceiling AND his floor
Upside is a term used often in fantasy football. Many players are drafted much higher than advertised based on their potential. The key word is potential, meaning how good they could be. In no way does potential equate to definite success. Basically, the first step of determining whether you should pick a player is figuring out how well they could realistically do versus any potential limits they may face. Last year, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell were both terrific running backs on a team with a dangerous vertical passing game. Therefore, it was reasonable to say that defenses could not stack the box without risking a deep pass. This could allow for these shifty, powerful runners to have ample opportunities. With their superunning back running and receiving skill sets, unquestioned starter status, and surrounding casts, Johnson and Bell had relatively high floors. However, a talented player like Todd Gurley was on a team with no talent whatsoever. His receivers were awful, so defenses could probably focus more on the Rams’ run game than pass game (that happened). In addition, the Rams had a horrendous offensive line that as voted as the fourth-worst in the league by Football Outsiders. Despite this, many fantasy football owners eagerly took Gurley after a strong 1,000 yard rookie season. Before taking a player early, make sure you are comfortable with how likely it is that the player reaches his floor rather than just fall in love with his upside.
DON’T: Draft with bye weeks in mind
Let’s say you draft Quarterback A, who has a bye week 11. A couple rounds later, you want a backup to Quarterback A, and you love Quarterback B. However, Player B also has a bye week 11. Another option is Quarterback C, who is ok but he’s playing the Jets and their terrible defense in week 11. There is no reason that you should take Quarterback C in this scenario. First, the main rule of drafting a fantasy football team is simple: take the best available player. That couldn’t be any more obvious. Second, you have no idea what your roster will look like in week 11. Why potentially waste a season by passing up on a good player like Quarterback B for the slim chance that you might need Quarterback C in week 11? Good drafters know to never pass up an opportunity to take the best player because there will always be another option later down the line. The worse-case scenario is that Player A and Player B were so good that they are still on your team in week 11 so you have to drop your fifth-best wide receiver in favor of a decent available quarterback. Fantasy football is a WEEKLY game, don’t think too far ahead and focus on winning week-by-week.
DO: Plenty of mock drafts
Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but as former Miami Heat announcer Tony Fiorentino once told me, practice makes you better. Drafting a perfect fantasy football team is impossible. According to common sense, and this article on sbnation.com, no one has ever drafted the perfect fantasy team. Mock drafts are great ways to practice at being a better, not perfect, drafter. I play through ESPN’s fantasy football site and they always have mock drafts available. Mock drafts allow me to form an idea of what players will be available when I pick. This can help me realize that I might need to take a player earlier than his ADP, or Average Draft Position, or I can wait another to take a player. It is also a good way of gauging the site’s rankings and seeing which areas have players I might want. In previous years, I have gone through the entire rankings just to see the “hot” and “cold” spots. Last year, I knew I wanted to take multiple players ranked between 23 and 36, so I was always keeping an eye on that hot spot. This strategy especially helps in leagues that allow draft pick trading, which I believe all leagues should allow. Participating in plenty of mock drafts is a great way to practice for the real thing while maybe building up some confidence in your drafting abilities.
DON’T: Bank on a player’s previous seasons
This is the number one reason players are overvalued in fantasy leagues. Most times, a player breaks out and the following year owners are rushing to pick him early. Unfortunately for them, they fail to realize the reasons for why a player played so well. Allen Robinson’s ADP was 13 in leagues last season. Many people expected him to repeat his stats from 2015 where he racked up 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. There is no doubt that Robinson is very talented, but his 2015 stats were inflated by the atrocity that was the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2015, the Jaguars averaged a respectable 23.5 points per game and failed to score double-digit points only twice, according to Pro Football Reference. However, the Jaguars’ defense ranked 31st, giving up 20 or more points in all but three games. This meant Jacksonville was playing from behind for most of the season, especially late in fourth quarters. This “garbage time” was the reason for players like Robinson and quarterback Blake Bortles to see a huge rise in stats. In 2016, fantasy owners only looked at how Robinson performed the previous year and not why he performed so well. This has happened countless times to various players in fantasy history, and it is clearly just owners hoping that a player can replicate one good season.
DO: Take quarterback’s late
It’s no question that the quarterback position in fantasy football is very deep. Of course, most times fantasy players fall in love with shiny toys at the top of the rankings, like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I’m not saying those guys are bad, they are all future hall-of-famers. Matt Ryan was the second-highest scoring quarterback last year, yet he was taken
as the 16th passer off the board, per myfantasyleague.com. Cam Newton was taken as the first quarterback, but only produced enough fantasy stats to be ranked 17th among quarterbacks. Guys like Kirk Cousins and Matt Stafford all finished higher than guys drafted ahead of them, like Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning. Additionally, you can really build up your team with skill players and still take a top-10 quarterback later. The point is, and I can’t stress this enough, wait until your team is set on skill players before taking a quarterback.
DON’T: Spend an early pick on a wide receiver, take a running back instead.
Don’t get me wrong, the top receivers are all great. It’s just that it would be smarter to take a good running back (more on that later) than a good receiver because good receivers can always be found late. The most important thing to consider is that of the ten-highest scoring players last year, six of them were running backs. However, there were only nine running backs in the top 30, whereas the rest were all wide receivers except for tight end Travis Kelce. What this means is that high-scoring wide receivers are plentiful, so you could still draft a top receiver in the third or fourth rounds. As for the running backs, the chances of you drafting a top option are slim outside the first couple rounds. There were only three out of those nine running backs who ended up as a top-30 player and had an ADP of 4th round or below (Melvin Gordon – 6th round, LeGarrette Blount – 11, Jordan Howard – undrafted). Snag a top running back early so you don’t have to settle for the scraps later. As for the receivers, Michael Thomas was going mostly undrafted in leagues last year, but he exploded to score the 7th most points by a wide receiver. Guys like Michael Crabtree, Golden Tate, and Tyreek Hill all finished as top-30 skill players yet were available in over 90% of leagues by the sixth round, per thehuddle.com. patience is a virtue, and it is also essential to have when drafting wide receivers.
DO: Pick players with high upside late
As the draft starts to wind down, most of the players left are fairly uncertain. The running backs are usually backups or stuck in committees, the wide receivers tend to be inexperienced or in awful situations, and most tight ends just don’t see enough targets to warrant a high enough draft pick. At this point in the draft, most of these players probably won’t last on your roster as you could draft a guy in the tenth round who you could have taken four rounds later; it is a melting pot of uncertainty. If all of the players left have roughly that same floor, finding someone who could potentially breakout is a fantastic value. In a lengthy assessment of my two leagues last year, I found that no team kept more than six of their originally drafted players. That’s ten rounds gone to waste! (Both had standard roster sizes, so each draft was 16 rounds). In other words, what do you have to lose by drafting a player with insane potential? This is where determining a player’s ceiling or upside comes in handy. These are the rounds where I have made my living. I explained my reasoning earlier for why I took Jordan Howard, but here are other notable players I have successfully hit on in recent years: Michael Thomas, Devontae Booker (before he got hurt), David Johnson, Jay Ajayi, Martavis Bryant, and Allen Robinson. Of course, there are always the Tyler Locketts and John Browns of the world who still have not lived up to the hype. If you know there is a player who with the right opportunity can truly be special, don’t hesitate to snatch him up.
DON’T: Take a Defense or Kicker before the last three rounds
Contrary to popular belief, fantasy football is not a season-long venture. The goal is to win each week, and while having great players helps that cause, many owners get caught up in hoping a player or defense will do well in the future. This blind style of thinking can convince you to keep a defense against a unfavorable team and ultimately cost you the game. No defense last year scored double-digit points every single week. Even the top-three defenses (Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals) had their fair share of duds. I have been replacing my defenses in favor of other defenses with more favorable situations for a couple years now otherwise known as streaming. Needless to say, three out of the top-five performances by a defense last year were starting for me the week of that performance (Chiefs in week three, Falcons in week fourteen, and Cardinals in week seventeen). The Vikings scored the most total defensive fantasy points last year, yet they were only the 17th defense selected. Similarly for kickers, Matt Bryant, Justin Tucker, and Adam Vinateri finished as the three highest-scoring kickers yet were on average the seventh, sixth, and thirteenth kickers taken, respectively. On the other hand, Stephen Gostowski had an absurd ADP of the 10th round, yet finished ninth among kickers. Tucker and Bryant were the only two kickers last years to score below eight points in three or less weeks. While that is actually pretty impressive, this has caused their ADPs for this season to be inflated to the twelfth round. At that price, I would rather take a player with upside rather than expect a kicker to repeat his performance from last year. With the proper weekly research, you can pick up a defense and a kicker who will get you double-digit points instead of ignorantly holding on to them for the future weeks. By the time those weeks come around, your team might already be out of the playoff race.
DO: Look at strength of schedules when making trades
I know I just said don’t look ahead at a player’s schedule, but this is different. Most of the time, a player will start off the season playing really well or really poorly. Take Devonta Freeman. The first two weeks of last season he failed to reach double-digit points and was held scoreless, which isn’t terrible but certainly not what you want from a first-round pick. On the other hand, his teammate Tevin Coleman saw more touches and targets while also scoring in each game. Some owners scrambled to get rid of Freeman with the assumption that he lost his job to Coleman. Once again, they failed to do proper research. Before the season, offensive coordinator (now the head coach of the 49ers) Kyle Shanahan said he would like to get Coleman involved heavily at the beginning if the season, probably to better establish another presence in the backfield. Those first two opponents, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, both had passing and rushing defenses ranked in the bottom half of the league, according to www.pro-football-reference.com. Aside from superstar Khalil Mack, the Oakland Raiders have struggled to find another good player among their defensive line and linebackers, opening the door for a speedy player like Coleman to dominate the defense. What was interesting though was that Coleman was on the field for just less than 50% of the plays in both of those games, while Freeman saw just under 60% of the plays. Owners should have looked at who exactly Freeman and Coleman were playing before drawing any rash conclusions between the two. When a player starts to do well, really look at how his opponents have fared against that player’s position to determine if he truly is that good or if his performances were just results of a favorable defensive matchup. Finally, if you feel it necessary, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a trade. Trades not only enhance the unpredictability of a fantasy season, but they’re just plain fun. Speaking of fun…
DON’T: Get stressed over losing
I know it might sound cheesy, but the true number one rule of fantasy sports is to have fun. It is pointless to ruin your entire day, maybe your entire week, over one bad performance. I used to be that guy who would get pissed and panic over a terrible week. Bad weeks happen. Fantasy sports is literally people trying to predict the future, and no one can always predict the future. Instead, evaluate why your team performed the way they did. Did your running backs have banged-up offensive lines? Did your receivers block most of the game as their running backs saw more carries than usual? Be a real owner and assess your assets, determine your team’s strength and weaknesses. Cut loose any inconsistent players. While winning is certainly fun, it only happens to one team. When I coached youth basketball a couple years ago, my team was awful. I told my kids that the only way to look back and not regret playing was to just have fun. If we won, then congrats we won (we lost every game, but nobody cared). However, just enjoying what you’re doing and improving for the next time will alway produce positive results. We all choose to play fantasy football, mostly because we want to win. In a ten-team league, that means you have a 90% chance of being disappointed. If you truly didn’t enjoy fantasy football, then why sign up for it the following year knowing you have a small chance of actually winning? Just have fun, take some chances, and carry no regrets. (If you are really only dedicated to winning, however, follow this article and your chances should improve drastically)
DO: Contact me with any questions
I’ll be more than happy to try and help you bring some fantasy glory to your name. Contact me on Twitter @ZachCohen12 or leave a comment on this article. I’ll be here all season.