Winning Strategies for Fantasy Football - Part 1
Free agency is in full swing, and the 2019 NFL Draft will be here before we know it. As all 32 NFL franchises scramble to build out their rosters for next season, it’s a good time for fantasy owners to start looking ahead as well.
While mock drafts will continue to take shape throughout the offseason based on team moves, we can all dig in begin mapping out a game plan for our fantasy drafts. To that end, let’s take a look at some tried and true principles which stand the test of time.
Draft for Production Early, Speculate Later
While each NFL season may be a blank slate when the games finally get underway, we can still have a pretty good idea of which players are in line to produce. NFL fantasy chatter and prognostication goes on all year long, so fantasy owners who are diligent with their research will certainly have a good handle on which players appear poised for great seasons.
That being the case, we can all approach our drafts with some clear targets in mind. However, we want to be mindful of not falling in love with our own research and hunches. For a rule of thumb, we’ll want to zero in on the players we are most confident on in the early rounds. Once we get to the later rounds, we’ll have plenty of room to make a speculative pick or two.
For example, let’s say it’s your turn on the clock in round three. Among the choices in front of you is what looks to be a workhorse back who should see a ton of touches, as well as a promising young wideout who could go off if everything breaks just right. Since we want nearly guaranteed production from our top picks, we would want to go with the back and pass on the wide receiver for now.
Proven Commodities Trump Shiny New Toys
There will be a ton of new faces in new places this season, whether that comes via the draft or free agency. Some of those players will pan out quite well in their new surroundings. Others? Not so much. Since we can’t say with certainty which ones will fall into the former category and which ones are destined for the latter, it makes sense for us not to fall too in love with potential.
Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule of thumb. For example, Le’Veon Bell is now a member of the New York Jets. We know for certain that he will be a huge part of the game plan each and every week. Even though he’s in a new place, we can consider him to be a proven commodity. Barring injury, we don’t have to worry too much about blowing a pick on him.
On the other hand, an intriguing rookie signal caller such as Kyler Murray may turn out to be the real deal at the pro level. However, do we really want to stake our fantasy season on that outcome, especially when he’s going to wind up on one of the poorer teams in the league? While we would have no problem taking a flier on him in the late rounds, we’d much rather snag a proven commodity at QB earlier.
Stick to Your Plan - But Know When to Pivot
One of the great things about fantasy football drafts is that we have plenty of time to prepare for them. If we use that time wisely, we can enter round one with a clear cut plan for how we want to attack things. We should always do our best to stick to that plan, but we also have to keep in mind that drafts can sometimes break in different directions than we were anticipating.
As such, we have to know when it’s time to pivot away from our initial strategy. Let’s consider this example. You have done your research and feel strongly that you want to have two solid running backs once round two is in the books. The way you see it, there will be plenty of wide receivers left over for you to focus on in round three and four after the studs at the position are cleared off the board.
On draft day, many of your fellow owners enter the draft with a similar plan and a run on backs takes place. By the time your pick in round two comes up, nearly all of the top backs you were targeting have been drafted. However, a stud wideout you were sure would be long gone is still on the board. In this case, pivot and grab the pass catcher while looking ahead to round three for your second back.
Trust Your Instincts, But Don’t Reach Too Early
By the time we have completed our research, most of us will have zeroed in on some diamonds in the rough who we feel are being undervalued in fantasy football circles. For example, let’s say you think a wide receiver in a certain offense is about to light the league on fire. Based on all of the mock drafts you have seen, this player is only going off the board on average in round twelve.
Naturally, your interest is mightily piqued. That being said, you wouldn’t want to reach on this player too early. After all, there’s no guarantee that your instincts are right on the money. In this situation, don’t rush to grab the wide receiver just because he’s still available in round eight. However, if round ten comes and he’s still around, you can certainly make a case for pulling the trigger.
This is where several different strategy components come into play. We want to have a good handle on the average draft position of players on our short lists so we know when to pull the trigger. Also, we need to pay close attention to the needs of other owners to try and figure out which direction they may be going with their next pick. If we can incorporate a little game theory into our thinking, the results will speak for themselves.
The Oddsmakers are Your Friends
No matter how great your research process is, there’s simply no way to always be correct. This is true whether we’re talking about playing the stock market, handicapping sporting events, or fantasy drafts. In all three of those endeavors, you can absolutely build your skills up to a top notch level. However, that doesn’t mean that your exceptional skills will make you impervious to variance.
Despite that, we can still do all that we can to insure that we are accounting for as many variables as possible. For fantasy football purposes, one trick of the trade we can lean on for prognostication purposes is to take into consideration what the oddsmakers have to say. The futures market for NFL betting is quite active, and we can glean plenty of information from it.
Each team will have odds to win the Super Bowl attached to them. A quick scan of those odds can help to confirm suspicions about which teams are for real and which are not. Here’s a link to current odds for your reference. Later in the offseason, each team will also have projected win totals for the coming season. These odds typically start getting released by the sportsbooks in late April or early May. Be aware of them and adjust your team expectations accordingly based on the market.
Here’s What You Need to Remember
Keep these five takeaways in your back pocket as you get set for upcoming drafts.
Draft for Production Early, Speculate Later: In the early rounds, we want to focus on nearly guaranteed production.
Proven Commodities Trump Shiny New Toys: Lean on players we know will produce as opposed to uncertain commodities in new places.
Stick to Your Plan - But Know When to Pivot: Enter your draft with a solid plan, but also keep flexibility in mind in case you have to pivot.
Trust Your Instincts, But Don’t Reach Too Early: Be careful not to reach too early on the players you have fallen in love with.
The Oddsmakers are Your Friends: Research the sportsbook futures market for additional insight on team expectations.