It is time for your first fantasy football draft and you are scrambling. One bad fantasy draft could set you back years if you are in a fantasy keeper league. After years of trial and error, I have compiled a list of draft tips for first time fantasy football players. Follow these easy tips and shock your league veterans by pulling off the upset of a lifetime.
Fantasy football is as hard as you want it to be. You could be the kind of a player that does months of research or you could be someone that shows up for the draft, eats some wings, and picks his favorite players. Unfortunately you will have to put in some work to dominate your drafts. Like anything in life, you get out what you put into your fantasy draft prep work.
1 – Participate in several fantasy football drafts before your big one. There is no better way to learn how to draft in fantasy football than by doing it. But do you want to learn in your bread and butter league or do you want to try out some things and do some scouting when it doesn’t count? ESPN.com has some great tools for you to get your feet wet. ESPN.com offers free drafts and mock drafts. I recommend staying away from the mock drafts because most of the time people drop in and out, the draft goes to auto, and you really don’t get a good idea of a real draft flow. Sign up for a real draft and participate in the league as a free and fun fantasy league.
I have found this to be the most critical step in preparing for my big fantasy drafts. It gives you a great opportunity to see where certain players may fall in your draft. Knowing this is huge, because you can a) target sleepers that you could wait on until the end of your draft and b) you won’t draft someone too high and become the laughing stock of your draft. Do a few of these, take note of any trends, and prepare yourself to take draft your championship time on draft day.
2 – Create tier charts by position. You will always get those people in your draft that show up with some fantasy magazine’s rankings and work strictly off of that. That isn’t always a bad thing, but it should not be your only tool. I tend to do pre-draft work and make an excel list of every player by position likely to be drafted. I then color code those sheets by tier. This helps me a great deal in preparation because the last thing you want to do is pick someone early.
3 – If you are in a fantasy football keeper league, scout the competition pre-draft. Keeper leagues allow you to keep players (usually two) from last year’s team. In one of my leagues, you can only keep two players and they must be different positions. This gives me a great opportunity to target my first-round draft pick. I take a look at everyone’s roster, figure out who their keepers will be, and then get a great idea of the available first-round players. At that point if I know I need a running back and I can guess that two-three players will be available, I will do a ton of research of all three running backs, slot them, and make my pick. I have seen some crazy things in my league so you can’t always predict keepers, but you can usually get a good idea. Remember that your first draft pick will set the tone for everything and if you are ever going to do some extra work here, that is the place to do it.
4 – Prepare for player bye weeks. I learned the hard way my first year playing fantasy football that bye weeks can be a killer. It is important to have a spreadsheet or some kind of schedule print out of every NFL team sitting in front of you in your draft. Now you can go one of two ways here. If you notice that you have more than one player that falls on the same bye week, you can finish the rest of your draft that way and prepare to give up that one week. The other strategy would be to keep a tally once you have all of your starters in place and draft backups based on bye weeks and matchups.
Say for example you know that chances are good that the Buffalo Bills are going to have a terrible run defense again. Find the team playing the Bills that week and see if that running back is available. If he isn’t in demand he may be, and giving him a roster spot for that one week makes all of the sense in the world. If he isn’t, target him in a trade. My point being, take your backups or make your trades based on bye week fill-ins.
6 – Follow position battles in the offseason. Look, we all know that guys like Tom Brady and Maurice Jones-Drew are in no danger of moving down on the depth chart. But there are guys like Matt Leinart, Steve Slaton, and Joey Galloway who are influx. A few years back for whatever reason I followed the positional battle between Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart. At the time of my draft, Leinart was listed as the starter but all reports indicated that Warner would be taking the job. I wound up stealing Kurt Warner in an extremely late round who wound up as one of the top three quarterbacks in fantasy football. The Houston Texans running back situation is a great example this year. Steve Slaton is listed as number two on the depth chart, but all reports are indicating that he is having a better camp. Follow that battle and if it looks like Slaton may wind up starting, you will probably have a great chance of stealing a potential starting running back mid-late draft. Do your homework!
7 – Have a regular season schedule handy at the draft. Unfortunately while you can’t always predict how an NFL team will fair in the regular season, you can usually get a good idea by your draft. If you are hedging on two guys at the same position who look virtually even, use the strength of schedule as your tie-breaker. For example if you have two running backs available who are virtually even and one plays in the AFC North and one plays in the AFC West, take the running back from the AFC West. At least you know you’ll get two games against the Oakland Raiders and two against the Kansas City Chiefs as opposed to two against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, or Cincinnati. You can apply this same logic to all of the positional players available in your draft. The last thing you want to do is start crowing about this great quarterback you drafted and then notice that half of his schedule are against the top passing defenses from last season.
Additionally, wouldn’t you want a quarterback playing the St. Louis Rams or Detroit Lions in your fantasy playoffs? Take a look at the last few weeks of your regular fantasy season and the playoffs. Take a look at teams that you think haven’t improved or may have gotten worse, and pick players that you can potentially start against these teams. There is nothing worse than rolling into the final weeks of your season with quarterbacks playing two or three top defenses in a row. Keep a schedule handy and plan ahead.
Hey, it isn’t an exact science. You can have the greatest draft in the world on paper and still be bit by injuries, holdouts, coaching changes, sophomore slumps, or guys that wind up moving down the depth chart. Even with a great draft you may lose, but you’ll almost never win with anything less.
Get your NFL jerseys discounted now on Amazon.com by clicking here
Join ESPN Insider today for the best sports analysis online, plus ESPN The Magazine!