As The Fantasy Footballers often mention, “Draft Day is Like Christmas”. If you’re reading this, you’re probably committed enough to your fantasy league that you’ve done some upfront research. Hopefully, you’ve already got your copy of the Ultimate Draft Kit. If not, there’s still time!
You’ve also probably heard the mantra that “you don’t win your league on draft day”. Maybe you’ve also heard the extension “but you can lose it”. Fantasy drafts are riddled with land mines. The more mistakes you can avoid on draft day, the better foundation your draft will set you up with to start the season. Use that foundation and some in-season team management and you give yourself a great chance to walk away with a #FootClanTitle at the end of the year.
Here are six common pitfalls to avoid if you want to leave your draft in the best position to succeed.
Mistake #1: Prioritizing your starting lineup
As your draft is going and you start to fill up your roster there’s something satisfying about watching your starters slot into place. However, the deeper you get into the draft the more those empty spots begin to look like massive voids on your roster. It’s tempting to fill in that missing quarterback or tight end in the fifth round when your starting running backs and receivers are secured, but there’s usually more value to be had by adding depth instead. In most league formats you have to start at least two at those positions, so you’ll be more hard-pressed to find useful options later in the draft or on the waivers.
If you’re really set on locking up a tight end and quarterback early you can be forgiven and still field a competitive roster. If you take your defense or kicker before securing any depth at running back and receiver you’re likely in for a long season. Fantasy defenses are relatively easy to stream off the waiver wires if you pay attention to weekly matchups, and kickers are annoyingly random much of the time. If your platform allows, it you can even leave your draft without a defense or kicker. (Editor’s Note: For more on this, check out Ryan Weisse’s Rethink Your Strategy: Don’t Draft a Defense.)
That would allow you to take a few additional shots on high upside players to monitor as Week 1 approaches. When it’s time to finally set your initial lineup you can cut the two worst players on your roster, maybe even somebody who got injured between your draft and Week 1, to pick up your defense and kicker.
Mistake #2: Letting your fandom get in the way
There are two sides to this pitfall. The obvious example is drafting the quarterback, running back, tight end, and two receivers from the local team. It might work out for some teams; the Chiefs logged the QB1, RB11, WR1, and TE1 in 2018. If you’re a Dolphins or Redskins fan, however, please don’t let your irrational fandom drive your draft.
While over-drafting your favorite team could work out, the larger danger lies in avoiding players on the rival teams that you despise. My favorite example comes from my home league circa 2003. In a league full of Cheeseheads, the league champ drafted the Vikings stack of Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper. He got the overall WR1 and QB1, both at great values. He may have “sold his soul for a championship” (his words) but he also walked away with the trophy.
Mistake #3: Living and dying by average draft position (ADP)
ADP is a great tool to help guide your draft, but you can’t treat it as law. Remember, it is an average of thousands of drafts. That means that each player gets selected sooner sometimes and later other times. There are going to be outliers in both ways. If you really like a player it’s better to select them a round or two earlier than ADP. There’s no worse feeling at a draft than having your targeted player sniped a few picks before you.
Draft position also hampers the effectiveness of drafting by ADP. If you’re drafting at or close to the turn in a snake draft, where you get two picks close together, you almost have to throw it out the window. You’ll have 20 or more players taken between your picks.
A great example of this draft season is the tight end position. If you have a top-three pick you’re likely taking a stud running back first, then waiting until the late second and early third for your next picks. Travis Kelce will be gone. If you want one of the “big three” tight ends your going to have to reach a little for Zach Ertz or George Kittle, even though ADP says they are late third or early fourth-round picks. They probably won’t be there when your next pick comes up at the end of the fourth round.
The takeaway here is another common fantasy football slogan: “Get your guys”
Mistake #4: Avoiding players with common bye weeks
Based on current ADP you could theoretically start your draft by selecting David Johnson and Dalvin Cook in the first two rounds. Both are ranked as top 12 running backs in the Ultimate Draft Kit, so obviously you would want them both on your team. They do however share a Week 12 bye, and that’s a problem right?
This is flawed logic for a few reasons. First of all, if those running backs perform as predicted you’ll probably be a lock for the playoffs by Week 12. You might have to sacrifice a win that week, but you’ll have both players back when the playoffs start, and that’s what matters.
And you might not even have to sacrifice a week. If your roster is the same in Week 12, or Week 4 for that matter, as it was in Week 1, then you’re doing it wrong. Just last season Phillip Lindsay and Nick Chubb were running backs available on the waiver wire early in the season in most leagues. In-season acquisitions and roster management are probably the most important skills for a successful fantasy football season.
Mistake #5: Drafting with blinders on
Your top priority during the draft should be the roster construction of your team, but that doesn’t mean you should completely block out the rest of the room. You need to keep an eye on your opponents’ rosters as well. This will help prevent you from overreacting to positional runs and allow you to react appropriately.
Another theoretical situation. It’s the ninth round and all of a sudden the last four picks have all been quarterbacks. Human nature would have you panic and get yours next before they’re all gone. Stop. Breathe. Check out your opponents’ rosters to see how many of them have quarterbacks. Then check the tiered quarterback rankings from your UDK. Do some quick math. If there are enough quarterbacks in the tier you want to target to get you through the next few rounds, even if all of the quarterbackless teams left select theirs, your free to scoop up another more valuable position. If there’s only one quarterback left before the tier break, go ahead and lock up your quarterback.
Mistake #6: Locking into a strategy
There are a plethora of fantasy football draft strategies out there, and each can deliver you a competitive roster if used correctly. However, blindly sticking to a draft strategy may end up hurting your team if you stubbornly pass on great values in the draft. It would be irrational to pass on a stud running back that inexplicably slipped to your draft slot just because you want to go “ZeroRB”.
The “Late Round QB” draft strategy, as popularized by JJ Zachariason, can work beautifully and is one of my favorites, but maybe everybody in your league also prescribes to it. There won’t be as much running back and receiver value in the middle rounds and you may as well get whoever you perceive as the QB1 a bit earlier than you planned.
Or maybe you have a league where everybody drafts quarterbacks and backups early. Then absolutely make sure to gobble up all that value they’re passing on at other positions, but make sure you grab a quarterback before you’re left choosing between Joe Flacco and Eli Manning as your starting quarterback.
There can be countless variables that play into your draft. You need to be able to adjust. As The Ballers say, you need to be fluid and “stay water” in your drafts. Good luck out there in the war rooms Foot Clan.