We hate to break it to you. But unless you’re some waiver wire savant, you’re not winning your fantasy football league without a strong draft.
And unless you’re placing your faith in Lady Luck, you probably should enter draft night with a plan.
There are some obvious “Do’s” and “Dont’s” that hold true every year: It’s smart to draft a running back in the early rounds, and it is most certainly not smart to draft a defense/special teams or kicker anywhere close to the first five rounds (no matter how “nasty” you think the Jacksonville Jaguars’ D will be this season).
Yet some draft strategies develop organically based on recent NFL or fantasy trends. Some involve more risk than others, but these are the strategies that really can put you ahead of the curve if you employ them correctly.
Here are five draft strategies and tips you can use to build that dream roster:
Take a chance on a rookie running back.
Fun fact: A rookie has led the NFL in rushing in back-to-back seasons (Ezekiel Elliott in 2016; Kareem Hunt in 2017). Another fun fact: Three of the top 10 running backs in fantasy last season were rookies (Hunt, Alvin Kamara and Leonard Fournette). Teams no longer are shy about throwing rookies into the fire, as young backs who haven’t gone through the NFL meat grinder are fresh enough to endure a heavy workload.
The 2018 rookie class is chock full of promising rushers: Saquon Barkley, Royce Freeman, Rashaad Penny and Kerryon Johnson, to name a few. If recent history is any indication, Barkley should see a huge workload and is worthy of a top-15 pick. The others are worth the gamble, as well.
Don’t draft a quarterback until the mid-to-late rounds.
It’s very tempting to just snag Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in one of the top three rounds and call it a day. Peace of mind, right? If you look at the numbers, though, that strategy doesn’t really make sense. Alex freaking Smith was the fourth-best quarterback in fantasy last year despite not even being drafted in some standard leagues, while 13 quarterbacks averaged over 16 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues.
Essentially, the QB floor is very high, and with Father Time closing in on the Holy Trinity of Rodgers, Brady and Drew Brees, the ceiling looks a bit lower. Go for the running backs and wide receivers early, then snag a serviceable quarterback like Jared Goff or Blake Bortles in the middle rounds.
Seek out a wide receiver in a potent offense.
Who saw JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 2017 breakout campaign coming? Anyone who realized the Pittsburgh Steelers consistently has one of the most productive offenses in the league, and Ben Roethlisberger can’t throw all this passes to Antonio Brown. Finding a second or third option in a high-powered attack is a great way to land a wideout who’s flying slightly under the radar.
A few potential candidates: New Orleans Saints slot man Cameron Meredith, Atlanta Falcons rookie Calvin Ridley and Philadelphia Eagles deep threat Mike Wallace.
Target a second-tier tight end.
Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz all are absolute studs and likely will go within the first three rounds. That’s a steep price to pay for a position that’s prone to injuries, though. After that trio, the drop-off is steep, and you don’t want to be stuck with an inconsistent tight end who occasionally lays goose eggs.
Fortunately, there’s a middle ground. At least one member of the second tier — guys like Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham and Evan Engram — should be available in the middle rounds. That seems like the best time to grab a tight end this year.
If you don’t draft a top-5 defense… don’t draft one at all.
All right, this one’s a little radical. But the truth is that there only are a handful of defenses worth owning on a week-to-week basis. Outside that elite group, you can get by just fine by going to the waiver wire and playing the matchup game.
With that in mind, why not just leave the D/ST spot empty and take a late flyer on an unheralded running back or wide receiver? This strategy is even more enticing in keeper leagues, where that late flyer could turn into a franchise cornerstone.
Thumbnail photo via Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports Images
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