Rob is an online sports writer who gives tips on how to win fantasy leagues. He's won four league championships playing fantasy sports.
It's that time of year again. Fantasy football is just around the corner, and you're still trying to recover from last year's disaster. You try year after year to build the right team, but fall short of placing or receiving any cash rewards as a result of the season's play. The big question is "Is there a superior way to build a winning fantasy football team?" The truth is, every year is different. The depth at each of the positions makes it difficult to have a golden way to draft year in and year out. However, the most valuable resources you can tap into are people who have had consistent success in drafting a similar way each year. Though it changes slightly from year to year based on position depth, the position drafted in each round is usually the same. This is what I am here to offer you.
I am in no way calling myself an expert, but playing in 16 leagues over eight years throughout my fantasy career and winning four of them puts me at league champion in 25% of leagues I join, which is higher than many I have talked to. In this article, I will share my recommendations on how to draft in each of the 16 rounds of a standard fantasy football league. Since standard leagues are the most common, I am going to just address how I draft in standard leagues that adhere to standard rules. Yes, there are different ways to draft in different league styles, but that might be an article for another day.
In each round, I will provide what position I think you should draft in that round, and then a second option that will be based on depth and who is available at that time, as well as a short explanation of why. I intend this to be an article that can be read regardless of the year, so I won't make it very specific to one year or another and the players in each year. By the end, I hope this helps you strategically draft a winning fantasy football team and helps you compete for your league title this year!
Round #1: 1st Choice: RB, 2nd Choice: WR
This goes without saying, but this is your most important pick. Here you will select the centrepiece of your team.
Here it would seem like you would want to draft a player that will score the most point for your fantasy team. A quarterback is usually that player, but there is deeper reasoning as to why I recommend taking a running back in the first round. Running back is the most coveted position in fantasy football because there is usually only one primary back per team. This is also the case because even fewer of those backs will put up numbers worthy of drafting in the first round. There are usually less than 10 elite running backs in the league at a time, so sweeping one up while you can is essential. If you wait to draft a running back until the second or third round, you can miss out on top-tier talent, top-tier points, and this can be the difference between a playoff team and the league champion.
Sometimes though, depending on what number you draft and who was taken in front of you, it is also wise to choose a wide receiver. Running backs will traditionally be chosen for 75% of the first 5 or 6 picks of the draft, so if left a choice between the 4th best running back, and the best or second-best wide receiver in the league, here it can be wise to take a wide receiver. Wide receiver is arguably the deepest position in fantasy which makes it not as pressing as a running back. Still, if the #1, #2, and #3 running backs are gone when it gets to your pick, don't hesitate to take the #1 or #2 receiver here.
Again, this can change from year to year. For example, the year I am writing this, 2016, the running back talent is not very deep at all, which makes selecting a running back that much more of a must. One can still get the 3rd or 4th best wide receiver in the league in the 2nd round in this case.
I would not recommend drafting outside of these two positions for the 1st round. Some may argue 2014's TE Jimmy Graham, in which case he might have warranted a late 1st round pick, but this is not a common case. Stick with a running back as your first priority, and then a wide receiver here.
Round #2: 1st Choice: WR, 2nd Choice: RB
The 2nd round is basically just as valuable as the 1st round, especially if you are in a snake draft and draft one of the last few picks of the 1st round, and now draft one of the first few for the 2nd round.
Here, our priorities shift a little bit, but what you were looking for in round #1 is very similar here. In this round, I would recommend drafting a wide receiver, especially if you drafted a running back in the 1st round. Top wide receiver talent is usually still on the board at this point, and this is the prime time to pick your WR#1. Your WR#1 will probably be your 2nd highest point scorer on your team besides your quarterback, so choose a big name on the board.
If you selected a wide receiver in the 1st round, you hands down want to draft a running back here. Tier-2 and 3 running backs are usually only available in the 3rd round, so get your hands at least on a low-end tier-1 running back if you are in this spot.
While you can draft RB, RB or WR, WR, this is usually not wise to do as round 3 is almost surely absent of tier-1 or top-tier talent at either of these positions and you greatly risk labelling the position you did not draft at this point a weakness already. Drafting RB, WR or WR, RB will ensure that you have at least one top-tier player at each of these positions.
Again, I would not usually recommend drafting outside of these two positions here, but if you find a TE who is ranked to go in the first round and can get your hands on him here, I would at least consider it. Otherwise, let these two positions dominate this round.
Round #3: 1st Choice: RB, 2nd Choice: WR
No, it is not yet time to take a peek at the quarterbacks.
Since the running back value is so high, and all tier-one running backs are all but always gone at this point, you want to get your hands on a tier-2 running back here to be your RB #2. I recommend this regardless of how you drafted in the 1st and 2nd rounds. This is usually the last call to get a running back that will put up formidable numbers, so don't miss out! From here on out, the best you will usually get is a low-end tier-2 back. You want to be sure that your regular two running backs you are going to start are established by the end of this round. It may be tempting to take a wide receiver here, but you can still get your hands on an upper-tier 2 wideout in round #4, so hold out until then.
This is an important pick that has the potential to make or break your season, so choose wisely and do your research on last season's statistics and this year's projected numbers.
Round #4: 1st Choice: WR, 2nd Choice: RB
This pick will be pretty clear-cut.
Here, in just about every situation, I would choose a wide receiver. In round #4, a higher-end tier-2 receiver is usually still available because of the running back talent pool being drained last round. This is the perfect time to draft your WR#2, who will still put up a large number of points throughout the course of the season. You can still find a #1 wide receiver target on an NFL team during this round. Making sure your #1 and #2 spots at running back and wide receiver are filled at this point will help give you the best chance on an average year.
If there is a quarterback who was projected to go in round #3, you can consider taking him in this round, but by drafting a quarterback here, you are missing out on high-end tier 2 wide receiver talent and risk having to settle for low-end tier-2 or tier-3 wide receiver talent in round 5. The drop-off in talent and points for wide receivers and running backs is much greater than for quarterbacks, so I would hold the reins until round 5 in this one.
Round #5: 1st Choice: QB, 2nd Choice: WR
This one, unlike the others, is basically a toss-up or based on your preference, and how the league has drafted so far.
In round #5, you can often select the 1st or 2nd best-ranked quarterback, and just about always choose from the #2 and #3 quarterbacks. This is a solid place to select more top-tier talent. While selecting a quarterback is usually done at some point for most teams during rounds 5-7, by drafting a quarterback here, you assure the fact that you are getting a top of the line QB who will most likely put up the most points over any other player on your team. Along with this, you have your top two running back and wide receiver spots stocked with tier-1 and tier-2 talent, so adding a tier-1 quarterback to the mix gives your team a solidly stacked lineup at this point.
You can also justify selecting a wide receiver here. This is because you can still get your hands on the 3rd, 4th or 5th best quarterback during the 6th round which is still pretty good. Here you would draft receiver for the flex spot on your starting lineup. While I would slightly recommend going with the quarterback this round, if the wide receiver talent is not as deep as you have seen it in previous years, this could be a good time to draft a flex player and still add a low-end tier-1 quarterback to your squad next round.
This one will come down to how the rest of the league has drafted at this point and what type of year it is. If the top QB is still on the board, you might be able to wait until next round and still get a top-tier one, but if quarterbacks are going like flies, it would be a good idea to get your hands on one sooner than later. Use these factors to determine how to draft in round #5.
Round 6: 1st Choice: WR, 2nd Choice: QB
If you don't have a quarterback, I would recommend drafting one this round. Yes, you can still get a fairly decent QB in round 7, but why settle? Take a low-end tier-1 QB this round if you have not already. You don't want to wait too long to draft your point monster.
If you do have a quarterback, this is an ideal time to draft your flex player. Almost always, this should be a wide receiver, because of the depth at the position. The running back depth is rarely enough to warrant drafting a flex-worthy running back over the wide receiver talent that is still available. This wide receiver you draft can also serve as a great fill-in during bye week for your primary slots, and can fill spots in case of injury to your top two. It is smart to have a low-end tier-2 wide receiver, or a high tier-3 one, and this is often your last chance to get dibs on a tier-2 wideout.
This pick is basically the flex player and can also be insurance for your top 2 wideouts. This player should put up decent points, and though may not turn a ton of heads on a weekly basis, have the potential to have a couple of breakout games throughout the season.
Round 7: 1st Choice: RB, 2nd Choice: TE
This is what I like to call my "running back sleeper pick".
At this point, you are through all the starting running backs on pretty much every NFL team. However, there are a couple of teams usually, that have a split role backfield. This is the time to draft one of those players. Often a couple of teams will have two or three backs handling the duties as running back in a season. Sometimes, one of these backs will emerge as the favourite or will have a huge game and be named the starter and slowly given more and more of the majority of the carries. This is where you hope to peg one of those backs. This pick, if selected well, can sometimes produce a low-end tier-2 running back that was originally a tier-4 or lower back at the start of the season. This running back will primarily serve as a fill-in during one of your primary backs' bye week.
There can also be valuable to select a receiving running back here used on screens and third down plays. Running backs that can both adequately rush and receive have exponentially greater value at this point. This back might get screens on third down or find the end-zone every couple of weeks on a passing play. To select a third down back, such as Danny Woodhead or Shane Vereen (Remember, this is 2016), is a far less riskier pick than trying to choose a back in a split carries role and hope that the one you choose ends up getting named the starter. However, it often has less potential for consistent contribution then.
A tight end can also be nabbed here if you don't like the idea of drafting a running back. I would advise waiting until rounds 8-9 to do this, but if you can get a phenomenal receiving tight end still, it might be worth the pick. However, rounds 6-8 are usually where the split carries backs go, so waiting any longer than this leaves little value outside your starting RBs. This can leave you in a pickle when you need to fill a running back vacancy during a bye week and can force you to look at the free agency roster.
Overall, unless you can get a tier-1 tight end, go running back here.
Round 8: 1st Choice: TE, 2nd Choice: RB
Round #8 is usually the ideal time to draft the tight end for your team. Chances are, the top 2 or so are off the board, but you can still get dibs on a low-end tier-1 or a high-end tier-2 tight end here.
A good receiving tight end can get lots of red zone and end-zone looks, so getting your hands on a top 5 tight end is a great idea. Waiting much longer than this is risky, especially because a tight end can be a touchdown point scorer. Tight ends are often boom or bust in a lot of games, which is why you don't want to put too much stock into drafting them much earlier than round 7. There might be a tight end a year that is an exception, but they are all but for sure off the board at this point. It is important to find a receiving tight end here. This may sound cliché, but sometimes, the tight end that gets more playing time is not the receiving tight end. Tight ends are used a lot in blocking and will not get nearly as many looks as receivers, so if a tight end is brought in only for receiving plays, you can be sure it is because he is always being considered as an option to throw to, unlike a blocking tight end.
If you do not have your running back "sleeper" pick in by this round, use it now. This and round 9 is pretty much the last round you will find value in running backs who should even be considered to put into your starting lineup. Again, look for either a receiving running back, or one who you think could emerge as the primary back from a split carries role.
Round #9: 1st Choice: WR, 2nd Choice: RB
You pretty much should have your starting lineup minus your defensive and special teams unit and your kicker. This pick is another insurance pick.
Why not nab a defensive unit or a kicker in this round? The range of points scored between the best defensive unit and the worst is next to nothing compared to the difference for any other position. The same is true for kickers, minus up against defensive units.
There are still tier-3 wide receivers on the board at this point who can break out or develop the trust of their quarterbacks and put up double-digit numbers somewhat consistently. This is a good spot to pick a receiver to battle for the flex position and be a backup to your primary receivers. This can be a good spot to pick either a well-aged veteran or a rookie in. A well-aged veteran will often not play like he used to, but still, get targets because of his past performances and the trust he has developed with his quarterback. A rookie will likely not be very involved on most teams right away, but if proven, can turn into a #2 or #3 target for the QB if he continues to progress and gain his team's confidence.
This is also pretty much the last call for any running back of even serviceable value. If there are still good wide receivers on the board, consider selecting your RB#4 here. This way, you have 2 insurance policies at running back and can rest easy.
All for all though, a wide receiver is the smartest selection here.
Round #10: 1st Choice: WR, 2nd Choice: K
Similar to the last round, there can still be high and low-end tier-3 talent on the board for wide receivers since this is such a deep position most years.
This pick is what I like to call my "wide receiver sleeper pick". After this round, the wide receiver talent will start to thin a bit and others will start loading up on backups around here a lot of the time, so get one last wide receiver of value here. Here I usually like my pick to be a younger player who has shown flashes of potential in the past and has the potential to break out in the upcoming year. This is most likely going to be a boom or bust player. Take a chance here, and see if it pays off. If it does, this pick can push your team from good to elite.
Though it would not be my recommendation to take one here, this is the round where I usually start to debate and look at the kickers. Having a kicker who will see plenty of action from a high-scoring asset can decide close matches in your league. If you are gutsy and think receiver talent will still be decent in round #11, it wouldn't be the worst thing to take a kicker here.
Round #11: 1st Choice: K, 2nd Choice: D/ST
This is the round I like to snag my kicker in. It is a 50/50 shot in this round whether you will be the first one to draft a kicker, so if I can get the #1 or #2 kicker here, I will always take a kicker with this pick.
A kicker can put up more points than you think, and a good kicker can put up 8 or 9 points a game on average. While this doesn't sound like a lot, kickers can decide close matches in your leagues. Everyone needs that clutch player to be a difference-maker on the team, and a kicker can sometimes play that role. Though a kicker's consistency is not the best, and experts may advise drafting them in rounds #13 and #14, I like to ensure that I have a top 2 kicker each year. The more top-tier players you have on your team at each position, the better chance you have to win your league. In some cases, like if the top two kickers are already off the board, I might wait until round #12, but no further than that. When chasing top talent, I don't mess around, and strongly advise going here for a kicker.
There is also the possibility of drafting a defensive unit here, especially if it is a unit that was as dominant as the 2013 and 2014 Seahawks unit was. More often than not though, there is a decent chance no defensive units have been taken, and if the #1 unit is gone by this point, the value of units #2-#4 will be fairly equal. If you are trigger happy or if you fear defenses will start going like flies, you can take one here, but most times, you will still get an excellent defensive unit if you wait until round #12.
Round #12: 1st Choice: D/ST, 2nd Choice: K
This is the prime time spot to choose a defensive unit.
Yes, you could probably get a similar value unit in the next round, but again, you want a top 5 unit and that will be available for sure in this round, while it can't be guaranteed next round. Also, at this point any wide receiver or running back you can draft is of minimal or next to no value to your starting roster, and you will be able to draft more of these if you desire the same value in the next couple of rounds.
While a defensive unit will be the lowest point scorer on your roster, it is like your kicker in a sense, and can be the difference in close games. Don't be turned away by the low point they project. An excellent unit will have a handful of double-digit performances.
If you do not already have a kicker, you will want to select one here. You have a good shot at getting the #3 or #4 kicker here, which is not bad at all considering if you are in this spot, you probably have the #1 or #2 defensive unit. The value of any of the other positions is not very high at this point in the draft, so I advise being sure your starting roster, from your quarterback to your kicker is completely filled out by round #12, and that you use rounds #13-#16 to select backups and insurance policies.
Round #13: 1st Choice: QB, 2nd Choice: WR
This is a nice spot to draft a backup quarterback for that bye week or if your quarterback is a bust part way through your season. Here you will likely only be able to find low-end tier-2 QB's, such as unproven middlemen and rookie quarterbacks, but you can consider this your "quarterback sleeper pick". This ensures that you have a good backup plan for the top point scoring position on your team. In case of an injury or a draft pick bust, this will ensure you better value than merely picking a low-end QB off of the free agent roster. Here, there is still a bit of value in the quarterbacks that will be left. Better safe than sorry.
If you are fine with picking a QB off of free agency and don't want to waste an extra roster spot on another quarterback, go for a wide receiver. The depth of the position will provide you with tier-4 selection here, which isn't too good, but is better than selecting a running back at this point. This is pretty much the last call for any wide receiver of any type of even fair value at this point in the draft.
Round #14: 1st Choice: TE, 2nd Choice: RB
This is where you should draft your tight end insurance policy in case of an injury or a bust pick. Like with the quarterbacks, the value of drafting an extra tight end in the last few rounds of the draft will provide a bit better value than picking one up off of free agency when needed. Since receiving tight ends are limited in the NFL and because they get so many looks in the red zone, being prepared for a disaster at this position will ensure your team doesn't take too hard of a hit if this happens. Because tight ends can sometimes mimic a receiver's points on a big day, this makes a backup tight end more valuable than a backup kicker or defensive unit.
If you have other plans, you can draft a running back here, but he will basically be of little or no value at this point in the draft.
Round #15: 1st Choice: WR/RB, 2nd Choice: K/D/ST
Any wide receiver or running back you select here is basically a prayer or just to fill a roster spot. This pick can have a little bit of value if your team becomes riddled with injuries, but this isn't the case too often.
If this sounds logical to you, you can consider drafting a defensive unit backup since the points the units put up on a week-to-week basis are somewhat similar. This extra unit can also be used if your originally defensive unit is facing a high-powered offense and is projected to get slaughtered. A backup kicker can also be used with this pick, also in the case your kicker is a bust or because of injury.
Don't sweat too much over this pick, because the last two picks often have next to no impact on the season.
Round #16: 1st Choice: K/D/ST 2nd Choice: WR/RB
More insurance policies, don't think too hard on this one. Only in larger leagues such as 14 and 16-man leagues will the 16th round have any chance of some value.
Do Your Homework and Be Competitive!
Don't undermine the importance of analysing stats from last year and projections for this upcoming year. A little research can find you a good value pick that your buddies missed in the middle to later rounds.
Again, this is just my opinion based on my experience and success drafting with this format in the past. I hope that you find value from this and it can help you win your fantasy football league this year!
Eben on September 18, 2020:
Watching will be the best when we get it we're going to train him hard and have the best month's of winning
Isaiah on April 18, 2020:
been using this strategy you provided for mock drafts and earlier i got an A+ grade! this is extremely helpful