I've been playing fantasy football since I was 18. I've won a few leagues, always made the playoffs, and have run a league, as well.
What Is the Best Fantasy Football Strategy?
Fantasy football is a great game that incorporates your knowledge of the sport, strategy, skill, luck, and a ton of fun! Unfortunately, if you're new to the game, it can be a bit overwhelming. Oftentimes, a league has well-established players who have played together for years, and if you aren't well-versed in fantasy, you can become an easy target for bad trade offers, misleading information on whom to draft or how to win, and a large dose of heckling.
If you hope to enter your league a rookie but exit as a respected player and possibly a champion, then this is the article for you. This strategy covers Standard Scoring fantasy football leagues, so if you're in an Auction league or a PPR league, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Different Fantasy Football Strategies
The premise of fantasy football is to draft a team of real-life NFL players to create a team and then, based on their real-life performances each week in games, your team scores points. If your team scores more points than your opponent's team, you win the game. It's a simple idea, but there are many ways to draft a team and how to change it throughout the season. You can acquire players in multiple ways: drafting, through the waiver wire, and trading. The majority of this article and the first thing we will focus on is drafting.
How to Draft the Best Fantasy Football Team
Draft Strategies for Fantasy Football
There are many ways you can strengthen your team in fantasy, but there are some universal facts that are well known in fantasy. Below are the various positions in a standard fantasy league, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.
- Quarterback: Quarterbacks score the most points in fantasy football universally. The worst QB will put up close to the numbers of the best at any other position. The difference in scoring between QBs is typically not as drastic as other positions, which is why they're often not taken high in drafts despite their large scoring output.
- Running back: This is arguably the most important position in fantasy football. A great running back will far outscore a mid-tier running back. Running backs are often taken early in drafts and are hard to come by after the first few rounds. A good running back is often a "workhorse," meaning they receive the majority of the carries for a team instead of splitting the carries up between two or more backs.
- Wide Receiver: This is usually the second most important position in football. A great wide receiver will also surpass other mid-tier options, but there are usually more viable options as a top receiver than there are at running back. Receivers rely on good quarterbacks to get them the ball and often can suffer if their QB is failing to play well. This dependence is typically the reason they don't perform as well as running backs.
- Tight End: Tight ends score the same way as wide receivers, and rely on QBs the same way. They're typically not a huge threat in a team's offense, making them even less important than wide receivers. There are typically three or less elite players at this position, making them worth a reach for a top talent or worth waiting until later in the draft to grab one. Depending on when you take a tight end, you could have a championship key piece or a dud.
- Kicker: Kicker is the least important position in fantasy. They're typically taken last in a draft, if at all. Kickers score points for kicks, usually garnering bonus points based on the distance of the kick. They score the least amount of points, and unless you luck into a kicker who is hitting multiple field goals in a game, they won't be the deciding factor in your championship chances. They're typically dependent on how well an offense moves the ball as a whole.
- Defense & Special Teams: Defense and special teams, or DST, can be a strong asset or useless depending on how your league scores their points. A great defense can be a key position, and a bad defense can lose you a game. Defenses score negative points more often than any position, making their matchups the most important thing. A DST that is facing the number one offense in a week is probably a bad choice opposed to anyone playing a middling team. DSTs can be a weapon to score also. If the defense scores, you earn points. Also, if your DST has a good kick returner, such as the great Devin Hester or Josh Cribbs, those touchdowns apply for points as well.
Draft Day Strategies
There are different strategies that can be used on draft day that can help you win games in different ways. I'll start with my personal favorites and go from there. Drafts typically follow a snake system, meaning that if you pick last in the first round, the order reverses and you'll pick first in the second round, snaking back and forth until your draft is done.
The Two Back System
Many leagues play where you either have one or two running backs available in your lineup and a Flex. A Flex position can be a RB, WR, or TE. My league allows for one running back and a flex, so I always try to get another top running back in the flex position. In a two-back system, you are trying to get the two best available running backs on your team. Running backs are consistently high scorers because they touch the ball more than any position besides the QB. If you can get two RBs who get the ball a lot, you're more likely to see touchdowns and wins.
The Early QB System
As I stated above, the QB scores more points than any other position. While many QBs score a close amount of points to each other, every so often you get a quarterback who really lights it up and can save a season, such as Peyton Manning in 2013 when he threw 55 touchdowns. This strategy banks on your QB scoring a ton, and so you take them in the first round before anyone gets a chance to steal them. A good idea is to pick your QBs number one target also, that way if he throws a touchdown to that WR or TE you'll get double points for two touchdowns on one play! This strategy could leave you weak at RB, but there are always RBs who come out of nowhere. If you stay diligent in trades or the waivers, you'll be just fine.
The Best Player Available Method
This method relies solely on taking the best player available. The benefit, obviously, is that you are getting a high scoring talent with each pick. The problem with this method is that you could get many players on one team. If the team plays poorly that week, your entire team suffers. You could have many players at one position and only be able to play a few of them, leaving points on your bench where they don't count! The benefit, however, is that you are taking high productivity individuals who will give you the best chance to win. If you ever need to make a change they're great for trade-bait too! This method can give you problems, but it can also leave you with ammo to solve those problems and really improve your team on the fly!
Many websites, experts, and drafters follow tiers. This is the idea that differently skilled players fall into tiers that are higher or lower based on projections and past seasons. Tiers can be based on whatever you think is best, whether that's targets, carries, points scored, yards, touchdowns, etc. Tier-based drafting simply means you're doing your best to draft as many tier 1 players as possible. Once they're gone, you try to get as many tier 2 as possible, and so on and so forth. This usually will leave you with a strong team but will abandon drafting for positional needs and simply on skill. This is similar to drafting the best available player, but it's based on however you tier your players beforehand.
This is something I find myself doing often. Many experts will tell you to wait until the final rounds to take a tight end, kicker, or defense. If you follow the reaching method it means you are going to pass on the mid-tier RB or WR and go for the best defense, kicker, or tight end available even if it's early in the draft. This ensures you're getting a top player at that position and keeps your starting lineup strong, while your bench may be weak. If a starter gets hurt, you might find yourself without a great replacement, but if you get lucky you could have a great starting lineup where the points matter.
What Position is Most Important in Fantasy?
Draft Day Must-Haves
Fantasy Football Tips for Beginners
When you arrive on draft day, you need to have a few things in order to truly be prepared. You'll need a blank roster sheet, a top 200 players list, a list of your rankings and tiers, your computer, a pen, and your personal cheat sheet. Some of these things can be incorporated together, such as the top 200, tiers, and cheat sheet. The importance and things needed for each are listed below.
Bring Blank Roster Sheets
As you draft, you'll need to see who you've chosen along the way. Most drafts last a few hours and it's easy to forget how many players you have at a certain position, what areas you still need, and how many picks you have left. By bringing a blank sheet and filling it out as you go, you have a reference and don't need to worry about those things anymore. Make sure your roster list has the exact number of positions and picks your league allows. There's nothing worse than drafting for a team with two RBs and only being allowed to use one.
Bring Your Own Top 200 Players List
You will find these lists everywhere once preseason starts. It will be hard to tell which one to follow, especially because NFL, ESPN, CBS, and every other network will have their own experts saying different things. What I typically do is get a list for scratching off random names, and a list from a site that averages the ranks from various sites. It will take a few minutes to find a site that lets you do this, but once you do it helps you get a clear consensus from all the experts on who they think will play best that season.
Bring a Rankings and Tiers List
Your rankings and tiers list is the most important part of your draft. This is your guide to who you've decided is the best group of players to be picked for your teams. You'll know how many tier 1 players you think are available, and how you've ranked each player. It's a good rule of thumb to color code your tiers so it's easy to glance and find them in the list of hundreds of players. It's also good to give an indicator or color to top 5 ranked players at their position, as well as top 50 players overall. This can help you in later rounds when you aren't sure who to pick, especially if it's late and you find a top 50 player still sitting on the board waiting to be snatched up.
Use Your Computer
No matter how much research you've done or papers you've brought, breaking news won't come on pen and paper. Most drafts take place during the third week of the preseason or earlier. You don't want to be the person who drafts a player only to find out they blew out their knee in practice earlier or was suspended for drugs yesterday. You'll have downtime between your picks to quickly research your potential picks and make sure they're good to go. Just be sure no one sees you googling unless you want them to steal your pick before you get the chance!
Create Your Personal Cheat Sheet
This is your Fantasy Bible. Each person's cheat sheet is different, pertaining to their strengths and strategies for their team. A picture of my cheat sheet is shown above, and you can see I focus on a few things. Like I said before you can combine some of these necessities. My cheat sheet has players ranked overall and by position, it's color-coded by tier which is based on my own personal factors, I have the average projected points by the experts as well as their average rank, I have their average draft position so I have an idea of where they'll be picked, I have their potential ceiling and floor for points in the season as well as the potential loss per game if they bust, and I have their average projected points per game. The redder the loss section, the more chance they have to bust. The greener the points per game, the higher chance they have to score. This looks like a lot of work but a lot of it can be imported from sites and then arranged color-wise to your liking. The coloring of my cheat sheet takes the vast amount of information I have and simplifies it so I can have a potential list of 3-5 potential picks ready to go by the time my pick comes back around.
Fantasy Draft Day Strategies
Fantasy Football Terms to Know
There are many terms you'll need to know in order to understand what is going on throughout your season.
Handcuffing is when you take the backup RB that sits behind your main RB. In the event that your RB gets injured, the backup will immediately start. This saves you from having to find a replacement via trade or waiver wire.
The waiver wire is where all the players who aren't claimed for a team sit. You have the opportunity to replace a player on your team with a player from the waiver wire every week. Think of these players as free agents who everyone has claim to. Based on your performance in the league, you will have higher or lower chances to pick the top players. This varies by league, but for instance, the top player typically chooses last and the worst player typically has the first choice.
As I mentioned above, there are players who can be paired with a QB to double your points. If a QB throws a touchdown to a WR and you have both players, that one touchdown in real life counts as two in fantasy for your team. This can be a great tool if you have a top QB who throws a lot of touchdowns to one target (i.e. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson, Matt Stafford to Calvin Johnson).
A player with the potential to bust has a reason they may not meet expectations or completely fail to come close. Busts are top picks who get injured early in the season or don't perform for various reasons. To avoid a bust, try not to draft injury prone players, players returning from serious injuries, and often times players who have switched to a new team that season.
A sleeper is a relatively unknown player who will play well this season. Rookies, undrafted free agents, or players who are in new situations tend to be known as sleepers. These players are gambles who could turn out good or bad, so be careful! An experienced league will have a good grasp on who they think the best sleepers are on draft day, so make sure to do your homework and make notes on your cheat sheet as to who you want to target later in the draft.
Cheaters! Keep on the lookout for players who gift their opponents with good players in return for nothing. Sometimes people don't respect the game and work together in order to have a better chance to win! Don't be this person, and use your veto rights on unfair trades when necessary!
The League: Collusion
Important Fantasy Tips and Tricks
We've covered quite a few draft tips and terms, but this is a final list of good tips and tricks to keep in mind before and during the season.
Whether this is your first or one hundredth fantasy season, you need to take advantage of mock drafts. You can get online and test different strategies for free against total strangers to see which works best. You can choose which pick you'd like to be and see what it will look like whether you pick first or last. This will give you an idea of where players are going, as well as which strategy will work best for you.
Trading in fantasy football is one of my favorite things to do. I made 22 trades in one season in 2017, which took me to second place overall that year. A good trade that is beneficial for both sides is often hard to find, which is why I try to specialize in two for one trades. The object is to get an elite level player for two good starting players. Your opponent gets two good quality players that are worth putting into a lineup, and you get an elite level player who can dominate and win a game for you. If you are diligent on the waiver wire and pick up as many starting players in the NFL as you can, you can capitalize on good performances and really boost your team. I like this because, while it can leave your bench very weak, it overpowers your starting lineup and helps you with hard decisions between a good player to start and to bench. If your starters get hurt late in the year this strategy can come back to bite you, but when it works it works great.
Waiver Wire Watching
Always be on the lookout for waiver players who could get better. Occasionally a great player will get dropped for underperforming, but they will probably bounce back if they're usually consistent. Sometimes an injury will place a waiver player into a starting lineup, which gives them a chance to succeed! Make sure not to hold out hope for players for too long either. If an average player in underperforming and hasn't done well, don't be afraid to drop them for fresh players. The only players I keep are formerly elite players who may be injured or having an off time. You never know when they'll pick it back up. Most championships aren't won on draft day, they're won on the waivers.
Byes and Teams
In the NFL there are 16 games played in 17 weeks. The one week the players don't play is called their bye week. During this week your player will score zero points. You want to watch your drafting to make sure you aren't taking too many players on the same bye week. I personally weigh talent over bye weeks, but some people find this to be very important. Another aspect, as I stated earlier, is watching how many players you take from one team. You don't want the top QB and RB from the same team, because in a game where they're losing big they won't run the ball and a game they're winning big they'll only run. Both players won't be able to score in a high fashion most of the time. While some positions compliment each other on the same team, such as QB and WR, others do not. You also don't want to take too many WRs that are coupled with your QB because he may not spread the ball well enough for them all to score efficiently.
If you aren't big on social media, then make one just for fantasy. Twitter is an excellent tool when it comes to fantasy football. Follow as many outlets as you can that are professional! Listen to the Fantasy Footballers Podcast as much as you can! Get as much information as you possibly can to stay ahead of your opponents. This can help with trades, waivers, and draft day. You never know what you'll pick up that others don't.
You think you have a fantastic team and week one comes around to bring you a big fat loss. Your star QB and RB both were duds and only scored you 10 points total! Don't worry. Give those players time and don't go shopping them to the greedy hands of your experienced peers. They pray for dud week 1 performances so they can snatch those players from incompetent newbies like you. Hang on to them and see how they do. Bust status shouldn't be a worry for at least three weeks with a projected star player, and even then you should bench them and hold out hope before you give them away for nothing.
This won't help you win any games, but it will make you seem more experienced and it's more fun. Have a creative team name and hit the message boards to talk smack! The year I traded 22 times my team name was Art Vandelay Importer Exporter. If you're a Seinfeld fan you know that's a lot funnier than Team Jesse. Enjoy the league and have fun with it! Introduce a trophy like the one I made above, or the one below that my Dynasty league uses! Or introduce a yearly ring for the winners! An extra $3 per team is usually enough to cover the champions ring costs! Plus its a great tool for boasting your prior victories! We personally let champions buy their own rings so they have their choice of style, but they do get this case with their team name and year engraved. It's a personal favorite of mine. If you don't like rings, the cost of a great trophy can be divided out for merely $10–$20 each depending on your league size. New name plates can be added for very cheap and it really personalizes things. We purchased the trophy below for our Dynasty league last year and it is awesome!
How to Enjoy Your Fantasy League
In conclusion, there are a million ways that you can play fantasy. Until you get into it and find your preferred style, you'll just have to continue with trial and error. You'll have seasons where you have no idea what you're doing and win, and seasons where you think you have it in the bag and you'll bust. My first season I was the top team heading into the playoffs. However, if you want to consistently be a top contender in your league each season you should look at the tips and tricks above and see which ones work best for you. Ultimately fantasy football is about being with friends, having a few beers and wings on draft day, and enjoying each others company and competitiveness over a football season. It's a great time and can be the stage that launches years of memories. Most importantly, simply have fun!
Fantasy Football Results
I'd love to hear about your best and worst fantasy seasons below! If this is your first draft, share the results below! Also, if you have any further questions feel free to ask and I'll answer in the comments or add to the article! I'd also love to hear your best team names! Good luck on your future fantasy seasons!
© 2018 Jesse Unk
Jesse Unk (author) from Ohio on June 24, 2018:
Dad I should let you know that in fantasy there are no fanships! Unless you want to lose!
Ron Unk on June 24, 2018:
One of my biggest hurts is watching my son pull for a pittsburgh RB or WR to score.
Jesse Unk (author) from Ohio on June 24, 2018:
And Dan we'll see! If I end with a better record than you we post a picture on this article of me shaming you! Deal?
Jesse Unk (author) from Ohio on June 24, 2018:
FantasyDud I hope it works out! Let me know how the draft goes!
Dan Reed on June 24, 2018:
I won one league and lost another. How many did you win? And you may have made playoffs every year but not in every league so let’s not get carried away. And yes, Johnson is still way up on my board. A broken arm doth not make the player broken. He’ll be beast again.
FantasyDud87 on June 24, 2018:
Last year was my first year and I was fine until Wentz got hurt. This will help a lot this season. Thanks! Also, my team name is My TE Ertz When Eifert
Jesse Unk (author) from Ohio on June 23, 2018:
Dan where'd you finish last season? Ohhh yeah. Gonna take David Johnson again?
Dan Reed on June 23, 2018:
Great intro for newbs! Of course I won’t be looking for player advice from you since you know, you’ve made playoffs but I’ve got all these rings!