Alistair has been playing fantasy sports including MLB, NASCAR, NFL, and NBA for over fifteen years.
It's All About the Winning
Before we delve into the dos and don'ts of playing fantasy football, let's talk about winning. I have seen wins happen when a kicker goes 5/5 on Monday Night Football to give my team a 0.3-point lead, and I've also seen my star running back get hurt in the very first seconds of a season and still managed to turn a winning season.
There are many paths to victory but always remember: a win is a win. It doesn't matter how you got that win. Maybe your defensive player strip-sacked your own QB for a TD. That's okay. That's positive points. Don't live and die with the minutia of your players.
How to Draft Strong in Fantasy Football
For the purposes of this article, we're going to ignore Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). While it's extremely fun, it's simply an entirely different beast than the typical redraft leagues that take the kind of time and effort over an entire season to win.
A strong draft sets the tone for your whole season. There are typically two routes my friends' teams take each year.
- They did their research. They know the rookies, the playmakers, as well as who got traded in the offseason. They've even participated in mock drafts to increase their familiarity with where each player is going to fall in the draft.
- They did not do their research. They watched football last year so it should be okay, right? Just go with your gut and don't worry about who might be injured or suspended right now.
I will admit, I've been in both camps. Sometimes life just gets hectic and my fantasy hobby takes the hit. At least spend an hour before your draft date and look into who is injured, suspended, or under-performing in pre-season games.
What Order to Take Player Positions in Live Draft
1. Running Backs
Your first pick should almost always be a running back. Someone like Le'veon Bell or Todd Gurley. The workhorses that have seen the most TDs and yardage over the last few years. Nearly proven studs like Kareem Hunt and Christian McCaffrey will also be gobbled up in the first round.
The reasoning behind drafting RBs first is that these players are (especially in PPR 0.5 and 1.0) able to have a huge impact on your point totals while also being the hardest to replace. Wide receivers that get respectable point totals are pretty easy to find in 12-team and even 16-team leagues. Running backs that produce? Damn near impossible, especially in these days of running-back-by-committee. It's tough sledding, for sure.
After you have your first two running backs, focus hard on receivers for a couple of rounds.
Some deign to grab a top-tier QB in the fifth or sixth round. In 2QB leagues, I support this idea and have gotten my favorite Aaron Rodgers several years in a row.
4. Defense and kicker
Word to the wise: Don't draft DEF, D, or K positions until the last three rounds of the draft. You're going to want to stockpile WR, RB, and TE hopefuls with your bench spots before wasting draft positions on defense, kicker, or defensive players. The reason is that defenses wax and wane heavily from year to year. They're no guarantee that the defense that scored 100 points for you last year will even get half that. There are so many off-season adjustments and new defensive coordinators. Just pick a team at the end of the draft and look for a stand-out team on the waivers later.
Utilize the Waiver Wire Properly
The waivers are, simply put, the best chance you have at getting quality breakout players as they start to perform. All free-agent players are put on waiver status until a specified time each week. This is usually Wednesday mornings for my leagues. After the waiver claims have cleared, all players are free agents again.
Tips to not waste your waiver priority:
- Don't go after completely unknown quantities. I'm looking at you, Rishard Higgins last year. Any Browns player that goes nuts on Week 1 should be ignored. Either wait for a pattern to emerge (two to three weeks of solid production) or hold your waiver priority for a better grab
- Don't go after handcuffs with your waiver claim. Handcuffs are insurance against the first-string player getting hurt and are therefore only of theoretical value.
- If you're going to use up your waiver priority, consider batching claims that week. If you're already going to lose your priority spot, go all the way and pick up two or three guys instead of just one. It's like compounding credit report inquiries all on one day so that you only get hit once in total.
Research Your Trades Properly
There are two halves to analyzing your trades. The first is finding a player you want and recognizing if you have a player on your team that their team could potentially use. The second is understanding the person you're trading with. Are they a vehement Colts fan? They may want to make you give up your top three players for Andrew Luck, even if he's injured.
Your trades are generally one-half rational and one-half irrational. It's not usually triggered by past statistics, but rather the irrational beliefs that a particular player will be better than their past indicates.
Don't get caught up in trying to judge the future. Proceed as if each player will do more-or-less as well as they have been and stake that against your own outgoing player.
Don't get desperate. Your start QB may have just gone down with an injury, but your rival teams are expecting a knee-jerk response from you. To show people that you're not desperate, consider picking up a decent free-agent QB for your roster while you shop trades for an elite-tier QB. That way you can still maintain the "take it or leave it" facade.
Don't simply accept trades because you don't want to seem like a buzzkill. There's plenty of peer pressure that goes into trading. Respectfully respond to each trade as if it's being made by a stranger. These are your friends, but with trades, it simply has to be business, not personal. They may be your comrades, but in fantasy football, everyone is the enemy.
Utilize Pro Football Metrics Sites and NFL Next Gen Stats
Pro Football Focus and NFL Next Gen Stats both have useful metrics that can turn the tide between your and your opponents. These graphs are compiled by industry experts that can show different sides to players than you can see by watching the game itself or agonizing over their stats. This is a constantly evolving area of fantasy sports and to keep your lead, you must utilize it.
Don't Get All Your Information From One Source
Often, NFL.com will have one perspective, while ESPN will have another. Fantasy football is about speculation, luck, and opportunity. If you do research before the draft, utilize the waivers post-draft, and look for trade opportunities, you'll be on the winning side of your league at the very least. Perfect your routine and set yourself up to get lucky. I look forward to seeing you in the championship.