It’s time to start preparing for your fantasy football draft. I know there are many theories about how to draft in a fantasy football league. There are so many that you may be thinking to yourself, “Why should I bother to read this?” Well, I will tell you. This is a round-by-round guide on how to draft a competitive, balanced and deep fantasy football team.

For each round, I will suggest what position you should pick and why. I will include as many pitfalls or scenarios as I can. This strategy has worked for me for more than 20 years. I may not win every time, but I am in the playoffs and have a shot at the prize at the end of the year. Take it all in, try it and contact me if you have any questions. I will be glad to help.

This strategy is based on redraft leagues with 16 rounds — a starting quarterback, two running backs, two or three receivers, a tight end, a flex, a kicker, a defense and seven bench slots. It works for just about any format outside of a two-quarterback system.

So here we go. Read through it all before you call me an idiot.

For 2019, I will quote Joe Walsh, who sang, “Everybody’s so different, I haven’t changed.” If you don’t know who Joe Walsh is, Google him and the song, “Life’s Been Good.” It’s a classic.

If you have ever read or followed my work, I have always been a RUNNING BACK guy. Even when the fantasy world changed its mantra to, “It’s a passing league, you have to draft top wide receivers early,” I never wavered. Take three running backs in the first three rounds, especially in leagues you play with a flex and even more so in PPR leagues.

This year, the fantasy world seems to be back on taking running backs early and often. With all due respect to the fantasy world, this strategy never left and never will. The more and more I hear that it’s a passing league, the more and more I believe you can draft quality receivers later and later. Quarterbacks? Tight ends? Well, unless Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz or George Kittle are available in Rounds 3 or 4, I will pass. And I wouldn’t even consider a QB until Round 8.

You can also try it for yourself by using this mock draft simulator.

Round 1: Take the best running back available, period. I do not care if you play in an 8-, 10-, 12- or 16-team league. You have to start two running backs and you can start three if you’re using a flex, so you need two studs if you are so lucky. I do not want to hear about quarterbacks EVER here. If you take a quarterback or receiver with this pick, you will struggle to get good running backs to start or add depth. I would rather have a running back such as Melvin Gordon and a quarterback such as Jimmy Garoppolo or Jared Goff than a quarterback such as Patrick Mahomes and a running back such as Lamar Miller or Mark Ingram.

Round 2: Take the best running back available. There will be some temptation to grab a receiver or tight end here. My theory: Pass on them. On average, there are 12 teams in a fantasy league. So at worst, you will wind up with the 20th-ranked receiver. According to current average draft positions, the No. 20 receiver would be a receiver like Robert Woods or Kenny Golladay. You can win leagues with those guys, especially if your running back combination is Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley. Resist the quarterback temptation. Get two during Rounds 8-10 and you will be fine at that position and deeper at running back and receiver.

Round 3: Take the best running back available. Yes, I know I am being repetitive, but think about it this way: In the real NFL, general managers are now saying teams need two starting running backs to win because defenses are bigger and stronger and injuries happen. If there are 12 teams in your league and they all follow my guide, 36 running backs would be taken through three rounds. Trust me: two to three quarterbacks, 10 to 15 receivers and two to three tight ends will be taken during the first three rounds at a minimum. So, if you follow this guide, you’ll have three starting NFL running backs, a flex, trade bait and depth. Kenyan Drake or Mark Ingram would be great options as a third running back or a flex.

Rounds 4-5: Here is where you have to really pay attention to what other owners in your league are doing. I would usually say to take the best receivers available here, but that is not entirely true all the time. Yes, I know I do not have a receiver on the roster yet, but traditionally after the top 15 or so wideouts are gone, there is a group of 30 or so whose stats are all about the same. Remember, there are 64 starting receivers in the NFL, so if you have 12 teams in your league and each team takes two, then 24 wide outs are off the board. So you’ll still have about 40 to choose from, and you can also choose receivers from teams that use three-wide sets. With that being said, take the best running back or receiver available. Maybe you can take a tight end like Zach Ertz here as well if somehow he lasts that long.

Round 6: We are looking for depth here. If you took a tight end in the fourth or fifth round, take the best receiver available. If you now have three running backs and two receivers, do not reach for a quarterback yet. Trust me. Those who already have a quarterback — and this means almost half of your league by now — are not going to take another signal-caller before they fill out their roster. So relax on the quarterbacks and take the best running back or wideout on the board. Oh, and if you do not have a tight end yet, don’t worry about it. After the first three or so, they are all the same, and the same theories I have about quarterbacks apply.

Round 7: Look for depth, depth, depth. We’re still on running backs and receivers here — maybe someone like James White or Lamar Miller if they are still around. Start thinking of “what ifs” here. What if my running back gets hurt? Will I be forced into a trade or free agency, or can I handle it with my roster? You will want to handle it and make trades and free-agency pickups from strength, not weakness.

Rounds 8-10: OK, quarterback freaks, here is your time. In 2008, I got Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Kurt Warner and Matt Schaub during these rounds. In 2011, I got Eli Manning this late. In 2012, Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III went in this range. In 2013, I got Tony Romo and Russell Wilson, so you can get quality. In 2014, it was Romo and Tom Brady. In 2016, I got Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford. In 2017, it was quarterbacks like Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. I like to take two quarterbacks during these three rounds, and unless I picked a stud tight end early, I’ll take my tight end here. In 2019, we are talking about Drew Brees, Philip Rivers or Carson Wentz.

Note: There are six rounds remaining. I should have two quarterbacks, one tight end, three or four running backs and three or four receivers on the roster. With the next six picks, I’ll need a kicker and a defense, then four picks of sleepers and rookies. This is where those in it to win it do some damage. Anyone want wide receiver Marques Colston or running back Alfred Morris? I took them during many drafts in the 16th round in 2007 and 2012, respectively. How? Why? Pay attention to training camps and injuries, look for unsettled situations at the running back and receiver positions, and take a flyer now and then.

As for rookies, they are being pushed to play earlier and earlier, so do not be afraid to draft them. Rookie tight ends usually struggle the most, but teams like the Denver Broncos and the Detroit Lions will have to rely on them early in 2019. Look for those No. 2 receivers who could get playing time. Receivers such Marquise Goodwin, Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Trey Quinn could be available here in 2019.

Rounds 11-16: Take a defense during Round 13 and a kicker in Round 14, or vice versa. Take sleepers or impact rookies with picks. 11, 12, 15 and 16. Follow training camps. They will unlock the keys to these picks. Grab depth. Yes, I am taking a kicker and defense a round or two earlier than most. It keeps you above the run on them, and you can pick players and teams that have later bye weeks.

When you are done with your draft, your roster should look like this: two quarterbacks, five running backs, five receivers, one tight end, one kicker, one defense and one more receiver or running back. You can always pick up or trade for what you need later if you drafted well and have depth. I love offering two-for-one trades to those owners who are weak at running back and receiver, which someone will be. I also never worry about bye weeks. Take the best player you can.

Don’t think it will work? Join a free league and try it. Try a mock draft or two. You can do a mock draft in minutes by clicking here or you can play a Best Ball league and try it by clicking here. See how your rosters turn out. It works. I have tested all the draft theories, and based on my years of playing this game, this draft strategy will work. It covers all the bases.

Ken Zalis

See all posts by Ken Zalis. Follow Ken Zalis on Twitter at @fansfantasy