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.
This has been a wild year, as you already know. We usually learn so much from OTA’s, depth charts and so on. Drafting is a bit of a leap of faith in fantasy football this year, but the time to prepare is now, so let’s begin.
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 30 years. I may not win every time, but I am in the playoffs and have a chance at the big prize at the end of the year. Take it all in. Try it and contact me if you have any questions (@FansFantasy on Twitter). I will be glad to help.
This strategy is based on redraft leagues with 16 rounds — a starting quarterback, two running backs, three receivers, a tight end, a flex, a kicker, a defense and six bench spots. It works for just about any format outside of a two-quarterback system. This is meant for PPR or half-PPR scoring systems, although it will work for a standard scoring league as well.
Everything as we know it has changed in 2020 — well, except me. I am still a running back guy early and often in drafts. I don’t really care what pick you have. 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 with a flex and even more so in PPR leagues.
You can try it for yourself with 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 are using a flex. You can find two studs if you are so lucky. I do not want to ever hear about drafting quarterbacks this high. Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and Nick Chubb are all running backs I will consider in Round 1.
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 football league. 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 Tyler Lockett or DJ Chark. You can win leagues with those guys, especially if your running back combination is Derrick Henry and Miles Sanders.
Resist the quarterback temptation. Get two during Rounds 8-10, and you will be fine at quarterback and deep at running back and receiver. If you want a top tight end (Travis Kelce or George Kittle) this is the round to take them. I’d pass, but if you must, this is the round. Otherwise, they will be gone.
Round 3: The trick to this round is to follow the rules. Rule 1: See Rounds 1 or 2 and repeat — unless you see Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson on the board. If you want to take a quarterback early, Mahomes and Jackson are the only two I’d consider and only in the third round. Otherwise, you know the drill.
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 receivers are gone, there is a group of 30 or so who are all about the same.
Remember, there are 64 starting receivers in the NFL. If you have 12 teams in your league and each team takes three, then 36 wideouts are off the board. Therefore, you will still have about 30 to choose from, and you can choose receivers from teams that use three-wide sets. With that being said, take the best running back or receiver available. If you love tight ends or are in a league that gives extra points for tight end receptions, Rounds 4-5 are where to take Zach Ertz or Mark Andrews.
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, do not 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 even a handcuff like Alexander Mattison if you took Dalvin Cook in Round 1 and are worried about a potential holdout. Depth helps with contingency plans, too. 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. I like to take two quarterbacks during these three rounds, and unless I picked a stud tight end early, I will take my tight end here, too. In this range, we are talking about Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Tom Brady or a younger quarterback like Daniel Jones.
Rounds 11-16: 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 flyers late.
Take a defense during Round 13 and a kicker in Round 14, or vice versa. Take sleepers or impact rookies in Rounds 11, 12, 15 and 16. (Two sleeper running backs I like this year are Darrynton Evans and Joshua Kelley.) Follow training camps. They will provide the clues to these picks. Grab depth. Yes, I am taking a kicker and defense a round or two earlier than most. It keeps you ahead of the run on those positions, and you can pick kickers and defenses with 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 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. We can work out byes later.
Don’t think it will work? 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.
Try a mock draft or two. Here is a mock I did drafting from the first spot using this method: MOCK DRAFT 1
You can do a mock draft in minutes by clicking here.
Photo Credit: Ed Sheahin/PressBox
Ken Zalis ranked No. 3 in FantasyPros’ 2019 Fantasy Football Draft Accuracy Rankings.