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Comparing Fantasy Football Draft Strategies

by Brad Cowger
Aug 22, 2016

Fantasy Football

Which is the best Fantasy Football strategy for you?

To evaluate the effectiveness of modern draft strategies, I recently completed a mock draft with fellow FantasyPros’ correspondents Eric Moody, Anthony Cervino, and Paul Maland. Each correspondent selected and attempted to replicate a particular drafting strategy. We went against our tendencies and tried to remain as faithful as possible to our designated plan. To simulate a typical draft scenario for less prepared, novice drafters, we only used ESPN rankings and supplementary materials within the ESPN mock draft platform.

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Description of Strategies

Robust RB
This strategy seeks to build your team foundation on the RB position knowing you can get high-upside, valuable receivers in the mid-rounds. More importantly, you attempt to get high-volume, bell-cow backs who get goal line touches.

Draft Starters First
The “draft starters first” strategy is what it sounds like; select your starting lineup before worrying about bench depth. Following this strategy often means you pass up high-upside, valuable players at WR/RB to fill positions often picked in later rounds. However, your starting lineup can be better, at least initially.

Best Available
This strategy entails picking the best available player regardless of whether your team is lacking in another area. For this particular draft, best available was based primarily on ESPN rank rather than need.

Zero RB
The Zero RB strategy is very popular especially after top RBs in recent drafts burned many owners due to injury or lack of performance. It requires drafting several receivers in the first four to five rounds before you address other spots, particularly the RB position.

Draft Settings

For this mock draft, a 12-team standard, snake draft was used. Roster positions included: one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one Flex, one TE, one K, one D/ST, and seven bench spots. Based on a random draw, Paul Maland drafted from the first position; Anthony Cervino drafted from the second position; I (Brad Cowger) drafted from the third position; Eric Moody drafted from the eighth position. See results of draft below based on strategies used:

round 1-8draft 3
Paul Maland: On “Robust RB” Strategy

In stark contrast to WR-heavy trends in 2016 drafts, I used the robust RB strategy for this mock draft. The potential downfall of the Zero RB strategy is you miss out on three-down, bell-cow backs. Using the Robust RB strategy, I selected Todd Gurley first overall and Eddie Lacy in the second. When I got to the third round, I did not value any RBs high enough to invest a third consecutive pick on RB and therefore drafted Alshon Jeffery. In rounds four and five, I drafted DeMarco Murray and Latavius Murray, respectively. I feel strongly that my roster will undoubtedly be the strongest at RB of all 12 teams.

After going RB heavy in the first five rounds, I started filling my roster with other positions. In addition to drafting Jeffrey in the third round, I was still able to roster the following high-upside WRs/TEs: Allen Hurns (sixth), Sterling Shepard (seventh), Gary Barnidge (ninth), Devin Funchess (10th), Michael Thomas (11th), and Eric Ebron (12th). In standard formats, I don’t overvalue most of the QBs and therefore got great value with Philip Rivers in the eighth round and Andy Dalton in the 14th. I added the Arizona D/ST and Cairo Santos to finish off my roster. Overall, I would say I am confident in this roster and this draft strategy. The robust RB strategy might be one that you need to consider for your upcoming draft.

Anthony Cervino: On “Draft Starters First” Strategy

Filling starting positions including D/ST and kicker in a fantasy draft, to me, is an older philosophy of the game. Much to my surprise, I selected Antonio Brown after an unanticipated selection of Todd Gurley preceded my pick. In round two, I would typically target a running back but saw a great value at the 23rd spot with Brandin Cooks. After drafting two WRs in the first two rounds, I drafted Thomas Rawls in the third for my RB1. In the fourth, I selected my third wideout to start in my flex position, Jarvis Landry. I valued Landry higher than any other player on the board at the time due to his upside as the No. 1 receiver in Adam Gase’s system.

I went with upside in the fifth round and chose Arian Foster as my RB2. There were better receivers available, but I remained loyal to my strategy and foresee Foster having a huge year if he remains healthy. To continue filling out my starting lineup, I drafted Coby Fleener. After missing out on Aaron Rodgers, I decided to wait on my QB and eventually drafted Tom Brady in the seventh and Tony Romo in the 11th. Both QBs have QB1 potential, and Brady finished only behind Cam Newton last year in fantasy points scored. I look for him to have another huge year after his four-game suspension. The biggest downside of this strategy was selecting my D/ST in the eighth round and kicker in the ninth, but I was able to get probably the game’s best at each position in Stephen Gostkowski and the Denver D/ST.

To complete my draft, I attempted to add potential high-upside depth to my WR position and strong RB handcuffs. I selected Travis Benjamin in the 10th, Dorial Green-Beckham in the 13th and Mohamed Sanu in the 15th.This strategy, in my eyes, is out-dated and could destroy your season if you select your D/ST and kicker as early as I did. But, this strategy could be effective if you remained flexible when needed. If you fill your starting positions minus the D/ST and kicker, your team will be notably stronger and have better depth on the bench. Target your D/ST in the tenth or later and leave your kicker to the second to last round to better utilize this strategy.

This strategy, in my eyes, is out-dated and could destroy your season if you select your D/ST and kicker as early as I did. But, this strategy could be effective if you remained flexible when needed. If you fill your starting positions minus the D/ST and kicker, your team will be notably stronger and have better depth on the bench. Target your D/ST in the tenth or later and leave your kicker to the last round to better utilize this strategy.

Brad Cowger: On Using the “Best Available” Strategy

In the spirit of drafting best available, I had an easy time selecting Odell Beckham Jr. with the third pick and Jordy Nelson in the second round. In the third and fourth rounds, I drafted Cam Newton and Delanie Walker. I swayed from overall rankings slightly but went with the best positional rank. In other words, I selected the number one QB and number four TE instead of a top-20 WR or RB. With perhaps the most puzzling pick of the draft, I selected Russell Wilson in the fifth round because he was the number three QB overall and I viewed him as best available even though I did not need another QB behind Newton. As a result of this strategy, it cost me at the RB position because my starting RBs will more than likely be Duke Johnson Jr. and DeAngelo Williams.

To conclude my draft, I primarily went with the highest ranked overall (according to ESPN rankings) player regardless of need. I’m confident many drafters who employ this strategy would sway slightly from only going by rank, but I felt it was necessary for the purpose of this comparison. I was able to add some depth at RB and WR with players like Marvin Jones, Charles Sims, and Tyler Lockett, but know I missed out on players I believed in or wanted.This method can be an effective strategy especially if you let the draft come to you and use some flexibility in the plan. For instance, even though Russell Wilson was the best available, it would be better for a drafter to go with the best available “needed” player. Of course, I could trade Wilson, but a more logical choice would have been to draft a need considering I already owned the number one QB in Newton.

This method can be an effective strategy especially if you let the draft come to you and use some flexibility in the plan. For instance, even though Russell Wilson was the best available, it would be better for a drafter to go with the best available “needed” player. Of course, I could trade Wilson, but a more logical choice would have been to draft a need considering I already owned the number one QB in Newton.

Eric Moody: On Using the “Zero RB” Strategy

Drafting from the eighth position and following the Zero RB method, I selected  A.J. Green as my first pick. He will get tons of targets with the Bengals due to the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. I selected Mike Evans as my second pick and also expect him to get a high number of targets and have positive TD regression as Jameis Winston’s primary receiver.

Next, I drafted Demaryius Thomas, who is undervalued in fantasy drafts due to concerns over the Broncos’ starting quarterback and more of a focus on the running game. However, the Broncos employ a zone-blocking scheme and relentlessly target the X wide receiver. I am comfortable deploying Thomas as a WR3 that can provide WR1 numbers on any given week.

Typically, fantasy drafters would begin drafting for other positions, but using the Zero RB strategy I selected Randall Cobb in the fourth round. Even if Nelson is back at full strength, both receivers finished in the top 10 in scoring for their position in 2014.

I swayed from my original plan in the fifth and sixth round and got great value for Jeremy Hill and Melvin Gordon. Hill had 11 TDs in 2015 and has the potential to be a bell cow in the Bengals’ offense based on his body of work. Gordon is one of my favorite bounce-back candidates. He was not given many red zone carries last season and also dealt with injuries. Now healthy and with Ken Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator, Gordon will be in a position to succeed.

I selected Jordan Matthews in the seventh round and believe he will rebound in 2016 and be the primary receiver in targets and a focal point in the red zone. I selected Justin Forsett in the eighth round hoping he can earn the starting spot for the Ravens and return to 2014 form. I picked Antonio Gates in the ninth round in hopes that he will continue to be a red-zone threat for a position that is TD-dependent. Now trying to build RB depth, I selected Isaiah Crowell in the 10th round anticipating he will be the favorite for early-down and goal-line carries in the Browns’ offense.

I would consider Devontae Booker one of my late-round lottery tickets. If C.J. Anderson were to miss time due to an injury, then Booker becomes a plug and play RB2 for fantasy. I selected Zach Miller in the 12th round as my second tight end. He was very productive filling in for Martellus Bennett late last season. Miller will be the third option in the passing game behind Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White.

I selected Matthew Stafford in the thirteenth, and Marcus Mariota in the fourteenth round of the draft. The Lions have always averaged a high number of pass attempts due to their lack of a running game, and Mariota can generate fantasy points with his rushing ability.

Summary

After evaluating all of the above rosters, it is clearly evident that each one of the draft strategies above can yield a championship team. However, it is also apparent that each approach led to multiple missed opportunities. There are pros and cons to every draft strategy which makes it harder to construct the best roster. For the purpose of this comparison, the correspondents did not waiver from their designated plan and all experienced buyer’s remorse on picks because of being bound to the system.

For first-time or novice drafters trying to employ an above strategy, remember no magic formula will guarantee success. The best drafters are individuals who make value-based decisions, know the league’s scoring settings and have a vast knowledge of possible outcomes for players. Good fantasy owners understand that their rosters are fluid and need to be maintained and improved.Use FantasyPros’ Draft Simulator to determine which combination of strategies work best for you. When your actual draft occurs, you will be better prepared and more confident to construct a roster that works best for you.

Use our Draft Simulator to determine which combination of strategies work best for you. When your actual draft occurs, you will be better prepared and more confident to construct a roster that works best for you.


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Brad Cowger is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from Brad, check out his archive and follow him @FP_BradCowger.

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