Dynasty Strategy: Acquiring Draft Picks (Fantasy Football)
If you’ve played in a dynasty fantasy football league long enough, you’ve certainly gone through many peaks and valleys. There are times when everything seems to be breaking right, and you’ve established that perfect mix of veteran talent and young up-and-comers that should allow you to field a competitive team for the foreseeable future.
But there are other times when your team’s immediate future is bleak. Your solid veterans have aged overnight, and your young guns haven’t panned out the way you thought. And when you reach that point – when it’s clear that it’s time to go into rebuilding mode – then you need to consider unloading some of your more established players and acquiring draft picks.
The basic premise of the strategy is probably easy enough to understand. You’re dealing players who can contribute immediately to other teams for draft picks that should hopefully allow you to bulk up your roster and set you up for success a year or two down the road. But there are several considerations to take into account when looking to acquire draft picks in a dynasty league, and you should be aware of them before setting out on what is a pretty drastic course of roster reconstruction.
The earlier you look to trade, the better
The NFL has done a remarkable job of staying relevant all year long. Between free agency, offseason trades, training camp, and the preseason, there’s hardly a time where the league isn’t dominating the sports headlines.
But the excitement picks up when we begin to approach the NFL Draft. Scouting profiles, mock drafts, trade rumors, combine results – all of it.
The draft isn’t just a three-day event anymore. It’s a months’ long affair.
And as you get closer and closer to to the big day, draft fever sets in for dynasty fantasy players. Everyone becomes completely familiar with any offensive player who will get drafted and has a chance to break out. And everyone dreams of how wonderful it would be to own these rookies for years to come in their fantasy leagues.
In other words, the price to acquire draft picks gets exponentially higher the closer you get to draft day. At that point, a potential trading partner is no longer just trading an abstract draft pick that has no meaning. He’s trading away the career of Leonard Fournette, Corey Davis, or O.J. Howard.
Your best bet is to assess your team in the middle of your season and, if you determine that your franchise is in need of a makeover, make your move to acquire draft picks right then and there. Not only are other owners likely to de-value future draft picks at that point, but they’re far more likely to feel pressure to make a deal if they’re in the hunt for a championship.
But absent making your move during the season, make sure you try to acquire draft picks sooner rather than later after your fantasy season ends. Once you get closer to Draft Day, you’ll likely have to give up a whole lot more.
Do Your Research on the Future Draft Classes
Looking to acquire draft picks in a dynasty league makes sense, but not all draft classes are created equal. The value of a first-round pick one year might be worth far less than it would be the next.
Before looking to acquire draft picks, you need to become familiar with the talent-level of rookies who will be available in any given year. Obviously, projecting the quality of draft classes more than even one year out is a difficult task, but there’s often analysis of the talent that should be available in future years. Getting a sense of who will be available in future years allows you to tailor your trade demands, and perhaps get significant additional compensation in the form of draft picks for two years down the road that your trading partner may not appreciate.
If you’re serious, and if you have some free time, then nothing beats doing the legwork yourself. Watch college games or full-game videos. Don’t just watch a player’s highlight reel.
Watch full games, to see not only whether potential high draft picks have the necessary traits so find success in the NFL This is so you can ask yourself questions like: “Can your prized running back pass-protect?” and “Does your favorite wide receiver block well and run his routes on every play?”
Even if you don’t have time to watch actual tape yourself, there’s plenty of outstanding analysis out there (including Mike Tagliere’s big board on the 2018 Draft). Become familiar with the available players in the upcoming draft and future drafts (as best you can), so you can know who you might be trading for when acquiring draft picks.
Ignore Non-Quality Picks
Obviously, acquiring a first-round pick is better than a second-round pick, and a second-round pick is better than a third-round pick. And if you’ve been playing in a dynasty league for several seasons, you’ll know that once you get past the second round, you’re not usually looking at much value. As an example, below are the results of the 2016 Draft in my long-time running dynasty league, which is a PPR format:
Obviously, dynasty draft results will differ, but I found this to be fairly representative of ADP. Looking at the first round, you see that the majority of players have at least been fantasy contributors already, and the majority are at least likely to develop into solid producers by 2018.
When you get to the second round, things get a bit dicier. Jordan Howard was a fantastic surprise, Carson Wentz developed into a legitimate stud at the QB position in his second year (though he obviously missed time with an injury), and Hunter Henry is a borderline starter in fantasy leagues. Outside of that, there’s not a usable player in fantasy leagues.
Once you get to the third round, we have Jared Goff, who played himself into a potential QB1 in Sean McVay’s system, and Kenyan Drake, who benefited from the surprising Jay Ajayi trade to carry fantasy owners down the stretch. In my experience, the results of that 2016 dynasty draft are consistent with how drafts play out.
The first round gives you a bevy of players who should contribute either right away or within the next couple of seasons. The second round gives you an occasional breakout player with mostly duds. And third-round players usually need some drastic change in circumstances to become relevant.
In any trade involving draft picks, your trading partner is going to try to throw in a second- or third-round pick to sweeten the deal. For the most part, don’t bother considering them.
Sure, a Jordan Howard or Alvin Kamara will occasionally break out of the second round of your draft to become a fantasy stud. But the chances of that are low. Focus on getting back high-quality picks, even a single one, rather than trading for depth picks.
Understand the Risks
Along the same lines, it’s important to understand the risks that come along with acquiring draft picks. Take the draft results we discussed above.
Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Thomas are bonafide fantasy studs. Sterling Shepard and Will Fuller have been fantasy starters when healthy. Corey Coleman, Derrick Henry, and Josh Doctson haven’t done all that much yet but look like they may have bright futures. And Tyler Boyd, Kenneth Dixon, and Laquon Treadwell may never contribute to a fantasy team.
In the end, even when dealing with first-round picks, you’re probably looking at about a 50 percent chance at best that the player you draft will help you in any significant way within your first few years. Draft picks are unknown commodities.
Give yourself the best chance possible by acquiring multiple first-round picks if you can, but remember that there are no guarantees. Don’t feel pressured to give away the farm.