The Four Biggest Mistakes Made at Fantasy Football Drafts
For those of us who play fantasy football, there is no more exciting time of the year than draft time. The fantasy draft gives us the chance to form the team we’ll be using for the rest of the season. We get to select those coveted players we’ve been eyeing all offseason. We get to experience fellowship with our league members as we debate and smack talk through 16+ rounds of player selection. However, while fantasy football drafts are incredibly fun, managers need to be aware that some degree of seriousness should be involved. After all, this is the team you’ll be using for the next 16 weeks to try to win a championship. All too often, fantasy managers make some egregious mistakes at the draft that seriously diminish the chance of winning a title from the jump. Here are the four biggest of those mistakes and what you should do to avoid making them.
Not Keeping Up with the News
Keeping up with the most recent and relevant fantasy news is vital, yet so many managers show up to drafts having only a vague awareness of the goings on in the fantasy world. There are four main aspects of news of which fantasy managers should stay abreast:
- Free agency: Even casual NFL fans and fantasy managers are aware of the blockbuster deals that sent Antonio Brown to the Raiders and Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns, but what about some less significant, ancillary moves? At the very least, you should be aware of which players switched teams in the offseason through trades or free agency and give that player’s outlook a little consideration as it relates to the new locale. You don’t want to get egg on your face by not knowing that Donte Moncrief signed with the Steelers, Adam Humphries with the Titans, and a litany of tight ends with new teams. Keep up with free agency. It’s impossible to make an informed decision about a potential fantasy draftee if you don’t know where he’s playing.
- Injuries and suspensions: This is a big one. Who’s out, why, and for how long? Those are the questions you need to answer about any player who may miss time to start the season. In 2017 in my main league made up of college buddies, we had Spencer Ware and Cameron Meredith both selected despite their season-ending injuries suffered in the preseason. The owners who selected those players wasted a draft pick and continue to be the butt of jokes to this day for their blunders. True story. Don’t be the guy who picks an injured player. That’s a major disadvantage to start the season. Keeping up with suspensions is another necessity. Kareem Hunt‘s eight-game suspension in 2019 will cause his value to fall in the draft, but selecting him with a mid-round pick may pay dividends in the fantasy playoffs. Tyreek Hill‘s potential suspension may hurt the value of Patrick Mahomes and boost the stock of Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce. Missing games impacts the player in question but also impacts those players around him. It’s important to understand the value of all involved.
- NFL Draft and rookies: Ok, so you won’t find an Ezekiel Elliott or Saquon Barkley in every rookie class, but this is where it’s vital to stay informed about important acquisitions that will affect the value of certain players. An improvement to the offensive line could give a QB more time to sit in the pocket and hit a deep-threat receiver, or improved blocking up front could mean more production from a running back. Quenton Nelson, selected by the Colts in 2018, improved Indy’s offensive line tremendously and led to Andrew Luck taking a career-low 1.1 sacks per game in 2018. This is true of fantasy defenses as well. Pay attention to top draft picks who may make a difference. Denzel Ward added a lot of talent to an already-solid Browns defense in his rookie 2018 season, and Cleveland finished second in the NFL with 31 takeaways.
- Head coaches and schemes: You’ve got to know who’s coaching in the NFL because of scheme and tendencies. Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona will likely run a pass-happy, air-raid offense and regularly take some deep shots down the field. That bodes well for Christian Kirk and potential-sleeper Kevin White. Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay means a renewed focus on the run game and a buttoned-up locker room with no nonsense. That may make Peyton Barber a value play (especially with Tampa Bay in the market for a top offensive lineman in the draft) and Jameis Winston a sleeper. Those are just a couple of examples, but coaching and offensive scheme certainly impact fantasy production.
Lack of Practice and Research
Mock, mock, mock! And once you’re done that, mock one more time. Mock drafts are an excellent tool for practicing and honing your draft chops. Mocks allow you to try many different drafting strategies, such as Zero RB, Zero WR, taking a QB early, etc. The best aspect of mocks, though is that you can mock from the draft spot you’ll have at the actual draft, allowing you to test exactly how a planned strategy may work from that position. Nothing is quite the same as an actual fantasy draft, but a mock is the next best thing. Make sure to practice before showing up to your draft. You’ll be glad you did.
Research doesn’t mean grabbing a fantasy football magazine at 7-11 on your way to the draft and skimming over some big names, sleepers, and headlines. Far from it. Research means really digging into the numbers to make the most of your draft. Some important numbers to pay attention to are “average draft position” (ADP), “expert consensus ranking” (ECR), and trends that develop between the Super Bowl and your fantasy draft. Understanding ADP is a great way to understand how the general public views a certain player and where that player is usually being drafted. You can use ADP to get an idea of how others in your league might feel about a certain player, too. FantasyPros ECR is a pure amalgamation of the fantasy industry’s best minds rolled into one handy cheat sheet to deliver the most accurate rankings available. You can use ECR to help guide your decisions on draft day, especially if you’re having trouble choosing between one player or another.
Finally, it’s important to do some additional research of your own. Is there a guy you have a gut feeling will go off this season? A guy you’re much lower on than ECR or others in your league? Put the time in to crunch some numbers and watch a little tape. You may have your opinions validated, or you may change your mind completely. Davante Parker has been pegged as a sleeper virtually every offseason since he entered the league. Seeing his name on a sleepers list and pulling the trigger on draft day has never been a great idea. Some additional research into Parker’s stats and those of his teammates could have deterred you from making that mistake. Conversely, digging into the Colts’ offensive line improvements, understanding that Andrew Luck was healthy, and checking out some film on Marlon Mack from his rookie season may have given you a brighter outlook on Mack than others before he had a huge 2018 campaign.
Not Staying Focused
This one is tough to avoid, guys. We’ve all been there. It’s a Sunday afternoon, your friends are all together in one place for the first time in months, the booze is flowing, the food is on point, and it’s time to catch up with everyone. But, in order to have the best chance at winning your draft, you have to stay focused. Cut way down on the drinking until after the draft has concluded. Same goes for those messy chicken wings that will have you grabbing for wipes instead of studying the draft board. Keep your conversations to a minimum while the draft is going on so all of your attention can be on the task at hand. Staying focused also means knowing who’s been picked and who’s turn it is – difficult to keep up with if you’re not fully locked in.
An often overlooked aspect of drafting is knowing the room. Unless you’re brand new to the league, you should know the tendencies of most of the other managers in the league. Every league has aggressive managers who are bullish on certain guys and take them way too early, and some managers are just uninformed. Exploit their mistakes, and use them to your advantage.
Understand position runs within your draft. If the last five picks before your turn were tight ends, you may want to skip on picking a tight end and focus on another position, knowing that the next best available tight end should still be there in another round. The same is true of paying attention to the rosters of fellow managers. If you have pick 8.11 and have the choice between a solid WR or a solid TE and the manager picking at 8.12 and 9.01 is already set at tight end, take the receiver. If that same owner has no tight ends on his team, it’s probably best to snatch your man, knowing he won’t be available to you after two more picks.
You’ve got to come to your fantasy draft with a strategy. Show up without one, and you’ve already lost. The strategy that you come with should be the culmination of keeping up with the news, doing your research, and practicing (see above). The strategy you choose doesn’t need to be a generic formula you’ve read about (i.e. Zero RB). Rather, it can be an outline of how your perfect draft would go based on all of the information you’ve gathered. Of course, the perfect draft doesn’t exist, and many factors out of your control will cause you to miss out on some guys you planned to draft or force you to pivot to another position sooner than you’d hoped. That’s ok, because as a responsible fantasy manager, you’ve come up with a backup plan should things go awry (they will). Keep alternate scenarios in your back pocket. Most importantly – be flexible! Draft strategies can (and should) change in an instance. Take what is given to you even if it doesn’t fit the plan you laid out. If you wanted to load up on RBs in the first two rounds, but Julio Jones is still available at pick 2.09, don’t pass on the value.
A great draft strategy involves a lot of time, effort, and thought. An excellent way to maximize your strategy is to compile your own rankings and break them down into tiers. You can then use your personalized list to determine when you should reach for a player, how long you should wait to take a player before he becomes a value, and who are the true sleepers and late-round pickups that may give you the advantage over your fellow league-mates.
The four draft mistakes listed above are easily avoidable with a little time, effort, practice, and patience. If you come to the draft armed with knowledge, practice, focus, and strategy, you’ll position yourself to build a championship-winning squad in no time!