General Strategies for Deep Leagues (Fantasy Football)
I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of us play in 12-team leagues. That’s your most common league size and it makes for great competition, but leagues don’t have to be 12 teams. While the majority of my leagues have been 12 teamers, I’ve participated in leagues of 14 and 16 teams as well. There really isn’t a limit on how big a league can be.
League size impacts strategy. The more teams you have, the more meticulous you have to be about your selections. Eight- and 10-team leagues require less strategy because everyone has a super team. Unless your commissioner is increasing starting roster spots, viable WR3s are typically on waiver wires and streaming a QB is easy. Those leagues are great for beginners to get an idea of the players in the league and all of the nuances managing a fantasy team entails.
12- and 14-team leagues are similar to each other in that the waiver wire is rarely stacked, but there are still some useful players available on a weekly basis. 16 teams and up is where you really have to start changing your approach based upon where you draft. Going from 12 teams to 16 teams means that an additional 48 players are removed from the available player pool. “Zero RB” becomes far less viable because your odds of finding an RB on the waiver wire are reduced drastically. Your final couple starting players are going to be very suspect. You have to plan for this in your draft.
Make Safe Picks Early
In any sized league, if you lose one of your first couple picks, it is difficult to recover. In 16+ team leagues, it is nearly impossible. Your first two selections should be players you can trust. There will be busts as there are every year. You may very well get hit by one of them.
All you can do is decrease the probability of that happening as much as possible. To the best of your ability, avoid players with injury concerns, volume concerns, and questionable job security. Look for upside later and focus on avoiding downside now.
Position Scarcity Matters
Position scarcity matters in 12-team leagues as well, but it is increasingly important in 16-team leagues. The advantage of having an elite TE, for example, is greatly increased as the last starting TE will be, presumably, the TE16 as opposed to the TE12. If you wait on a TE, you may be starting a player that is hoping to see, at best, maybe four or five targets a game.
The late-round QB strategy also takes a hit. Every team needs a QB and you should figure at least half of the teams will roster two. That means a minimum of 24 QBs is on rosters. There are always a handful of QBs that are completely unstartable. If you typically wait until other teams have selected backups to take your starter, it’s necessary to rethink that approach. You can’t be starting the QB20 on a weekly basis.
Draft Position Matters
Not to repeat myself, but of course draft position matters in 12-team leagues. As is the theme, its importance is compounded in larger leagues. If you pick near the turns, you have the ability to get two guys you want. The downside is you’re waiting an eternity for your next pick — no one is ever making it back to you. It makes targeting specific players very challenging.
Let’s say you want a player with an early fifth-round ADP. If you pick at the back end of your draft, you know there isn’t a snowball’s chance that player is making it back to you in the fifth round. You also know that if you take him in the fourth round, you are reaching considerably more in a 16+ team league than you would be in a smaller league.
ADP is usually a pretty reliable indicator of player performance. Even if you are correct about your targeted player, you are sacrificing a substantial amount of value to get him. The decision as to whether it is worth it becomes much more challenging.
Draft position also matters as it relates to your first couple picks. The “sweet spots” vary year to year based on where the talent “cliff” is. Figure out how many elite players and second- and third-level players there are (which is basically however many players you feel comfortable anchoring your team in the early rounds), and based on your draft slot, determine how likely it is that you can get more than one of them. If there are 15 WRs you’re comfortable with, but only seven RBs, you should make it a priority to grab an RB first as it’s much more likely you can get the WR you want.
You’ll have to balance this with avoiding unnecessary risk, but that’s the challenge of drafting a fantasy team. If you pick in a spot where you can’t get any of the RBs you trust, gauge the value of taking a less reliable RB against two reliable WRs (if possible) and compare that with what your roster may look like if you don’t draft your first RB until the third or fourth round. You have to do much more projecting in deeper drafts.
Constructing Your Bench
In deeper leagues, there is really only one viable strategy for building your bench. Anyone in your league that is doing it differently is only making your job easier. You need a bench filled with boom/bust players. That’s it. In smaller leagues, you always want one or two reliable plug-and-play guys that can replace a starter and not get you zero.
In large leagues, those guys simply don’t exist. By the time you start taking bench players, anyone you’d feel comfortable starting on a weekly basis is gone. While other teams are covering bye weeks with players that will reliably get them maybe three or four points, you’re sending out splash play specialists with week-winning upside. In smaller leagues, you may want a guaranteed six to eight points. In 16+ team leagues, you want the guy that will either go 2-20 or 3-90-1.
It is also smart to draft handcuffs. Not your handcuffs (never do that), but your opponents’ handcuffs. Your focus should be on the “one step away” guys, which as you may have deduced, are guys that need one thing to happen for them to step into significant fantasy value. Usually, this means taking backup RBs that you know will replace most of the starter’s volume should the starter go down.
Bonus Strategy Tip: Managing the Waiver Wire
With at least 16 teams, the end of your bench is going to be bad. In 12-team leagues, I’ve typically dropped half my bench by Week 4. You need to be making speculative adds on any player that pops up who might end up being useful. The last one or two players on every team’s bench will likely be guys you never want to start. Do not be afraid to constantly shuffle them in and out looking to hit that home run.