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Top Draft Advice for the 2020 Fantasy Football Season

Aug 14, 2020

Don’t reach for Alexander Mattison just to handcuff Dalvin Cook.

Our writers are here with their top tips and advice for your 2020 fantasy football drafts.

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Q: What is your top advice for 2020 fantasy football drafts?

Trust yourself and know your leaguemates
None of us are prophetic. Although research may guide us in certain directions that allow for more accurate and expected outcomes, we don’t know what’s going to happen with each individual player. Additionally, with the proliferation of fantasy football research and rankings widely available to everyone, odds are everyone in your draft has somewhat similar draft rankings. For these reasons, intangible advantages can prove to be the determining factors in a successful draft. Specifically, trusting yourself and the work you put into your rankings/research and knowing your leaguemates can prove vital.

Trusting yourself and remaining calm is arguably the most important quality to have during fantasy football drafts, as you will be less volatile and swayed by unforeseen occurrences. Things happen extremely quickly. Players will fall, while some of your favorite targets will be snatched up before you get the chance to select them. As such, in the face of these obstacles and unanticipated scenarios, remaining placid and confident in your pre-draft work is key. If a player Yahoo ranks extremely highly — but you consider a bust — falls way past his ADP and is staring you in the face, understand and follow your research to guide your decision. Remaining true to the hours you put into the pre-draft process should lead you during each one-to-two-minute draft selection interval, regardless of the options in front of you.

This leads into the second point: Know your leaguemates. This is obviously much easier in home, friend, and work leagues than pure online ones, but it nonetheless remains integral to capitalizing on inefficiencies throughout your draft. Knowing which leaguemates are homers of certain teams, who targets the uber-hyped rookies, or which opponents always favor certain strategies (e.g., zero-RB) will allow you to better anticipate your options in the limited time you have between picks. By exploiting this advantage, you may be able to be more patient on certain players at the turn or limit uncertainty when a competitor makes a “wild” selection. These two intangible skills – staying true to your hard work in the pre-draft process and effectively exploiting your leaguemates’ tendencies – can provide you with a distinct drafting advantage that no guide or cheat sheet can provide.
– Jared Lese (@JaredL_FF)

ADPs, roster construction, scoring settings, and handcuffing
If I’m in a league with you, don’t read this write-up. But since most of you are not competing against me, I’d be more than happy to offer you my top-four pieces of advice to put you in a better position to crush your fantasy football draft. Don’t get caught up in the Average Draft Position (ADP). These are pulled from different places and vary widely based on the site. For example, Gardner Minshew could have an ADP of QB15 on one site, but an ADP of QB25 on another. Utilize one set of rankings and tiers, and base your decisions on that instead of an arbitrary ADP.

Too often fantasy players get caught up in trying to “fill out” their starting roster. Don’t fall into this trap. It’s OK to pass on Jared Goff in the seventh round to select Tyler Boyd instead. Take the value, not necessarily the position. With most leagues offering the ability to start at least three or four RBs and WRs alike, those are the positions where you’ll want the most depth and stability.

While I realize it sounds ridiculous to say this, please, please, please check your league’s scoring settings. Standard vs. half-PPR vs. full-PPR will have a drastic impact on how players are valued against one another. Are passing TDs worth four or six points, and how many points do QBs lose for throwing an interception? Austin Ekeler and Kareem Hunt are worlds better in full-PPR than they are in standard league scoring.

Finally, understand the “better” way to handcuff at the running back position. For years, we’ve thought, “I’ll take Dalvin Cook in the first round and then I’ll handcuff him with his backup, Alexander Mattison, in the 10th.” This logic is fine if you want to play it safe and own all the stock in Minnesota’s backfield. But since injuries (and COVID-19 positive test results) are completely random, why not try to obtain shares of two teams’ backfields? Get Cook, but also go get Tony Pollard. Now you have the possibility of rostering not just one, but two potential RB1s in two different backfields.
– Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler)

Focus on positions of scarcity upfront
Supply and demand is a serious factor in fantasy football, not just an economic term. At the beginning of drafts, I recommend spending your early picks on players at positions of scarcity, particularly at running back, where demand greatly exceeds supply. There are only 18 tailbacks whom I feel comfortable starting on a weekly basis, so my goal is to get two of them with my first three picks. My strategy extends beyond the first few rounds, too. In most drafts, my first six or seven picks are running backs or wide receivers. And I normally don’t even start thinking about a quarterback or tight end until Round 8. Quarterback is the deepest position in 1QB fantasy leagues, and I’m completely fine with streaming or making a trade at tight end if my late-round flier (this year it’s Hayden Hurst) doesn’t pan out. Last year, this strategy netted me Carson Wentz in Round 10 and… Lamar Jackson in Round 14. Let the rest of your leaguemates spend their early-round draft capital on the quarterbacks and tight ends. While they’re doing that, scoop up the leftover value at scarcer positions.
– Matt Barbato (@RealMattBarbato)

Study your platform’s ADP
The common fantasy football drafter too often uses average draft position as a crutch. They see the order of players suggested in the queue and start to believe that this is how the players should fall off of the board. However, like my buddy Adam Koffler said, ADP is entirely subjective depending on what platform you are using. For example, last year, platforms like ESPN, Sleeper, and MyFantasyLeague had Austin Ekeler with a third-round average draft position. However, when looking at Yahoo’s ADP, Ekeler was projected to go in the sixth round! By studying the differences in ADP between sites, I was able to grab Ekeler for a bargain in the fifth round while my leaguemates were left flabbergasted about why I would reach for him. Little did they know, Ekeler’s ADP had yet to be adjusted for Melvin Gordon‘s holdout. You may think that example is an outlier, but it happens a lot more than you would believe. Some differences could be several rounds, while others are one or two spots. Nonetheless, studying your platform’s ADP pre-draft and knowing which players are being over and undervalued could be key to coming out of your draft with an elite squad.
– Dan Ambrosino (@AmbrosinoNFL)

Take the long view
Once upon a time, there was an old farmer who worked his crops for many years. One day, his best horse — who helped the family earn a living — ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to commiserate. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “You must be so sad.” “We’ll see,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses. “How wonderful!” the neighbors exclaimed. “Not only did your horse return, but you received two more. What great fortune you have!” The farmer answered, “We’ll see.” The following day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors once again came to offer their sympathy for his setback. “Now your son cannot help you with your farming,” they cried. “What terrible fortune!” “We’ll see,” replied the farmer. A week later, military officials came to the village to conscript young men into the Army. Seeing that the man’s son had a broken leg, they passed him by. The neighbors once again went to the farmer to offer their opinion. “Your son isn’t forced to leave,” they said, “you must be so happy!” The old farmer smiled. “We’ll see.”

The days – and weeks – after your fantasy football draft are often marred by overreaction. I get it: We spend half the year tirelessly deliberating over decisions that we’ll make in, ultimately, a few hours on a summer night in late August. I keep the Parable of the Farmer, a Chinese proverb popularized in the West by British philosopher Alan Watts, close to me. It’s a reminder that we often immediately try to quantify events in terms of the advantage or disadvantage when, in fact, no one really knows. Three weeks into 2017, Keenan Allen was WR20. I got antsy and traded him. From Weeks 4-17, Allen was the WR3. Seven weeks into 2018, Chris Carson was the RB37. I got antsy and traded him. From Weeks 8-17, Carson was the RB8. If you believe in your draft strategy, the worst thing you can do is overreact because of a few marginal outputs from limited sample sizes. The best fantasy managers are the ones that play the long game and understand that championships aren’t awarded in September. If you believe in something, see it through. Whatever happens on the field (and in life), we won’t ever be sure of the consequences it may bring in the future.
– David Giardino (@davidgiardino)

Don’t reach for handcuffs
It was Draft Day 2018. I had already traded down in Round 1 to secure Christian McCaffrey with the eighth overall pick. But now I had the fifth pick in Round 8 of our 12-team PPR draft. There was an up-and-coming quarterback available. A guy I was mock drafting all summer long. A guy I LOVED. But… but… I needed to handcuff CMC! I needed to protect my first-round investment, right? Surely I could get my handcuff now and secure my dream QB in Round 9? Wrong. Never happened. I passed over Patrick Mahomes, the league’s most incredible fantasy asset in years and the 2018 NFL MVP, for… C.J. Anderson. Had I gone with my gut and not some stupid fantasy strategy, I would’ve easily dominated my league. But no, that fatal mistake saw me settle for a third-place finish, and it haunts me to this very day. Don’t be the dummy who values a handcuff over a potentially elite player. Take the starter who will score the most points and just cruise from there.
– Jim Colombo (@WideRightNBlue)

Play to win, not to avoid losing
Loss aversion-as the name suggests-describes the human tendency to prefer avoiding losing to acquiring an equivalent amount. Empirical research finds that losses have approximately twice the psychological impact than gains. Similarly, risk aversion encompasses the common preference for a certain outcome over an uncertain one, even when the uncertain gamble provides better results on average. These principles apply across the board in decision-making throughout the football world, such as when coaches decide to punt on 4th-and-short when going for it would be the optimal call based on expected win probability. As people, we don’t like to fail (more than we even should) and typically err on the side of avoiding risk too often.

If fantasy football were about finishing in the top half of your league, that wouldn’t be a problem-you might aim for eight wins every season and take your celebratory fifth-place finish. But, spoiler alert, we’re playing for a championship. Your payouts presumably skew heavily to the winner, and in a year from now, nobody remembers anything other than who came out on top. So how do we play for first? The key during the draft is to access upside, particularly in the later rounds. Tarik Cohen isn’t going to win you your league; Latavius Murray goes just behind him and was the RB1 for both weeks he started last year. Antonio Brown probably won’t play this year, but if he does sign for the right team, we’ve seen his ceiling. Someone like Cole Beasley, meanwhile, is at best a bye week fill-in whom you could replace on waivers any time. You don’t need every player to be volatile, but if you can’t think of scenarios for when an individual might meaningfully have an influence on your roster, it might be worth searching elsewhere. At the end of the day, know that you’re going to bust sometimes, and be comfortable with it. Being a bit more willing to lose and embrace risk may very well put you on the path towards winning.
– Peter Gofen (PeterJaguars)

Stay true to your draft board
The easy part of fantasy football is preparing for your fantasy draft. There is no shortage of content on the internet. You will be able to find articles about whether you should take a wide receiver or running back in the first two rounds, how long you should wait to take a quarterback, who the league-winning sleepers are, and which will sink your team. You can do mock draft after mock draft and think you know where all the players are going to go off the board. You literally could spend eight hours a day, from the day after the Super Bowl until your fantasy draft, reading articles, studying statistics, and coming up with a game plan. The problem is all that goes out the window once your draft begins, as the other managers in your league are not going to cooperate with your preconceived notions about how a fantasy draft should go. You will expect six running backs to go in the first round, but 10 will go instead. That sleeper who was not supposed to go until the sixth round goes one selection before your fourth-round pick. You think nobody in their right mind would take a quarterback before the third round, but instead, three of them go before the third round and 10 of them go in the first five rounds.

A fantasy draft can be chaotic, and the roadmap that allows you to not lose your way is your draft board. Take the best available player on that board. You need to watch for runs on players, which factors into what players you take at which draft slot, but you want to start runs on positions, not react. Being prepared is important; it will allow you to spot opportunities. You also need to be flexible and not freak out when another drafter takes your sleeper pick, or if five tight ends go in the ninth round and you have not taken one yet. Do your homework, stay true to your board, and take the best available player. If you do that, you should be in a position to make the playoffs.
– Derek Lofland (@DerekLofland)

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