How to Prepare for Your Dynasty Rookie Draft: February Edition (2021 Fantasy Football)
We are still a few days away from Super Bowl LV, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start preparing for your upcoming rookie draft for next season. In fact, for fantasy managers in dynasty leagues, this is exactly the time to start getting ready. Dynasty leagues are won and lost during the offseason because that’s when your team-and the rosters of other teams in your league-will change the most.
Trades are difficult in dynasty leagues because there are multiple layers of projection to consider, plus the situation is often a win-now team making a deal with a manager rebuilding or retooling their roster. But with rookie drafts, the right picks can turn around the trajectory of your team for the next several years without having to give up anything to acquire them. That’s what makes rookie drafts so important and valuable.
In this piece, we’re going to cover how you should be preparing for your rookie draft in February. Let’s get to it.
February is a good time to evaluate everything about your dynasty team. Take an honest look at your team and your results from last season and ask yourself these questions. Where are you in the rebuild/retool/win-now cycle? Should you be attempting to get younger to freshen up an aging roster, or are you perhaps one or two pieces away from competing for a championship? What positions over- and under-performed based on your preseason projections? And where do you need help the most, both in the short-term and in the long-term, going forward? This will help you paint a clearer picture of your team and your offseason roadmap.
Evaluate your performance as the manager of your team, too. Heading into last season, were you honest with yourself about the talent level on your team (and were you correct)? How did you perform as a fantasy manager during the season, and did you help your team more than you hurt it? What were your right and wrong about, both before the season and during the season? The answers to these questions can help you determine where you need to get better as an evaluator and a manager, and they’ll help guide you in your research.
Do Your Homework on the Rookies
This one goes without saying, but it’s time to start really digging in on the upcoming rookie class. We aren’t getting an NFL Combine this year, so things will be a little different. But the 2021 Senior Bowl just wrapped up, and I wrote stories on Players to Watch, Practice Notes, a complete Senior Bowl Game Recap, and Winners and Losers from the week. The Senior Bowl is great because it isn’t just a bunch of Day 1 draft picks competing against each other. You’ll see players from this game drafted in every round, and many of them will become sleepers who begin to rise up draft boards in the coming weeks.
On top of that, it’s time to start taking a look at NFL mock drafts from analysts and dynasty draft rankings. While mock drafts are rarely very accurate, they will at least provide the names of the skill position players likely to be drafted early. Start to do your own homework and build your own big board of NFL draft prospects who could be fantasy assets based on their eventual landing spots. You’ll have to come back to this board and tweak it in the coming weeks and months, but doing the legwork now will go a long way once you see where these guys get drafted.
Study the New NFL Coaches
This is one you don’t typically see in these offseason advice pieces, but I think it’s important this year. NFL teams hired seven new head coaches this offseason, and every single one of them is a first-time head coach. We don’t have a complete idea of what their philosophies are or what their offenses will look like just yet, so it’s in your best interest to read up on them and find out what to expect.
For some coaches, it will be easier than others. Nick Sirianni, the new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, was the offensive coordinator for the Colts and former Eagles OC Frank Reich and hired the offensive coordinator from the Chargers. That offense should, in theory, look pretty similar to what the Colts and Chargers did last year and what the Eagles were doing before the dumpster fire of 2020. Expect them to run the ball a little more and utilize more short passes to get players in space, regardless of who the quarterback is. Same for Arthur Smith, the offensive coordinator for the Titans who is now the head coach of the Falcons. Expect to see them run the ball more and utilize more play-action as compared to the wide-open pass-heavy approach they have been utilizing in the last couple of years.
But Robert Saleh, Urban Meyer, Brandon Staley, David Culley, and Dan Campbell? Those coaches will be a little bit more difficult to figure out. Start by taking a look at the offensive coordinators they hired because they will give you the best initial glimpse into their offensive philosophy. After that, read up on their initial interviews because you can be sure they were asked questions about what their offenses will look like.
And knowing about these coaches will help you determine how players will fit into their schemes in the coming weeks and months, once we start seeing some roster movement.
Track Rosters and Evaluate Fits
NFL free agency doesn’t begin until March, and the NFL Draft isn’t until the end of April. But now is the time to start tracking roster movement for NFL rosters. Players are going to start being released (or reported to be entering free agency or reportedly going to be released soon, etc) shortly after the Super Bowl, and we already saw a blockbuster trade this week. Just like it’s good to familiarize yourself with NFL schemes, it’s smart to have a good idea of the basic roster construction for these NFL teams.
I bookmarked the FantasyPros Depth Charts page because it’s something I look at every week, both during the season and throughout the offseason. I’ll also keep an eye on sites like OurLads to quickly cross reference rosters.
The goal here isn’t to study every player on every single roster and memorize them but to familiarize yourself with the general roster construction for these teams, especially for the skill position players. If a major wide receiver like Allen Robinson leaves the Bears in free agency, how are the Bears most likely to fill that spot? Are the Carolina Panthers likely to draft a quarterback in the first round based on their current roster? If you stay up on the latest roster movements, you’ll be quicker to identify good and bad landing spots for the rookies in your upcoming rookie draft.
Create a Plan
February is the time to plan. Most dynasty rookie drafts take place after the actual NFL Draft in April, though that isn’t always the case. Free agency doesn’t start until March. The waiver wire in your league is probably locked, at least for a short period of time. So, there isn’t a ton of actual action that you can take.
But you can create a plan for the rest of your offseason, beginning with the advice above. Do your homework on the new coaches, the incoming rookies, and their potential fits on NFL rosters. Be honest in your evaluation of your current roster, and identify your short-term and long-term needs. Start creating your own personal big board of fantasy-relevant rookies and comparing it to what the experts at FantasyPros are putting out there.
If you start creating a solid plan in February, the work you have to do in March, April, and May will be that much easier.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.
Mike Maher is an editor and featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive, follow him on Twitter @MikeMaher, and visit his Philadelphia Eagles blog, The Birds Blitz.