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Draft Strategy: Drafting for Balance (2021 Fantasy Football)

Jul 13, 2021

It’s that time of year again when everyone gets back from their summer vacations and starts researching fantasy football again for their upcoming drafts. Luckily for you, there are many of us at FantasyPros who never stopped researching and are here to help you out. Speaking of drafts, I’ve definitely made my fair share of good and bad draft decisions through the years. Something I’ve started doing recently that has been very successful is drafting my team with an eye on balance. Let me explain.

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Risk versus Stability

First things first: I like my team to have a mix of risky players and stable players. I’m not saying that a team of all risky players or all stable players can’t win. There’s no way to argue that. I’m just saying that whenever I draft for balance, I end up doing better overall. At the same time, this specific article isn’t designed to tell you who is risky and who isn’t, but instead, this article is to get you thinking about the big picture of your roster as a whole to build the best roster of players that you can to go all the way. Think about which players you feel risky about and which ones you think are more on the boring side as we go along.

For me, a risky player is someone that has question marks around them, either about injury, talent, opportunity, past production, or something else intangible. There’s isn’t one way to define risk in this game since so many factors go into player production. One player might have a lot of injury risk but is otherwise very stable. Another player might be perfectly healthy but has questions related to his role on the team or the scheme they run. A player’s risk profile also isn’t something we can easily quantify, making it difficult to compare players to each other. Overall, know that when it comes to risk, you know it when you see it and that too much of it can be a bad thing.

However you define and evaluate risk, the same basic rule applies when thinking about the overall balance of your team. Don’t get me wrong, selecting risky players in the early rounds can be lots of fun. You get to plant your flag on someone that you think will break out or someone that you think should be going earlier than others think. But some of these players can be risky for a wide variety of reasons, and understanding what kind of risk they have along with evaluating just how much risk they have can be very helpful as you flesh out your roster.

Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula to drafting for balance. There’s no cheat code to determine how much risk is too much risk because each league is unique. A team full of risky players is great for best-ball or massive tournaments where you need to stand out, but those teams can be brutal to manage week to week as the players’ specific risk profiles play out and players on your bench outscore those high-risk players in your lineup. On the other hand, drafting a team of more stable players can be frustrating for entirely different reasons. Teams with high floors may be easier to manage every week, but they may struggle to win weekly matchups since they tend to lack that upside to score a ton of points.

In my experience, the best teams are the ones that mix it all and find a happy medium. They have enough of a floor to get to the playoffs and enough upside to win it all when they get there. They look good on paper and produce well enough to beat your opponents week in and week out. This is the goal of balance-focused drafting.

Evaluating Risk and When to Reach

Evaluating a player’s risk can be difficult at first, but one easy way to start is to look at a player’s ADP or Average Draft Position. Players with higher ADPs are generally considered less risky by the community, and those with lower ADPs are potentially riskier. Obviously, this isn’t always true, and ADP shouldn’t be the only metric you base your drafts on, but it’s one data point that can help you identify how the community values a player’s specific risk profile.

In some drafts, I like to let the draft come to me, and select players that I feel have fallen to me that have a higher ADP than the pick I’m currently making. This kind of drafting based on value can be great for adding some stability to my team while also adding a lot of free value to my roster. After a few of these picks, though, I might decide to reach for a guy a round or two later in ADP to try to make sure I get him on my roster. Doing this adds a little bit of risk, both due to the potential value lost in missing out on “higher ADP” players and the fact that I’m drafting someone lower in ADP.

This kind of balance is all related to the risk profile of a specific player, but it also relates to the overall risk profile of your team. If you draft for value at each pick, then the odds are good that your team will be less flashy and have fewer high-upside players on it. Instead, try to mix this up as well. If you take a value pick in the 3rd and 4th round, don’t be afraid to reach a little with your next pick. Use some of that stored value and cash it in for a guy you love to make sure he is on your roster. This approach adds some risk while also allowing you to still build value throughout the draft to spend how you see fit.

Keep an Eye on Positional Scarcity

Lastly, when drafting for balance, I am always looking at positional scarcity, both on my team and throughout the league, as a way to add the appropriate amount of risk to my roster. The two positions in 1QB leagues with the most scarcity are RB and TE, so those are often the ones I’m keeping an eye on most. QB and WR are relatively deep and are positions I find myself waiting on since the available talent pool is pretty deep. Let me elaborate.

In most drafts, the top-tier running backs go early and often, but there’s a point where the talent pool dries up, and you’re left looking at very risky players at the position before you know it. Generally speaking, I try to build my teams to draft enough running backs to fill my RB slots before I fill all of my WR and FLEX slots. Sure, “Zero RB” can work, but you need many things to go right for that to happen, and I much prefer playing the odds with something more predictable. In other words, I’d rather be more RB-heavy leaving the draft than any other position.

The other position that gets scarce early is TE, especially in leagues with a premium on TE scoring. Regardless of the format, the top tier of tight ends may be gone by the 3rd or 4th round because they’re just that hard to come by, and each team is usually required to start one. If you get one of those guys, that gives you a very stable base to build your entire team upon. It also allows you to add risk at the other positions as you go through the draft. If you miss out on one of those stable TE options, then you will have to draft those riskier TE options later on instead, so build stability at other positions first.

Conclusion

So what do you think, is drafting for balance something you think you can pull off, or do you want to grab all of the risky players and see how it goes? There’s no wrong way to draft as long as you’re having fun, but in my experience, winning the championship is the most fun you can have in fantasy football, and drafting with the big picture in mind makes it much easier to get to that title.

Let me know what you think on Twitter, @AndrewHallFF, and stick with FantasyPros through the rest of the offseason leading up to Week 1.

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Whether you’re new to fantasy football or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Football 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with Starting Your Own Fantasy Football League or head to a more advanced strategy – like What is the Right Amount of Risk to Absorb on Draft Day? – to learn more.

Andrew Hall is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive or follow him @AndrewHallFF.

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