For fans of fantasy football, draft day is often the biggest event of the season. Not only does it afford the chance to draft a championship team, but it also allows owners to get together and talk trash about the upcoming year. Whether held at a physical location or over the Internet, you can count on a fantasy draft to renew old rivalries and set the tone for the season to come.
Types of Fantasy Football Leagues
Before preparing for your draft, you should ask yourself.
1. How many teams are in my league?
If your fantasy football league only has eight teams, you’re most likely going to walk away with a very stout-looking roster. In such a case, you may not need to prepare quite as much, since the talent pool will be deeper as the draft progresses. On the other hand, a 16-team league will require a lot of preparation, as “named” players will fall off the board at an alarming rate.
2. What kind of league am I participating in?
To understand how your draft will work, you’ll need to know what kind of league you’re in. The most traditional options are:
Redraft League – The most common type of fantasy football league. “Redraft” means that team owners will draft a completely new team each year. All players from the previous season will be thrown back into the pot.
Keeper League – In a keeper league, owners are allowed to retain a limited number of players from the previous year’s roster. The most common numbers I’ve seen range from one to four. If you do decide to keep players, you’ll lose the equivalent number of draft picks.
Dynasty League – In a dynasty league, owners are allowed to keep as many players as they want from the previous season’s roster. In fact, a player may stay on the same roster throughout his career. In dynasty leagues, a premium is usually placed on drafting young talent and watching them develop. These leagues tend to be for the more hardcore fans of the game.
Fantasy Football Draft Formats
Regardless of the number of rounds in your draft, some kind of format must be used to determine the order in which selections are made. While this may vary greatly from league to league, there are three formats which are most common. They are:
Serpentine Draft – In this draft format, the order of the first round is reversed in the second round. It is then reversed again for each subsequent round, thus creating a draft order which resembles a snake (hence the name).
In other words, Team #12 would select last in the first round of a 12-team draft. They would then select first in Round Two, last in Round Three and so on. This is the most common draft format in fantasy football.
Standard Draft – In the standard draft, players go in the same order every round. If you pick last in Round One, then you’ll also pick last in Round Two, etc. This format is not as popular, as teams picking low in the first round do not get a high second round pick as compensation.
Auction Draft – In an auction draft, each owner is given a set amount of imaginary money with which to build his team. Owners take turns placing players on the auction block, with the player eventually going to the team which bid the most money. When an owner has spent all of his money, he can no longer bid on players.
Determining Draft Order
Your league’s draft order can be determined in a number of ways. Here are a few suggestions:
Base it on the previous year’s record.
In this example, the team with the worst record last year would have the first pick this year.
Draw at random.
Put numbered pieces of paper in a hat and let everyone draw one out.
Let a computer decide for you.
Many of the websites which host fantasy leagues now have a tool which allows you to randomly decide draft order. Just put in all the team names and click a button. In a matter of seconds, you’ll have a draft order generated for you. You can also use the online tool located at http://www.fftoolbox.com/draft_order_generator.cfm.
Hold a lottery.
This option is similar to the one used by the NBA. Each team gets a certain number of balls (or pieces of paper with their name written on it) based on their record the previous season. The league champion might only get one ball, while the poor schmuck in dead last might get 12 or more. You then draw as normal to determine order.
Things to Bring to Your Fantasy Football Draft
Whether you’re a veteran or a rookie, there are a number of things which you can bring to make your fantasy draft run more smoothly. Most of these aren’t required, but you’ll probably thank yourself later for remembering them.
A copy of the rules (This will serve as a handy reminder of the league’s scoring system and drafting method.)
A cheat sheet or projection sheet (Every fantasy football magazine has a cheat sheet, or you can print up one for free online.)
Money (Unless your league is completely free, be sure and bring some cash to cover entry fees, the league website, etc.)
Pens, pencils, paper and/or a highlighter (Useful for marking off players as they’re selected and making notes to yourself or others.)
Clip board (Or some other hard surface to write on.)
Folder (To hide all your hard work from prying eyes. If nothing else, add a cover sheet to your rankings.)
Blank roster grid (An excellent way to keep track of who has what.)
List of bye weeks (There’s nothing worse than finishing the draft and realizing that all your runners are off the same week. A list of the bye weeks will keep that from happening.)
Soft drinks or beer (If someone else is hosting, it’s only fair to at least bring some soda. Some owners like to bring beer in the hopes that their opponents will get smashed and make poor decisions later in the draft.)
The trophy (If you’re defending league champion, be sure to bring the trophy so you can taunt your opponents with it. That’s half the fun of winning it in the first place.)
Auction League Draft Tips
While more general draft tips will be offered later, I thought I should throw in a few just for those of you who participate in an auction league, as it’s certainly a horse of a different color.
Get someone to chart rosters and remaining money
Auction drafts tend to be fast and furious, and it’s a real pain sometimes to keep up with how much money each team has left. If you can get a friend to come over and help out, then all the better.
Determine the value of players
While it’s not necessary, astute action leaguers may want to go through each player and figure out how much they’re willing to spend on them. That way, when the bids are flying, you’ll know when it’s time to raise or drop out of the action.
Watch out for spending tendencies
Does one owner always bid a lot on Cowboys’ players? Maybe another owner always saves his money at the beginning of the draft and then spends like crazy later on. Or how about the guy who likes to bid up players that he has no interest in? By observing these tendencies, you�ll be better equipped to react on the fly.
Don’t break the bank on one player
While the great thing about an auction league is that every player is up for grabs, it’s also wise not to spend all your money on one guy. If he goes down with a knee injury in the second week of the season, you could find your team looking very thin.
Elect players that will bring out the bids
When it’s your turn to throw a player onto the auction block, try and select someone who will draw the most bids possible. Remember, you want the competition to spend up all their funds. It also helps if it’s a player that you have no interest in. Just make sure and start the bidding low, or else you might get stuck with the player.
General Fantasy Football Tips
Now that we’ve covered a few tips specifically for the auction leagues, let’s review some helpful advice that applies to almost any draft.
Know the players
It’s helpful to be familiar with as many players as possible. In longer drafts, I’ve seen guys scrambling about because all the players on their cheat sheet were gone. Be sure and keep a list of deep sleepers and backups for later in the draft. When the pickings get slim, you�ll be ready to make your move.
Pay attention to the needs of the other team
If you’re trying to decide what to get with your next pick, it can often be helpful to look at what the other owners already have. If everyone has a quarterback, for example, there�s a chance that you can let that position slide for another round and get that can’t-miss runner that you’ve been eyeing. Then, you can grab your QB in the next round.
Watch out for bye weeks
It’s probably a good idea not to have both your quarterbacks off on the same bye week. Of course, if you already have a stud QB and another one keeps falling, it might not hurt to grab him, even if their bye weeks are the same. This will allow you to go with the hot hand and maybe trade one of them later to address another need on your roster. Whatever you decide, it’s a good idea to be conscious of when the various NFL teams are off.
It’s important to have a plan during the draft, but it’s also important not to be a slave to it. Maybe all the top players you wanted at a position are gone, so it might not hurt to alter your strategy and take a stud player from another position. If the remaining running backs suck, you can always wait a round and get an equally sucky runner.
Watch out for wandering eyes
Players will try to peek at your notes, so be sure and keep them hidden. Here’s a true story. One year, the guy sitting next to us at the table was on the clock. Our team was up next, so we were busy looking at our rankings. We had it turned to the tight end page, and a guy from the Cardinals was our highest rated remaining player at that position. The guy next to us sneaked a peek and grabbed the player before us.
But it wasn’t all bad news. The tight end from the Cardinals sucked that year (big surprise) and we took our next highest rated tight end with the very next pick. That player? An unknown named Antonio Gates. We’re still laughing about that one.
Don�t get drunk at the draft
Drunk people do stupid things, and you don’t want that to happen to you (not to mention the fact that you may be driving home after the draft). Keep a clear head while those around you are draining bottle after bottle. In the later rounds, you’ll have a nice little advantage for yourself.
Here’s another true story. We used to play fantasy football with a guy who always got blitzed at the draft. In fact, he was usually smashed by the time the first round rolled around!
One year, he tried to draft a retired kicker sometime in the later rounds. Our commissioner was nice enough to inform him of the retirement, so he selected someone else. The following round, he selected the retired kicker a second time. Our commissioner just sighed and added the player to his roster.
Don’t be afraid to trade
Whether it’s moving up, moving down or swapping players, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger on draft day trades. Sure, one might occasionally blow up in your face, but taking risks is part of what fantasy football is all about. Be bold and be a winner.
Picks in the later rounds don’t have to be worthless
A lot of owners look at a 19th or 20th round pick as useless, but that’s not always the case. Sure, it’s harder to find a gem in those rounds, but that’s where preparation and study come in.
For example, one year my friend and I had the very last pick in a 12-team, 20-round league. We knew Brad Johnson (the starting QB for the Vikings) got hurt a lot, so we took a flyer on Randall Cunningham. Sure enough, Johnson went down and Cunningham had a super season throwing to Cris Carter and rookie Randy Moss.
We got our starting quarterback with the very last selection in the draft (after 239 other players were off the board). A large amount of luck was also involved, but you get the point.
Backups are a good idea
Especially in the case of running backs, it’s always a good idea to get your starter’s backup. Sure, it eats up a roster spot, but just think of how many successful running backs over the last five years have come off the bench. By handcuffing your runner, you�ll be in decent shape if the worst should happen.
Don�t get cute
I’ve been in a number of drafts with people who do stuff just to be cute. For example, one guy I know is always the first to take a kicker, but he does it in the middle rounds. Not surprisingly, he’s never won the league. Another veteran of one of my leagues makes a point to always be the last person to draft a quarterback. While you might find it amusing, this sort of behavior isn’t going to help you win a title.
There are plenty of other tips and techniques for a fantasy football draft, but I should probably let you discover a few of them for yourself. After all, there’s no substitute for experience. Just remember that the ultimate goal of fantasy football is to have fun. If you keep that in mind, everything else will take care of itself.