With the 2021 NFL draft behind us, it is officially time for fantasy football managers to begin the prep for the upcoming NFL season.
Yeah, I know, there is still a few more months until things start to really get serious with draft prep, but now is the time where real managers put in the work and get back to the grind.
The earlier you start, the more prepared you are for your draft and the larger the edge you will have over the other members of your league. To really succeed in fantasy football, it is crucial to know all of the factors that go into player performance on the field.
Luckily for you, we have compiled the ultimate list of tips that will help you to not only succeed in your draft, but guide you in making the right decisions that will hopefully lead you to a fantasy championship!
Tip 1 - Research starts now!
Don’t wait until August to start looking up where free agents ended up or which rookies were drafted. The more time you put in now, the less you will during draft season.
The NFL changes so much from year to year, strategies that were successful in the past are not guaranteed to be successful again. Defenses adapt to offenses and vice versa. Here is a quick list of things to look out for that I can guarantee most people in your league will not even think about:
- Which teams have new coaches or coordinators? This can drastically have an effect on how players are used. The Atlanta Falcons hired Arthur Smith, the Tennessee Titans’ offensive coordinator. Chances are the Falcons may look more like the Titans did last year than the Falcons did under Raheem Morris. The New York Jets hired former 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. He also brought with him Mike LaFleur who was the passing game coordinator in San Francisco alongside Saleh for the past three years. I can guarantee both of these guys learned from Kyle Shanahan, so we could see the Jets’ offense look much different from last season.
- Which teams revamped their defense? Team defense is such an underrated part of fantasy football and I am not talking about which D/ST you should draft. A great defense can actually hinder your offensive weapons, and a terrible defense can elevate the offense. Playing from behind is the sweet spot in fantasy football, so as long as the defense can keep the other team in the game, the offense will always be on the attack.
- Which rookies were drafted to make an immediate impact? In the NFL more than any other sport, rookies can make an immediate impact on a team at most of the key offensive positions. Think about the rookies who made an impression last year: Cam Akers, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, JK Dobbins, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, CeeDee Lamb, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and James Robinson, just to name a few. You also need to look at which team they got drafted by and what the offensive scheme is. A wide receiver getting drafted by the Patriots may not be as attractive as a wide receiver getting drafted by the Chiefs.
Tip 2 - Make Position Tiers
While it will still be a while until ADP or Average Draft Position for each site is accurate enough to follow, there is no time like the present to start making your own draft order. As things change in the off season and into training camp, you can always move players up or down depending on the news.
Creating positional tiers helps you in both snake and auction drafts by assigning either a round number or an auction dollar value number to each player. This is the best strategy you can use to ensure you do not draft players too early, depending on where they appear on a site’s ADP.
Have your conviction on players and stick to it!
Tip 3 - Be Weary of Players on New Teams
Personally, I tend to give a slight downgrade to players on new teams in most scenarios. How often have big free agent signings or trades not turned out as well as we thought? It takes time to build chemistry with a new team and a new coordinator, especially between quarterbacks and pass catchers.
A player like Kenny Golladay who signed with the Giants this offseason may not see the same volume that he saw in Detroit. Drafting him based on how he played in Detroit assumes he will be just as productive with a new quarterback, system, and division. Hey, he may be more productive, but with a first three or four round pick, I want more of a sure thing to be the foundation of my fantasy team.
Tip 4 - Review Your League Rules Before the Draft
Every league is different, and with the rules for fantasy football getting more creative each year (I see you tight end premium and point per first down leagues), it never hurts to review your own league rules before the draft. PPR or points per reception is a big one, but check out your quarterback scoring as well. There is a big difference between drafting Lamar Jackson early in a four point per passing touchdown league and a six point per passing touchdown league, and that positional edge can have an impact on your roster construction in the later rounds of the draft.
Tip 5 - Mock Drafts!
Every fantasy analyst and professional fantasy football player does hundreds of mock drafts before draft season starts. Not only do you get to form your strategies for the upcoming season, but you also get a glimpse into which players other fantasy owners are targeting or avoiding.
Mock drafts don’t count for anything so it also gives you the ability to play around with different draft strategies and help you develop your position tiers before the real drafts begin. There are plenty of sites and apps that you can use to run mock drafts now, but perhaps the best to draft on is the site that you will be using for your real draft itself.
This way you get used to the draft room environment and get a feel for how each site ranks its players before other managers in your league do!
Tip 6 - Running Backs Do Matter, Sort of
The top point getters outside of quarterbacks in fantasy football have always been running backs. Ignore the narrative that running backs don’t matter anymore. They do, well, sort of.
The top running backs can give you a positional edge that you just cannot get anywhere else, and can single handedly win you weeks and even a league. In 2020, the top three running backs, Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook all outscored any other positional players and even fourteen starting quarterbacks, although some of them missed time with injuries.
Six of the top eight and eight of the top twelve of the highest scoring non quarterbacks were running backs, and aside from James Robinson, most were chosen in the first three rounds of the drafts.
The fact of the matter is, wide receivers can score just as much as running backs, but wide receiver also has the deepest positional depth amongst all position players.
In 2019, a healthy Christian McCaffrey led all players including quarterbacks in fantasy points and in 2018, four of the top six fantasy point scorers overall were running backs. Draft them early and then draft them late again.
The top running backs are the greatest weapons you can have in fantasy football but did we mention to target pass-catchers?
Pass-catching running backs have the ultimate ceiling and a simple dump off or screen pass can lead to some massive yardage gains, and bonus points in PPR. Ever wonder why Christan McCaffrey or Alvin Kamara routinely get drafted over backs like Derrick Henry?
Catching five or six passes per game not only raises your potential ceiling but provides a safe floor every week as well. If you play in a PPR or even half-PPR league, then load up on pass catching running backs to solidify your floor and eliminate potential scoring variance from week to week.
Tip 7 - Quarterbacks Don’t Matter, sort of
The annual argument over taking quarterbacks early because they score the most fantasy points is destined to heat back up. Sure, when Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson put up 40 fantasy point games it’s exciting, but it means nothing if you sacrificed and RB1 or WR1 to draft them early.
Theoretically speaking, the advantage of owning a top tier quarterback is less than owning a top tier running back or wide receiver. Since most quarterbacks in the league can put up at least a half decent fantasy effort every week, you are almost always going to be better off taking the top-end running backs and waiting until later in the draft to take your quarterback.
Here are some quarterbacks and their overall rankings who went in late rounds or never even got drafted last year:
2020 Final Quarterback Rank
2020 Average Draft Position
If you had any of these as your quarterbacks all season long, you had one of the top players in fantasy football, and didn’t spend significant draft capital to get them on your team.
Every single one of these quarterbacks scored more points then DK Metcalf, Aaron Jones, Tyler Lockett, Allen Robinson, Adam Thielen, Jonathan Taylor, James Robinson, Mike Evans, AJ Brown, Keenan Allen, Amari Cooper, and Josh Jacobs just to name a few.
Still think it’s a difference maker to draft a quarterback in the first three rounds?
Tip 8 - The Great Tight End Debate
Tight end is always a controversial position in fantasy football, to the point where a lot of leagues are going one of two ways: tight end premium points or eliminating the position altogether.
But for standard leagues who require you to roster at least one tight end, most people tend to either draft one early, or punt the position with one of their last picks. Last season, the top five tight ends in terms of fantasy points scored were Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, Logan Thomas, Robert Tonyan, and T.J. Hockenson.
Kelce and Waller were early round picks but the last three spent much of the early part of the season on waiver wires after going undrafted. Top picks like Mark Andrews, Hunter Henry, Evan Engram, and George Kittle placed 6th, 12th, 15th, and 19th at the position respectively, although Engram and Kittle both battled injuries all year long.
Tight end is the single position with the highest disparity between the top guys and the bottom. Kelce scored 312.76 fantasy points last year, 34 points more than Waller, and a staggering 136 fantasy points more than Logan Thomas.
The drop off is real for tight ends and drafting Kelce in the second round is the same as having a WR1 or RB1 in your tight end spot. Ultimately this will come down to personal preference for each fantasy manager, but personally, I am in the camp of streaming tight ends, especially if there is a high end running back available in the second round when Kelce is on the board.
Tip 9 - To Handcuff or Not to Handcuff?
If you are wondering what handcuffing means, it is a popular strategy to hedge a top running back pick by drafting the backup on the same team. For example, if you drafted Ezekiel Elliott last season, his handcuff would have been Tony Pollard.
If you drafted Alvin Kamara, you would have drafted Latavius Murray in a later round. Handcuffing your top running back is seen as a safe strategy since running backs are also the position where players are most likely to sustain serious injuries. If you didn’t have Mike Davis last year, Christian McCaffrey’s injuries most likely sent your season off the rails.
There has been a growing sentiment in the industry that handcuffing is actually detrimental to your team overall. It requires you to stash the handcuff on the bench all season long in case a player gets injured, and can also use up some fairly high draft capital to ensure you are able to draft the handcuff.
A popular shift in strategy has actually been to draft other people’s handcuffs which would give you a bonafide fantasy star in case the top tier running back does get injured. This will always come down to how risk averse you are as a manager.
I know some managers that will never leave a draft without their handcuff because they have been burned by a season ending injury in the past. Whatever your preference is, now you know the costs and benefits to your team of employing a handcuff strategy.
Tip 10 - Don’t Forget About The Bench
The second half of your draft should be spent accumulating players with the highest upside possible. This can go hand in hand with the strategy in Tip 9 about drafting handcuffs for players on other teams, as they effectively have the highest upside in fantasy football.
Other than that, taking players who may have a prominent role in an offense or rookies who just need one player to get injured to be a legitimate starting fantasy piece.
Using late picks to target backfields that are either a committee or at the very least crowded, is a nice way of mining for value at the end of drafts. Gus Edwards, Jeff Wilson Jr., and Damien Harris are all running backs who were in situations that were unclear at draft time, but played key roles down the stretch that could have won you some late season fantasy matchups.
Skip the temptation to draft a second quarterback here as well. If you think having a handcuff take up a bench spot all season is bad, wait until you hold a second quarterback as well. Quarterbacks are always available on the waiver wire in a pinch and last season you could have added Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Kirk Cousins, or Derek Carr for free at some point during the year.
Tip 11 - Skip the Kicker and D/ST In Your Draft
A surprising number of fantasy football players are unaware that you do not have to draft a kicker or D/ST during the draft. Unless your league is set up to have a complete team drafted, you can generally draft players to fill all your bench spots, and then add a kicker or D/ST before the season starts.
Why not add two speculative rookies and see what their situation is come Week 1, instead of sitting on a kicker or D/ST whose role is definitely not going to change before the season starts.
Tip 12 - Watch Those Bye Weeks
While I don’t necessarily believe in drafting players based on bye weeks, it is always good practice to keep an eye on bye weeks as they approach. I like to look one week ahead and add players off waivers the week before if my bench can allow it.
By the time waivers run for the week ahead, you can bet other league managers are going to need to cover their own players so play this one week ahead and avoid getting into a bidding war.
Tip 13 - Manage Your FAAB Accordingly
This is for players who use FAAB or Free Agent Acquisition Budgets for their waivers. If your league doesn’t use FAAB, it should. It’s really the most fair way to give every league manager a chance at landing players on waivers each week, and is so much better than the out of date waiver order system.
You only get a set amount of FAAB every season so don’t be shy about spending it. You can always make $0 waiver claims or wait until waivers clears to add free agents, but if you miss out on a player that could help your team win a championship, you will never forgive yourself.
Being careful not to overspend on some players while knowing when to risk it all for other players is a fine balance to have, but learning how to manage your FAAB budget is a crucial part of surviving bye weeks and can be the difference between making and missing the fantasy playoffs.
Tip 14 - Be An Active Trader
We have all been in leagues where managers simply are not aggressive enough with trade offers, which can lead to the league being stagnant, especially one some teams drop out of contention.
Being active with trades requires you to be aware of transactions and other manager’s rosters as well. If there is an injury, know which player that team is on and look to see how you can take advantage.
If a team in your league has a bad start to the season, these managers are usually more willing to shake things up than managers who are undefeated. This sounds cutthroat and aggressive, but hey, you never know who might accept one of your trade offers, so it never hurts to float some offers out there and see if you get a bite
Tip 15 - Just Have Fun, okay?
Most fantasy leagues play for a cash prize, and some people really change when there is money involved. Remember that at the end of the day, your fantasy football league is for friends or family or co-workers to enjoy NFL Sundays with a little more at stake.
It should be friendly bragging rights and good spirited competition, so if things start to get out of hand, the mood in a league can go sour pretty quickly. Some great ideas for your fantasy league include saving some of the pot for a league party for the championship matchup in Week 17, or taking a cut and making a league donation to a charity as a way of giving back.
Of course we think the only way to celebrate your title is with one of our custom fantasy football trophies.
Fantasy football is a great way to enjoy the NFL every week with your friends, so next time you find yourself taking things too seriously, just take a step back and remember that it’s all in good fun.