10 draft-day tips that can help win your fantasy league

Tiers are vital. So is physically having your draft board in your hand. Brandon Marianne Lee with all the draft-day advice you need.

| 10 months ago
(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

10 draft-day tips that can help win your fantasy league

I’m taking off the kid gloves. It’s game time for all fantasy football players out there. We need to cut through the garbage and get to real advice that will actually get results.

First, my two golden rules that are considered a bonus.

  1. Read your league settings. Then read them again. Then print them out and have them next to you while you draft.
  2. Be an adult and use a printer. Yeah, I’m talking to you, guy with some lame, mainstream cheat sheet on his iPhone who shouts out the name of guys who are already taken. You’re an annoying person. If you have the capability to mark off who’s taken, we don’t have deal with your idiocy. Go to Staples. It’s back-to-school season. Buy a printer that’s on sale. Seriously.

My second point sometimes gets laughed at, but having a printed draft sheet is a life-saver. I’ve been at many a live draft where the Wi-Fi went out, or was painfully slow. Also, there is a mind-hand connection that improves your cognitive skills. Getting the most out of your cognitive skills is how you do well during your draft. I’m here to help you do well, so ignore this advice at your own peril.

Now that you have the basics, let’s take it up a notch. The dummy on the iPhone that I talked about above isn’t a threat, but you have people in your league that will come after you. These people have a plan and now that we’re in the internet age, we all have access to much of the same information.

This site is filled to the brim with statistics and analysis that will take you from the preseason all the way through to your championship. This particular article is about process. Strategy.

These are tips that deal with strategy and the long game. These 10 draft-day tips are focused on the championship. They may not “win the draft,” but who cares? I want to win my league. If you also want to win your league, read on.

1. Average draft position is a tool you use for research, not on draft day.

If you check out FantasyPros you can see the ADP for each player on each site. All sites have Antonio Brown as No. 1 and there are other obvious players at the top. But if you look further down, there’s more of a variance. For instance, DeMarco Murray is at 61 on the NFL fantasy platform and 45 on ESPN. Don’t interpret that as, “Great, I can wait on Murray because my league is on NFL.” Instead, you know that Murray could go anywhere between the third and fifth round. If you really want him, maybe you target him at the end of the third, beginning of the fourth. If you think he’s just a guy, you’ll wait until the fifth round, and consider him a bargain if you can get him in the sixth. But you absolutely cannot wait until the fifth round because you think that’s where he should go if he’s one of the players you want to target. You can’t use ADP like that. Not on draft day.

2. Mock drafting is fun, but totally useless on draft day.

Much like ADP value, mock drafting is a research tool, not a draft-day tool. The entire purpose of mock drafting is to get a better sense of the current pool of players and to get an approximate feel of where a player might go in the draft. On draft day, let the draft come to you. If everyone went wide receiver in the first round in a PPR league and you’re at the end of the snake with the opportunity to get both David Johnson and Devonta Freeman, do it. “But in my mock draft I always got A.J. Green and Dez Bryant.” Well, wasn’t that fun? Today, you get two running backs or a still-hurt Jordy Nelson. Things change. Quickly. The discrepancies are even worse as you go further down the list.

3. Use a tiered draft sheet.

I cannot stress this enough. When you evaluate fantasy talent with regard to their designated tier, you have a much higher chance of getting value in each and every round. As part of the Draft Master tool, we have a tiered draft sheet. We call it the draft board. It’s a fantastic tool. Either way, the tiers help you see the forest from the trees. The visualization of value and how one player compares to another player at a different position will stop you from wasting draft picks on guys that you can wait on. My first few years of playing fantasy football I would go back and forth between an overall cheat sheet and another cheat sheet divided by positions. Each pick brought on anxiety as I wondered if Duke Johnson or Jarvis Landry would be a better choice. Now, I only use tiered draft sheets so I know who’s in a higher tier. Clarity matters.

4. Prep our cheat sheet to avoid losing focus in the middle of the draft.

Prior to each draft I print out my league settings (see above). Then I staple that together with a sheet of paper I fill out with my roster as I draft. And then I attach my prepped draft sheet. The first five or so rounds are pretty straightforward and usually consist of me taking best player available with an eye on balance (more on that later). But then I start taking chances. I like to draft upside guys starting in the eighth round. When I prep my cheat sheet I use a symbol to indicate the guys that I want to draft in the later rounds. Tajae Sharpe, George Atkinson, Eli Rogers, etc. I also mark guys I don’t want, like Josh Gordon and James White, who are going way too high, or C.J. Prosise, who’s a rookie who’s still hurt. Don’t use obvious colors like green and red. Don’t use obvious symbols like a star and an “x.” Instead, go with blue and black pen. Or one line and two lines. You don’t want the person next to you to see what you’re doing. If you don’t indicate some of these late-round likes and dislikes, that’s when you miss out of your favorite sleeper. I very rarely shout out in pain because I missed on a guy. I credit cheat sheet prep for that lack of stress in my life.

5. Don’t draft with trades in mind.

Don’t draft three top-tier quarterbacks because you think someone will trade with you. Three top-tier defenses is ridiculous. Don’t take your friend’s favorite player because you think he’ll trade you David Johnson. Draft the best team. You can’t have the best players at all positions. Trading could behoove you eventually, but seriously, you’re not sneaky. You are transparent and every person in that draft can’t wait for Week 1 when you have two defenses on your bench.

6. If you like balance, have at least one running back and one wide receiver on your bench before you draft a quarterback or a tight end.

Conservative? Yes. Regretful? Rarely. In most leagues you start only one quarterback and one tight end, while starting numerous running backs and wide receivers. If you miss on quarterback or tight end you are only one waiver-wire move away from fixing that problem. If you miss on running back and wide receiver, you have real problems. You want to get as many players at that position as humanly possible because it is incredibly unlikely that you will miss on all four of your top wide receivers if you follow any cheat sheet. Yes, I said ANY. The farther down the draft that you take wide receivers and running backs, the more likely it is that the player will miss.

7. Draft a backup quarterback in the later rounds. Or as I prefer, pair quarterbacks for streaming and insurance.

There are a lot of sites out there that will tell you that you don’t need a backup quarterback. That could be true if you are in a league with industry professionals. If you’re in a normal league, you want a backup. Again, is this conservative? Yes. Regretful? Not so far. In those last few rounds you’re drafting backup running backs and wide receivers who aren’t even necessarily starting. Why not grab Matt Ryan or Matthew Stafford and have some insurance? I normally wait on quarterback, so I actually consider my second quarterback my streamer. I’m in a couple leagues with Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan. I waited, loaded up on my running backs and wide receivers and finished it off with two guys I think will have high floors and are nice complements to one and other.

8. Avoid rookies in the draft. Love rookies on waivers.

I remember Odell Beckham Jr.’s rookie season well. I liked him, but I had a thing against drafting rookies so I didn’t take him in any of my leagues. But like clockwork, the bye weeks started coming up and the people who drafted him dropped him. Then I picked him up in three of my five leagues. The rest is championship history. Last year, Amari Cooper’s stats trailed off due to injury, but for the most part, rookies need time to get used to the game. They are usually more productive toward the end of your season. If you have a long, long bench, you can ignore this advice. You can hold onto rookies and wait it out. If you have a six- or even eight-player bench, you need to make moves to keep that bench fresh. You can’t have early-season dead weight. If you’re savvy, you’ll get these players right before they blow up.

9. Develop a waiver-wire plan as you draft.

Going zero-RB is trendy, and works. But it only works if you concentrate your efforts on taking running backs off the waiver wire. You’ll want elite receivers, a decent tight end and a nice later-round quarterback pairing to make that strategy work. If you go in early on quarterback and tight end, then you better have some well-researched sleepers marked on your draft-day cheat sheet and you’ll have to use up the majority of your FAAB money early in the season to fill holes. You can’t have all the good players, so deliberately choosing the position of weakness will give you laser focus when you put in for waivers. Things happen, but being prepared is always your greatest defense.

10. On draft day, your kicker matters more than your defense.

You still draft the kicker in the last round, but don’t ignore your kicker. I’m in a lot of “expert” leagues and people keep drafting kickers who might not play. Josh Brown is out Week 1 due to a domestic-violence violation. Cody Parkey and Caleb Sturgis are in a kicking competition in Philadelphia. So are Matt Bryant and Shane Graham in Atlanta. Nick Novak suffered a concussion. The list goes on and on. You want to stream your defense based on their weekly competition unless you get one of the top options. Even then, streaming is always an option. You do not want to stream your kicker. You don’t want to think about your kicker unless he consistently stinks it up. Draft a kicker who will be on the field. The kicker matters when he zeroes out. If you don’t use a kicker in your league, good for you. If you do, get on the ball.

The plain fact of the matter is that you will not win your league on draft day unless you’re playing in a best-ball format. You will win your league over the course of many weeks filled with waiver-wire pickups, injuries, matchup evaluations, trades and a little luck. On draft day, you set up a foundation from which you’ll work. You’ve got this.

Brandon Marianne Lee is a PFF Fantasy contributor, a SiriusXM host, co-founder of Her Fantasy Football and was a finalist for FSWA's Newcomer of the Year in 2014.

  • evo34

    These articles seem mostly tailored for shallow, non-auction leagues. Is that what most of your subscribers play in?

    • Billbones

      Yeah, I’m not a fan of streaming in fear of losing my waiver position or spending FAAB

      • Brandon Marianne Lee

        Totally. I think as an industry we’ve really underestimated the ease of which people can stream at different positions. The waiver position and the FAAB money is key to your success and I would rather use it on a breakout player that a quarterback I’ll drop next week when he’s NOT playing New Orleans. It’s not a “cool kids” thing to say, but it’s how I play and it works.

    • Brandon Marianne Lee

      Hi, there. Yeah, the majority of people still play in standard leagues with snake drafts. I ADORE auction leagues. I’m okay with super deep leagues, but they can get a little tedious, if I’m being honest. A lot of fantasy analysts, myself included, play in super funky leagues that take a variety of strategies to win a championship. Most people are not playing in leagues with five starting wide receivers, three running backs and three flex positions. This article is mostly aimed at the players that listened to all of this “advice” over the offseason and they want to take that to their drafts and sometimes you need to cut through the garbage to get to the truth. You can out-smart yourself on draft day. Thanks for reading!

      • evo34

        The question is do the majority of your *paid subscribers* play in unusually shallow snake draft leagues? I would think not…

        • Brandon Marianne Lee

          I think you’d be surprised. More importantly, this is a getting “back to basics” article. I play in 20+ leagues a year, most of which are “expert” leagues and people get too cute or make bizarre choices all of the time.

    • Be Walters

      Yeah, I think so. I’m pretty into fanatsy football, but auction is just not for me.

  • John

    “If you have the capability to mark off who’s taken, we don’t have deal with your idiocy. “…e
    You forgot the ‘to’ after have… who’s the idiot now? Just busting your balls. My draft starts in less than 2 hours. I am a firm believer in 95% of what you said as I too follow those rules. First ‘dynasty’ league that I’ve tried starts tonight. Draft 24. Keep 18 players every year. The shake-up is that we have a normal flex and a super flex that can also be a QB! I’m kinda brain-fried thinking about my tiers as age is a huge category now!