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Re-Entering the Fantasy Landscape: Draft Strategies

| September 2nd, 2021


There are thousands of fantasy football draft analysts out there and you can consume their content in any form you want. They got draft kits for sales. They have daily podcasts. They all write the same columns: Sleepers! Bold Predictions! Round-by-Round Value Selections! The Fantasy Industrial Complex has grown large enough to make Dwight Eisenhower blush.

My first draft in 18 years is tonight. My league is, let’s just say, unique. There are twelve teams and you are forced to draft the following:

  • Two QBs (Start 1)
  • Three RBs (Start 2)
  • Three WRs (Start 2)
  • Two TEs (Start 1)
  • Two Kickers (Start 1)
  • Two Defenses (Start 1)

You must draft exactly in these slots. No stockpiling at positions. This is a half PPR league but with no flex, the league actually skews more towards the quarterback and tight end than almost any other league out there. So here are some draft strategies I’ve developed over my several weeks of research, focused specifically on this league. Maybe they’ll help you if you’re drafting over the next six days. Maybe they won’t.

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#1 Make a Board, Stay True Early

Rounds one and two of a fantasy draft feel the same to me as rounds one and two of the actual draft. You’re looking for the guys who will carry your team for the duration of the season. For me, that means the following:

  • Even if this draft has an early run on QBs, I’m not going there. Do I think Josh Allen is going to have a monstrous season? I do. I think the Bills are going to throw the ball in 2021 as much as any team in NFL history. But the value doesn’t present itself for me until round three, where I can put Allen on a roster with a frontline back and wideout.
  • Do I like Darren Waller and George Kittle? Yes. But do I think the gap between those two and, say, Mark Andrews or TJ Hockenson will be wide this season? I do not.
  • I can argue for taking Travis Kelce as early as fourth or fifth overall. Other than Kelce, it is best available running back/wide receiver with these two picks.
    • I think Austin Ekeler is going to be Kamara in Joe Lombardi’s offense.
    • Joe Mixon seems like the most undervalued guy in the analysis I’ve read; he’s got that backfield all to himself.
    • DK Metcalf has been available at the backend of most second rounds. If he’s your second pick, you’ve had a brilliant start.
  • Dalvin Cook isn’t on my draft board. Maybe he’ll stay healthy but history says he won’t. I’m not taking shots on the chronically-injured until the mid rounds, where the value emerges.

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#2 Pay Attention to Positional Drop-Offs

With quarterbacks, it is once they stop running. Mahomes, Allen, Murray, Jackson, Dak and Russ seems like a definitive top tier to me. Those guys are points machines. With a Rodgers, a Herbert, a Brady, you’re looking for them to produce touchdowns at an usual level for them to be top fantasy producers. This is why a common refrain is “just wait and take Tannehill late”.

With tight ends, there are five tiers.

  • Tier One: Kelce.
  • Tier Two: Waller, Kittle.
  • Tier Three: Pitts, Andrews, Hockenson.
  • Tier Four: Guys like Tyler Higbee. (Robert Tonyan, Noah Fant, Logan Thomas…etc.)
  • Tier Five: Shots worth taking. (Jonnu Smith, Cole Kmet, Pat Freiermuth…etc.)

For my draft strategy, if Tier Three has been selected and I don’t have a tight end, I’m looking to pair two guys from that Tier Five. I’d much rather draft a third back/receiver with potential (Trey Sermon/Michael Pittman) than a plodder like Dallas Goedert. I can always stream production from that position over the course of the season.

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#3 Shots Over Byes

There seems to be a common belief in a league like this that once you draft a quarterback, you pair him with one that’s got a favorable matchup on his bye. (Same goes for tight end, defense, kicker and – to a lesser extent – running back, receiver.)

Not for me.

What if Justin Fields’ coach wakes the fuck up and plays him? What if Trey Lance takes over in San Francisco? What if Freiermuth’s preseason rapport with Ben Roethlisberger is real? What if Zach Wilson-to-Corey Davis becomes fantasy gold? If these things happen, the players discussed become way more than just one-week spot starters.

On Josh Allen’s bye week, Fields has Tampa. Is that going to stop me from taking the shot? Absolutely not. If Fields isn’t playing that week, find the best matchup make a waivers move.

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Those are my strategies for tonight. I would summarize my approach thusly: let the draft come to you, but don’t be afraid to take shots in the mid/late rounds.

I have one other strategy: intimidation. I’m not bringing an iPad, laptop, notebook, anything. Just a single, small piece of paper with a listing of names. I’ve done the work. And the other owners are going to know that.

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