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This article is about a 6-minute read.
Every good draft starts with a fantasy team owner having a good strategy prior to the draft (or auction). The best fantasy teams result from owners that not only have multiple plans but also ones that prepare for the inevitable surprises that can come at any point – or multiple points – in the draft. Having seen many approaches and strategies, most of them tend to focus on the beginning of the draft and maximizing value early. The outcomes of these various strategies typically result in a team after 10-11 picks that has 3-5 running backs, 3-5 wide receivers, and usually a starter at quarterback and tight end. Nearly every plan yields the same outcome at this point of a draft – a starting lineup plus a few key players for depth at running back and wide receiver. But where are all the plans for what comes next?
Having participated in many drafts and auctions over many seasons, I have noticed that there comes a time in every draft or auction where one or more team owners want to take a breather or even start to mentally check out of the draft. Sometimes leagues even take a break in the middle of an auction or draft, which emphasizes this transition point in accumulating players on rosters. Not many plans focus on this area, but if it happens so often, why not? That is the emphasis of this article.
David Dodds touched on how to approach later picks in his Perfect Draft article (see “putting it all together”, point #5):
Use the final rounds to add your kicker, defense and to go after younger players in a swing-for-the-fences mentality. Our Deep Sleepers series list a lot of these types of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. Most are dart throws and could need an injury to be relevant.
The home run aspect is key here, and one of the six reasons for selecting any player after the midpoint of your draft (typically after Round 10 or 11). To keep it simple, here are the criteria in making selections in double-digit rounds:
- Handcuff or injury insurance for a player already on your team (2-4 points)
- A home run potential player who could become a fantasy starter (2-3 points)
- A player to stash due to injury or suspension (0-2 points)
- Potential for a trade (0-2 points)
- Kicker/defense/weaker second player need (1 point)
- General depth player (0 points)
In addition to listing the six reasons, I also put a point value on each one to help grade each potential selection as your draft proceeds. The points can adjust somewhat according to your league rules, but essentially you want to get as many as possible points with each pick. All of the rules are additive, meaning that a pick of a player that fits several criteria can score well above five or six points. Let’s dissect each reason, one at a time:
- Handcuff or injury insurance for a player (2-4 points). This is a relatively basic guideline, but one that comes into play nearly every season. If you invest in a player with an early pick, grabbing their handcuff or likely replacement is worth far more to your team than anyone else’s, so that warrants the higher score. It is also more imperative to add your backups than to allow other teams to grab them and force a trade if you even get the chance to get that player later. That puts this rule at the forefront and incentivizes you to secure your top running back’s understudy. More points will be awarded towards an RB1 handcuff and also if there is a clear handcuff for that top back versus a likely committee situation in the event of an injury.
- A home run potential player who could become a fantasy starter (2-3 points). This is the most common reason to take a player later in the draft, but the upside is often avoided due to some players being far more “boom” or “bust” in the later rounds. The downside risk is minimized in the double-digit rounds as you already have your starters (and quite possibly a bye week backup or two as well). Take a player that could become a weekly starter if everything goes right, else this is just a depth player – which is hardly worth anything.
- A player to stash due to injury or suspension (0-2 points). Another overlooked advantage comes from scrutinizing your league rules. Do you have an opportunity to add/drop players before Week 1? If so, there is little reason to take a kicker at all, and possibly not even to take a defense either. That means one (or two) more swings at a home run player – and hopefully, one that will either be worth something or nothing at all before Week 1 kicks off. Either way, it is worth the gamble to draft a flier of a running back who could move up the depth chart instead of a kicker that can be grabbed just before your lineup gets set. To continue the third rule, there is also another league setting that must be reviewed for value potential. Does your league have one or more roster spots for injured or suspended players? If so, taking someone like Antonio Brown or Josh Gordon in your draft will give you the value of that player for when they are eligible to return, plus you will have an extra spot after that roster move to pick up your kicker prior to the first set of games. Every little bit of an edge can help.
- Potential for a trade (0-2 points). The argument of drafting a player for potential trade value (like someone else’s handcuff running back) comes down to how likely it is that anyone is going to make a trade in the first place in your league. If your league has some history to it, you probably already know how likely that is to happen – and quite often, many leagues rarely see any deals that happen after the draft. When in doubt, draft players to add value to your team, and your team alone.
- Kicker/defense/weaker second player need (1 point). The last two rules are barely worth mentioning, but they are real reasons that owners use to pick players later in drafts. Some owners get tired at some point or think that “all the value is gone” or say that “there is nothing left to draft, so I’ll just take my kicker/defense now”. That’s a copout and a lazy pick, but it does happen – and often before the final two rounds. Find better options until you really must take a defense or a kicker.
- General depth player (0 points). This is the worst possible reason to take a player in your draft. Drafting a player that has virtually no value above what can be found on the waiver wire adds nothing to your team. If you take a veteran tight end when there are several starters who are free agents that can catch the same 4-5 balls for 40-50 yards and maybe a touchdown each week, you are doing your team a major disservice. That guy does not need to be drafted, as he can be added to your team any week of the year. Aim higher.
Putting it into Practice
Towards the end of your draft or auction, you are likely to be considering several options. Take the time to list out a few and score them according to the guidelines above. A player like DeAndre Washington could score extremely high - seven or more points - if you are a Clyde Edwards-Helaire owner, while a team that has a suspended player roster spot could score big by taking a gamble late on Antonio Brown. Those potentials and scoring would push either player to the top of your list for a later round selection, well above anyone else as he checks several of the first four boxes. Look for similar value players with every sleeper that catches your eye to build your best team possible, and to make every pick count.
The best day of the fantasy football season is when you get to build out your team, so be prepared. Have a plan for the entirety of your draft, from beginning to end – and especially the end.
Good luck this season.
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