Introduction: How to Draft Fantasy Football

Tired of being stuck in the middle of the pack in your fantasy league? Wanting to make the playoffs and make a statement to your friends? Following this instructable will help you break out of your rut and move you up to the top.  Not only will it allow you to backup your smack talk but it will get the respect and or money prize you've always wanted.  Even if you’re already an elite there are still some valuable statistics and information you can learn from these instructions.  So, move forward to the next step to take you fantasy football skills to the next level!

Step 1: Focusing on the Draft

Although, the Fantasy Football season takes place over the 17 weeks of the NFL season, the most important day of the Fantasy season is draft day.  Draft day is where and when your team is compiled and most of these players will be your base throughout the season.  That being said, it is crucial to bring your “A” game on draft day. There are three main components to having a good draft and they are: preparation, planning, and staying focused on draft day.

Prior to preparation, several references must be gathered to improve your knowledge.  It is important that you select one solid magazine that looks like something you would want to read all the way through.  When selecting a magazine, don't just look at the cover, open it up and see what it has to offer.  A good magazine should have:
1.  A top 200 rankings Cheat Sheet
2.  Several Mock Drafts from experts
3.  A section going into depth on at least the top 30 players in each position
4.  Information on each team including statistics from previous years and also projections from the year to come

An internet site, such as Yahoo Fantasy Football is another reference that will provide a lot of up to date expert advice to help you start preparing for your draft.

Step 2: Preparation

First things first, know the league information.  After gathering some references and before doing anything else, check out when the draft will be, know what positions are started, and know how points will be scored.  There are many variations between different leagues so be sure you know your exact league settings as the following examples are the most common settings but small changes can make a big difference on draft decisions.  For these draft instructions, I will use the following settings when applying reasoning for How to Draft.

A typical fantasy league will draft in late August so it is important to have up to date cheat sheets and know what players are injured or suspended at that time.  You might remember that Brett Favre retired in March but be sure to check back in August prior to your draft to see if he is back.

A default league has nine starters and seven bench players.  Starters include one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker, and one team defense.  You must start all these positions with the correct personal but the bench can contain any positions you desire.

Know the scoring!  Usually fantasy leagues score six points for touchdowns; passing, running, receiving, or defensive.  Your team will receive one point for 25 passing yards and one point for every 10 yards of running or receiving.  Offensive players also get minus two points for a fumble or interception.  Kickers get one point for an extra point on a touchdown, three points for a field goal between 0 and 39 yards, four points for a field goal between 40 and 49 yards, five points for a field goal between 50 and 59 yards, and so on.  Team defensive points are awarded for interceptions, fumbles, sacks, safeties, and points allowed.  Interceptions, fumbles, and safeties yield two points while sacks get one point.  If the defense gets a shutout they are awarded ten points, if they allow 1-6 points they get eight fantasy points, 7-13 allowed gets five, 14-20 allowed gets one, 21-28 allowed gets zero, and anything more than 28 allowed gets minus four.  Also, all points for yardage are rounded down.

Q: Here is a quick check on your math and scoring understanding: If you have a running back that runs for 67 yards, has 31 reception yards, scores two touchdowns, and fumbles once. How many fantasy points does he score? Answer is on next page!      

Step 3: Preparation - Running Backs

A: 19 fantasy points.  That running back would receive 12 points for the two touchdowns, six points for rushing yards, three points for receiving yards, and minus two for the fumble; equaling 19 points and a very solid fantasy football day.

RUNNING BACKS are the most IMPORTANT position in fantasy football.  Don't believe me? Then refer back to the draft board below or on the first page.  Looking at the first round, all ten choices were running backs and 14 of the first 20 players selected were running backs.  Coming from an experienced group of drafters, this is quality proof that they know that running backs are most important in fantasy.  Check out the graphs in step 7 for a statistical analysis proving running backs are indeed most important.

When considering and comparing running backs it is important to know a variety of factors that contribute to their performance.  Before you draft a running back, you should know:

1.  Their statistics from the past two seasons.  This can be a good indicator of what to expect.

2. Their projected statistics and why are they projected that way.  Do you think that is a fair projection? 

3.  What are some changes in their play from previous seasons?  Have they been traded, injured, had a coaching change, or did their teammates change? 

4.  How old are they?  Running backs over the age of 30 are much more injury prone and have been worn down.  Performance of running backs begins to decrease significantly once they hit their 30's.

5.  How good and healthy is their offensive line?  A good offensive line is key for a running back to get the space he needs.  Knowing each player on the offensive line of a running back you are targeting is vital.

6.  Are they the starting running back for their team?  Will they be splitting carries with another running back?  Will their goal line carries be stolen by another back?  Does their coach like them?

Picking a running back without knowing these factors about them is like buying a brand new car without giving it a test drive.  You might not like the outcome. 

Step 4: Preparation - Wide Receivers

Even though they can be very inconsistent because they rely on others so much more to be able to make plays and they also touch the ball less, wide receivers are still the second most important position in fantasy football.  For this step, we will look at ways in which you should study receivers to pick the right ones.  It is important to select some valuable and consistent receivers because three are started each week and you don't want to be starting someone who has very little chance of getting catches and fantasy points.  In that case, you will want to have at least five and maybe six wide receivers on your fantasy roster.  Before you draft a wide receiver, you should know:

1.  Their statistics from the past two seasons.  This can be a good indicator of what to expect.

2. Their projected statistics and why are they projected that way.  Do you think that is a fair projection? 

3.  What are some changes in their play from previous seasons?  Have they been traded, injured, had a coaching change, or did their teammates change? 

4.  Who is their Quarterback?  This is a huge question because wide receivers rely heavily on someone to get them the ball.  If there quarterback isn't good then they won't be as good.

5.  What kind of offense do they run?  Are they pass orientated? You will want to look at how many times they have been targeted in the passing attack.  Receivers with more passes thrown to them have a better chance of breaking out a big play.

6.  Are they the main wide receiver for their team?  Are there other receivers that will take away a lot of their looks?

Answering these questions for each receiver you plan on drafting is a must before drafting them.  It will ensure that you will have numerous options that you would be comfortable starting.

Step 5: Preparation - Quarterbacks

Since quarterbacks score the most points of all fantasy players it can be easy to think they are the most important fantasy player.  This is a major illusion!  Since each team can only start one quarterback and the difference between the top ranked quarterback's average scoring and tenth ranked is minimal it is less important to draft a top ranked quarterback.  Thus, quarterbacks are the third most important fantasy position.  But don't get me wrong, they are still very important and by knowing the following simple instructions in this step you should be able to pick out a successful quarterback without wasting too much value on him. 

1.  Their statistics from the past two seasons.  This can be a good indicator of what to expect.

2. Their projected statistics and why are they projected that way.  Do you think that is a fair projection? 

3.  What are some changes in their play from previous seasons?  Have they been traded, injured, had a coaching change, or did their teammates change? 

4.  How many pass attempts do they average per game?  Quarterbacks with more attempts have more chances to get yards and make something happen.

5.  How good and healthy is their offensive line?  A quarterback needs time to throw and the offensive line creates that.

6.  What is their team's defense like?  A quarterback playing for a team that has a poor defense will most likely get more passing attempts because they will need to keep up with the other teams scoring.

This step is full of things to think about when considering which quarterback you want leading your team throughout the season.

Step 6: Preparation - Tight Ends, Kickers, & Defense

Preparing for tight ends, kickers, and a team defenses are less important in the fantasy draft because in most situations, aside from a few elite tight ends and defenses, you will be adding and dropping these positions throughout the year based on their weekly matchups.  These players are also the most inconsistent fantasy players and require you to analyze the team they are playing.  Besides, since there are many of these players that are very similar it is smarter to stock up on wide receivers and running backs so your team has more depth in those valuable positions.  Still to compile an elite team you must be well-rounded at every position.

When looking for tight ends, you should for an athletic player who gets a lot of targets in a pass heavy offense.  Tight ends that mainly run routes are much better choices than ones that are primarily just good blockers.

To pick a kicker, look for one in a decent offense but not an extremely good offense.  Kickers get their main points from field goals so teams that move down the field but are not efficient in the red zone have the best kicker options.

Lastly, a team defense is based solely on matchups.  If you don't snag an elite team defense then wait until the 15th round and pick the defensive that is playing the worst offensive team in week one.   

Step 7: Preparation - Final Position Analysis

The final step of preparation just before planning is to review what you learned so far and start comparing the positions.  At this point you should have a good understanding of the value of each position but for more proof that having quality running backs is most important, compare the graphs below. Looking at the Top 20 2008 Running Backs graph below shows the top running back in 2008 scored 295 fantasy points during the season for an average of 18.4 points per week, while the 20th ranked running back scored just 139 fantasy points, an average of 8.7 points per week.  This is a difference of 9.7 points per week.  Although, running backs do not score as many points as quarterbacks, the top ranked quarterback averaged 22.6 fantasy points per week while the tenth ranked averaged 15.4 points per week, they do have a much larger variance from the top starter to last starter.  Quarterbacks have a difference of only 7.2 points average per week between the top and lowest ranked starter.  That larger variance for running backs shows how important it is to get quality running backs because there are much fewer to choose from.  While at the quarterback position there is less of a difference between a player you can draft in the first round compared to the sixth round.  Statistics also show wide receivers to be more important than quarterbacks but less important than running backs.  Aside from an extreme outlier the difference between the top ranked receiver and the 30th ranked receiver is usually between 8 and 9 points per week.  

Let’s use an actual draft as an example.  Say you have the third pick of the draft (Not a bad pick to have)!
Draft 1: By looking at overall scoring you decide to take a quarterback with your first choice.  Assuming that this quarterback puts up the highest points of any quarterback throughout the year he will be around 22 points a week.  You proceed to take positions that you need and respectively take a RB, WR, RB, WR, WR in rounds two through six.  By taking the average numbers from the graphs and putting them into the spreadsheet shown below you can see that these first six picks using the draft one strategy will get you 66 points per week.
Draft 2: Again by looking at the spreadsheet you can see that in this draft a running back was selected in the first round and a quarterback wasn't taken until the sixth round.  Getting the same position players in the first six picks as draft 1 but waiting until the sixth round to draft a quarterback yields an average of 73 points per week, which is seven points more than draft one's strategy for the first six picks.  The difference is, in the sixth round a decent quarterback that is ranked around seventh can still be picked up and average only five less than a quarterback taken in the first round but a running back that you get in the first round averages ten more points per week than one you can get in the fourth round.

*You might be asking, "Why are 20 running backs being compared to 10 quarterbacks being compared to 30 wide receivers?"  Look at the graphs for further information, but in short, each week the league has that many of each position starting.  Thus, only starters are being compared.*

Step 8: Planning

After preparing by studying each position, the next step in these instructions is to plan your attack.  Looking at the statistics from the graphs in the past few slides helps develop a good strategy for a plan. 

The first part of planning is to take your knowledge from preparation and turn it into your own player rankings sheet.  The image below shows my player rankings that I developed based on the information I gathered for each player.  I rank the players in tiers of their positions so I know what players to compare to one another and also create my own top 200 list for easy reference on draft day.

Secondly, put together a draft plan of what position you want for each round.  I've used the same draft plan for the past five years and it has been very successful every year.  You don't have to follow the plan exactly because sometimes it is important to follow your player rankings but it helps you base decisions and focus on what you want. The draft plan I use looks like this:
1. RB
2. RB
3. WR
4. WR
5. WR
6. QB
7. RB
8. WR
9. TE
10. RB
11. WR
12. WR
13. RB
14. QB
15. DEF
16. K 
I like to draft five running backs, six wide receivers, two quarterbacks, and one tight end, kicker, and team defense.  Having a lot of depth in the running back and wide receiver positions gives your team a lot of options during bye weeks.

Thirdly, plan around the matchups and bye weeks using the official NFL schedule.  Go through and see what matchups will give certain players more potential and notice which teams have byes on which weeks.  Also, playoffs for the fantasy football season take place in weeks 14-17, so it can be beneficial to locate players who might have an easy schedule during these weeks.

The last part of the planning step is to get some experience under your belt before the actual draft rolls around.  Participate in at least three mock drafts, fake practice drafts that are done online, before doing your real draft.  This will give you a feel of how the draft will play out and help you be ready for quick decisions you need to make. 

Now you're ready for the Draft!

Step 9: Draft Day

Draft Day has finally arrived and not to get you nervous but this is where all your hard work of preparing and planning finally comes into play.  It is important to remember to stay focused and stick to your plans.  Also, be sure to bring all your materials with you, like an open book test! 

Your main reference should be your own player rankings sheet and drafting plan.  When the draft begins it is extremely important to listen to who has been selected and cross them off your player rankings sheet, as shown in the player's rankings picture below.  This will easily help you realize who you want to pick when the clock is on you.  Another thing you should do is keep track of your own draft board and write down who everyone else picked in each round.  As shown in the draft picture below, knowing what others have already picked can help you strategize for how you want to pick.
Strategy: Wait to draft a quarterback until at least the sixth or even later depending on what others are doing.  Check out the draft board picture below for more advice. 

Although, you can't always stick to your exact plans, remember that you should try and stick to your player rankings if you can because you can use a lot of players as trade bait during the season.  It may seem crazy that you're drafting your fifth running back before your first tight end, especially since you can only start two running backs per week.  But, injuries and byes happen and having depth at the running back spot with give you more power throughout the season.

Other recommendations for draft day are to be aware of the bye weeks of the players you are drafting.  Try and get some backup players with different bye weeks then your starters so they can be used correctly.  Also, when making a tough decision, always go with your gut feeling.

On top of everything else, relax and have fun.  You are already way ahead of the rest of your league after reading through these How to Draft Fantasy Football instructions and that much closer to a big money prize from your brother, dad, or best friend.  Good Luck!