These Fantasy Football Draft Strategies are designed for standard Yahoo leagues (12 team, standard scoring and positions). Adjust as necessary if you have more or less teams in your league, use PPR scoring or have additional position slots or a flex spot.
If you don’t feel like reading the entire thing, I suggest scrolling to the bottom where you will see a handy chart showing which rounds most players are taken (as of today August 18th) and two strategies I recommend.
When To Pick a QB – Early or Late, not Middle
QB Option 1 – Early
Who you are picking: Newton, Rodgers, Luck or Wilson
When: 3rd-4th Round
By picking a QB this early, you are hoping they are able to put up about 50 points more than the next tier of QBs and Newton, Rodgers, Luck and Wilson have proven that they are capable of that. The downside of picking a QB this early is you are missing out on a very good WR2 (Cooper, Hilton, Thomas) or RB2 (McCoy, Hyde, Rawls) so I recommend this option to those who either have their eye on some sleepers at other positions later in the draft, or are purposely waiting on running backs (more on that later).
QB Option 2 – Late
Who you are picking: Winston, Mariota, Carr, Taylor, Cousins, Stafford, Ryan
When: 9th-12th Round
Jameis Winston and Derek Carr finished with 290 and 284 points respectively last year, which is just 25 points less than Brees and Rodgers. By waiting, you could have someone like Amari Cooper as your WR instead of someone like Torrey Smith, which is a difference of at least 50 points. There’s also a decent chance that one of the young guys breaks out this year. It’s hard to tell which one, so why not take them all? As soon as you’re happy with your starting RBs, WRs and TE, snatch all three of Carr, Mariota and Winston and hope one of them breaks out to become a top 5 QB.
Why not the middle?
Age makes me skeptical of guys like Brees, Palmer and Brady and I just don’t see the point of drafting Eli Manning or Tony Romo. There are still some decent players available at other positions in the mid-rounds as well (Matt Jones, Tyler Lockett, Jordan Matthews, Travis Kelce). If you think Blake Bortles will repeat or improve on his 2015 performance or if the next RB/WR you want you think you can wait a round for, then fine, but otherwise avoid the middle round QB draft.
When to pick a WR – Early and Often
Who you are picking: Anyone ranked in the top 26 WRs (Michael Floyd or better)
When: Pick all 3 of your WR slots by the end of round 5.
WR are worth the high price because (1) you need a lot of them (unlike QB), (2) they score a ton of points (unlike TE), (3) WR tends to be a pretty predictable position (unlike RB) and (4) there aren’t many WR waiver wire breakouts during the year (unlike RB).
At an absolute minimum you should have 2 WRs picked by the end of round 5. If that’s you, you can take a shot with a high risk, high reward player like Emmanual Sanders, DeSean Jackson, Josh Gordon, Kevin White or Tavon Austin in the 7th-8th rounds but don’t be surprised if at least 2/5 of those guys are a bust this year.
Use 1-2 of your bench slots on WR sleepers but no more. You can typically pick up some OK WR3s on this waiver wire in the first couple of weeks before the bye weeks start.
When to pick a RB – the great debate
RB Option 1 – The Zero RB Strategy
Who you are picking: DeAngelo Williams, Jeremy Langford, Arian Foster, Matt Jones, Melvin Gordon
When: Rounds 6-7
For years the go-to draft strategy for Fantasy Football was to take running backs with your first two picks and then fill the rest of your roster after that. However, two years ago something called the “Zero RB” strategy started to gain popularity. The idea is that while everyone else is picking running backs in the first 5 rounds, you fill your team with the best WRs, QBs and TEs and then grab some plugs to fill out your week 1 roster at RB. Things look a little dire in week 1 as everyone else’s team is stacked at RB with guys like Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch and Le’Veon Bell but a few weeks later, those guys are all hurt and you’ve picked up their backups from the waiver wire. Now you still have the best WRs, QB and TE in the league and you have some now-starting running backs that put up RB1 numbers and you win your league.
The most popular justification for the Zero RB strategy is the bust rate among running backs and last year, the number of busts in the first two rounds at RB were astounding.
If you are going to use the Zero-RB strategy this year, DeAngelo Williams is your best friend. He put up a whopping 191 points (4th best RB overall) in Yahoo last year, despite only starting 10 games. While Le’Veon Bell is supposed to be back and healthy again as the starter, he’s suspended for the first 4 games this year so Williams should give you RB1 numbers for four weeks, enough time to pick someone up from the waiver.
Guys like Matt Jones, Jeremy Langford and Melvin Gordon could provide a lot of value where they are being picked around the 6th round and Arian Foster and Jonathan Stewart will likely provide some great numbers until they inevitably get injured.
Absolutely fill your bench with running backs that could potentially break out. Keep an eye on Derrick Henry and Christine Michael in the preseason to see if they can carve out larger roles in their team’s offense and don’t be afraid to grab the backup of an oft-injured starter like Spencer Ware or Jay Ajayi.
RB Option 2 – Classic
Who you are picking: Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Adrian Peterson, Lamar Miller, Le’Veon Bell, Doug Martin, Jamaal Charles, Mark Ingram, CJ Anderson, Devonta Freeman, Eddie Lacy, LeSean McCoy
When: First 2 rounds
While the logic for the Zero RB strategy is sound, one has to ask why the strategy for years and years was to pick RBs first? Two reasons:
1. Scarcity – a 12 team league requires 24 starting RBs and there aren’t that many good ones in the NFL at any given time.
2. Variance – top RBs can outscore middle tier RBs by as much as 100 points.
The problem is predictability. For years there were obvious choices at 1st overall. For a while it was Marshall Faulk and then Priest Holmes and then LaDanian Tomlinson but since then there hasn’t really been a multi-year consensus #1 pick. Adrian Peterson probably should have been that guy but he keeps getting injured and suspended every other year.
But what if this is the year that that changes? While the top 3 picks (Gurley, Johnson and Elliott) are unproven, all three are freakishly athletic and going to be given all kinds of opportunity to succeed in their offenses. If you want to take a risk, I have absolutely no problem with you selecting either of the three of them with your first overall pick, and you may be able to get one of them as late as pick #8.
In the second round you can pick up guys like Doug Martin or Davonta Freeman who topped the RB points list last year, or you can hope for bounce-back years from talented RBs in good situations like Lacy, Charles or Anderson, or you can pick Le’Veon Bell and wait out his suspension. I won’t argue against any of those choices.
The classic approach to RB selection is great for casual fantasy football players who are either new to fantasy football or just don’t pay attention enough to beat out their obsessed friends on the waiver wire to get the mid-year breakout RBs.
It’s also great for anyone that likes to wait on QBs and TEs. If you like the strategy of grabbing the young QBs in the late round and you like the TE’s available in round 6, going RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE is a great strategy to use.
When to Pick a TE – Gronk and then everyone else
TE Option 1 – Gronk
When to pick him: 1st Round
Here is a list of the top 7 TEs from the past two years:
Only Gronk and Greg Olsen are consistent. Otherwise the tight end position has basically been a clusterf#@%. One has to be wary of injuries when picking Gronk but he is the undisputed #1 TE and worthy of a mid-late first round pick.
TE Option 2 – Middle Rounds
Who you are picking: Reed, Olsen, Kelce, Walker, Fleener
When: 4th-7th Round
Reed is extremely injury prone so I will likely be avoiding him at the end of the 3rd round but if he falls into the 4th I could justify taking him and then probably try to add Tyler Eifert later on as an injury handcuff. Eifert would have been a top 4 TE choice this year but he is recovering from ankle surgery and will be out for the first 4-6 weeks of the season.
I really like the value of Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker in the 6th round where there are some pretty mediocre WRs and RBs ranked. That would be my #1 choice for when to pick a TE.
Once Fleener is off the board (probably round 7), the rest of the TE draft board is a flaming pile of garbage, many of whom will be spending their preseasons on the sideline with an injury (Barnage, Eifert, Green, Graham), competing for a job (Cook, Sefarian-Jenkins), or are just plain old (Gates, Witten). If I miss out on the top 6 TE’s, I’m just going to be waiting until somewhere around round 11 to pick a TE and I would probably target Dwayne Allen or Martellus Bennett and then go throw up.
When to pick a Kicker – Last
If you are wondering this, welcome to fantasy football. The answer is in the 14th or 15th rounds, assuming your draft is 15 rounds long. Which kickers will do well each year is not particularly predictable, nor is there a big difference between them. The gap between the 4th and 10th best kickers last year was 8 points.
Gostkowski deserves to be the first kicker off the board, but after that it’s a coin flip. You could go with the most talented kickers (Tucker, Bailey), the kickers tied to the best teams (Catanzaro, Gano) or the kickers tied to the terrible offenses who are completely incapable of scoring touchdowns and settle for field goals (Santos, Gould) or the ones who kick in the mountains where the air is thin and the ball goes farther (McManus) or in domes with no wind (Walsh, Barth). You do you. The point is, it doesn’t matter.
When to pick a Defence – as soon as you run out of position players you like
Who you are picking: Denver, Seattle, Arizona, Carolina, New England, Houston, Minnesota, Oakland, LA
When: Round 8-12
Like kickers, there isn’t much separating the good defences and the mediocre defenses in terms of points. Unlike kickers however, it’s a little more predictable who the good defences will be compared to the mediocre ones. Denver, Seattle, Carolina and Arizona will be ranked near the top of the DEF draft board for a reason. I also don’t mind some of the up-and-coming defences such as Oakland and Minnesota this year.
So the strategy is this – As soon as you run out of position players that you really want to pick, choose a DEF and try to get one of the 9 I listed above.
Many fantasy owners like to micro-manage their defences too, by constantly switching in defences that are playing terrible teams. If that’s you, Cleveland starts off the year @ PHI, vs. Bal, @ MIA, @ Wsh and all four of those defences should be available on waivers.
The Chart Below shows 2 strategies. In Blue is the Zero RB strategy used with a late first-round pick (6-12) with a QB and TE taken early. The Green is the classic strategy for RBs combined with the late QB strategy.
Good luck with your drafts! Please feel free to leave comments telling me what you think of the strategies I listed or showing off a strategy of your own.