This article is part of our fantasy football advice & strategy series.
1. Understand the Value of Quarterbacks in your League.
Quarterbacks typically dominate the total points leaderboard in most formats, but their values depend on several things including your scoring system, the number of teams in your league, the number of starting quarterbacks (including quarterback-eligible flex positions) and the required number of starting position players (RB, WR).
Whether quarterbacks get 3, 4 or 6 points per passing touchdown, whether and how much they get docked for interceptions and how many points they get per passing yard all matter.
Your league's scoring for passing yards and TDs also affects the value of quarterbacks who run – the less credit given for passing stats, the more the running quarterbacks stand out relative to their peers. Point-per-reception (PPR) leagues add more relative value to position players and remove value from all quarterbacks.
There are 32 teams in the NFL, and typically 15-20 of them have quarterbacks you'd be willing to use, though probably fewer on any given week when you take into account bye weeks, weather conditions and matchups.
In a 12-team league that starts just one-QB, you can almost always find quality quarterbacking late in your draft, or on the waiver wire. Accordingly, in most formats of that sort, you should wait until the middle to late rounds to draft one unless an elite one falls significantly below ADP.
In a 14-team league (or deeper), the position typically becomes far more scarce, as the waiver wire is usually fairly barren during the year, and owners are therefore inclined to draft backup QBs earlier. That means you wait on QBs at your peril, though the other positions in deeper leagues are scarce also – so you'll have tougher choices to make.
Number of Quarterbacks Started
In two-quarterback leagues, or leagues where you can start a second QB as a flex (essentially 2-QB leagues), the value of the position skyrockets, and getting two competent starting ones is almost essential and something on which it's worth spending early picks.
Number of Position Players Started
The number of starting position players (RB, WR) is crucially important to determining the value of quarterbacks.
If you start 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, and one FLEX (RB/WR), the ratio of position players to QB is 6:1. That's high, and it diminishes the value of QBs relative to position players. If you start 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, then the ratio is just 4:1 which is low, and it's more permissible to draft QBs early.
In a 14-team league, this ratio is often the tiebreaker for me when it comes to deciding whether to wait on quarterbacks.
Once you've figured out the value of quarterbacks, the rest of your job is typically easier. If their value is relatively low, you punt the position and load up on WR/RB unless a star QB falls so far below ADP that you have to take him.
2. Take What the Draft Gives You
People often ask whether they should go RB/RB at Pick 9 in a 12-team standard league, or if it would be better to go RB/WR. The answer is it depends.
Typically in a standard format, you should go with the best RB or WR available in the first two rounds, and any combination thereof is permissible. Even so, different choices here will have consequences which you must address later in your draft.
Running backs typically score more points than receivers. That's because they usually have more opportunities for touchdowns and they rack up both passing and rushing yards. Also, given their higher volume of touches, their scoring is less volatile than that of receivers, i.e., you can count on more consistent week-to-week production from them than you can from receivers.
But by losing out on elite receivers, you're rolling the dice on mediocre ones who are almost impossible to predict on a weekly basis. Moreover, running backs are more injury prone, so your most precious investments are more likely to lose their value if you go RB/RB.
Receivers are typically more durable than running backs, but they're limited (with rare exceptions) to receiving yards and scores, they see fewer than half the touches that comparable backs do and their production is more volatile, i.e., it's less consistent on a weekly basis.
But top receivers are reliable over the long haul, and by drafting them, you avoid the nearly impossible task of choosing which mediocre ones to start week to week. Moreover, should one or two of your middle or late-round backs win a starting job, it's far easier to count on their production than it would be for a comparable receiver.
Finally, because the league has evolved toward more running back committees, there are typically more useful backs than there used to be, and more who emerge over the course of the season.
WR/RB or RB/WR
This is obviously fine, too, and gives you some added flexibility.
3. Where to Draft a Tight End?
Getting an elite tight end in the middle rounds is worthwhile, but keep in mind a few caveats:
Tight ends are injury prone.
It's a grueling position due to the dual requirements of blocking and receiving.
Tight ends typically lack upside.
The No. 1 overall tight end often fails to outscore even the No. 10 overall receiver, who often fails to outscore the No. 20 overall running back.
You typically are required to start only one of them.
They're usually not too scarce, and more talented pass-catching tight ends have come into the league over the last five years, making good ones available late.
That said, once the RB/WR plateau a few rounds into your draft, you should consider a TE or QB.
4. Kickers and Team Defenses
In most scoring systems, these positions are afterthoughts because:
- They contribute only a small amount of total scoring.
- You need only start one of them, so plenty of choices are available on the waiver wire.
- Most importantly, both are so difficult to predict that it's only worth investing a very late-round pick on them.
5. PPR Leagues
In leagues that award a point-per reception, possession receivers and pass-catching running backs get a significant boost. All good receivers get a modest boost. Backs who don't catch passes and quarterbacks merit downgrades.
6. Auction vs. Draft
More leagues have begun to use auctions to acquire players, the strategy for which requires a separate and more lengthy discussion. The same principles regarding the value of various positions apply, however, with dollars substituting for rounds in your calculus. But bidding and nominating strategy, i.e., how to maximize your budget in the auction, requires a different skill set than that of a draft.
7. IDP Leagues
Individual Defensive Player leagues are more common these days, with so many varied starting requirements it's nearly impossible to say what's standard. As a rule, defensive players get one point per tackle, several points for sacks and interceptions and six points for TDs. As such, players who make a lot of tackles - typically middle and inside linebackers - are the most valuable commodities, followed by outside linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks and defensive ends.
IDPs rarely score enough to merit anything better than a middle-to-late round pick, but there are some exceptions for particular scoring systems.
Typically, once you hit the middle rounds of your draft, you should largely be looking for upside - potential game changers who are an injury or depth chart change away from being top players at their positions. Only rarely should you concern yourself about getting your stars' real life backups as insurance - for that, two requirements must be met: (1) The backup is almost certain to inherit the starter's entire role; and (2) The backup is likely capable of producing at least 80 percent or so of what the starter produced. If the starter is also injury prone, that makes the case more compelling and should cause you to reach a round early for the backup.
Otherwise, draft the players with most upside regardless if they're on the same team as your star players.
When to draft a backup quarterback depends on two thing: (1) Quarterback value in your league (See above), and (2) The quality, job security and health/injury proneness of your starter.
9. Distance Scoring Leagues
Some leagues award extra points for longer touchdowns, and in those, you obviously must upgrade big-play players and downgrade slower, possession receivers or plodding, bruising backs, accordingly.
Players on the Same Team
Some people avoid drafting players on the same team because if the team gets shut out, both will necessarily do poorly. Others target players on the same good team because both will likely benefit when the team does well. In my opinion, neither scenario changes your decision: simply take the best player regardless of whether you've drafted his teammate previously.
There's no reason to worry about them. Everyone has to deal with them, and it's an open question whether it's better to get it over with all at once with multiple players missing from your lineup in one week, or to be slightly compromised over several weeks. The one exception might be taking a backup QB with a different bye than your starter, but otherwise, bye weeks should not affect your draft-day decision making.
Strength of Schedule
I tend to ignore this to an extent, but of the three "miscellaneous" factors, it's the most important, especially early in the year when teams are more likely to resemble their preseason configurations. If you know a player is playing against two tough defenses in the first four weeks, you might want to downgrade him a draft slot or two, and upgrade one who has cushy matchups early. But because so much changes year to year, it's foolish to put too much stake in this, especially for games scheduled in November and December.
If this is your first year doing fantasy football, or half of your league is new to the game, you should probably ignore much of the advice I'm going to give below.
In leagues like that, just take two running backs out of the gate, wait on quarterbacks, and stock up on back up running backs and wideouts in rounds three through six. Just as when you're playing poker against beginners, there's not much point in doing anything fancy.
But fantasy football has been popular for a while now, so I'd imagine most of you have lots of experience in leagues, and also that your league-mates aren't fools, either. For that reason, the "automatically draft two-RB strategy" won't work for everyone, especially in deeper 14- and 16-team leagues.
Consider that if everyone employed that strategy, then there would necessarily be one owner who had the worst combo of backs (depending on where he drafted). And so in most experienced leagues where everyone is using their early picks on backs, it's going to make sense for some of you to grab a wideout or quarterback early on occasion.Late in the first round, you might want to draft a superstar wide receiver over an aging running back. Or maybe snag a top-tier quarterback over a risky running back with a late first round ADP.
In that case, you'll grab a solid starting back early in Round 2, and then fill in with multiple upside plays at running back in the middle and later rounds.
If one of those guys hits, and there's a good chance one will, you'll have your two backs and a superstar at QB or WR, to boot. The key point is that a top-3 wide receiver is more reliable than any but a handful of backs. There might be slightly more week to week variance among receiver stats, but year to year, the top wideouts are far more reliable than a late first-round running back.
If you pick early in the first round, you pretty much have to take a premium running back because you're not likely to get one you want on the way back. But late in Round 2 and early in Round 3, it's a great time to lock down two excellent receivers. Again, you can draft multiple upside backs in the middle rounds, and you'll most likely be better off than someone who gambled on an aging or unsettled second back early.
Some proponents of the must-draft-backs-in-the-first-two-rounds theory will point out that running backs are more reliable because they touch the ball 20 times per game at a minimum, whereas wideouts only get the ball four or five times. But as my colleague Mike Salfino pointed out, backs touch the ball with 20 people between them and the goal line. Receivers sometimes get it with none.
Consider also that receivers average 14, 15 and sometimes close to 20 yards per touch. A top running back averages close to five, and workhorse backs often produce less than that.
We might also consider a failed run – one of less than two yards when there's more than seven yards to go for a first down – the equivalent of an incomplete pass. There's really no difference fantasy-wise, so running backs don't get as many more touches as it seems.
And even a successful short-yardage conversion isn't worth anything if it's not around the goal line.
Moreover, running backs are more likely to get hurt due to their large number of touches. In fact, running backs get drilled on all 20 touches even when they get nothing for it, whereas receivers don't get hit all that often on incomplete passes (going over the middle, maybe, but otherwise, they usually get off scot free).
Finally, because running backs get the ball so reliably, it's easier to expect production out of a fill-in starter, than a fill-in receiver who might see just two passes thrown his way. If you don't have reliable receivers, you're much more likely to get a zero from a roster spot with a guy you just picked up off the waiver wire.
In a league with experienced owners, then, you're much better off taking what the draft gives you and going for value than blindly adhering to the strategy that everyone else is following.