Staying with the theme of fantasy firsts, let’s talk about the draft. If you already have fantasy football experience, feel free to skip this–but I’d encourage you to read on and reminisce about your own first draft. Your first draft can be nerve-wracking, especially when you are facing players with more experience. To help ease the nerves, it is important to know that you don’t win or lose the league on draft day.
Note: When discussing specifics about drafts or matchups, I’ll be assuming a 12-team league, 0.5 Point Per Reception (PPR), 4 Point for Passing TD, 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, and a Flex (RB, WR, or TE). If you’re in a 2QB or Superflex (QB, RB, WR, and TE) league, then the draft strategy will be a bit different.
In my rookie fantasy season back in 2007, the first pick was LaDainian Tomlinson. He was followed by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Tomlinson won many folks fantasy championships during his prime, and although Manning and Brady are two of the GOATS, you’ll rarely see a quarterback drafted that high these days (maybe if it is a two-QB league). Quarterback play is vital to the quality of actual football, but the quarterback pool is so deep that the difference between QB1 and QB12 is less noticeable than the difference between RB1 to RB24 or WR1 to WR36.
Today, the first round will mainly be comprised of running backs and wide receivers. Accordingly, I drafted 11th and landed Joseph Addai. However, I immediately fell victim and drafted a quarterback too early. At 2.02, I took Vince Young two years removed from Rose Bowl fame and one of the greatest single-season performances in college football history.
Despite his college success, Young’s talent to did not translate to fantasy success that season. Even if it had, I should not have taken a quarterback here; but it sets up two important points. First, mobile quarterbacks have more value than pocket quarterbacks. Rushing and receiving touchdowns are normally worth 6 points. In the league I was drafting in and in most leagues, passing touchdowns are worth 4 points. Additionally, rushing and receiving yards normally generate 0.1 points per yard compared to 0.04 points per yard for passing yards.
This gives mobile quarterbacks a slight advantage, especially if there isn’t a trade-off with their passing ability. This advantage has been reduced slightly as the pool of mobile quarterbacks has increased, but it is still worth considering when drafting for this position.
The second point is that Vince Young was the sixth quarterback taken. Based on how the draft was moving, I would not have the opportunity to take Vince Young again. You have to draft for your league, and if you believe in a player, go get them. If quarterbacks go early in your league, you may have to deviate from ADP (average draft position) to account for how your league likes to draft. Sometimes your gut will be right about the player. Just ask everyone that drafted Lamar Jackson a round or two ahead of his ADP last year. But for every Lamar Jackson, there are more Vince Youngs.
If you’re still learning how to play the game, I recommend that you not be the first or the last team in your league with a quarterback. See how your league approaches it. Somebody will draft Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in the second or third round. That’s okay. They’re great players, but they probably won’t single-handedly win a league, probably…
At the end of the day, it is your team. If you’re a Chiefs fan or pull for the Louisville Cardinals, feel free to take your man. However, if you do take one of the top quarterbacks, do not take a backup. You’re not drafting Patrick Mahomes to bench him in favor of Daniel Jones when Jones has a cupcake matchup and Mahomes faces the ’85 Bears. If you draft one of the stars, you only need a backup quarterback to start during the star’s bye week, or if they become injured.
If you draft a quarterback late, you’ll probably want a second one to play matchups and double your chances of one of them having a breakout campaign. However, under no circumstances should you draft a third quarterback. Roster space is valuable. Use it wisely.
Speaking of valuable roster space, once you have your quarterback(s), every other pick until the last two rounds will be skill position players. Most of the time, you’ll only start one tight end, but you’ll start at least two running backs and three wide receivers. The names at the top of the draft are the easy ones to hit. Take any respectable rankings, and you’ll have a pretty easy time drafting for the first 100 picks or so.
Now, back to my inaugural draft. After my Vince Young debacle, I rebounded nicely with Randy Moss at 3.11 (3rd Round, Pick 11), and Antonio Gates at 4.02. Gates was the tight end stud of the day. Now, I usually wait to take a tight end. If you want one of the top guys in 2020, Travis Kelce and George Kittle will be second or third round picks in most leagues. It is a steep price, but they will give you a distinct advantage at that position most weeks. However, it isn’t about winning a position matchup. You win based on total points, and the running backs and wide receivers you’ll be drafting in that same range have the same upside potential.
Kickers and Defense
Now, I am ashamed at what I am about to tell you. However, I was young, inexperienced, and stupid. After reading this, you won’t have the same excuse. I could try to defend myself saying I got caught up in a run, but that is not an excuse. In Round 5, I took Adam Vinatieri. To add insult to injury, I selected the Seattle defense the next round.
Vinatieri was a phenomenal kicker, but he finished 17th in fantasy points for kickers. He shouldn’t have even started in our league, let alone go in the fifth round. Even if I had made the right choice and selected the top kicker, it only would have netted me 29 more fantasy points between the top guy and the 12th placed guy. That’s less than 2(!) points per week.
Even though other teams were making the same mistake, I should never have made those picks. Kickers and Defense scoring is random. Defensive scoring is mostly impacted by defensive and special teams touchdowns. These touchdowns are fluky. Good defenses don’t necessarily score touchdowns. In most leagues, extra points are worth a point; and field goal point values depend on the distance of the made field goal. Great kickers with great offenses may not be worth as much as good kickers with good offenses. Bottom line: do not draft kickers or defenses until the final two rounds. NO MATTER WHAT.
The draft is the pinnacle of the fantasy season, but it is only the beginning. The draft is the foundation of your team, but it is not the final product. Players will get hurt. Some will bust, and some will burst onto the scene. Once the draft is over, the real work begins. Work the waiver wire early and often. That is where championships are won.