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5 fantasy football draft strategy tips

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Fantasy football draft strategy doesn’t need to be complex. The goal on draft day is pretty simple: Out-draft your opponents and put together the best team possible. While there’s certainly a lot to think about in a fantasy draft, there are a few key things to keep in mind as we head into the heart of fantasy football draft season.

Here are five tips to help you dominate your 2021 fantasy football drafts. Of course, don’t forget that you can check out all of our fantasy football rankings and fantasy football projections.

Get access to Jeff Ratcliffe’s personal draft board in our 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

1. Keep it simple on draft day

A lot of folks show up to their drafts with binders of material or have multiple spreadsheets and tabs open on their laptops. Simply put, this is information overload, and you really don’t need it all to make your picks. Sure, all of this info is important right now as you prep for your drafts, but more inputs on draft day can lead you to paralysis from over analysis.

Put the work in beforehand, but keep it as streamlined as possible on draft day. I highly recommend checking out my 2021 fantasy football draft board, which can be found in the FTN Fantasy Football Game Plan Draft Guide. On this single sheet, you have every piece of information you need to make the best decision possible on each one of your picks. You won’t need to flip through pages or go back and forth between apps in your laptop. That means you’re less likely to panic pick, and you’ll more time to focus on exploiting your opponents’ mistakes on draft day.

2. Don’t lock into positions early in drafts

One of the most common questions I get at this time of year goes something like this: “Should I draft a running back in the first round and a wideout in the second?” The idea here is that the drafter is locking themselves into a position in a specific round. And hey, I get the thought process. You’re taking a position-based approach to building your roster. While this logic certainly comes into play later in your drafts, this method really limits what you can do in the early rounds.

Simply put, we don’t want to go after particular positions in specific rounds. Rather, the goal is to draft the best possible players. Sure, that’s somewhat of a “duh” statement, but many fantasy drafters overlook this objective and instead lock themselves into particular positions. However, each draft presents its own set of opportunities. Mock draft as much as you want, but you’re not going to be able to precisely predict what plays out on your actual draft day.

Remember, while you are drafting your team, you’re also drafting against your opponents in your league. This is another example of stating the obvious that so often gets overlooked by drafters. The object isn’t just to win your league, it’s to win every phase of the game, including the draft. So if your opponent makes a mistake and lets value slip down the board, make them pay for it. Of course, you won’t always be able to do so if you lock yourself into positions early in the draft. Instead, opt for a more flexible approach where your goal is to attack the early rounds and select the top players on your board regard less of position.

3. Punt your RB2 spot

Given how drafts are unfolding, it’s likely you’re going to end up with a running back in the first round. However, the value falls off very quickly at the position, and it’s essentially dried up halfway through the second round. Unlike running back, wideout is deep this year. Better yet, because running backs go early and often, good wide receivers get pushed down the board. There’s a very good chance you’ll be able to score a top-five wideout in the second round and a top-10 fantasy wide receiver in the third round. That’s a WR1 at a solid discount. 

Don’t be afraid to take what the board is giving you. Let’s say you go running back in the first round and then score some value with Calvin Ridley in the second round. When you’re up in the third round, Keenan Allen is still on the board. That’s value. Take him. Now the fourth round rolls around, and Allen Robinson is sitting there on a silver platter. Sure, you only have one running back, but you just can’t pass this up. Take him. On to the fifth round where Kenny Golladay is on the board at your pick. Your league just keeps handing you wide receiver value. Take him.

OK, so you might think you’re in a bit of a pickle, and you certainly could be drafting outside of your comfort zone with just one running back through the first five rounds. It certainly isn’t a conventional approach, but your team is absolutely loaded at wideout. The board presented you with value and you took it. In the process, you kicked off a punt RB2 approach. 

This isn’t a strategy I’d go into a draft planning to use, but it is one you should be prepared to use if the draft presents the opportunity. If you do go down this path, be prepared to absolutely hammer running back starting in the sixth round. Your goal should still be to have four running backs by the start of the double-digit rounds. That means running backs in three of the next four rounds. With these picks, shoot for higher ceiling options to set yourself up for the most success.

4. Prioritize tight end, but don’t go overboard

Travis Kelce is very good. The Chiefs tight end is in the midst of a historic stretch where he’s finished as the No. 1 fantasy tight end in four straight seasons. But in order to draft him, you’re going to have to pony up a late first-round pick. While that certainly isn’t an outrageous price tag for him, it puts you into a potential conundrum from a roster construction standpoint. Likewise, you’re probably also going to see Darren Waller and George Kittle come off the board by the end of the second round.

There’s no denying the fantasy prowess of the big three tight ends, but as someone like Waller showed us last year, middle-round players are capable of making the leap into fantasy elite territory. T.J. Hockenson was a breakout candidate, but his ADP ultimately settled out in the 12th round as the No. 14 tight end. In other words, you didn’t have to spend a premium pick on him. Instead, you were able to use your early picks to load up at running back and wideout.

To be fair, waiting that long always comes with volatility this year given the overall depth at the position. However, there’s a very interesting wheelhouse of value between the fifth and eighth rounds. In this phase of your drafts, you’re likely to see Hockenson, Mark Andrews, Dallas Goedert, Noah Fant and Logan Thomas come off the board. Any one of these five players could finish as a top-three guy, but you won’t have to pay a top-three price for them. And if you miss on that bunch, you can always shoot for upside in the early double-digit rounds with Adam Trautman, Evan Engram, Tyler Higbee or Irv Smith.

5. Wait until the end of your draft to take a quarterback

Seriously. Even in your home leagues where quarterbacks come off the board early, you can wait. You don’t need Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen to win your leagues this year, and the reason is relatively simple: The annual difference between the top fantasy quarterbacks and the best player you can get off waivers is much slimmer than what you’ll find at running back or wide receiver. 

Don’t believe me? The difference between last year’s No. 2 quarterback, Kyler Murray, and the likely replacement range of Jared Goff at No. 18 was 140 fantasy points. Let’s compare that to running back where Dalvin Cook at No. 2 was 221.2 fantasy points ahead of the likely replacement range of James White at No. 42. That’s a sizeable gap and shows the relative values of the top options at each position. Remember, it isn’t about how many points a player scores. It’s about how many more points he scores than the replacement value at his position that you’re likely to find on waivers.

Better yet, in today’s pass-happy NFL, there are legitimately 20-plus quarterbacks who are capable of putting up starter quality fantasy production. That means even if most of the teams in your league draft backups early, you’ll still be likely to land someone like Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins or Baker Mayfield in the end of your draft. You also could shoot for massive upside with someone like Justin Fields or Trey Lance.

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