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Fantasy football draft day checklist

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Fantasy football drafts can be as complicated or as simple as we want to make them. In my experience making things as a simple as possible is the path to success. On draft day, we don’t want to overthink. We want to react to what the board and our opponents are giving us.

Of course, it’s important to get all of your prep work done now, but it also helps to bring a checklist with you on draft day. This is the list of goals you want to accomplish in your drafts. So to help you out here, I took stock of my own fantasy football draft day checklist and broke it down to 10 things. Accomplish every item on the list, and you’re going to be very happy with your roster.

 Draft for value in the first five rounds. Don’t lock into positions

 

One of the biggest mistakes I see drafters make is locking themselves into positions early in drafts. You probably know the drill. “In the first round I’m going to take a running back. Then I’m going wideout in Round 2 and back to RB in the third.” Don’t get me wrong. I love that we’re creating a draft plan, but we’re focusing on the wrong details here.

This mindset is completely dedicated to what we’re doing with our picks, but it’s overlooking what our opponents are doing. Our opponents are going to make mistakes in fantasy football drafts. Typically, this means letting value slide down the board. Let’s say you’re up in the second round. You came in saying you’re drafting a wide receiver here, but your opponents have left a running back on the board who just should be here. Are you going to pass up this value and stick to your plan? Heck no. Take the value and make them pay for their mistake.

Remember, this approach is really only for the early rounds. Once we get into the middle rounds, you’ll have to adjust based on your roster construction. But in the early rounds, don’t lock into positions for each round. It’s a mistake that the savvy opponents in your league will exploit.

 Minimize risk in the first three rounds

In the early rounds of drafts, it’s also very important to minimize your risk. The first three-to-five rounds of your draft will form the core of your roster. It’s not to say that you can’t have success if you miss on these picks, but you’re really making things difficult for yourself. To be fair, it’s impossible to completely eliminate risk. Players are going to get hurt in football. That’s the nature of the game. But we can at least prioritize players who come with the least volatility in our first three picks.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is one of the sexiest picks on the board in the first round right now. If you think he’s going to be there at the end of the first round, well, I have bad news for you. Expect Edwards-Helaire to go in the middle of the round. So at 1.06, if you have your choice between Edwards-Helaire and Dalvin Cook, it’s tempting to go with Edwards-Helaire. But the rookie comes with a lot more unknown than Cook. He isn’t the sexiest pick, but Cook is the safe pick in that spot. Keep this aspect of volatility in mind in the early parts of your drafts.

 Prioritize high-ceiling wide receivers and running backs in the middle and late rounds

Safe may work well in the early rounds, but safe doesn’t create championship caliber rosters in the middle and late rounds. In this phase of your drafts, go after players with the highest possible ceilings at wide receiver and running back. If you end up going RB-heavy early in your draft you can check out this list of wideouts to target in the middle and late-rounds. You can use this list of running backs to target in the middle and late-rounds if you go WR-heavy early.

 Draft one top-10 fantasy football running back

With running back seemingly as thin as it’s ever been, it’s a good idea to anchor your roster with one top-10 option. Keep in mind that based on current ADP, that means you’ll like have to use your first-round pick on the position unless you pick early in the second round. But this goal very much links up to our goal of minimizing risk. By taking a top-10 back, you put yourself on solid footing at the position. Better yet, with value falling left and right at wide receiver, it will be easy to make up ground there later in your draft.

It’s worth taking a look at my running back fantasy football tiers to help you pinpoint which players to target with your first pick. Obviously, you won’t have a chance at Christian McCaffery if you don’t have the first pick in your draft, but there are lots of appealing names among the top 10-12 players at the position.

 Draft four running backs before Round 10

Running back dries up very quickly in 2020 fantasy football drafts. Current ADP data says that at least 45 running backs will be off the board by the end of the ninth round. Even by that point, we’re already in handcuff territory with the likes of Latavius Murray and Alexander Mattison going in that range. And it only gets worse from there.

Mining value is going to be extremely tough at running back in the late rounds. So in a regular-sized league that runs 16-18 rounds, grabbing four running backs before you hit double-digits sets you up with a solid stable of backs who are anchored by your top-10 option from the previous goal.

 Get a top-8 tight end, but not a top-4 tight end

The temptation to draft an elite tight end is very real in Round 2, especially if you’re in the back half. But do you really need Travis Kelce or George Kittle to win your league? Sure, having the weekly advantage that they offer is nice, but it’s often far nicer to have a lot of depth at running back and wide receiver.

Unlike tight end, where you’re only required to start one player in regular leagues, you’re often starting upward of three running backs and four wideouts in leagues with a flex. High-end depth is much more crucial at those positions. And the beauty to tight end is that you can often find high ceiling options in the middle and late rounds.

This year, the wheelhouse seems to be between Rounds 6-8. You’re going to have at least four and likely five tight ends drafted by this point, but you have loads of upside in Evan Engram, Tyler Higbee and Hunter Henry. Sure, they aren’t as safe as Kittle or Kelce, but there’s a lot more bang for your buck in the middle rounds. It should be noted that Darren Waller is an insta-draft if he somehow slides to the sixth.

 Draft a high-ceiling option as your second tight end

Since you don’t have an elite option, you might as well swing for the fences with your second pick. In recent seasons we’ve seen late-round tight ends pay dividends. Last year, both Mark Andrews and Waller put up massive seasons after being late-round options. I listed a bunch of late-round options to target in my tight end fantasy football tiers.

 Fade the top-8 fantasy quarterbacks unless you’re getting two rounds of value

There’s a lot of attention being paid to the Big 2 this year in Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, but you don’t need either one of them to win your leagues. Seriously. You’re going to have plenty of options at your disposal in the late rounds, and that’s even true if you’re in one of those home leagues that goes quarterback crazy in the early rounds. Even those leagues, people eventually stop drafting quarterbacks and you’ll have your pick of the litter in the late rounds.

“But Jeff, you don’t get it, man. Quarterbacks score a lot of points in my league.” Sure, I bet they do. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are roughly 20 quarterbacks who can be in the mix as viable starting options heading into this season. Use that value to your advantage.

Of course, if a player falls further than he should, you should by all means pounce. For quarterbacks in the early and middle rounds, I typically set that at two rounds after their ADP. That means the fourth round for Mahomes or Jackson. Neither one of them is making it that far. Ever. But you might find someone like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson slide. If you’re able to grab two rounds of value on a player at the position, then you can skip the next goal. Otherwise, the next goal is crucial.

 If you don’t get value on a top-8 quarterback, draft one safe and one upside quarterback in the late rounds

It’s unlikely that you’re going to find value on a top-eight quarterback in your home leagues, so this is where we go with the “safe and upside” approach. The goal here is simple: we draft one safe quarterback and one upside quarterback in the late rounds. Drafting the safe option will give us a viable starter as we head into the season and we can then swing for the fences with the upside option. If we miss on him, we at least have out safe option and we can potentially work the wire from there. This approach has worked wonders over the years and has recently yielded Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes. If you want a list of all my safe and upside options, check out my quarterback fantasy football tiers.

 Only draft a defense and/or kicker if you’re required by your league to do so

If you’re in a league that starts a defense and/or kicker, make sure you know if you’re required to draft them. Some leagues require you to do so, and that’s fine. Don’t worry about this goal. But if you aren’t required to, then don’t. Use those two picks to draft for upside at the skill positions. Sure, you’re ultimately going to have to cut two players in order to fill those starting defense and kicker spots, but you can use that extra time to your advantage with the two extra players you drafted. This move gives you more options at your disposal than anyone in your league who drafted a defense and a kicker.

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