For beginners: A simple draft strategy

Don’t let this guy beat you at fantasy football.

So, for one reason or another, you’ve finally decided to try your hand at fantasy football. Maybe the guys at work have been pressuring you to join the league. Maybe you just got engaged and your fiancĂ©e’s eleven brothers have been patiently waiting for her to get married so they’d have a twelfth. Maybe you’re just trying out your first free public league (Yahoo’s your best bet here, by the way). And maybe you don’t know a damn thing about football. No problem. Here’s an easy-to-follow plan that will result in a very solid team in just about any league with a standard format (1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF).

This strategy isn’t for experienced players – it will always result in a good team, but someone who actually knows what they’re doing will have the flexibility to take advantage of the mistakes other drafters make, and thereby build a very strong team. One thing I can guarantee you, though: If this is your first year playing fantasy football, you are far better off using this strategy than you are coming up with one on your own. There’s one guy who does that in just about every league, and the results are uniformly comical. Don’t be that guy.

First of all, you’ll need some cheat sheets. You can use ours, or you can feel free to harness the power of the Google to find some other ones if you’d like. Just make sure they’ve been updated recently. Get separate sheets for each position – one for QB, one for RB, and so on. Print them out.

Now, this is just common sense, but just in case you don’t have any of that: During the draft, you’re going to want to cross off each player’s name as they’re drafted. Be vigilant about this – the quintessential rookie mistake in any fantasy sport is attempting to draft a player who’s already off the board. Even worse than the groans and rolling eyes you’ll encounter is the fact that you will then be rushed into picking a replacement (especially if your league uses a timer), and you’ll most likely screw it up. Of course, if you’re being good about following this strategy, it won’t be all that big of a deal – just pick the next available player on the cheat sheet for that position.

OK, so you’re at the draft and you’ve got your cheat sheets, a pen, and a beer. Prepare to put it in autopilot, because from here on out, you’re going to do what I tell you to. And like it.

Round 1: Take the best running back available.
Round 2: Take the best running back available.
Round 3: Take the best running back available.
Round 4: Take the best wide receiver available.
Round 5: Take the best wide receiver available.
Round 6: Take the best wide receiver available.
Round 7: Take the best quarterback available.
Round 8: Take the best running back available.
Round 9: Take the best wide receiver available.
Round 10: Take the best quarterback available.
Round 11: Take the best tight end available.

For the rest of the draft, until the final two rounds, continue to take nothing but running backs (make sure you get at least one more) and wide receivers. You don’t need a backup tight end or 3rd QB. Then…

Second-to-last-round: Take the best team defense available.
Last round: Take the best kicker available.

Congratulations, you’re done. That sound you hear? It’s the the jaws of the “experienced” members of your league hitting the floor as they realize that the rookie who couldn’t pronounce “Laveranues Coles” just drafted a better team than they did.

At this point, you might be a little concerned. Ten rounds into the draft, you’d only addressed three positions? This is because of fantasy football’s dirty little secret: Those are the only positions that matter. It’s certainly true that on any given week, a DEF or TE might explode for a ton of points and win you the matchup (this VERY rarely is true of kickers). And sure, the Bears defense is nice to have, as is Antonio Gates. But far more often than not, the top options at those positions are taken far before they should be – in other words, they’re almost always overvalued, and the people who draft them too early aren’t doing themselves any favors.

I could go on forever about why RB-RB-RB in the first three rounds is always going to result in a solid foundation, and why WR-WR-WR for the next three rounds is going to give you plenty of firepower at wideout, and why those first six rounds will always result in a high-scoring squad, almost regardless of what you do for the rest of the draft. Update: Check out the comments below for some discussion on why I think this is the most reliable drafting strategy for inexperienced fantasy football players.

Good luck. If you have any questions, use the comments section below and I’ll get back to you.