Ladies and gentlemen, can you feel it? Live NFL action is just days away! Fantasy football season is already in full swing and drafts are filling up fast. In the coming weeks, you will likely hear plenty of theories on how one can “win” a fantasy draft. Draft Player X, stock up on this position and avoid that one. These suggestions all have some merit under the right circumstances but can also be flawed. However, there absolutely are ways to “lose” a draft. The draft mistakes fantasy players make before and during drafts are not necessarily about a particular set of players or a given draft strategy. These fantasy football draft mistakes put fantasy owners in a hole before the season even begins. Avoiding these pitfalls can give you a leg up on the competition and can help you operate from a position of strength.
Nine Huge Fantasy Football Draft Mistakes
Section One: Pre-Draft Mistakes
Another of the draft mistakes you don’t want to make? Not using Fantrax to run your league! Head on over now to start or join a Fantasy Football league. Fantrax can work with virtually any league format you can dream up.
Mistake #1: Outkicking Your Coverage
Here at Fantrax, we have hundreds of leagues available, and new leagues are being formed all the time. The entry fees range from $10 to $500. If you are a novice fantasy player or a beginner to the hobby, welcome aboard! Niceties aside, do yourself a favor – start small and work your way up. You will gain valuable experience along the way as well as an understanding and appreciation for the game. Fantasy football is a fantastic entity for many reasons and you too will grow to love it if you give it a real chance.
Sidebar for my fellow veterans – go easy on the new players. Don’t let them win or anything. But help them become better players. Fantasy football has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years and I want to see that trend continue. The hobby suffers when inexperienced players become disenfranchised after getting taken advantage of or being roped into a league they should never have been playing in the first place.
Mistake #2. Not Knowing the League Specs
Some draft mistakes seem obvious, but I cannot emphasize this enough. You would be surprised at the number of people who draft without having a clear understanding of their league’s specifications. Each league has plenty of factors that make it unique. A given league’s scoring system, roster configuration, method for acquiring free agents, and other characteristics factor into how to properly evaluate players heading into a draft.
I cannot tell you how many times I have had someone ask me to join a league without knowing basic information such as the scoring system or even the number of teams in the league! There is a ton of information I need to have in advance of the draft. Is it even a draft or is it an auction? If it is a draft, is it a redraft or a Dynasty league? Is the scoring system Standard, Point Per Reception (PPR), or somewhere in the middle? Do you acquire free agents via waiver claims or Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB)? Or is it Best Score, where there are no free agents?
How many points is a passing touchdown worth? How many players are in your starting lineup and on your bench each week? Is it a SuperFlex league? Do you get an Injured Reserve (IR) spot? Are trades allowed? These are some of the many questions you should be able to answer before you participate in your draft. Otherwise, you might as well just throw your money away. This is the part where I mention that Fantrax has insanely customizable settings to fit all of your league’s needs.
Mistake #3. Failing to Mock Draft
Once you have a clear understanding of your league’s parameters and scoring system, you need to go out and draft the best team possible. I know – great insight, Mick. But you will not truly know how to do this if you fail to plan ahead. There are a couple of ways you can do this. The first is to take part in mock drafts. Mocks are an easy (and free) way to get the feel for how an actual draft will feel. Now, I would not go putting too much stock in the results of a mock draft. But the process itself should help you feel more comfortable prior to the real thing.
Just like with anything else, practice makes perfect. Taking part in mock drafts is a very helpful exercise. You can analyze your successes and mistakes, and you can tweak your drafting strategies accordingly. If you are constantly making draft mistakes at a certain point in the process, you can perform a self-evaluation to ensure that any such deficiencies will not be an issue on draft day.
Mistake #4.1: Falling Victim to ADP
Another of the most common draft mistakes is the misuse of ADP. There are a couple of things to consider regarding Average Draft Position (ADP). First, you must not forget what the “A” actually means. It stands for “average.” It is merely an average of where that player is being drafted. It is not a guide for when a player should be taken. As I write this, Derrius Guice has an ADP of 50.12 in Fantrax standard leagues. That does not mean that he is a “reach” at pick 40 and a “bargain” at pick 60. It simply means that he is, on average, going at pick 50.12.
Another thing to keep in mind is that each site has its own ADP and thus its own default rankings. On Fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Guice’s ADP is 29.8. That’s a significant difference, especially for a player going early in most drafts. These kinds of discrepancies exist with a ton of players. ADP also does not factor in many of the differences in scoring systems or roster configuration that can further widen the gap between a player’s ADP and his actual expected value. Nor does it factor in how many owners are going Zero RB or are employing a strategy which may similarly alter ADP data.
The lesson here is simple – do not let ADP dictate where you draft a player and don’t be afraid to pick a player whenever you deem it necessary as long as you have sound reasoning behind it.
Mistake #4.2: Falling Victim to Someone Else’s Rankings and Projections
As is the case with using ADP as the measuring stick to evaluate a player, when you are too reliant on someone else’s rankings, things slip through the cracks.
For example, last year a friend of mine asked me to sub in for him during an online draft at the last minute. I agreed but didn’t really prepare or have anything in front of me. At one point, I wanted a running back and was just using the nameless site’s default rankings. I took Mike Gillislee. (Sorry!) A few picks later, someone took Kareem Hunt, and I said to myself, “Oh yeah! Wait a minute… he wasn’t on the list!” Turns out, these default rankings had the rookies listed at the bottom. Now granted, I should not have simply forgotten about Kareem Hunt. But the point is that these are the types of draft mistakes that can happen when you are using someone else’s rankings.
We have established that ADP can be quite arbitrary based on the sources you use. The same could be said of rankings. Yes, even mine. You may not think this applies if your league is standard or PPR scoring, as those rankings are pretty easily transferable. But if your league has an intricate scoring system, or if you play Roto football, these rankings will not do you as much good. you should find a more apples-to-apples method for comparing players. And the answer is simple – create your own rankings based off your own projections.
This is very important, and it is a critical step that most fantasy players leave out of their pre-draft preparation. This really is not as daunting as it sounds. You do not need a degree in football analytics to come up with rankings. All you really need to do is take whatever projections you choose (be it your own or an amalgam of several trusted sources) and plug in your league’s scoring system. Since it’s 2018, this can be done within minutes in many cases.
Blindly following another projection source means you are beholden to that source’s scoring system, which oftentimes is unclear. Outside projections can be a useful guide, but without converting that data to reflect your league’s scoring system, you fail to get a truer sense of that player’s worth. A player may have a considerable shift in value in, say, your local friends and family league versus a league with an insanely detailed and quirky scoring system like #DWG4. You are doing yourself a disservice when you enter the draft room and blindly follow someone else’s projections and rankings.
Mistake #5: Holding Personal Grudges
Most fantasy football enthusiasts started out as fans of teams and players themselves. Most of us have real-life teams that we love and ones we cannot stand. However, this is fantasy, not real life. And in fantasy, you need to be able to separate the two. If you go into the draft with the mindset that you are going to either gravitate towards or away from a particular player or set of players because of who they play for, you are setting yourself up to fail. You have to be able to place your personal rooting interests aside.
Two years ago, I had Tom Brady on a team. I can’t stand Tom Brady, mostly because I’m a bitter Jets fan. But I took him anyway because there was value to be had, primarily based on his four-game suspension to start the year. Five months later, my wedding was pretty much paid for. Brady wasn’t the only reason, but he damn sure helped. I slept with a very clear conscience knowing that a potential financial hardship was avoided in part because of that avocado ice cream-eating weirdo. News flash: I still can’t stand him.
Though this next category is a bit touchy for some, the concept of not letting personal feelings interfere with your fantasy roster also applies to players who may be bad people. I know people who refuse to draft Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy, and Joe Mixon because of off-field (or alleged off-field) transgressions against women. The sad truth is that you don’t score fantasy points for morality. Perhaps putting some of your entry fee or winnings toward a worthy cause can ease the moral dilemma many of us struggle with when rostering such nefarious characters. There are tons of worthy causes to donate to, but for the sake of this article, I will plug Scott Fish’s tremendous efforts in this capacity. Scott has done awesome work getting the fantasy community together to contribute to bringing a little extra joy to so many children during the holidays.
Finally, you also should never dismiss a player who may have underperformed or who was injured in a prior season. The same player can be a bust for you one season and a savior the next. Consider this – arguably the biggest “busts” in 2016 were Cam Newton, Todd Gurley, and DeAndre Hopkins. Those players finished second, first, and first, respectively at their positions in 2017. If you avoided them last year because of what took place the year prior, you probably also avoided the money as well.
Section Two: Draft Mistakes Made During the Actual Draft
Get ready for Draft Day with a few mock drafts. The Fantrax Mock Draft Lobby offers several opportunities each day to help you perfect your draft day strategy.
Mistake #6: Being Too Rigid
I’ve written recently about the pros and cons of a Zero RB drafting method, but the truth is that draft strategies such as these limit you from staying present in the moment and exploring all options to maximize value with each draft pick. If you go into a draft purposely targeting or avoiding certain positions early, you will almost always leave value on the table. If David Johnson falls to you at Pick 9, are you really still taking Odell Beckham, Jr.? Sure, that could wind up working, but it’s probably more likely not to.
The goal of a draft should be to maximize value with every single pick. It’s great to have your cheat sheets and your projections, but no two drafts are going to play out in exactly the same manner. You should have an idea of each player’s relative value, but you cannot afford to fixate on a certain player or even a position group at any specific point in the draft. Having too strict of a “plan” will only hinder your long-term results. You must be ready to alter your strategy based on how the draft is unfolding before you. You should have contingencies in place to account for a variety of scenarios which are likely to occur during the draft.
Drafts generally have a minimum of 150 picks. Players you are targeting will get taken right before it’s your turn. Positional runs take place. Someone may draft a kicker in the ninth round or three straight tight ends. Maintaining mental and emotional flexibility is the most important asset you can possess during a draft’s many ebbs and flows.
This is especially the case in a draft where you have a short amount of time in between picks. Instead of saying, “I’m banking on taking Derrick Henry with my next pick,” you must know what you will do in the event Henry is not available. Do you take the next running back available, or is the cost prohibitive? Is it best to target another position and revisit running back with your next pick?
This is where your rankings and projections will come in handy. You can look at your projected totals for Henry compared to the next handful of running backs available and you will know exactly where to go with your next pick and avoid making a mistake. If you are ill-prepared, you are more likely to panic and make a bad pick, further exacerbating the situation.
— Fantrax (@Fantrax) July 22, 2018
Mistake #7: Filling Up “Starting Spots” First
When you are drafting your roster, you are trying to put pieces of a puzzle together without knowing what the final product will look like. It can be a very tricky and intimidating exercise. It can make you feel uneasy and frustrated. One of the most common draft mistakes that seems to be commonplace among fantasy players with less experience is that many of them like to draft their “starters” first before filling up their “bench” spots. This is an exercise in futility.
I have been a part of so many drafts where someone will draft their kicker and defense (and quarterback and tight end to a lesser extent) before they focus on bench depth because they feel this bizarre need to fill up their hypothetical starting lineup. This strategy may provide someone with a sort of temporary comfort, but in the long run, it will usually prove detrimental to one’s fantasy success.
The truth of the matter is that during the draft (or even immediately afterward) you cannot say with any certainty whatsoever which players on your roster will fill which roles in any given week. You must find a way to accept the empty spots on your roster for the time being. You do not need to draft players in a particular order, and you certainly do not need to draft your “starters” first.
I have made this analogy before, but drafting a fantasy football team is kind of like furnishing a new home. You do not need to fill up each “room” with stuff all at once. If you do not spend much time in your spare bedroom, you can pretty much leave it bare until you find the right combination of, well, whatever it is that people put in spare bedrooms.
What you need to focus on is making sure your master bedroom and living room (running backs and receivers) are on point. They are the lifeblood of your home (roster). I kind of equate the kitchen and bathroom to quarterbacks and tight ends. It’s cool if you have a nice one, but as long as there’s running water, they’re all pretty similar in my opinion. I don’t need marble countertops, and I don’t need Aaron Rodgers in the third round.
Mistake #8: Drafting Backups Other Than RB/WR
Another of the common draft mistakes that many novice fantasy players make is that they tend to draft backups at every position. I don’t have a problem with this practice in two-QB leagues or leagues that weight tight end scoring. But in standard leagues, this practice is wholly unnecessary.
There were 28 quarterbacks who started at least ten games last season. Russell Wilson averaged the most points per game with 22.13. Jay Cutler averaged the fewest points per game with 11.29. That is less than an eleven-point differential between the best fantasy quarterback and the worst fantasy quarterback. Quarterbacks six through seventeen on this list all finished within 1.84 points of one another on a per-game basis.
This goes for tight ends as well. You know who scored the same number of fantasy points in the same number of games as Jay Cutler last year? Rob Gronkowski, the world’s best tight end. The difference between the sixth-best tight end in terms of points per game and the nineteenth-best was less than a point and a half. Once you get past the elite options at both quarterback and tight end, they’re all basically the same.
You simply do not need backups at these positions. If you have an elite quarterback and/or tight end, you are playing them every week anyway. If you have a middling option and you really do not like their upcoming matchup, you can pick up a replacement on the waiver wire. You should not clutter your bench with these players. Bench spots should be reserved for backs and receivers.
Disagree. Every mistake you make on draft day is a lost opportunity for you and an advantage to your opponent.
— Jeff Ratcliffe (@JeffRatcliffe) July 21, 2018
Mistake #9: Drafting Kickers and Defenses Too Early
If you are required to draft these positions, please wait until your last two or three picks to do so. Any sooner and it’s virtually a wasted pick. Last season, there were 10 defenses and three kickers drafted, on average, ahead of Alvin Kamara and Dion Lewis. How absurd does that sound? Now, to their credit, those three kickers did finish in the top-five in scoring at the position, because projecting fantasy kickers is actually kind of easy. But you could just as easily have been successful streaming kickers based on weekly projected Vegas totals.
Fantasy defenses are a much bigger crapshoot than most people tend to realize. Defenses drafted as top-five defenses have produced top-five results just 28 percent of the time over the last five years. This group has also produced a grand total of zero overall number-one defenses, but two (TWO!) defenses that finished as that season’s worst fantasy defense.
Also, as is the case with quarterbacks and tight ends, the difference in fantasy scoring between an average starter and a waiver-wire pickup is minuscule. You will be much better served to wait to draft a kicker and a defense until the very end of your draft. In many instances, you are better off streaming at these positions each week based on matchups.
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