Readying for your fantasy football draft? Here are some draft tips

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 08: A detail of the official National Football League NFL logo is seen painted on the turf as the New York Giants host the Atlanta Falcons during their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at MetLife Stadium on January 8, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images) (Nick Laham, 2012 Getty Images)

Gearing up for the NFL season? Doing your final research for your fantasy football draft? Here are some basic principles I’ve picked up over the years that may help you score big this fantasy season.

Customize your draft rankings

Unless you want to make it stressful on yourself when the draft occurs, you’ll want to customize your pre-draft rankings. This sounds obvious, but not everyone does it. Someone in my league ended up with the injured J.K. Dobbins, so he clearly was on autodraft and hadn’t updated his rankings. You don’t want to be that person.

Research your league’s scoring settings

This is massively important to how you set your player rankings. Different commissioners set up their scoring in different ways, so it’s not a “one size fits all” philosophy for drafts in all leagues. For instance, some leagues are PPR (Point Per Reception) and some leagues aren’t. Clearly for a PPR league, the gap widens between Christian McCaffrey, for example, to Derrick Henry. And in a PPR league, I’d say Dalvin Cook would be above Henry. But if it’s not PPR, McCaffrey would still be my top pick overall, but Henry at least would rank above Cook based more on potential touchdowns and total yards.

Another example is the quarterback scoring: in leagues where touchdown passes get just as much as touchdown runs or catches, guys like Pat Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson see their values go up exponentially just from how many scores they can give you during a given week. Also, if a league is a single season or dynasty league makes a major difference with how you rank your players. My tips are based more on a single-season system.

Running backs first, Quarterbacks middle rounds generally, Kickers with the very last pick

While there are some elite quarterbacks such as Mahomes, Allen, and Jackson, along with Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, at the end of the day, most if not all quarterbacks will hover around the 1-3 TD passes per game on a regular basis. There isn’t that much separation from the pretty good ones to the decently good ones. Tom Brady is currently way better than Derek Carr, for example, and we all know this, but trust me - there isn’t that much fantasy difference on a weekly basis compared with other positions.

The gap is there for running backs, especially the ones who are workhorses or consistently have huge games. There’s been a trend by teams to share the carries in the backfield to keep their backs fresh, which is totally understandable. Fantasy-wise, this means there is more need to grab the best ones while you can and fill out the other positions later. My first two picks in a 12-team league snaking draft ended up being Derrick Henry and Chris Carson. There isn’t much mystery around Henry being the number-two pick, but coming back around, I certainly had my options. Carson’s as solid as they come for a RB2. Of course, if Davante Adams was available, I would have selected him instead as my WR1, but he wasn’t.

I will say that I grabbed Lamar Jackson and opted for him over Darren Waller, who I had ranked higher overall, for my third pick in this league. I did this because Jackson has a unique combination of running and passing and it’s like getting both a quarterback and high-performance running back simultaneously with one pick.

Oh by the way, kickers have even less separation than quarterbacks. But since we all need one, you should draft one. That said, any kicker picked higher than your last pick is picked too high, in my opinion. That’s no disrespect to kickers - it’s just a sign of how little separation there is in the group and how unpredictable their scoring is each week. A kicker’s fantasy football success is based on their team’s inability to score touchdowns while also being dependent on their team’s ability to drive down the field enough to get to the red zone.

COVID is a factor

I drafted Jackson, but I’m admittedly a bit worried. Will he miss a few more games than usual based on his stance against vaccines? Do I need a backup? These are all possibilities. These are also reasons I downgraded guys like Cole Beasley in my rankings. Regardless of where you fall on the vaccine or COVID issues, the bottom line is that it ups the risk for missed games. Missed games, COVID-related or not, are never good for someone’s fantasy football team.

Try your best to attend your draft in person

I was at a wedding reception and am glad I had good enough WiFi to draft off my phone while on the dance floor. I’m sure others have their own unique situations. You might be taking care of kids. You might be hanging out with friends. Some people are able to devote themselves to draft time completely and more power to them. But you never really want to depend on Autodraft to pick your team. It’s just so unpredictable that way and not the best start to fielding the team you want to begin your fantasy season. However, if you absolutely have to do Autodraft, that’s where customizing your pre-draft rankings really comes into play because you don’t want to be that person who drafted J.K. Dobbins. Also, in my league’s default rankings, they listed a whole bunch of quarterbacks at the top overall, which if you read earlier in this article, you would know that is something I absolutely hate.

Sleepers: Hype, talent, and potential aren’t everything

There are always a few who will make astronomical leaps in production in one season compared with the previous year. Someone like a T.J. Hockenson, for example, is expected to see his production soar based on what’s been seen in the preseason so far. However, it’s also important to take a mental note to not draft a sleeper too early based on hype and to really think about their worth. Hockenson is still one of the best tight ends no matter what, but I’m not about to place him above a Travis Kelce or Darren Waller. CeeDee Lamb might be amazing and he totally has the skills of a WR1, but it remains to be seen how involved Amari Cooper still is with Dak Prescott, and I think Cooper will still be plenty involved. So while Lamb’s production will likely improve, and he’ll be even better next year, and the next year after that, it’s important to think from a fantasy bottom line. For example, I would pick Adam Thielen over Justin Jefferson or Lamb all day knowing just how targeted he is in the red zone. Adjust your rankings based on fantasy bottom line and scoring targets more than how skilled that person is as a player.

Good luck!

As the year goes on, I’ll be posting fantasy tips for both single season and daily fantasy. This will be a feature available exclusively for KPRC 2 Insiders - so if you want to continue getting fantasy advice, including my fantasy Top 100 draft rankings and how my league draft actually turned out, sign up to be an Insider - it’s easy and completely free!

Also, stay tuned for KPRC 2′s Ari Alexander’s fantasy football tips on Sports Sunday - he’ll be going over which Houston Texans to watch for and potential sleepers. You won’t want to miss that!

About the Author:

Born in Canada but raised in Houston, Howard joined KPRC 2 in 2021 after five years at ESPN. Before that, Howard was a reporter on Houston Rockets and Houston Astros game broadcasts. Among the events that Howard has covered on site: the NBA bubble and the Basketball Hall of Fame inductions for both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He's H-town proud!