In two short weeks, the unofficial start-up dynasty draft season will begin. Although many leagues choose to hold their drafts later in the Summer when more information is widely known and a few die-hards enjoy holding their start-up draft as early as January, the most common time for an initial dynasty draft is at the conclusion of the annual NFL Draft later this month.
As I have been preparing for my upcoming drafts, many tips and strategies have been bouncing around my head. I thought this would be the perfect time to share some of those with you.
Note: If you are in a league with me, please stop reading here.
I will say, many may disagree with some of these pieces of advice, and that’s okay. We all have a specific way we like to form our team. One of the great things about dynasty football is there is no one specific way to win a title or build a successful team. I have seen a variety of different plans work out and lead to a championship, but what I have listed below have been the most effective for me personally.
Here we go!
- Know the Rules– This may seem obvious, but many times in the past, I have witnessed dynasty owners who seem confused about a specific rule after the draft has already started and sometimes long after it has concluded. Each league has its own set of unique rules, but the two most important things to be aware of heading into the draft are the scoring and starting lineup requirements. If your new league awards six points for passing touchdowns instead of the most common four points, that would greatly affect the picks you make and your plan entering the draft. Likewise, a greater value is placed on tight ends when they earn 1.5 points per reception instead of just one. It is also crucial that owners know the starting lineup and roster requirements very well. A league that uses two starting quarterbacks is somewhat rare, but totally shakes up the early rounds of the draft.
- Be Active– I love to see trades in my leagues, even when I am not involved. In my opinion, a great number of trades show an active group of owners and that is what I want to be a part of. When the email notification of a trade rolls into my inbox, I usually don’t think much of it. I give a quick three second analysis and then delete the email without another thought. In some rare cases though, a trade really catches my attention. My mind is full of thoughts like “I didn’t know he was available!” or “I would’ve given a lot more than that!” The initial frustration with one or both owners is eventually reflected back to myself as I realize I have not been proactive enough. Don’t let this happen to you, especially during a startup draft. In a draft, owners are constantly looking to move up or down the draft, so don’t miss the boat on a great deal. Also, being an active part of the league, including getting to know some of your fellow owners, will open the door for deals in the future.
- Research, Research, Research– This is another common mistake made by many. With the current prevalence and popularity of dynasty leagues, information abounds that will help owners prepare for a startup draft. There are a multitude of strategies being discussed on the DLF forums each day. Also, we have our mock draft ADP data that can help you project each of your picks throughout your draft. To be even more prepared, participate in one of the mocks we use to collect the data. Each month, we gather dozens of dynasty players to participate in mock drafts, and we are always looking for more knowledgeable people to join us. If you’re interested, just contact me via Twitter.
- Best Player Available– This is another very simple, and possibly obvious, idea. For each of your picks, simply take the best player available. Many times, owners get caught up with filling out a specific lineup, which can lead to bypassing a more valuable player. I will admit, this idea is easier to do if your league uses multiple flex positions in the starting lineup. In many of my startup drafts, I will wait on taking a running back in favor of wide receivers or other position, but if your league requires two or three starting running backs, this would not be as feasible. No matter your lineup requirements though, I would still suggest taking the best player available, with less of a focus on filling out a lineup.
- Wait on D & K– If your league does require a starting kicker and team defense, that does not mean you should use an off-season roster spot or a draft pick on those positions. Unless your league rules require each owner to draft a kicker and a defense, leave those for other owners while you use your later picks on young upside players. You will have plenty of opportunities to pick up a kicker and defense from the waiver wire before week one kicks off. Obviously, this will mean you miss out on some of the top scoring kickers and defenses, but teams that stream those positions are just as successful. If you’re not familiar with the term “streaming,” it refers to swapping out a kicker and/or defense based on weekly matchups. Also, each year there are defenses and kickers that are surprise top five scorers. If you are able to identify and acquire these early in the regular season, there’s no reason to waste a draft pick in April or May.
- Back Off the Backup– Again, some owners seem overly concerned with filling out their roster and always taking their next highest rated player. Two positions this may not be a good idea are quarterback and tight end. In my drafts, my goal it to acquire a top ten quarterback and a top three tight end. This season, those are the spots I view as clear “tier drops,” meaning there is a steep drop-off after the tenth quarterback and third tight end. If I am able to draft players in both of these tiers, Aaron Rodgers and Aaron Hernandez for example, there is little reason to use another early pick, or even a mid-round pick on a reserve quarterback or tight end. Of course, you have to be ready for injuries, but those are difficult to predict. It would not be wise to take a low end QB1 like Eli Manning as Rodgers’ backup only to use him one time on the Packers’ bye week. Likewise, taking a tight end like Owen Daniels in the twelfth round makes little sense. Instead, use a later pick on a high upside backup like Jordan Cameron or Rob Housler.
- Can You Flip Him?- Once you have formed the base of your team, somewhere around the tenth round, you should start asking yourself a very important question with each pick. That question is, “could I trade him for a first round rookie pick?” That does not mean that you would immediately look to flip that player, and the player may not even have that type of value yet, but he should be able to earn that value. For example, you’re in round #17 of a startup draft and you are going to take your third quarterback. Among the available players are veteran Matt Schaub, who has multiple finishes among the top twelve fantasy quarterbacks in his career. Also available is Patriots backup Ryan Mallet. Neither of these players would currently net you a first round rookie pick, but let’s consider what would have to happen for each player to gain that type of value. For Schaub, the 31-year-old Texans starter, there is little he can do. We all know what to expect and that is likely what he will produce. Your only hope is that a star quarterback goes down and one of your fellow owners gets desperate. That is a long shot. For Mallet to suddenly gain first round value, a couple of things could happen. The Patriots could trade him to a team that makes him the starter. It is starting to look like that won’t happen this off-season, but it could in the future. Also, that quarterback going down with a serious injury, not that we ever hope for that, could be star Tom Brady. If Brady goes down for the year, as he did in 2008, Mallett instantly gains a great deal of value. I am confident in saying some owner would be willing to part with a future first round pick for the new Patriots starter, just as many did for Matt Cassel years ago. So, before you make that mid or late round selection, ask yourself what has to happen for that player to gain first round rookie pick value.
- Late Round Targets– As a follow up to the above point, the players who can gain value the quickest are quarterbacks. A positive trend the past few seasons is the lack of severe quarterback injuries, but there have been just as many, or more, minor injuries, knocking quarterbacks out for a week or two at a time. This leads to dynasty owners to search for a short-term replacement. Those owners will not usually go after a big name target, but rather a backup quarterback that can serve as their starter for a short period of time. Many quarterbacks like this can be found late in your startup draft and have a much higher chance of gaining value than players from other positions. According to the DLF March ADP data, these quarterbacks can all be had in the sixteenth round or later: Matt Schaub, Alex Smith, Christian Ponder, Carson Palmer, as well as many young quarterbacks. So, rather than taking your tenth wide receiver or eighth running back, consider grabbing a third or even fourth quarterback with a trade in mind.
- No Reaches– In the early rounds of the draft, ADP can be a valuable tool to give you an idea of where players might be selected and how they might be valued by the other owners in your league. “Reaching” or overdrafting a player, based on ADP data early in the draft would be unwise and could hurt the overall value of your team. Once you get to a certain point though (somewhere around the twelfth or thirteenth round) there really is no such thing as a reach. If there is a player you like, whether it is a young prospect or a veteran sleeper that could end up starting for you, there is no reason to wait and hope he lasts one more round.
- Picks On the Move– As I said earlier, there will be many opportunities to either move up or down during the draft. If you are unhappy with the choices at your pick, or you have a feeling that your target may fall a few more spots, be willing to trade down. When trading down, you will of course be offered an upgrade at another position. Rather than taking an upgrade of later draft picks, target future rookie picks instead, especially first round rookie picks. On the other hand, guard your future picks carefully. Some teams will plan to acquire as many as five or six future first round picks, but unless you are being offered a deal you can’t refuse, hold onto those first round picks. In general, a future first round pick should be worth a seventh round pick in a startup draft. So, I would need a fifth round pick as incentive to trade away my future first round pick, especially in the stacked class of 2014.
These were just a few of the tips and strategies I use during each of my startup drafts. Happy drafting!
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