Anatomy of a Startup: The Approach



This year, I participated in the Dynasty Football World Championship (DFWC), put on by in partnership with DLF as the primary dynasty content provider. I felt that this contest-style league provided a great opportunity to give a behind-the-scenes look of how at least one dynasty veteran approaches a startup draft in the context of what should be an extremely competitive league.

The league rules can be found here, but the relevant highlights are that this is a 12-team PPR league, with passing touchdowns worth four points, and a starting lineup of QB x 1, RB x 2, WR x 3, TE x 1, PK x 1, DST x 1, and FLEX x 2. The point to note here is that you can start up to four running backs, five wide receivers, or three tight ends, so there’s a lot of flexibility in how you build your roster.

Before I get into the pick-by-pick conversation and analysis, I figured it made sense to do a write-up with the steps I take to prepare for startup drafts. Hopefully some of you find it useful, but at the very least it will provide some context for the discussion of my picks in some later articles.

Step 1: Create Positional Tiers

The first thing I do is rank players within their own position and divide those rankings up into tiers to reflect my belief that a certain group of players all represent relatively the same value. For example, here are the top tiers of my wide receiver rankings:


I include a column with the ADP (pulled from the DLF website) just to have an idea of where these players have been going, but it’s important not to rely on that data too heavily as a predictor for your own draft as every league is different. The use of an “A” tier just means that while I think there is a gap between two groups of players, I think it’s a relatively small one. They are generally players that have one relatively minor flaw that prevents them from being in the higher tier.

Step 2: Create a Top 50 List

The next step in my startup preparation is to put together a ranking of about 50 players across all positions. The reason for this is because for the first five rounds or so, I will almost always take the best player available without much consideration to the positional needs of my team. The quality of players in these early rounds is very high and I don’t like passing on a better player for a weaker one for the sake of filling out a starting lineup. That said, there’s nothing magical about the number 50, so if I put together a list and think there’s an overall drop-off of quality around the early 40’s, for example, I might begin to consider positional needs a little early.

One important characteristic of this top 50 ranking to note it will always reflect my philosophical approach to the league. What I mean by this is while this list is a ranking of the 50 “best” players, a very important aspect of the definition of the word “best” is the level of value a player represents in the specific league format for which this list is being created.

For example, I think Aaron Rodgers is one of the best players in the NFL and among the safest fantasy players you can pick. But in the case of the DFWC, I did not feel like taking a quarterback early in the draft (meaning inside the first five rounds or so) was an optimal strategy because of the scoring system and lineup requirements. This was expressed in my top 50 ranking by having the Tier 1 quarterbacks ranked among Tier 2 running backs and wide receivers. In a 16-team non-PPR league (which I actually do play in), his position would be much higher on a pre-draft startup ranking for obvious reasons.

This is a critical part of draft preparation, be it for a dynasty league or a redraft. Everyone knows the mantra about being familiar with your scoring system, but I’m not sure enough people actually incorporate this into the creation of their rankings. In my opinion, rankings should be an expression of your team building philosophy as well as your player evaluations, and that philosophy should always be specific to each individual league format.

Step 3: Set Draft Plans

The last pre-draft preparation step for me is to set out any specific draft plans or goals I think are worth pursuing. You might calls these “keys” to the draft. They can be as specific as targeting a particular player, or they can be as broad was emphasizing one position over another. In the case of the DFWC startup, I had the following specific draft plans:

– Get Rob Gronkowski.

I don’t believe there’s a fantasy player who can offer a bigger positional advantage than a healthy Rob Gronkowski, so I decided to make it a priority to have him on my team. Certainly his injuries are a concern, but I believe he’s worth the gamble depending on the price. I’ll discuss him more in the actual draft discussion (spoilers: I got him).

– Get the cheapest top tier quarterback I can.

If you are comfortable starting your dynasty team with an older quarterback (I am), I believe the top quarterback tier is 11 players deep right now:


Since I already planned on taking a tight end in the first two rounds, I knew I could not afford to pass on running back and wide receiver again by also taking a quarterback early in the draft. At the same time, I didn’t want to get into “Eli Manning territory” for my starting quarterback, so I decided to aim for one of the above players if I could do it at a reasonable draft value price. If all of them were taken in the first five or six rounds, the backup plan was to get Tony Romo.

– Emphasize RB early, and target WR depth late.

This is simply because I think there’s a lack of depth at that position. It gets very ugly very fast after the first 15 or so running backs are gone. Conversely, I believe there is ample depth at the receiver position so I was confident I could find productive receivers later in the draft. After I’ve completed these three steps, and put together a nice, clean looking spreadsheet, I’m ready to draft.

Round One

Here’s how the first nine picks went to kick off the draft: 


RB Doug Martin


RB Adrian Peterson


WR Calvin Johnson


WR A.J. Green


RB Trent Richardson


RB C.J. Spiller


RB Ray Rice


WR Dez Bryant


RB Arian Foster



In my opinion, the top group across all positions is twelve players deep and consists of the nine players that were drafted ahead of me along with LeSean McCoy, Julio Jones, and, of course, Rob Gronkowski. I was almost certain that with all of the question marks surrounding him, Gronkowski could be had in the second round, so I felt this was a great opportunity to grab one of the other top players. As the top nine picks went, I was left with a choice between McCoy and Jones. Due in my part to my aforementioned belief that there is a lack of depth at the running back position right now, I opted for McCoy.


I stand by the decision-making process at the time, but with the benefit of knowing how the draft played out with several running backs falling further than I anticipated, I would now prefer to have Jones rather than McCoy. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I’ve already gone to the Jones owner and offered him a swap and he is not interested. That said, I expect big things from McCoy this year and in the future, so I’m very pleased to have him.

Round Two


RB Jamaal Charles


WR Julio Jones


WR Demaryius Thomas


WR Percy Harvin


TE Rob Gronkowski

As expected, Gronkowski falls to me at the fifteenth overall pick and I do not hesitate to take him. I discussed my thinking in the pre-draft prep section, so there’s no need to re-explain it now, but suffice it to say I was very pleased with coming out of the first two rounds with McCoy and Gronkowski.


I have no regrets with taking Gronkowski here. The news about his back that has come out since then is a little unsettling, but if I were on the clock at 2.03 right now, I would still take him. A fictional Gronkowski with no health concerns would be a top five pick in my opinion, so getting him in the early second round seems like a fair compromise. Ahead of me now loomed the large gap between #15 and my next pick at #34, and while I would not be willing to reach for positional need this early in the draft, I will admit that I was certainly hoping that a top tier wide receiver would drop to me at 3.10.

Round Three 


RB Matt Forte


WR Roddy White


WR Larry Fitzgerald


RB David Wilson


Cam Newton


RB Darren McFadden


Aaron Rodgers


TE Aaron Hernandez


WR Randall Cobb


WR Michael Crabtree


WR Brandon Marshall


WR Victor Cruz


RB Marshawn Lynch


WR Hakeem Nicks


TE Jimmy Graham


RB Stevan Ridley


RB Alfred Morris


WR Jordy Nelson


TE Rob Gronkowski



The third round was pretty disappointing for me. I was hoping one of my tier 1A wide receivers would drop, but none did. Eight receivers were taken between my picks at 2.03 and 3.10, and only five running backs. When Victor Cruz fell into the third round, I began to explore a modest trade up to grab him. There was not a lot of interest to move down, but I was able to work out a deal (in principle) with the owner of 3.07. Unfortunately, that ended up being one spot too late.

When I got on the clock, the best receivers in my second tier were Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson and Dwayne Bowe. None of them are certain to be #1 WR’s in my opinion, and because I still felt there was a lot of depth in the #2 WR range, I decided to pass on them.

I tried very hard to trade out of this spot, but there was very little interest. I could have considered one of the several top tier quarterbacks still available, but I did not feel that taking one this early was a viable strategy given that I’d already picked one non-RB/WR in Gronkowski.

In the end, I stuck with the plan and took my best available player (DeMarco Murray), who was someone I’m a little higher on than most people. I thought he was excellent value at 3.10, but I was still left with a bad taste in my mouth because of how close I came to getting Cruz.


I don’t regret the pick itself, although maybe I could have been more aggressive in trying to trade up to get Cruz. That said, once a trade wasn’t going to work, this became a classic need vs. talent situation, and I do not advocate reaching for need this early in a draft. Many may disagree with the specific player I took, which is fine, but ultimately I stuck to my board, which was the plan.

Round Four

I was still not in love with the players available after the wrap-around at 4.03, so I put the pick on the block again. I only managed to make a small trade down, but I received very good value in my opinion:

I gave:

4.03, 5.10, 7.10, 10.03

He gave:

4.06, 5.07, 7.07, 10.11

Shortly after I made the trade, I was back on the clock again at 4.06:


RB DeMarco Murray


QB Andrew Luck


QB Colin Kaepernick


RB Chris Johnson


RB Steven Jackson


BQ Drew Brees


WR Mike Wallace


RB Lamar Miller



Many of the same receivers I passed on at 3.10 were still there, but I still couldn’t bring myself to reach for one of them. I also felt like there was a decent chance that one may fall to my next pick, which was now 5.07 after my trade.

So once again, I decided to look elsewhere, and the highest player on my overall list was Maurice Jones-Drew. It wasn’t exactly my plan to go so running back heavy in the first few rounds, but as I laid out in the opening to this article, I try to go with the best player available for the first 4-5 rounds, regardless of positional need.


I would probably take back the MJD pick today, with the reports that have come out since this draft ended about lingering rehabilitation issues going back to his Lisfranc injury. I maybe should have been more flexible with the “best player” approach and taken someone younger to compliment McCoy and Murray, like one of the rookie running backs who were all there at this point.

Still, if healthy, MJD has RB1 upside for a 2-3 year window in my opinion, and getting a bell cow back in the mid-fourthround is excellent value if all of his issues end up being insignificant, which I expect them to be. Taking MJD pretty much commits me to a “win now” team, which I am more than okay with.

Round Five

I faced a very interesting dilemma in the fifth round as there was a confluence of several different significant circumstances:

  • I was approaching the point in the draft at which I would strongly consider the positional needs of my team when making a pick.
  • With a team makeup of one TE and three RB’s, I had a very clear and urgent need at the WR position, which was becoming increasingly thin.
  • The fifth round is the first round in which I would consider drafting a quarterback. Of the eleven top tier quarterbacks I mentioned during the pre-draft preparation, nine of them were taken. The two remaining from that list were Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Lastly, I received an extremely favorable trade proposal to move down an entire round:

I give:

5.07, 9.10, 10.11

Other team gives:

6.09, 7.04, 9.04

The decision I faced here offers an excellent opportunity to discuss how my draft strategy changes as I transition away from the overall top 50 list and move towards a more roster-specific approach. Around this time, I begin making “mini” rankings between each of my picks that take positional need into account – that simply allows me to always think in terms of who I’m going to be looking at (at least) one pick ahead of where I am.

When I received this offer to move down from 5.07 all the way to 6.09 (a 15 pick drop), I put together the following list ranking my next 15 players. Keep in mind that I still had my own pick at 6.03 as well:



QB Tom Brady



QB Peyton Manning



WR Danny Amendola



WR Tavon Austin



WR Wes Welker



WR Justin Blackmon



WR Josh Gordon



WR Greg Jennings



WR Pierre Garcon



WR Antonio Brown



WR Marques Colston



RB Chris Ivory



RB Ryan Mathews



QB Tony Romo



TE Jason Witten

As you can see, this list is highly individualized to the team I had drafted up until this point. Brady and Manning were at the top of my list because they were the last two quarterbacks in my top tier, and after those two, wide receiver was clearly the highest priority. I actually like Chris Ivory quite a bit, and would be intrigued with Ryan Mathews in this range, but not at the expense of ignoring wide receiver or quarterback yet again with this specific roster.

This list allows me to consider the trade and ask myself “What the absolute worst -case scenario is for me if I take this trade?”  While the trade involves moving down from 5.07 to 6.09, in order to answer this question, I still have to consider the 6.03 pick as well since it’s the next time I’m up.

According to my mini-rankings, my worst-case scenario if I moved down to 6.09 would be Pierre Garcon and Jason Witten. If I stayed put at 5.07, my worst-case scenario would be Tom Brady and Pierre Garcon. Of course the worst-case scenarios are unlikely to happen with a list this long because it would require the rest of the league drafting every single player on it. Still, I find that it is a very valuable way to look at hypothetical post-trade outcomes.

Ultimately, I accepted the trade for a couple of reasons. First, I took a look at the roster makeup of the teams drafting between 5.07 and 6.09 and saw only one or two of them was likely to take a quarterback, increasing the chances that one of Manning or Brady would make it to 6.03.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, was the massive upgrade from 9.10 to 7.04. I felt it was particularly significant because I had neglected receiver so far, and moving up from the ninth round to the seventh would essentially gave me the opportunity to grab an extra quality receiver. My tier 2 receivers were all but gone, but with 6.03, 6.09, 7.04, and 7.07, I felt pretty good about my chances of taking a starting QB, and three quality starting WR’s from m third tier.

My only concern with taking this trade was that I had to gamble that Brady or Manning would make it back to me in the sixth round. If I missed both of those players, I would have felt that my team was behind at both the QB and WR positions. Ultimately, however, I could not pass up on the value the trade represented, so I crossed my fingers, and accepted.


How I felt about this trade was always going to depend on whether or not I landed Brady or Manning…which will be discussed in the next article in this series.

At this point, through five rounds, my roster is:

LeSean McCoy

DeMarco Murray

Maurice Jones-Drew

Rob Gronkowski

Hardly the ideal start to a PPR roster, but it’s always way too early to hand in a final verdict. I will say that at this point, I definitely felt like my work was cut out for me, but at least I was armed with four picks in the next two rounds.

To reserve your spot next  in next year’s DFWC, visit

Thanks for reading, I hope you were able to find some useful information for your own startups. I’m always available for questions/comments on Twitter (@mjreardon) or just comment here on the article and I’ll respond.