Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Tips, advice for dominating your 2020 snake draft

When it comes to drafting a strong fantasy football team, you want to be well prepared to kill the snake … draft. Between the pick you get in the lottery, who’s all playing in your league and the depth of offensive skill talent in the NFL, many things are different from one year to the next, and all the tips and advice you’ve received regarding draft strategy in the past need to be reevaluated.

Of course, nothing should change the fact you should be in position to dominate the draft from the first round to the last. If you do the right amount of studying and practicing, you should come out with a winning team, no matter what.

You should also lean on all the help and resources available to you, from player rankings to more in-depth analysis pieces to Fantasy Pros’ fully customizable mock draft stimulator. Here’s one more: A comprehensive, step-by-step guide to how you can get to that desired domination:

2020 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy, Tips, and Advice

Start with a five-round plan of attack

The one thing you do know going into a 12-team fantasy football draft is that you will end up with five of the top 60 picks. Once you draw a selection between No. 1 and No. 12, it’s easy to think too much about that first pick and not about the other core four picks that follow in your snake drafts. In most leagues, these are the players who should consistently make up at least half of your weekly starters.

A no-brainer first-round pick of an RB1 or WR1 means little if you don’t back him up with a bevy of support. Participate in mock drafts with your pick and league specifics to know what combinations of talent you can get so when you’re on the clock for real, you know your best options and how to audible if a pick doesn’t fall as you expected.

This is the fantasy football version of your opening drive, and whoever scripts their first series the best usually ends up having the most success all season long.

Go early and often with running backs

Running backs are back in fantasy football, so we’ve heard. The truth is, they never went anywhere.

As catching the ball out of the backfield has become more vital in real life, there are more teams returning to versatile workhorses. Starting with the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey and the Giants’ Saquon Barkley, there’s a special group of high-touch backs to go after first. Then it’s a mix of power guys, who are dependent on chunk runs and touchdowns, and change-of-pace types tailored for the passing game.

In your RB1-RB2 combination, you should have one dependable, often explosive back and one consistently complementary one. If you are required to start only two, you should draft five or six among your 17 total players. If you have a FLEX position, having up to seven backs is acceptable.

The key with your backups is diversifying your portfolio: Drafting those with well-defined roles for early in the season and those with massive upside for the second half. Later, make sure you try to land whatever insurance you can, handcuffing your top backs or even someone else’s, depending on the injury history of said backs.

There are a few durable rushers at the top, but there tends to be a lot of attrition tied to both fading veterans and injuries. Make sure you have enough hedged bets and lottery tickets when it’s time to scratch them.

Get at least one elite wide receiver

Did we mention it’s a passing league? Top-tier wideouts, such as Michael Thomas, Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, are so good catching passes from top-level quarterbacks that they serve as surer things than most running backs. They carry more top-24 weight in PPR leagues, but they are also standard studs.

The key here is knowing your tiers across positions. With running back remaining a little deeper this year, you should take a receiver somewhere before the mid-third round. Should you start by picking No. 8 or No. 9 overall and then No. 16 or No. 17, it’s also OK to open WR-WR or even WR-TE with a combination starting of, say, Adams or HIll because that’s the better value play in relation to forcing a pick on a back.

If you begin with a good baseline of a tried-and-true gamebreaker or two at receiver, it takes the pressure off hitting on all the right high-upside sleepers later. There also is less attrition at the position with most of the top players being durable, so you want to tap into wideout before the fourth-round dropoff.

Know it’s OK to splurge at tight end

There are three tight ends in a class by themselves going into the 2020 season: Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and now, Mark Andrews. They are all going within the first 30 picks in most fantasy drafts, about a round and a half ahead of the Zach Ertz, Darren Waller and everyone else at the position.

Kelce is often going as high as the early second round, while Kittle and Andrews are going in the late second or early third round. In standard leagues, Kelce was the No. 12 highest-scoring wide receiver or tight end last season, while Kittle was No. 28, Waller was No. 31 and Andrews was No. 32. In PPR, Kelce was the No. 18 non-quarterback while Kittle was No. 35, Waller was No. 37, Ertz was No. 42 and No. 48.

Surrounding factors say Kelce, Kittle and Andrews should keep up their production in ’20, while Ertz and Waller might see a dropoff. The numbers then say they all are worth their ADPs. Because Kelce, Kittle and Andrews can produce like WR1s, they are luxuries worth landing if your pick falls right.

If don’t get one of the top three early, the old adage of waiting late also applies nicely this year. The position is deeper with tight ends, such as Falcons’ Hayden Hurst, Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski, and the Dolphins’ MIke Gesicki, proving late TE1 value.

Find the best values at quarterback

Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott were the top two quarterbacks in fantasy football overall last season. Before 2019 drafts, they were ranked as borderline QB1s, around 11th to 15th in most places. Ahead of 2020, Jackson and Prescott now are ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, behind Patrick Mahomes.

Expect someone in your league to jump on Mahomes and Jackson by the end of the second round. The quarterbacks right behind him in the rankings — Prescott, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray and Deshaun Watson — are all going around the late fourth and fifth rounds. The goal is to target the quarterback who will best outperform his ADP, period. That’s really the aim at every position, but it’s more easily accomplished here.

When you take a QB early, it comes at the opportunity cost of passing on player at another position who has greater value in relation to others at his position. There’s no guarantee Mahomes and Jackson will be that much better than the next four, or Prescott, Wilson, Murray and Watson will outscore Josh Allen, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz and everyone behind them.

Quarterback production tends to look very different from preseason projections. There are plenty of QBs ranked closer to or as QB2s that carry upside as solid QB1s. This year, familiar past high scorers, such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger, are excellent values outside the top 10.

Know why you’re taking a player

Sounds simple, right? Make sure you’ve heard of the guy you’re taking in each round. Have a general idea of his talent level and what his potential role can be — both on his real team and your fantasy team. Don’t go for some shaky veteran WR5 when you can take a more valuable young RB4 who’s an injury away from big touches. You’re not taking a player because you like his name or where he went to college. You’re making every pick count with the intent that he can help you win a championship.

Don’t be a slave to the rankings

While you do want to follow somewhat of a script early, be prepared to pivot and freelance a little once you see your early draft results develop. Are you happier about some positions more than others? If a player doesn’t excite you or can give you only limited help, don’t take him. Use your cheat sheet as more a rough outline than a stone tablet. Make sure your use your gut and make your draft your own. The one predictable thing about a fantasy draft is its unpredictability.

Don’t be influenced by other picks

This is an addendum to the previous tip. During your draft, there are bound to be position runs or drafters going straight down the list, filling out their starting lineups before getting backups. Every pick should be your own. Don’t base it on what everyone is doing because you think that’s what you should be doing.

Avoid getting too caught up in bye weeks

Other than the exception of making sure not to take two quarterbacks who are off during the same week — Wentz, Jared Goff, Baker Mayfield, and Joe Burrow all don’t play in Week 9 — you don’t need to pay much attention here. 

Does it matter that Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon and Miles Sanders are all off in Week 9? If you can get two out of three early to have a loaded backfield, you would do it. Sure, you will have a tough go of it that week, but you will be in great shape the rest of the season. 

First and foremost, the goal is to have as much productive talent as possible, then worry about minimizing availability conflicts. Things also can change so much at the non-QB positions that a seemingly solid bye-week fill-in on draft day is a waiver-wire afterthought come Week 6. Know your byes so you are prepared during and after the draft, but obsessing over them is waste of energy.

Embrace the stream with defenses

There’s always one defense that has a monster season. Last season it was the Patriots. The year before it was the Bears. In 2018, it was the Jaguars. But it’s hard for a defense to sustain a high level of playmaking (sacks, interceptions, TDs) in an offensive-minded league, especially if it faces a tougher set of matchups. In New England’s case, it lost a lot of pass-rushing pop in the offseason, won’t be playing with as many leads without Brady, and has a more difficult schedule.

Don’t spend a pre-10th-round pick trying to outsmart everyone at D/ST. You can get fortunate with the next Patriots, Bears or Jaguars, but wait everyone out to try to get that unit.

Look at the early part of the schedule to see who has the best matchups, and think about taking a second defense that can be of great service in subsequent weeks. That gets you ahead of the mad dash to get the D/ST everyone is recommending on the waiver wire. Most important, unless it’s evident you’re right on a team such as New England that can be a weekly play, treat the position as disposable and interchangeable.

Take kickers in the last round (if your league still uses them)

This position really should get the boot from fantasy football leagues for good. Besides, 2020 seems like an ideal year for that kind of cancellation. It’s lucky to win with your kicker and frustrating to lose because of your opponent’s kicker. We all know the best kickers are from the better offensive teams, making the weekly results random from that point. When you make your last pick, just go for someone accurate who can make a few long ones.

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