In many ways, this time of year can be the loneliest time for fantasy football fanatics to endure. Mini-camps for NFL teams are done and over with, which means coaches and players have jettisoned out for one last hoorah before the grind of another NFL season ramps up into full swing in late July. The lull in reporting during the four-week inactive NFL stretch can be a grueling one from a fantasy perspective, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a litany of responsible measures one who actively competes in high stakes leagues should be doing this time of year. Rankings, draft positioning and scoring formats, knowing your opponents’ tendencies, and mock drafting, should all be things that a cognizant owner needs to be undertaking during this time off.
First and foremost, the detail that is most important to fantasy success each season is getting my stack in order, and by stack I mean rankings. If you haven’t been working on this list by now, there is a very good chance you are way behind the curve in your league already. Fantasy football success in many aspects boils down to this very component. Getting your stack straight, for all intents and purposes, is an absolute necessity when it comes to drafting well each season. Three intricate phases are involved in this process and they all happen in the offseason. Free agency, Trades and the NFL draft.
It is so very important to know where free agents land in the offseason relative to their skill sets for potential success. A player who takes the money and goes to an unfamiliar scheme and situation can cause their production to fall straight off a cliff in many regards. Proof of this evidence can be seen by looking at DeMarco Murray when he left Dallas for Philadelphia in the 2015 season. The 2014 NFL rushing leader and Offensive MVP headed for greener pastures with Philadelphia, and in one season with Philadelphia managed to tarnish his entire fantasy reputation when he belly-flopped miserably in then head-coach Chip Kelly’s offense.
Trades can shift fantasy football landscapes in ways that can affect the upcoming draft for better or worse outright. Just look at the Antonio Brown move this season from Pittsburgh to Oakland. Once considered a no doubt consensus WR1 off the board in all formats the last five years, Brown has now been relegated to as far down as WR6. Again, this can be a good or bad thing. On one hand, you have a great player who is used to going in some cases No. 1 overall in Points Per Reception (PPR) leagues, that are now available for consumption in late-second or early-third rounds. The risk is real that he could slip in production given Oakland’s propensity to be offensively challenged the last few seasons. However, in a pass-happy Jon Gruden offense he could continue to be a fantasy stud. The choice, as they say, is yours.
The last phase is the NFL draft and its impact on teams around the league. Rookie players push out injury-prone or aging vets every year like clockwork. There are also situations where an offseason coaching change has forced out a veteran player in favor of a younger more scheme appropriate choice. A great example of this happened back in 2016, when aging and oft-injured Tony Romo was forced out by a lesser-known rookie fourth-round draft choice by the name of Dak Prescott after another injury early in the preseason forced Romo to the sidelines. By the time Romo was healthy enough to return nine weeks later, Prescott had led Dallas to an impressive 8-1 record and the rest, as they say, “is history,” because Tony Romo retired the next year and Prescott is now well on his way to one of the greatest success stories in NFL history.
Shifting gears now to the next step of your offseason prep work, is understanding your draft positioning. For these purposes we will be using a 12-man league format. Whether you’re lucky enough to acquire a spot in the Top-4, are stuck in the middle, or picking late in the first round, it’s good to understand what to do when it’s your turn on the clock. For most drafts, a snake format is employed in order to give those picking at the back end some type of competitive equaling. And for purposes of this article I will use this as the format to explain my logic. Having one of the first four picks is a huge responsibility and also a huge risk in my opinion all rolled into one.
I say this because mess this up and your season can be DOA (Dead on Arrival) for two reasons. First is the obvious one, that player you take at one of those four top spots should be the cornerstone player who you will ride into the playoffs. Second, if you miss on that player, you don’t pick again for 20-23 selections which then tends to compound the problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen fantasy owners completely bomb the top picks, making it imperative to research any and all potential risks associated with the player you are contemplating on selecting with that high pick.
If you happen to be seeded in the 5-8 range, the draft can be really tricky to navigate especially in PPR formats, which is the format that we will use here. Typically, most running backs who have pass catching upside get swallowed up in those first few top picks, leaving an owner with a big decision on going top wide receiver available or snatching up the next best running back. It’s a big decision because it often sets up the next decision in the second round. Going wide receiver-wide receiver with an owner’s first two picks can hamstring them going forward in most leagues that force owners to start two running backs on game day. The same thing can be said for going running back-running back. There’s a good chance you will be picking from a diluted wide receiver pool the next time you pick.
If you’re at the back end of the draft, you’re usually at the mercy of how the draft falls to you, so it’s suggested that you plan ahead and decide whether or not you want to execute either running back-wide receiver, wide receiver-running back, running back-running back or a wide receiver-wide receiver strategy. And after you make your decision, it will be a long wait before you go again because of the snake. Most players use one of these three basic ways of going about it. The key is to pair up the right tandem.