The Commissioner’s Guide to Drafting for the 2022 Fantasy Football Season
We’ve reached that time of year. You know when people say it’s only acceptable to start playing Christmas music after Thanksgiving is over? Well, that’s kind of where we are right now in terms of football season. The MLB All-Star break has concluded, there’s no more NBA or NHL, golf has played its last major, and football season is finally close enough to start talking about it (though if it were up to me I’d be putting Christmas decorations up in October and talking about the start of football season in June).
So, I’m sure a lot of you have a fantasy football draft coming up relatively soon. If you’re doing a snake draft with your league this year, here are some tips to win it all (or at least avoid getting whatever embarrassing last-place punishment your league chooses).
Tip 1: Don’t Rely on Rankings
No matter which drafting website you use, the players will always be ranked in order of who’s “best”. However, these rankings aren’t the be-all and end-all of draft decisions. In fact, most of the time, you can find a much better value player an entire round or two later. I like to look at a lot of different sets of rankings to influence my draft. If every list has one guy over another, it’s a no-brainer. But other times, rankings aren’t so black and white. If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s that fantasy football is anything but predictable, so don’t draft like it is.
You have to draft based on your league rules and the players you feel good about this season, regardless of the rankings. For example, Juju Smith-Schuster (Chiefs) may be the obvious choice in a PPR league while you might consider drafting Chase Claypool (Steelers) in a non-PPR league. In PPR, Juju gets so much volume, making him the obvious choice. But in non-PPR, Smith-Schuster and Claypool average about the same number of points per week. The only difference is, you’re much more likely to get Claypool in a later round than Juju for a better value pick.
Some leagues double points for touchdowns over 50 yards. This makes the choice between two players who average the same amount of yards and touchdowns much easier. Never go out of your way to pick a player who only catches deep balls, but if the decision is a tough one, lean the way that favors your league rules.
Tip 2: Go for Volume
Whether you’re in a PPR or non-PPR standard league, always pick the player who gets the most volume. If you’re in a PPR league, that’s a no-brainer. But volume is just as valuable in a non-PPR league. The more your guy touches the ball, whether he’s a running back or a receiver catching short passes, the better the chance of him doing something special with the reception. I’m not talking about catching a pass on your own 20 and taking it to the house. While that is something every fantasy owner loves to see from their team, it’s not realistic in terms of drafting strategies.
However, if your guy gets 10+ receptions per game, chances are he’s doing something with them. That could be just getting a few yards off each reception and maybe getting a touchdown, or it could be breaking free off one of those into a 30-yard run. It could be getting two or three 10-yard runs. The possibilities are endless. But whatever it ends up being, it’s comforting to know that the ball is in your guy’s hands that many times per game. And trust me, he’ll end up doing something good with those receptions more often than not.
If your player gets the most volume on their offense or more volume than most other players, he’ll have a high floor and ceiling. I always avoid players who have a high ceiling but low floor. The 20-point weeks are fantastic, but I can’t afford for that same player to follow it up with a 3-point week, which is why I draft players who have high floors, and respectable ceilings. Their best game doesn’t need to be 40 points, as long as it’s good. I’d much rather have five consistent weeks of 10-point games than that whole inconsistent seesaw.
Tip 3: Know the Backups
As unfortunate as it is, injuries happen all the time in the NFL. How you draft can make or break your fantasy season if one of your star players gets injured. That’s why it’s important to learn every running back’s backup, just in case. More specifically, it’s most important to know the backup of the running back you’ve drafted.
For example, last year the Browns were without Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb for their Thursday night game versus the Broncos. D’Ernest Johnson started for the Browns at running back. And he killed it. He rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown. Johnson was on the waivers in most leagues just days before his breakout performance.
For most running backs, you won’t need to worry about picking the third string guy. The Browns running game is just a different breed. However, if you have a star running back who goes down mid-season, you don’t want to be scrambling on the waivers to find his backup, especially if you have to submit a claim and compete with someone else. It’s better to find your running back’s backup and draft him in one of the later rounds of the draft to save yourself all that panic.
Tip 4: The Draft Doesn’t Stop at the 15th Round
You wouldn’t believe how many people look at their team on draft day and then look at the same team when they inevitably miss the playoffs, wondering where it all went wrong. I don’t think there’s ever been a draft where the best players of the season are the same players who were the best at the time of the draft.
In addition to good players evolving into great players, fantasy team owners have to navigate injuries and bye weeks while monitoring breakout players. This is exactly why every fantasy owner must become comfortable with the waivers. Let me rephrase that. In order to have a winning fantasy team, you need to evolve. You need to practically live on the waivers.
Find the next big guy. Take a chance on a backup. Drop someone on your bench who’s underperforming. Pick up someone to fill in for a bye week. Just remember this: Football certainly isn’t stagnant, so don’t let your fantasy team be stagnant either.
Tip 5: Don’t Base Your Draft Around Bye Weeks
It’s so easy to panic when you see that you’ve already drafted three players with the same bye week. But take a deep breath, it’ll be fine. If the next two guys you want to draft have the same one, don’t let good players go because of it. You’ll figure that week out. That’s what the waivers are for. That’s what trades are for. That may just be your bad week (everyone has at least one). Whatever you do, don’t base your picks off of bye weeks during your draft.
Of course, this is all within reason. I’m not saying to eliminate bye weeks from your consideration. Just don’t make complete decisions based on them. If you have two players who you’re back and forth between, take everything into consideration. Look at your league’s scoring rules, look at how well-rounded your team is (or isn’t), and look at the bye week of the players you already have. If you can find something in any of those that put one player above another (which you usually can), then there’s your answer. But if you’re confident about your pick, don’t let any of that change your mind.
Tip 6: Don’t Discount Streaming
I’m not going to tell you to stream a quarterback, but I’ll tell you that with certain positions, streaming players is incredibly effective. Personally, I stream both defenses and kickers and haven’t regretted it yet (knock on wood). When people claim someone from the waivers, the first player they drop is usually a defense or a kicker. So, usually you’ll have a new pick of defenses and kickers from week to week.
In terms of defenses, I usually like to look first at matchup and next at performance. Obviously, if the defense has an easy matchup against a weak offense, it’s an easy decision. However, you always need to put in backup claims because when a defense is playing the Jets, everyone usually has the same idea. If your original claim fails or there are no great matchups for a defense on the waivers, look at the game log for the available defenses. If they’ve been averaging more interceptions, forcing more fumbles, or racking up more sacks, they can make up some of the points they may lose versus a stronger offense.
As far as kickers, there are a few more variables. What’s their matchup? What’s their offense like? Are they going to have more field goal or extra point opportunities this week? Are they kicking under a dome or in open air? From these criteria, I try to pick the kicker with the least amount of extraneous variables influencing his game (weather, away game, etc.) and with the best matchup for field goal opportunities.
Of course, with streaming, I don’t get it right every week. But it’s definitely better than being stuck with a defense who gets me one point for five consecutive weeks and then breaks out with 16 when they have a good matchup. Same with a kicker.
Football is hard to predict, but like I said, fantasy is ever-evolving, and we have to evolve with it. Good luck with your draft!
The Ringer: The Ringer’s Fantasy Football Rankings 2022
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The Athletic: 2022 Fantasy Football Draft Kit: Rankings, Sleepers, Mock Drafts, Projects & More