Fantasy football is one of the most popular sports in America, and has exploded into an industry with over $2 billion in revenue. The draft process can be a stressful time for fantasy players, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some habits that will help you build your team and win your league.
The Fantasy football draft day 2021 is a manifesto that was written by fantasy football drafters. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Drafters are what the manifesto is about.
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Stephen Covey, an educator, wrote “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in 1989. It went on to sell more than 30 million copies, becoming the first nonfiction audiobook to sell more than 1 million copies in the United States, and continues to be cited and referred to this day.
Matthew Berry, who was just five years old at the time, had his first fantasy football draft five years before. On that day, Don Smith, my first commissioner, shook my hand and said, “Today is draft day. It’s really the most wonderful day of the year.”
As I’ve discovered over the last 37 years, this is a 100 percent accurate statement. I also learnt that, in addition to being the greatest day of the year, it is also the most significant. To have a good fantasy season, you must have a solid draft.
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For nearly four decades, I’ve been a part of hundreds of drafts for a variety of sports since that first one. Some were excellent, while others were less so, but I gained knowledge from each and every one of them.
And while I go back to study, evaluate, and extract from them all, I thought I’d go back to 1989 as well. With respect to Stephen Covey, I can assure you that THESE are the seven habits of extremely successful drafters.
Habit 1: They devote a significant amount of time to planning.
It doesn’t imply something isn’t true just because it seems apparent. Draft day reflects many elements of life, but none more so than this: you get out of it what you put into it. So you’ll need to prepare, but first you’ll need to figure out what you’re preparing for.
And learning the rules and, more crucially, finding out the best methods to abuse them is the first step. What is the final score? Because this will clearly have an effect on the kind of player you are looking for. Is it a half-point or a full-point PPR? Because receiving accounted for at least 25% of the fantasy points for eight of the top ten running backs in full PPR last season. Is there a separate scoring system for tight ends? First downs are worth points, right? For long-term bets? Please don’t laugh. Once upon a time, I was a member of a punting league. Thank you so much for crushing it like a grape.
What is the size of your roster? In your league, how do you get free-agent players? If you’re on a free-agent budget, you may take more chances on draft day since you’ll have a chance to replace any player. However, if the system is based on waivers, it will be more difficult to sign the hot free agents, particularly if the rules enable someone to wait on the top selection for many weeks. As a result, during the draft, you’ll need to pay greater attention to depth. Is there an IR slot in your league? If so, how many are there? Using IR spaces enables you to take greater risks with talented but injury-prone players.
All of these questions will lead to roster building, which is an important component of your draft day success. Consolidating how players are acquired throughout the season with the size of the roster and any roster limitations you may have (such as a limit on the number of running backs) can aid you in evaluating individuals. Is it possible to obtain reliable production at different times throughout the year? If that’s the case, you may add additional “fliers” to your roster. In deeper leagues, when free agents are rare, you’ll need to fill in with some good middle-of-the-road sorts.
What time do your playoffs begin? How many teams will make it to the finals? With an 18-week season, this will alter for many leagues, and many will modify when their playoffs begin and possibly how many teams make it.
Effective drafters also take into consideration the platform they’re using. While we hope you and your league play on ESPN and the ESPN Fantasy App, the reality is that the draft is heavily affected by the default rankings in the draft room regardless of where you play. During a draft, people frequently panic and pick the highest-ranked player available. Having a set of rankings you trust and believe in, and comparing them to the default rankings of whatever site you play on, can help you discover which players are going too early, which players are going too low, market inefficiencies, and how you can take advantage of them.
You may also provide notes on other drafters’ habits if you’re in a league where you know the other players. (This one is constantly on the lookout for young, buzzy players, while the other hoards tight ends, and so on.)
Finally, practice mock drafts as often as possible, particularly after you’ve decided where you’ll select. As many as you possibly can. What happens if you choose Travis Kelce first? What about a modified “Zero RB” strategy or an RB-heavy approach? What if you get Patrick Mahomes in the first round? Or are you the league’s last quarterback? The more choices you use to observe how your team develops, the more prepared you’ll be for the actual draft, and you’ll be much more at ease making changes on the fly.
Habit 2: They determine the depth of each position.
Having an opinion on every prospective player isn’t enough. You must comprehend each player’s worth in relation to each other, as well as the depth of each position in relation to your roster requirements. You claim QB has a lot of depth? If you’re in a 14-team superflex league, that isn’t the case. They then begin to move rapidly.
You’re not simply trying to gather as many excellent players as possible when you pick. You’re putting together a team with limited resources. You only have so many places available, and you must also consider how simple or difficult it will be to replace players throughout the season.
Here’s a brief rundown of how I perceive this year’s positions:
Quarterback is once again a deep position, but the key is to find a quarterback who can provide value with his legs. Last season, eight of the top ten quarterbacks rushed for at least 200 yards. Rushing accounted for at least 15% of their fantasy points for seven of them. Consider the QBs who have “popped” as top fantasy possibilities in recent years: Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and even Justin Herbert (234 yards running, 5 rushing TDs in 15 games last season) all have a fantasy worth that is enhanced by their rushing ability.
The further you go into the draft, the riskier running back becomes. Because of the WR position’s depth, we favor running backs over wide receivers at the top of the rankings this year. You may be wondering what we mean when we say “depth.”
Here’s how the top scorers at running back and wide receiver in 2020 stacked up:
Compare the drop from RB5 to RB10 to the drop from WR5 to WR10. Isn’t it getting to be a big deal? But I get what you’re saying. Isn’t it true that a one-year sample doesn’t signify much? However, the pattern for 2020 is similar to that of the preceding decade.
Leaders in points scored by running backs and wide receivers (2010-19)
|Rank||Avg. FPTS||Decline||Rank||Avg. FPTS||Decline|
The drop-off in total points from RB5 to RB10 in the 2010s was 18.4%, whereas the drop-off from WR5 to WR10 was just 12%. When it comes to deciding which position to target with your first selection, the difference is considerable.
As running backs have remained sparse, the wide receiver position has become more crowded. What exactly do we mean when we say that? The number of players who score 180 points or more each game — more than 11 points per game — is growing, but the demand has not, unless your league has added a roster spot.
Thresholds for WR Scoring in the Previous Three Seasons
|Season||Scorers with a total of 200 points||scorers with 180 points|
In the same three seasons, WR2s (men chosen in the 11th to 20th round as wide receivers) have been safer selections and have outperformed their worth more frequently than RB2s. From 2018 to 2020, for example…
WR2 value was returned by 18 of the 30 WRs selected in the WR11-20 range (60 percent), while WR1 value was returned by nine of the 30 (40 percent) (30 percent )
14 of the 30 RBs selected in the RB11-20 range (47 percent) produced RB2 value, while six of the 30 returned RB1 value (20 percent )
Sixty percent of receivers selected in the WR2 category have returned WR2 value in each of the last three seasons. Running backs, on the other hand, have never had a rate greater than 50% in any of those seasons. Meanwhile, finding a breakthrough WR1 in the WR2 pool was 50 percent more probable than finding an RB1 in the RB2 pool. It’s a reliable advantage. Selecting the top receiver and attempting to piece together your running game from RB2 kinds, which is all that will be left if you skip on running backs in the first round, is preferable to picking an RB1 and then adding some WR2 types.
In terms of tight end, I like to be early or late. Take a look at this:
Past 4 Seasons PPG Gap at TE
|Season||Between TE1 and TE4, there is a period of transition.||Between TE4 and TE15 are TE4 and TE15.|
|A minimum of eight games must be played.|
The average PPG differential between TE1 and TE4 has been 4.9 points since 2017. It’s 4.3 from TE4 to TE15. That implies obtaining one of the top four men has an advantage, but not nearly as much as getting one of the other top ten guys. So I’m looking for Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, or George Kittle this year. I can live with you dipping into the Kyle Pitts/T.J. Hockenson/Mark Andrews/Logan Thomas pool because you really believe in one of them. Otherwise, I’d rather be one of the last players in my league to sign a tight end and hope to discover this year’s Logan Thomas or Robert Tonyan. Some possible candidates? Irv Smith Jr., Adam Trautman, Cole Kmet, Anthony Firkser, Gerald Everett, and Hayden Hurst are among the players who have made the team. Austin Hooper, I believe, will have a lot better season than most people believe.
Habit 3: They follow the one major fantasy football secret.
At its most basic level, fantasy football is all about reducing risk and increasing your chances of winning on a weekly basis. That is all there is to it. It’s that easy. From the moment you finish reading this essay until the conclusion of the season, everything you do should point back to that basic but seldom followed strategy.
Every draft selection, waiver claim, trade possibility, start/sit decision, and so on. Everything. I have no ability to foresee the future. You can’t either. Nobody else can either. So all you can do is reduce risk, give yourself the greatest chance of winning each week, make the best decision you can at the time, and let the chips fall where they may.
Only one quarterback has passed for 30 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. Russell Wilson has done it four times in a row. What is the most probable scenario?
The Chiefs and Buccaneers are the only two teams in the NFL to have finished in the top ten in pass percentage each of the last four seasons. What’s most likely to happen for Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady now that most or all of their offensive starters are back from a year ago?
In 2020, Robert Tonyan has almost as many touchdowns (11) as career catches (14) heading into the season. USA TODAY Sports/Michael McLoone
Last season, Robert Tonyan scored 11 touchdowns. Only three tight ends have scored as many touchdowns in consecutive seasons in the last 15 years (Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas). Tonyan accomplished this feat with just 52 catches. In 1991-92, Falcons WR Michael Haynes was the last player in the NFL to score double-digit touchdowns on less than 60 catches. What is the most probable scenario?
Now, just because something is most likely to happen doesn’t imply it will. It simply implies that it is far more likely to occur than not. That’s all we’re asking for. You’ll win a lot more than you’ll lose if you regularly play the odds. And that’s what you need to do when assessing players before and during the draft, as well as while constructing your squad. Just keep in mind that, at its most basic level, fantasy football is all about reducing risk and providing yourself the greatest chance to win on a weekly basis. So, constantly ask yourself, “What’s the most probable scenario?”
Habit 4: They use rankings in a flexible and contextual manner.
When you draft, you will have a set of rankings, whether they are your own, someone else’s, an average of several people’s, or even the default ones in the draft room. They’re useful, but they should only be used as a guideline, especially in the early stages of the writing. Once you’ve gotten your first five players, it’s all about roster building depending on what positions you need to fill, how much risk you’ve already taken, and how the draft is going, taking into consideration all of the previously mentioned variables.
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I say this as someone who spends an excessive lot of time on his rankings, but no list will nail end-of-season worth, particularly when weekly volatility is taken into account.
Take, for example, Seattle wide receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf last season. Metcalf was the WR7, while Lockett was the WR8, with just 5.9 total fantasy points separating them. Isn’t it true that it doesn’t matter which one you get? Let’s take a deeper look at how their seasons unfolded:
Metcalf: 8 games with 18+ points (50%) and 11 games with 12+ points (69%); 3 games with less than 9 points (19 percent )
Lockett has 5 games with 18+ points (31%), 7 games with 12+ points (44%), and 7 games with less than 9 points (44 percent )
Lockett has more games with at least 12 points than Metcalf. Lockett was also just as likely to score more than 12 points as he was to get less than nine. Last season, Lockett was considerably more week-to-week unpredictable than Metcalf, with a staggering 46 percent (!) of Lockett’s total fantasy points coming in just three games. Sure, he won you those three weeks, but Lockett underperformed for the next seven weeks. So, even if those players’ rankings were “correct” and they ended exactly next to each other in terms of end-of-season rankings, Metcalf was a much more useful fantasy player throughout the course of last season due to his consistency, and it wasn’t even close.
Tyler Lockett (left) and DK Metcalf both racked up fantasy points in 2020, but in very different ways. Joe Nicholson is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
This may seem self-evident, yet some players are selected early in drafts because of their probable assured output. Almost every NFL player can have a monster fantasy game in the proper game scenario, on the right team, and with the appropriate amount of usage. But we want to know that they’ll put on that show every week. Or, at the very least, are considerably more likely to have it.
Players like that are hard to come by, which is why they go early in drafts. However, there is a distinction to be made between players rated high for consistency and players ranked high (at least by some) for perceived potential. Early in the drafts, I want as much rock-solid output as possible. Early in drafts, too many people seek upside. I’d like a higher floor.
Consider Nick Chubb at the start of last season. Kareem Hunt, who isn’t flashy and isn’t extensively engaged in the passing game, is a threat. On the other side, he had a strong offensive line, a playcaller who favored the run, and a track record of success the year before, when Hunt appeared in the last eight games. So, as a starter, Nick Chubb:
RB15 in PPG 2019: RB11 in PPG 2020: RB7 in PPG 2018 Week 7 onwards (after the Carlos Hyde trade): RB15 in PPG 2019: RB11 in PPG 2020: RB7 in PPG
Since taking over as the starter in Cleveland, Chubb’s lowest per-game average has been RB15. Chubb has averaged 19.4 touches per game over the last three seasons, with at least 16 touches in 32 of 38 games (84 percent ). Chubb isn’t a flashy selection because, given his position and team context, he’s unlikely to ever have a top-five RB season, but his floor shouldn’t be overlooked. Last season, more riskier selections with tiny samples of exceptional performance like Kenyan Drake and Miles Sanders were regularly selected ahead of Chubb in the hopes of producing a complete season we hadn’t seen from either player.
They concentrate on winning weeks (habit #5).
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It’s a basic concept, yet many people overlook the fact that fantasy football is a weekly game. Using the scenario above, they can see that Metcalf and Lockett were both top-eight wide receivers in 2020, thus they can select any of them. This is an error since, as previously stated, three games accounted for almost half of Lockett’s output. You might argue that at the very least you won those three games.
That is, if you got him started in the first place. If is a big if. Consider the three weeks leading up to his 53-point performance against Arizona in Week 7. In Week 4, he had a bye week, then four receptions for 44 yards and two catches for 39 yards. Since Week 3, there have been no scores. In the weeks before up to that Week 7 game, he was averaging less than five targets a game. I’m sure most of them began him, but I’m sure some didn’t.
That is the most important aspect. It’s not enough to have high-scoring guys. It’s critical to understand WHEN to begin them.
It’s simple to start your own Nick Chubbs empire. In theory, your first five choices should all be Nick Chubbs — the guys you’ll start every week barring injury or a bye (and I’m assuming you’re not selecting a quarterback).
What about the rest of your lineup, though? I no longer look for guys that are consistent high-floor performers once I’m in the midst of my rounds. Because they’ve all gone. Now, I’m looking for guys who may emerge as an exceptional option at any given position in any given week, and who I believe I’ll be able to predict.
This is what I refer to as the “Never James White” Rule.
James White is a respectable fantasy football performer. Last season, he, like the rest of the Patriots’ offense, underwhelmed. However, among RBs who played in at least 24 games during the previous two seasons, White ranks RB21 in total points and RB22 in PPG. It’s a safe bet, just on the outskirts of RB2 territory. White, on the other hand, had just one — one! — game with at least 16.5 fantasy points throughout that time.
Jamaal Williams (six), Jeff Wilson Jr. (four), Giovani Bernard (four), Tony Pollard (four), Latavius Murray (four), Boston Scott (three), and DeAndre Washington are among the 65 RBs who had multiple games with at least 16.5 fantasy points over that period (three).
In five of the last six seasons, James White has had more catches than carries, and he has only had 15 touches in a game six times in his career. Winslow Townson is a sports reporter for USA TODAY.
This is why I argue that rankings are just a rough guide, and that their accuracy over the course of a season doesn’t really matter on a week-by-week basis. Consider Nyheim Hines and Jamaal Williams instead of Metcalf and Lockett as a “player you select later in the draft” scenario. Hines was RB25 last season in terms of points per game. Williams, on the other hand, was RB34. Hines, on the other hand, had a couple huge games that had no rhyme or reason to them. He just had 1.4 points the week following his big 27.3-point game. When it came to Williams, you knew EXACTLY when the big games were going to happen. When Aaron Jones was gone in Weeks 7 and 8, the team struggled. Williams and Williams each scored 21.4 and 18.2 points. Latavius Murray averaged 34.4 points per game and 31 touches per game in the two games Alvin Kamara missed in 2019. And you knew where to begin, Murray.
When it comes to filling up your bench, you must consider the caliber of players available on the waiver wire. Now, don’t get too crazy. Only if you know you can quickly locate meaningful output on the waiver wire during bye weeks or in event of injury should you choose a large number of these boom-or-bust guys. However, the advantage is that these kinds will not need a lot of draft-day money. They’ll usually be rated considerably lower in pre-draft season-long rankings than they will be in the weeks before you need to utilize them. That’s why, despite being one Ezekiel Elliott hammy injury away from being top five, there’s no need for players like White, who have no route to an elite position and whom you’ll never feel good about starting.
Habit 6: They are flexible and put their faith in themselves before anybody else.
Obviously, you should be watching, reading, and listening to as much as possible before you write, which means you should do so during the summer. There’s no such thing as an offseason! This will assist you in forming an opinion on each player. You don’t need to remember every stat or break down every move; all you need is a broad sense of whether you’re “for” or “against” the player and how much worth you assign to him. “Everyone has a strategy until they are hit in the mouth,” as Mike Tyson likes to say.
Need assistance with customizable rankings, lineup setup tools, season-long predictions, and in-season transactions for your scoring system? The Ultimate Fantasy Football resource is required. For one modest fee, RotoPass gives you access to many popular fantasy football sites. Thank you very much. Matthew Berry’s quote
The idea is that during a draft, you never know what to anticipate. Players you didn’t anticipate to be accessible are there for the plucking because of extraordinary runs and drafters with radically different values than you. And someone might be drafting in front of you, using your identical rankings printed from ESPN.com, and laughing as they select the guy you want while saying things like, “Hahaha do you LOVE this choice, Berry?”
That final one may be unique to me.
However, the most successful drafters are those who don’t have a set plan in mind. You’ll be able to adjust on the fly and won’t allow your draft be dictated by anybody or anything but yourself if you do the work and are prepared, if you mock draft like it’s your job, and if you’re adaptable.
Habit 7: They see the draft as just the first step on the road to success.
The fact that draft day is the most significant day does not imply that it is the only important day. During your draft, you are not required to win the league. It’s very improbable that you will. The draft is the basis of your fantasy football season if it’s a construction project. If there’s a quarterback shortage, instead of rushing it and going for a lower-tier player, get another running back. Make sure you have some excess so you may exchange it. Trust me when I say that another lower-tier quarterback will be available in the following round.
And this ties in with what I said earlier about not worrying rankings or ADP too much and instead opting for upside, since you’ll almost certainly lose some of these players on your path to success. Last year, six of the 12 players on the most ESPN playoff teams were waiver-wire additions, headed by James Robinson and Justin Herbert, with a smattering of Myles Gaskin, Chase Claypool, and Mike Davis. Only two of the top ten most often chosen players on ESPN champions were selected in the first five rounds (Alvin Kamara and Davante Adams). Every year, it happens.
Your fantasy season will be a work in progress, so keep in mind that while building your squad on draft day, it’s not only about drafting players and subsequently obtaining them via free agency and trade, but also about how you utilize them. It will be critical for you to make roster decisions throughout the season if you want to win the title. That, however, is a tale for “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective In-Season Managers.”
This piece was first published in ESPN Fantasy Football magazine, which is now on sale.
The espn fantasy football mock draft is a great way to get an idea of what you should do in your fantasy football draft. These 7 habits are the most important things that you can do when drafting.
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