(Updated August 18th,2016)
NFL pre-season games are underway and before you know it the regular season will be upon us. The same goes for Fantasy Football.
Yes, Fantasyland fans, it’s time once again to gather with friends and draft the NFL’s very best to battle for a championship, cash prizes, and whatever else your league does.
In preparation for the upcoming fantasy season, I wanted to provide newcomers and veterans alike with a survival guide to success for 2016.
So without further ado, I give you 10 Fantasy Football Guidelines:
1. Mock, Mock, and Mock Some More
Fantasy mock draft lobbies have been open since May of this year and it’s now primetime for draft day practice.
To fantasy veterans this is old news, but to newbies reading this, mocking is by and large the best way to prepare yourself for fantasy success.
You can mock right now at any of these lobbies listed below:
**Pro-Tip: Mock as often as possible for your respective league (Standard, PPR, Two-QB, Dynasty, etc.) leading up to your live draft.
(For Two-QB leagues: Fantasy Pros and Fantasy Football Calculator offers customization options for a simulated mock. But you will likely mock against computer based picks, which may or may not prepare you for tendencies of actual mockers)**
2. Make Your First Two Picks Count
Over the last few years, first and second round draft strategy has seen quite the transformation.
Pre-2015 a fantasy owner may have been inclined to draft RB-RB, last year the tendency may have leaned towards RB-WR (or vice versa). This year you will likely see some owners go WR-WR (unless it’s a Two-QB league).
I’m not here to tell you which strategy you should apply. I’m simply stating that you need to pick the best two players available when on the clock.
You’re picking eighth in a 10-team standard league and the following first round players are available:
Who do you pick?
It all depends on how you want to anchor your roster.
If you want at least one player who is the best at his position, draft Gronkowski with confidence and pick your poison between Bryant, Charles, or Robinson.
If you aren’t worried about a TE and want at least one elite player at another position, choose Hopkins or Peterson and then decide if you want to go with another RB or WR (or reach for a QB).
3. Don’t Panic Pick
Panic picking happens when a fantasy owner anticipates selecting a specific player and right before they go on the clock said player is taken by someone right in front of them.
As a result, the owner frantically picks a player based on positional ranking or name familiarity.
It’s round four and you are looking to snag Thomas Rawls.
You watch as the picks before you’re on the clock dwindles down to three and Rawls is still there.
Then the unthinkable happens – the owner picking just before you takes Rawls! Shocked, you pick Matt Jones.
One panic pick can wreck the rest of your draft strategy as you may overreach on your next pick or undervalue other players later in the draft.
So, how can you avoid this?
Most fantasy draft formats offer some sort of player queue. You’ll want to utilize this feature throughout the draft, as it allows you to have a prepared list of players you desire.
By placing players in the queue, you have a quick and easy point of reference in case a desired player flies off the board earlier than expected.
The importance of this guideline can’t be stressed enough.
4. Be Conscious of Your Draft Position
This guideline goes hand-in-hand with making sure not to panic pick. Understanding where you will be picking each round is essential to your draft day success.
Most standard drafts use a snake style as shown below:
Round 1: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 Round 2: 12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Round 3: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 and this order repeats throughout.
To put this into perspective (this also ties back into making those first picks count), if you pick last in a 12-team league there will be 22 picks made after your first two selections.
This means if you go the WR-WR route, you risk watching elite RB1’s and a QB or two fall off the board. This translates into settling for an RB2-type as your first of two RB roster spots.
Then again, if you pick Dez Bryant and Allen Robinson with your WR-WR strategy, that combo may make you a tough matchup in your league. Having missed out on a Devonta Freeman or Jamaal Charles may not hurt you at all.
Nevertheless, being mindful of who will be available when you’re on the clock will allow you to reach properly for a player you want and steal others away.
**Pro-Tip: You’ll want to take into consideration players who are suspended to start the season or still recovering from injury.**
5. Know Which Running Backs Need Handcuffed
Handcuffing in fantasy football refers to an owner who drafts an RB1 caliber running back early and then selects that RB’s backup later on as insurance (in case of injury or a lengthy suspension).
This strategy, however, is not one that should be applied to every RB1.
Below are examples of RB1’s that you should or should not handcuff:
RB1’s To Handcuff:
Le’Veon Bell (recently suspended four games for violating the NFL drug testing policy) Handcuff With: DeAngelo Williams (2015’s Ultimate Handcuff)
Devonta Freeman (breakout running back from 2015 who could flame out in 2016) Handcuff With: Tevin Coleman
Jamaal Charles (a top five fantasy RB when healthy) due to health issues Handcuff With: Spencer Ware/Charcandrick West
Doug Martin (Arguably one of the best running backs in fantasy last year and when healthy is a solid RB1 producer) Handcuff With: Charles Sims
LeSean McCoy (Can be a top 10 fantasy RB when healthy, possibly top five if he returns to his old form) Handcuff With: Karlos Williams/Reggie Bush
Honorable Mention: Matt Forte (Handcuff: Bilal Powell), DeMarco Murray (Derrick Henry), Chris Ivory (Handcuff: T.J. Yeldon).
RB1’s Not To Handcuff:
Adrian Peterson (All-Day is still the man in Minnesota and you can likely pick up Jerick McKinnon off the waiver-wire)
Todd Gurley (Turned in a fine rookie season and appears to be the second coming of Steven Jackson for the Rams, his backups can be found on the wire)
David Johnson (After a breakout 2015 campaign DJ appears to be Arizona’s bell cow, plus you can probably find Chris Johnson on the wire if need be)
Lamar Miller (According to most fantasy experts, Miller is in line for a monster season via Houston head coach Bill O’Brien’s run-heavy offensive scheme . As a result Alfred Blue should go undrafted)
Ezekiel Elliott (It might be a stretch to include Elliot here, but the Cowboys clearly plan on using him as the every down back making Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris waiver wire material)
Honorable Mention: Mark Ingram, Carlos Hyde, Latavius Murray.
**Pro-Tip: With this strategy, handcuffing an RB means potentially sacrificing a roster spot that you could fill with a sleeper pick instead.**
6. Beware The Bye Weeks (5,8,9,10)
When drafting your fantasy football team you will want to be cautious of certain bye weeks this season.
Having a team full of players with similar bye weeks could find you with a potential loss or two at some point in the season.
While two losses may not sound like much, it could be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. All it would take is stumbling out of the gate or dealing with the injury bug, and those two losses could easily turn into five or more.
This is not to say you shouldn’t draft Dez Bryant and Cam Newton because they share the same bye week (wk.7), but it doesn’t mean you should take a risk drafting an entire team of players with identical bye weeks either.
Allow me to provide you with ALL of the bye weeks this year and highlight the ones to pay very close attention:
Notable Fantasy Players Impacted (NFPI):
GB: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis, James Starks, Packers D/ST, Mason Crosby.
PHI: Jordan Matthews, Ryan Mathews, Nelson Agholor, Sam Bradford, Eagles D/ST, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles.
JAX: Allen Robinson, Blake Bortles, Allen Hurns, Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Julius Thomas, Jaguars D/ST
KC: Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Maclin, Travis Kelce, Chiefs D/ST, Charcandrick West, Cairo Santos, Alex Smith.
SEA: Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Thomas Rawls, Tyler Lockett, Seahawks D/ST, Jimmy Graham, Steven Hauschka, C.J. Prosise.
MIN: Adrian Peterson, Stefon Diggs, Teddy Bridgewater, Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota D/ST, Kyle Rudolph, Blair Walsh.
TB: Doug Martin, Mike Evans, Jameis Winston, Vincent Jackson, Charles Sims, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Buccaneers D/ST, Roberto Aguayo
CAR: Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, Johnathan Stewart, Ted Ginn Jr., Panthers D/ST, Graham Gano, Mike Tolbert, Devin Funchess.
DAL: Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Romo, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten, Dan Bailey.
BAL: Joe Flacco, Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Justin Forsett, Kenneth Dixon, Justin Tucker, Benjamin Watson, Ravens D/ST.
LA: Todd Gurley, Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Rams D/ST, Jared Goff, Pharoh Cooper, Greg Zuerlein.
MIA: Jarvis Landry, Jay Ajayi, DeVante Parker, Ryan Tannehill, Arian Foster, Dolphins D/ST, Jordan Cameron.
SF: Carlos Hyde, Torrey Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Vance McDonald, Bruce Ellington.
ARI: David Johnson, Carson Palmer, Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Cardinals D/ST, Chandler Catanzaro.
CHI: Alshon Jeffrey, Jeremy Langford, Kevin White, Jay Cutler, Bears D/ST, Zach Miller, Ka’Deem Carey, Jordan Howard, Robbie Gould.
CIN: A.J. Green, Jeremy Hill, Tyler Eifert, Andy Dalton, Giovani Bernard, Bengals D/ST, Brandon LaFell.
HOU: DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller, Brock Osweiler, Texans D/ST, Will Fuller.
NE: Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, Patriots D/ST, Stephen Gostkowski, LaGarrette Blount, Martellus Bennett.
BUF: LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Tyrod Taylor, Bills D/ST, Karlos Williams, Charles Clay, Robert Woods.
IND: Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Frank Gore, Dwayne Allen, Phillip Dorsett, Adam Vinatieri.
OAK: Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray, Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, Raiders D/ST, Sebastian Janikowski, Clive Walford.
DEN: Demaryius Thomas, C.J. Anderson, Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos D/ST, Brandon McManus, Devontae Booker.
NYJ: Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Eric Decker, Jets D/ST, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bilal Powell, Nick Folk.
CLE: Gary Barnridge, Duke Johnson Jr., Isiah Crowell, Corey Coleman, Andrew Hawkins.
TEN: DeMarco Murray, Delanie Walker, Marcus Mariota, Kendall Wright, Dorial Green-Beckham, Derrick Henry.
** Pro-Tip: Bye weeks eight and nine are tied for the most teams/players out of action with six each.**
7. When Drafting For TE, K, Or D/ST It’s THE Best Or Bust
As stated above, unless you’re drafting Gronk, Greg Olsen, Stephen Gostkowski, Graham Gano, or Seattle/Denver’s D/ST you can wait it out.
Sure you can go after Jordan Reed in round three or four, but keep in mind you’re taking him over top 10 QB’s, WR’s, and possibly top 15 candidate RB’s.
Instead of reaching for Reed, you can sure up your QB, WR1 or WR2, or RB2 roster spot and still snag Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker, or Tyler Eifert in rounds five or six.
You can even pass on all of those guys and grab a Gary Barnridge, Antonio Gates, Colby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, or Ladarius Green type in rounds seven or eight.
Heck if you really want to wait Jimmy Graham, Zach Miller, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Jared Cook, Vance McDonald, Clive Walford, and others will be available beyond round 10.
As for drafting for a K and D/ST, my policy is usually to pick both last and stream when necessary. However, if a Justin Tucker or Steven Hauschka and decent defenses like the Jets and Vikings are available after round 10, feel free to snatch one of each up in round 11 and 12.
8. Become A Waiver Wire Hawk
If you follow all of those draft guidelines your team is likely looking pretty good. There’s a nice balance of talent and breakout candidates among your starters, the bench consists of solid sleeper picks, and bye weeks shouldn’t cause you too much of a headache.
Now that the team is assembled pay close, if not immediate, attention to the waiver wire.
Think of the waiver wire as your one stop shopping market, or in some cases a second chance at salvaging your fantasy season.
It never fails, every year a handful or more of players come out of nowhere and turn Fantasyland on it’s head. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to swoop in before anyone else in your league does and grab at least one of these players.
**Pro-Tip: Pay attention to your waiver wire order. When a player is dropped by an owner he will be on waivers for a 48-72 hour period. Based on where you rank in the waiver wire order (1-10, 1-12, etc.) you’ll want to place a waiver claim accordingly.
Be cautious with your claim though, especially if you are high up in the waiver wire order (#5 or higher). If you pickup a hot player who fizzles back out in two weeks, you will fall to last place on the waiver wire order and likely miss out on the next rising star. Timing and choosing wisely is everything with the wire**
9. Make A Trade
Making a trade is not only a fun way to feel like a real GM, but depending on the deal it could propel your team to a championship.
Personally, I make at least one trade every year, but it’s certainly not a requirement nor a guaranteed method for success. Nevertheless, there are two types of traders in the fantasy football market:
The Con Artist- veterans are all too familiar with who this guy is. The con artist will typically trade with newer league members and offer what seems like a good deal on the surface, but is ultimately ripping said owner off.
Con offers Derek Carr, DeAngelo Williams in exchange for Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Forte in week five
Why this deal is potentially unfair: When healthy Roethlisberger is a potential top five fantasy QB and Forte is a consistent fantasy producer. Meanwhile Carr could crack the top five this year with an incredible season, however, he has the toughest passing defense schedule after week four and Williams loses fantasy relevance as Le’Veon Bell is due back by week five (and the Con owns Bell).
The Mutual Benefactor- This is an owner who wants to shake things up regarding their lineup and believes in offering only a fair trade to another owner. The Mutual Benefactor will usually trade more than once and typically can be negotiated with.
Mutual Benefactor offers Latavius Murray, Michael Floyd in exchange for Thomas Rawls, Erick Decker in week seven.
Why this is a win-win situation: Murray and Rawls are interchangeable as solid RB2’s with RB1 potential and similarly for Floyd and Decker as both are solid fantasy producers.
**Pro-Tip: Do your homework if offered a trade this year and make sure you’re getting a good deal. Compare projected statistics, bye weeks, health history, and so on before you hit the accept button.**
10. Have A Manageable Number Of Fantasy Teams/Leagues
Look, I love fantasy sports as much as the next person, but as with most anything moderation is key.
Some of you reading this currently have a fantasy baseball team/league or two (or more) going on (and will likely through October).
So, if you decide to join/lead four to five fantasy football leagues, you will be responsible for six or more teams instead of two or three (and that’s not including fantasy basketball or hockey!).
The trouble with having a large number of fantasy teams is that eventually your players all start to blend together. It then becomes easy to forget setting each lineup. This usually leads to losses in multiple leagues that are completely avoidable by simply showing a little fantasy control.
In short, if you’re going to fantasy this year, fantasy responsibly.
In case you don’t have time to do your homework for this year’s fantasy season, here’s a Cheat Sheet courtesy of ESPN.com.
I can’t guarentee following these guidelines will earn you a fantasy championship, but I can promise your chances of making the playoffs will be better than going blindly into the 2016 fantasy season.
Happy drafting and best of luck to all.