The best way to learn any subject is to experience it firsthand. No amount of cheatsheets, checklists, buddy advice, or new ideas can replace the wisdom that comes with years of experience.
The good news is that it is possible to glean some knowledge from those that have been there before. Our science is built by standing on the shoulders of giants, and our games are the same way.
The following are tips every fantasy football pro learns through their experience.
1. Understand what type of league you are in.
The type of league is a factor in the value of a player. Brandin Cooks is a prime example; Cooks was a great pickup in dynasty leagues last year, but wasn’t more than a sleeper option in redraft leagues until this year. After gaining some experience, he’s projected as a potential stud.
2. Know your league’s roster rules.
Sure, it would have been great to have Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, and LeSean McCoy as your first three picks, but if the starting lineup can only include two running backs, a lot of points will go to waste while another position suffers. A pro always has a full roster plan in mind.
3. Vary picks based on scoring system.
Having a great quarterback is nice, but most leagues nerf their scoring capability by reducing the number of points earned from passing stats. Aaron Rodgers is worth a high draft pick at six points per TD and one point per 20 passing yards. Four per TD and one point per 30? Not so much.
The most common example is PPR (points per reception). Wide receivers gain value, and the running back rankings get shuffled. Matt Forte is a mid to low end RB1 in traditional scoring, but in a league that uses PPR, he’s a stud. One point per reception adds 100 points to his total in 2014 alone.
4. Draft safer picks early.
Not every “safe” player gets to play the season, but it’s possible to reduce the risk. Every player available early is a great player. Aside from last year, picking Adrian Peterson over Darren “Glass Man” McFadden was a no brainer to any pro. Early picks are the cornerstones of a team, and picking an injury or legal risk in the first round is unnecessary.
5. Draft for upside after starters and subs are set.
Grabbing a halfway decent starter as a second or third backup wide receiver may sound great, but it’s a terrible idea. Players can and will go down during the season. More importantly, players can and will pop in a given year. Arian Foster the year he broke out, Kelvin Benjamin last year, and Alfred Blue and Davante Adams this year are great examples of “sleepers”- players that surprised most owners and put up top end fantasy scores. The league champion will likely have one or two starters that no one expected, and unless a league uses 20 man rosters replacement level players to cover bye weeks and injuries will be readily available.
6. Never draft a kicker or defense early.
Every rule has exceptions, but think about the previous tip. Acquiring a top end kicker or defense requires a pick somewhere in the eight to tenth rounds, a good range to pick top end sleepers. Kickers vary wildly from year to year, and many pro fantasy players use a different defense each week to chase easy matchups. A “streaming defense” can outperform even top end defenses. That doesn’t mean drafting the Seahawks isn’t worth the pick, there’s just more value in waiting on a top defense.
These are just the beginning. It’s possible to write entire novels on fantasy football, and each and every rule can occasionally be broken. The key is to remember this one word: value. The best fantasy football owners find ways to generate extra value and acquire better players for a lower cost.
Take these tips, play like a pro, and win your league if you can. Good luck!