Rookie Dynasty Draft Strategies That Work

Four years ago I wrote this article for DynastyLeagueFootball.com and as I was going through my old writing I realized many of these tenets still very much hold and some needed an update.  So, here’s the update!  Enjoy…

One of the most exciting parts of dynasty football is the rookie draft. Once a year you get to pick players with no track record and a ton of potential who will fill some hole on your roster. Let’s be honest though, rookie drafting is a risky proposition and in my experience, in 15 years of commissioning dynasty leagues, at best you have a 50/50 chance of any particular pick making an impact on your team. I’ve had 1st round busts and 5th round (out of 5) studs and everything in between. So how do you stack the cards in your favor? Here are a few tenets that I keep in mind when making my picks annually. They are in no particular order but they have worked for me over and over again.

Just to level set: This is based on a typical rookie draft with 5 rounds and 12 teams (60 picks). This considers IDPs so we draft both offense and defense.  A lot of these types of drafts are currently ongoing or will be starting really soon, so this is the perfect time to roll-out some good advice!

Tenet #1 – Two WRs are Better Than One
In almost every draft in which I’ve taken a WR I’ve actually taken 2. Here’s my rational: WRs take longer to develop than QBs, RBs and TEs for the most part (i.e. the 3rd year WR rule) and even then there is a lot of variability around 1st and 2nd round NFL WRs. If you take two that you like in the first 3 rounds there are only 3 scenarios that will occur and two of them are favorable. Scenario #1, both WRs develop into productive players for you. Scenario #2, one develops and the other is a bust. Scenario #3, both WRs are a bust. Now, Scenario #1 is both obvious and rare but Scenario #2 is also a darn good deal.  Given that it can take 3 years or more for WRs to reach their full fantasy potential, if I told you that if you drafted 6 WRs and half would be productive for you, wouldn’t you rather do that over 3 years than over 6 years and have 3 quality starting WRs over a shorter period of time? Now, it’s also possible that Scenario #3 occurs but I’ve found that to be rare too.  Early in my main dynasty league team’s development this is the strategy I chose. In 2004 I picked Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Williams, in 2005 it was Mark Bradley and Vincent Jackson, in 2008 it was Chad Jackson and Eddie Royal, in 2009 it was Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jeremy Maclin. Eight WRs in 4 different years and 2 studs (Fitz & Vjax), 1 solid contributor (Maclin) and 5 duds (Though Royal has been productive from time to time). You’ll notice too that I took them in 2004/2005 then skipped to 2008/2009. Bunches of WRs, that’s how you do it. Two years ago I picked Mike Evans and Jeff Janis and while the juries still out on Janis, I’m happy to keep him and see. In rookie drafts, two WRs are simply better than one!

Tenet #2 – Your first pick is critical, don’t overreach
This seems simple, like you don’t even have to say it, right? You’d be surprised how much overreach I’ve seen in my years.  Just last year a player in my league who really needed an RB took Duke Johnson before Amari Cooper.  Not that Johnson may not be a great pick someday Cooper was a stud from the get go, you don’t pass on those guys. People tend to see a need and not pick the best available player in the first round.  I try not to get too caught up in need early in the draft, rather focusing on getting the best player available based on my research.  This is the best long term strategy and as we all know, dynasty is all about long term strategy. Again, for the most part drafts are a 50/50 proposition, if you miss on a few first round picks in a row, suddenly everyone around you has uber-talent and you don’t. You have to make your first pick count. How do you do that? If you pick in the top half, stick to the top 5 consensus rookies after doing your research online. Don’t pick the less talented rookie with a good situation, just because he’ll get early playing time. Don’t take a QB unless it’s Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck type in the first half of the first round. If you’re at the bottom of the first round, let the draft come to you. Inevitably you will value 6 or 8 of the top players and one of them will fall to you. Make sure you take that player. Let the draft come to you. You’re first pick is critical, don’t overreach.

Tenet #3 – Never Pick a CB or a Kicker
There is just no value in a rookie draft for CBs and kickers. I’ve done both in the past and have quickly realized the folly of my ways. For the several times I’ve picked on of these players, none of them lasted on my team for longer than a year and none of them had any fantasy relevance whatsoever. If you use IDPs in your league, take a look at the top 20 CBs last season and tell me how many you would have drafted as a rookie. The answer will undoubtedly be, not many! Even Jalen Ramsey this year will be picked and while he is uber-talented, there is no doubt that from a fantasy perspective there will be CBs who develop and score just as many or more fantasy points in this draft.  Rather than shoot for a needle in a haystack, just don’t draft a CB and pick them up as free agents. Never pick a CB or a kicker, there are plenty out there for free.

Tenet #4 – Late picks are for IDPs, go get one!
IDPs usually are not picked in the first two rounds save for LBs or other prospects that are so elite they are looked at as slam-dunk, can’t miss prospects.  So, a funny thing happens when IDP rookie leagues get to round 3.  You can pick up the 10th best RB or WR, maybe a top 3 QB or TE too, which is no doubt a valid strategy.  The other thing you can do is start taking IDPs that could improve your defense significantly if you pick wisely.  If you find yourself in a situation where you’re defense was very poor last year, a great strategy is to trade some low future picks or the bottom end of your roster for 4th and 5th round picks which you can then turn into IDP gems.  The 3rd round can gain you quality LB prospects and DE prospects while the 4th and 5th rounds will net you LB sleepers, DE sleepers and DT and Safety studs.  Don’t ignore IDP if you’re in that type of league, every position counts, which leads me to the next tenet…

Tenet #5 – Every Position is Important, depth is the key to dynasty victory
This one slightly cuts against the grain of Tenet #3, although I would argue if you can get quality CBs and kickers outside of the draft, they are still important, just not draftable. I’ve won multiple dynasty league championships in my 15 years and sometimes I’ve won with second tier QBs, sometimes with second tier RBs or WRs.  The one thing I’ve learned is to have a well balanced team. In 2011 I won a league and I had the worst QB situation in the league, bar none. I had Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford and John Skelton. Fitzpatrick was in the top 10 early but dropped out at the end and none of my other QBs even sniffed the top 10 all of last year. I won that year by being balanced everywhere else and absolutely sucking at QB. In a league that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1K, 2DL, 3LB and 2DB, although I didn’t have a starting quality QB, I had 2 top 20 RBs, 4 top 10 WRs, 3 top 10 TEs, 2 top 10 Ks, the top 2 DLs (Jared Allen and JPP), 3 top 30 LBs and 2 top 20 DBs. Depth everywhere else carried me to the championship this season. The lesson here, every position is important and you should draft accordingly. Every draft has a different strategy depending on the depth at each position in the draft and your needs. If the draft is strong at DL and you need depth there, draft early and often. If you don’t need a RB, get depth in the first round at WR or QB. Make sure you see what positions are deep in each draft and try to focus on how you can exploit that, either by taking early and often or waiting for quality late and using early picks at a different position of need. The point is, every draft needs a different strategy, it’s up to you to plan accordingly! Make sure you have a strategy that will focus on your needs as well as the talent that presents itself in any given round, any given year.  You can win without quality at one of your key positions if you’re stacked everywhere else.  Good luck…and happy drafting!

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