Ah, Tuesday is upon us once again, and it is time to look at another fundamental Fantasy Football task, the single most important event of a fantasy football season - The Draft... and to be clear, not all drafts are the same. When you say Fantasy Football draft, the first thing to come to mind is the snake draft that is standard to so many leagues, but it is not the only option and some of the others are either more realistic, or more strategic than the snake. Read on to get the breakdowns on how the draft itself changes from league to league, so you are always prepared to find a way to execute your strategy, and get those players you want.
The edges of spring are in the air, the NFL Combine is in full swing, 40-yard dash times are pouring in, draft boards are changing drastically because of what some kid can do on a straight line track after 3 months of practice, or because a squat run stuffer demonstrated record setting strength... all part of the preparation for the NFL Draft. In the NFL, draft order is set by how you finished the season before, kind of like a losers win stacking of the draft order to ensure the worst teams get the best shot at the talent on the draft board. Fantasy football is a bit different, but sometimes its exactly like that. Let's take a look at some of the options, and why they matter.
Snake Draft: This is the standard Fantasy Football draft, the one most people think of when they imagine Fantasy Football draft day. The "Snake" draft reverses the draft order every round, creating a back and forth snake-like pattern. If you pick 1st in the 1st round, you pick last in the 2nd round. If you picked last in the 1st, you pick 1st in the 2nd. So let's say you pick 3rd in a 10 team league. You get the #3, #18, #23, #38 and so on. Your initially assigned pick can be done randomly, or slotted by some other determination, though I prefer random in any starter league, as its hard to trust a League Manager that manually sets draft orders without a set standard that is equally fair to everyone. The big advantage to a Snake Draft is equality - because your draft pick order inverts every round, no one is always getting "bottom of the round" talent (compared to the NFL, where if you pick last in the draft order, you pick last every round).
This is probably the best way to draft the first year in any league, except a league planning to use Auction Drafts and/or Salary Caps. Whoever gets #1 overall gets a great player, but their next pick is a long way off (#24 in a 12 team league, for example). Whoever picks last misses out on the first group of elite players, but then gets to select 2 players back to back (#10 & #11 in a 10 team league). The strategies for drafting a snake differ based on the size of the league and the scoring systems, but let's leave it at this: If you have a new league, or have no keepers, aren't a dynasty, and aren't running an Auction/Salary Cap league, Snake Drafting is the community standard.
Straight Draft: The least common draft system in my experience, a "straight draft" works just like an NFL draft: If you pick 1st, you pick 1st every round, i.e. in a ten team league you pick #1, #11, #21 and so on. This is the draft I prefer for Keeper & Dynasty leagues AFTER the 1st season (I still use a snake the first year). After the first season, I like to do what the NFL does: reverse order of final standings from the year before. If you won the Championship, you pick last, every round the following year. This is usually "fair" in Keeper and Dynasty leagues, because the Championship winning team is keeping anywhere from 1, to dozens, of the players that helped them win, so it helps to re-distribute league talent. It doesn't fix poor drafting (just like it doesn't in the NFL), but it does give the worst teams better opportunities at talented players. I recommend the straight draft for non Salary Cap/Auction leagues that have at least 2 Keepers going into their 2nd season and on. It can be used in non-keeper leagues, but it doesn't achieve the proper goal - the talent is already re-distributed, because every player is dumped back into the draft pool. The main advantage here is competitive balance in a long-term, Keeper/Dynasty league.
Auction Draft: The Auction Draft is quickly gaining in popularity and in my opinion is the most strategic of the draft options. I also believe it is applicable to 1st year leagues or later year leagues, with or without keepers. An Auction league assigns each General Manager a set imaginary Salary Pool (of equal value). When your draft pick comes up, you nominate a player, and GMs bid on the player. This gives every GM a shot at every player, but it also forces you to think about your draft picks a lot more. You have a limited budget, so if you spend 50% of it on 1 player, the rest of your roster won't have much quality. There is an adding strategy of who you pick to nominate as well. It is common practice for GMs to nominate top players they DON'T want, in order to force the other GMs to spend their money, reducing their willingness to get into a bidding war when the guy you do want comes up.
Draft Strategy articles will follow in abundance closer to the start of the season, but for now let's just say this: The strategy, and the draft, are more in depth and often take longer to do. This can be further complicated (and depending on your commitment, made more fun) in Keeper/Dynasty Leagues because you may have to pay a pre-determined cash value for players you keep, reducing your available funds for the draft. If you don't do this, and have keepers, the draft value of players inflates dramatically because there are less players, and less talent, available with the same amount of funds. If you DO adjust for keepers, it can impact not just your draft strategy, but also influence who you are, and aren't, willing to retain because of their cost to your team (Yes, I see you Tommie). Whatever your preferences, or how intensive you get, Auctions are a very fun alternative. The main advantage to an Auction is increased access to players and increased strategic planning. That is also the downside though, because not everyone wants to put that much effort into it. Not recommended for the most casual of leagues.
Final Thought: No matter if you are in a snake, straight, or auction draft please remember to consult your roster layout and scoring system while evaluating your draft strategy. Make sure the guys you are drafting will (theoretically) score well in the system you have set up, and make sure you take a moment to figure out which positions have the most value. Thanks for reading, see you Friday.
Fantasy Football 101 Articles to come: IDP Special Report, PPR Special Report, What to Expect from your Provider
Other things on the back burner: Pre-Draft Fantasy Watch, A Year in Review: 2010 (5 part series), Post-Draft Fantasy Update, Fantasy Football Team Reports (8 part series, by division)