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August 17, 2020
Draft day rules
The first section of the 2020 TFS Draft Kit covered the two primary talent acquisition rules every fantasy manager should remember during drafts.
This section of the Draft Kit will cover three of the most important draft day rules. They can be applied to any drafting system, but for ease of explanation I will be using the color grade guidelines from the 2020 edition of my Draft Guide to highlight how these rules can be effectively implemented.
Rule No. 1 – Set the floor – and set it high
For this draft day directive, let’s remember back to that Tony Dungy rule from the talent acquisition section where he said you must first not lose games before you can win them.
Setting the floor high derives directly from that mindset. Many fantasy managers concentrate the bulk of their efforts on shooting for the moon, but the central theme in all of my fantasy football material is to stockpile high percentage candidates and let those scoring trends vault your team to fantasy victories.
Here are three guidelines to use to set the floor high.
Whoever a fantasy manager picks for a starting roster spot should be someone whose floor provides enough value for that starting roster position.
Let’s use an old-school real-world football example to illustrate. The legendary Tom Landry/Tex Schramm/Gil Brandt Dallas Cowboys teams had very strong guidelines regarding what the minimum requirements were for every position on their roster and they rarely made exceptions to those rules.
The reasoning for this was that they invested a lot of time and effort into putting together the guidelines and they knew that if they followed those recommendations, their team would never lack for the size, speed, strength, and talent required to win football games on a very regular basis. They also knew the flip side of going against those procedures could mean having a player in a lineup that didn’t meet the standard. In the unfortunate even this happened, it would provide opponents with potential physical mismatches that leads to losses.
Their system obviously worked like a champ, as Landry, Schramm, and Brandt are all in the Hall of Fame due to how successful the Cowboys were during their leadership.
This same minimum requirements mindset applies just as well to fantasy football. A fantasy manager should almost always aim to draft players whose fantasy scoring floors meet the minimum requirement for the position. Whoever is picked for the QB1 spot should have an expected floor of QB1 value. The same goes for RB1, WR1, TE1, and so on.
This might seem like an obvious admonition yet consider this. In many recent seasons the QB positional depth has been so great that fantasy managers would often wait until the late rounds of the draft to select a QB. In a 12-team league this might mean waiting until nine or ten QBs were off the board before taking someone, but those remaining QBs almost certainly had floors that fell below the QB1 level.
Taking that risk in order to stock up on bench players just isn’t worth it, as the QB1 is going to be in the lineup every week. If he falters and plays at a QB2 level too often, it means there will be frequent significant positional point losses that the other positions will have to make up for in order to give the fantasy team a chance to win that week.
This doesn’t just go for starters, either, as bench players should also have solid production floors. Just as Dallas applied this rule to their entire roster, fantasy managers should aim to fill the bench with players whose scoring floor fits into the positional roster spot.
The benefit to this is that if a fantasy team loses a WR1, the WR2, WR3, and WR4 will all have to move up one slot. If the WR4 isn’t WR4-caliber and ends up giving the fantasy squad WR5 or WR6-caliber point totals, the WR1 loss will be compounded beyond the three slots it may cost the club if the fill-in players hold up to their projected scoring floors.
A high floor provides a built-in insurance policy. Aiming for a high floor also helps in the event that the starting player falls short of expectations. For example, if you draft someone who projects to have a RB2 floor and that player doesn’t quite live up to that billing but has enough positive elements that keep him in the RB3 tier, then the drop-off is manageable and might be offset by other players who exceed expectations.
I will cover this in more specific detail in the 2020 draft outlook portion of the Draft Kit, but from a Draft Guide perspective, this means that the goal should be to have as many players with blue- or green-rated overall grades as starters and to have every bench position slotted with prospects that have yellow-rated overall grades. An exception to that last rule would be in very deep leagues, but even in those environments most of the bench roles should be filled by yellow-rated candidates.
Rule No. 2 - Set the ceiling – and set it high
Let’s start by defining what drafting a high ceiling means.
It’s obvious that selecting Christian McCaffrey with the first overall pick in a PPR draft is an example of setting a high ceiling, as CMC can rocket squads to fantasy titles almost by himself if he produces to the peak of his powers, but his type of value is so rare that this really isn’t a good definition.
A better description would be when a fantasy manager selects an RB2 that has what the Draft Guide terms as blue-rated upside, meaning the player has elite scoring potential if things go well during the upcoming campaign. This prospect may be picked in part for his RB2 value but having the path to blue-rated performance can give that player more value than another RB2 with green-rated upside.
This also provides another type of insurance policy. Whereas the high floor players provide protection against collapsing production rates, when a high ceiling player produces at an upper-tier pace, it can offset those instances when a starter falls short. For instance, a WR2 that posts points at a WR1 clip can counterbalance an instance where an RB2 gives his club RB3-caliber points.
Aiming for the high ceiling also builds in organic breakout potential so that fantasy managers don’t have to waste picks trying to chase risky upside candidates. Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are extreme examples of this type of thing but allotting for skyrocket candidates of that nature affords fantasy managers more opportunities to have potential breakout players on a roster.
So, what should one look for in targeting high ceiling candidates? Play volume or the potential for a strong workload certainly helps, but the main determinant in identifying upside contenders should be the potential quality of those plays. Aim for the following characteristics:
The Draft Guide identifies high ceiling candidates via the upside grade column. Get as many players as possible with an upside grade that is a color higher than their overall grade on the grade color rating scale.
Rule No. 3 – Be willing to go against the grain in your draft room, especially when there is an in-draft run on positional talent
One of the many superb insights in Ron Chernow’s excellent book about General Ulysses S. Grant is that Grant based a lot of his tactical approach on doing the opposite of whatever the opposing army was doing.
For example, if Grant saw that the other general was stocking up on the right flank, Grant would immediately assume that the general was moving troops away from the left flank and then call for an attack on the weakened left flank.
This was not a typical approach, as many generals would assume that the opponent was marshaling an attack on the right side. They would then take a defensive approach and counter the move by stocking more soldiers across from the area where the opponent was strengthening the line.
Grant did not do that because he believed in an aggressive offensive-minded approach to battle and would thus see this an opportunity to attack the weakened area and put his opponent on the defensive.
This tactic worked exceptionally well for Grant throughout the entire Civil War and was a primary reason he was arguably the most successful general in that conflict.
Fantasy managers should take a page from this historical success and adopt a similarly aggressive approach when it comes to player position popularity in draft rooms.
In most draft rooms, whenever a couple of players are taken at a position, the other fantasy managers will assume that a run on talent has started. Their natural approach will then to be take a defensive stance and thus will scramble to draft players at that position before the well runs dry.
This can be a wise approach if you have yet to set the starting spot floor as suggested above, but for fantasy managers who can adopt an alternate game plan for setting the floor, when this type of in-draft run happens the immediate mindset should be to act like Grant and look for alternate opportunities afforded by this positional run.
For instance, fantasy managers often like to try to wait on QBs. When this happens with a group of like-minded fantasy managers in a draft, as soon as one quarterback is taken in a later round, most of the other managers will immediately follow suit. This will cause a one or two round run on QBs.
When that happens, it means there will be one or two rounds where the other positional talents are being somewhat ignored for a while. That opens up opportunities to snag overlooked talent and can make those two rounds some of the most valuable in the draft.
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