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Fantasy Football Draft: Cheat sheet for last-second strategy tips for 2022 NFL season

Imagine the fantasy football season is a golf tournament. Today I’m your caddy, looking to give you confidence, good aim, and plenty of swing thoughts. But you’re going to be the one splitting the fairway, wearing out the greens, and sinking those clutch putts.

This piece is aimed with the best general advice I can offer as we head into the busiest fantasy weekend of the year. I also published a piece which is more about specific players; this run is more about general strategy. Meet me on the driving range.

Tips to follow

• Listen to every fantasy analyst and pundit you respect, but make your own decisions.

• I don’t believe in making hair-on-fire picks just for the sake of being bold; you’re not looking to market your team, you only want to build a contender. But the more competitive your league is, the more risky you likely need to be. Conversely, the more casual your league is, the more an ABC approach is likely to work. You’ll often crush a casual league just by showing up and doing your reps, doing your weekly diligence.

• Drive slowly to your draft, listen to music that relaxes you. Don’t be absurdly early, but be early. Quiet mind, sharp mind.

• Keep freshening your player queue as you meander through an online draft. Expect that every so often, the two or three managers ahead of you will take precisely who you want. Don’t let it throw you.

• If you’re drafting in person, a piece of scrap paper is your player queue. Just make sure you maintain it out of view from curious neighbors.

[It's fantasy football season: Create or join a league now!]

Floor can have some early and even some late-round value in specific setups, depending on your league specs. But most leagues shift into upside-is-king mode very quickly. And almost all of your late picks need to be defined by upside only. If they bust quickly, so what? The waiver wire awaits you.

• In early-summer drafts, it’s probably best to ignore the kicker and defense positions. Now that we’re in September, you might as well draft them; not much news is likely between today and kickoff. When mulling your DST picks, consider the early-season schedule. In many formats, it makes sense to stream defenses aggressively, treat them like a burner phone from The Wire.

• Being commissioner can be a thankless job. Thank your commissioner. Pay your entry before the season starts, too.

• Play for the big inning in your draft. Rather than targeting the backups to your starting running backs, scoop up the interesting backups for other players. Give yourself as many chances as possible to hit big. We’ll worry about insurance later in the year, when your needs and winning path are much more defined and specific.

There's no need to look for insurance on your star running back during fantasy drafts. Focus on upside and not safety this early in the season. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
There's no need to look for insurance on your star running back during fantasy drafts. Focus on upside and not safety this early in the season. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

• If you can find the right partner, shared fantasy management is a cheat code. You have someone to share the work with, someone to share the highs and lows with, someone to talk you out of an occasional bad idea. And it’s valuable to have one more set of eyes to react to hot news.

• Use neighborhood information to help you make good draft decisions. Say you’re picking third or fourth and the draft is moving downward, in an even round. You should briefly consider the rosters, needs, and likely behavior of Teams 1 and 2 before you make your selection.

• Common sense is still the most valuable skill a fantasy manager can have.

• Every position is important, but some are more important than others. If you could only have deep knowledge of one player pool, make sure it’s the running backs. And if a fantasy football mystic appears to you out of nowhere, ask them for the running back answers.

• If you need a reality check in the middle of your online Yahoo draft, don’t be afraid to sneak a peak at the league management homepage, do some queries in the player sorting area. This can help you figure out what the positional depth looks like, and which available players are currently the most rostered in Yahoo.

• As soon as your draft ends, make sure you know what the free agency rules are. In some pools, you can start doing IL maintenance immediately. Find out the schedule for free agent moves, and load it in your calendar so you won’t forget. Life is dynamic. Being organized is always a good idea. The best managers in any field are detail-oriented.

For Salary Cap League Players

• Try to vary your nomination style, so it’s not obvious your interest in the player you introduce.

• Start most offers at $1 unless there’s a specific strategy reason to go off-script. You never know if someone just popped a hamstring that day and you’re the last to know.

• Once you’re stocked at a position, it makes sense to nominate guys you no longer need. If you’re already set at quarterback, toss the best one available and watch the offers fly.

• If you have to overpay for something, let it be for someone you really love or someone who strongly supports your build. There’s nothing worse than conserving your budget too long, and then having to throw $19 at a WR40 type because there’s no one else worth going after.

• Try to land your players while your opponents still have alternatives. If you wait until choices are low, you’ll find some absurd inflationary wars. It’s no fun to be forced into those skirmishes.

• It takes a special personality to handle forced $1-max roster slots in the endgame. I’ll admit I don’t have that personality; I like to leave enough flexibility for the endgame so I have some choice in the final few rounds. And don’t allow a team locked into $1 bids to leave the salary cap draft and finish up later. The burden of the nomination is a real thing. And here’s why $1-max is a tricky spot — nominate anyone good, they’re likely trampled in offers. Nominate someone spotty, they’ll probably stick to you instantly. No fun.

• If managers are new to the format, look for the early offers to be aggressive and maybe a little wild. Conversely, often the best time to shop in an experienced salary cap league is at the beginning of the day.

• Have some fun with the flow of the salary cap draft, tell a story out of order. Pretend that you’re Quentin Tarantino and this is Pulp Fiction. Nominate Tony Pollard before Ezekiel Elliott, just for the fun of it.

Now go win that Twist Contest, grasshopper. Trust yourself. The fairway is yours.