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Fantasy Football Draft Strategy and Tips for Winning a 16 Player League
Author's note: This article was written for the 2014-5 NFL season. Keep that in mind. It's strategies still apply though and sometimes you can learn stuff by seeing what somebody was thinking at the beginning of a season and then seeing how that season turned out.
The 16 team fantasy football league is a rare bird and the most difficult type of league to develop a winning draft strategy. Many articles have been written about fantasy football draft strategies in different types of leagues, but almost all of those are for 8, 10, and 12 player leagues and almost always come with a caveat: "probably won't work for 14 and 16 team leagues." If you want to win your 16 player league, you need a very specific drafting strategy.
However, there is clearly a winning draft strategy for those playing in 16 team fantasy football leagues and this article offers advice and tips on what the strategy should be.
This article is meant for experienced fantasy football players, so I will write as though I expect the reader to be familiar with terminology and player positions without me having to refer to every player's position all the time. I will also attempt to update the data on this page each year.
More than any other fantasy football draft strategy, a winning draft strategy in a 16 team league must be malleable depending on one's draft position. In other words, the draft strategy is not the same for somebody drafting in third position as it is for the player drafting in fourteenth position. Effectively, the draft strategy for a 16 team league must be broken up into 3 different strategies: one strategy for those draft in positions 1-5, those drafting 6-10, and those drafting 11-16.
Further, it's almost impossible to get stud players at more than two positions in a 16 team league. Thus, you have to plan on which positions are most valuable to you and which positions you're actually going to have a shot at getting a stud player. Ultimately, there are really a limited number of true superstar players at certain positions, meaning players you could legitimately take in the first round.
At QB, those players are Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton (all likely to be gone in the first three rounds). After that, there's a large group of similar quality quarterbacks likely to be available all the way through round eight.
At RB, there are approximately 8 stud players. They include Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, and maybe Zac Stacy.
At WR, there are three. They are Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and Demaryius Thomas. One could make an argument for AJ Green too.
At THE, there are three clear studs: Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Julius Thomas. Do I think somebody should draft Gronkowski or Thomas in round one? Probably not.
That being said, I think that any player in a 16 team fantasy football league needs to identify two positions where they want to draft their studs and then draft in volume on the other positions in an effort to get lucky with a breakout player of some kind.
What's Your Preferred Fantasy Football League Size?
The RB1 Strategy: Draft Position 1-5 in a 16 Team League (First Round)
It should be obvious to anyone who has played fantasy football for any amount of time that those drafting in positions 1-5 in a 16 team league need to take a running back with their pick. In ESPN's ranking of the top players, the following comprise the top 5:
- Adrian Peterson
- LeSean McCoy
- Jamaal Charles
- Matt Forte
- Marshawn Lynch
There is generally a consensus among a majority of "experts" that the top five or six players are running backs. Being that running back is also the position where the drop-off between the top tier players and the second-tier players is quite significant, not taking one of those top tier players when you have the chance is an error, particularly when your next pick is going to be anywhere from 23 to 31 picks away. You will not have a chance at another stud running back unless you get very lucky and manage to draft a rookie who explodes or somebody who ascends to stud status due to injury.
Which Position Should Have the Most First Round Value in a 16 Team League?
The Best Position Player Strategy: Draft Positions 6-10 in a 16 Team League (First Round)
And here's where the first round gets tricky in a 16 team league because by pick six, the stud running backs start to dwindle and look a bit more risky and the opportunity to take that stud position player becomes very tempting. Here are the players ranked 6-10 according to ESPN:
- Eddie Lacy
- Calvin Johnson
- Peyton Manning
- Arian Foster
- Jimmy Graham
So besides Eddie Lacy and Arian Foster, the player drafting in this grouping can potentially take the top-rated WR, QB, or THE. This creates some very interesting strategic decisions depending on which player you choose. Does the player who takes the WR or THE then take a RB in the second round or go for a QB? And if you go for Manning (or maybe Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers), is the next pick a RB automatically?
My strategy here is to take one of the best position players, not a running back, since it gives you an advantage at that position over most other teams. I think taking Jimmy Graham is very interesting here, but I must admit to being partial to a quarterback. Remember that Manning has to go against the NFC West this year, so his numbers will be down (though perhaps the preseason suggests otherwise). Either Rodgers or Brees is a viable alternative. And I don't think I would take a flyer on Arian Foster in the first round. If he's healthy, great. But avoiding risks in the first round with a middle pick is a good idea. Arian Foster is too big a risk. You can't afford for your first pick to go down. While every player has the risk of injury, Foster's is the greatest in this group.
Take the Sure Thing: Draft Positions 11-16 in a 16 Team League (First Round)
So here are the players regarded by ESPN as the 11th-16th best players available in fantasy football for the 2014 season:
- Doug Martin
- Aaron Rodgers
- Zac Stacy
- DeMarco Murray
- Demaryius Thomas
- AJ Green
So you're in positions 11-16, what do you do? Well, I think your strategy for the first round if you're in one of these drafting positions in your fantasy league is to take the sure thing. In this case, that's Aaron Rodgers, Demaryius Thomas or AJ Green. Now, my preference is Rodgers here (or I think Drew Brees is also a viable player to draft). That's because there are four elite quarterbacks in this draft and a huge group after them that are pretty much the same. This is your one and only chance to get an elite position player at the most important position in fantasy these days, quarterback. So take him.
Taking Thomas or Green is also a decent move as both are elite receivers. However, receiver production can be spotty and you won't be able to count on a receiver week in and out to win you games. In other words, Rodgers will win you more games than either Green or Thomas. That's my thinking. Dez Bryant is another player who's a good pick in this tier.
- Mock Drafts - Fantasy Football Calculator
Live fantasy football mock drafts - standard non-PPR, PPR, 2QB, and dynasty rookie mock draft formats.
What Can We Learn From a Mock Draft?
Below this capsule is a mock draft I took from ESPN. It's informative in that it shows some of the advantages and disadvantages of drafting in particular rounds.
I think what's noteworthy here is the advantage of drafting early in that the person with the #2 pick got five very strong players to start in five different slots with his first five picks (assuming QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, THE, K, D as the lineup).
The person drafting in seventh position only gets four starting players (assuming a league where only two WR's start). The person in fifteenth position does have five, but Sammy Watkins is a high risk pick. However, I think that's one of the main characteristics of picking toward the end - some of your picks will need to be calculated risks.
Notice also, the quarterback picks. Ask yourself if you'd be that much less happy with Matthew Stafford in the fifth round or Phillip Rivers in the eighth round versus Aaron Rodgers in the second. I'd venture to say that if you can expect to get a quality quarterback in the eighth round, you might be better off focusing your strategy at other positions.
Another note: two of the three drafters here chose kickers prior to the last round, which I think is stupid. Kickers are not predictable in any way. You're just as likely to get a great kicker in the last round as in the tenth round. However, if you're drafting toward the end, opting for a great defense like Seattle is a good option because the overall draft is so thin and it gives you a decided advantage over a number of teams.
In other words, getting a top tier defense instead of a flyer WR or RB is probably a good strategic move.
16 Team Fantasy Football Draft Results By Position By Round
Draft Position #2
Draft Position #7
Draft Position #15
1. LeSean McCoy - RB
1. Marshawn Lynch - RB
1. Zac Stacy - RB
2. Ashlon Jeffrey - WR
2. Jordy Nelson - WR
2. Aaron Rodgers - QB
3. Randall Cobb - WR
3. Keenan Allen - WR
3. Trent Richardson - RB
4. Jordan Cameron - TE
4. Ray Rice - RB
4. T.Y. Hilton - WR
5. Matthew Stafford - QB
5. Reggie Wayne - WR
5. Sammy Watkins - WR
6. Rueben Randle - WR
6. Bernard Pierce - RB
6. Maurice Jones-Drew - RB
7. Devonta Freeman - RB
7. DeAndre Hopkins - WR
7. Greg Jennings - WR
8. Andre Williams - RB
8. Phillip Rivers - QB
8. Jarrett Boykin - WR
9. Kelvin Benjamin - WR
9. Knowshon Moreno - RB
9. LeGarrette Blount - RB
10. Jordan Matthews - WR
10. Marcel Reece - RB
10. Eric Ebron - TE
11. Lance Dunbar - RB
11. Coby Fleener - TE
11. Bengals - D
12. Heath Miller - TE
12. Jerricho Cotchery - WR
12. Andy Dalton - QB
13. Stephen Gostowski - K
13. Mike Tolbert - RB
13. Braondon Bolden - RB
14. Miles Austin - WR
14. Dexter McCluster - WR
14. Mason Crosby - K
15. Browns - D
15. Saints - D
15. Davante Adams - WR
16. Ryan Tannehill - QB
16. Alex Henery - K
16. Owen Daniels - TE
- Fantasy Football Draft Kit - Free Fantasy Football Leagues, Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets, Rankings
Get the latest fantasy football news, scores, stats, standings, fantasy games, and more on ESPN.com.
Strategies Beyond Round 1 (all drafting positions)
I'm going to discuss what to do past round 1 for each positional group in a 16-team fantasy football draft. This is a pretty extensive article already, so I don't want it to get too long.
Draft position 1-5
You drafted your stud running back. Now what? Well, odds are good that there are no more great running backs on the board, so going RB-RB with your first two picks is ill-advised. You're almost always passing up on a better player at another position. Also, your great tight ends are also probably gone as our the top four quarterbacks. Wide receiver is the place to go and, like the mock draft, the next two picks at that position will likely be quality starters. Your ultimate goal is to get five quality starters with your top five picks.
Draft position 6-10
If, like those drafting in positions 1-5, you can get five quality starters with your first five picks, you have achieved something drafting from one of these positions. However, it's a lot more likely you're going to end up having to take a risk somewhere. Also, this position guarantees you'll need to think differently, particularly if you drafted somebody other than a running back with your first pick. If so, you pretty much have to pick up a quality running back. In fact, your next two picks could be running backs and that would be a good move provided that they are starters. By your third pick, all starting running backs could conceivably be gone. Later on, you can gorge on wide receivers and pick up a solid tight end. By picking a few more wide receivers, you're increase your odds on getting that one guy who has a break-out year.
Draft position 11-16
I like to think of these positions as risk/reward positions. Past the first two rounds, you have to consistently evaluate risk. Fact is, you are at a disadvantage and much less likely to win your league from this draft position, but don't let that stop you from taking solid players or capitalizing on others mistakes. I love the play of taking a QB with the first pick, which means a RB with the second is almost a necessity. Drafting late, you need your picks to pay off, so if somebody leaves a Gronkowski or a Ray Rice out there, why not? Look for players who have slipped down the draft board because they had subpar years last year. Statistics suggest they will do better if they're getting the same number of touches if they fell below their average. Also look for rookies expected to start. And if you can target an elite defense in the mid to late rounds, I say do it. It may give you that advantage you need to pull out a game or two.
Drafting By Tiers
If you're not familiar with this system of drafting in fantasy football, I suggest you become familiar. It basically suggests you group players in tiers in every position and draft the best available player in the highest tier. So, for instance, Manning, Rodgers, Brees, and Newton would likely be your tier one quarterbacks. Tier 2 would include Stafford; etc.
Basically, the tiered system allows you to focus on getting greatest value in your draft rather than getting sucked in by names or sympathies. You might have five running backs in tier 1 and ten in tier 2. If you got to the third round of your draft and there was somehow one running back left in tier 2 along with several wide receivers in tier 2, you take the running back because you believe the differential between that running back and tier 3 running backs to be significant.
It's a very good way to draft. Look into it.
So how did I do in my 16-team draft? You be the judge. I've put together at table by round and will provide some comments below. Our draft only has twelve rounds because we only have four bench spots. We do this to promote moves and trading. I play in another league where there are way too many bench spots and it kills trading and there's nothing on the waiver. I had pick #7 in our draft.
Eddie Lacy - GB
Alfred Morris - WASH
Vincent Jackson - TB
Michael Floyd - ARI
Shane Vereen - NE
Tom Brady - NE
Philip Rivers - SD
Heath Miller - PIT
Rueben Randle - NYG
Marcus Wheaton - PIT
Cody Parkey - PHI
Thoughts on My 16-Team Draft
Thought it maybe doesn't bode well for week 1, I was very happy to get Eddie Lacy with the 7th pick. I was intending to take Monte Ball, but somebody beat me to it. I was not so happy with Alfred Morris as my second pick, but I felt going RB, RB in the first two rounds made sense and he was the best running back on the board by far. Vincent Jackson with the third pick was welcome as was Michael Floyd with the fourth pick. I feel as though Morris, Jackson, and Floyd all possess the ability to improve on last year. I felt at pick five it was more important to have a solid back-up at running back rather than another starter, so I chose Shane Vereen, though I feel he's a risk given New England's weird running back history. I felt vindicated when Tom Brady was still there in the sixth round. Brady is likely to move back to the mean and improve drastically on last year's performance. I then took Philip Rivers next to have a solid back-up. Rueben Randle was welcome next. Heath Miller was disappointing for me as my tight end as I was hoping to pick up Zach Ertz there, but I've seen several positive things written about Miller. He'll be solid enough. Took Markus Wheaton next and was thrilled as others were choosing defenses and kickers. Wheaton could be a huge steal in the tenth round. I have no comments about my kicker and defense as they don't really matter at that point. In fact, realizing the Bills were traveling to Chicago, I dropped them and picked up Pittsburgh. I will probably be dropping my defenses all year based on match-ups.
Leave comments if you have specific questions. I'd like to think of this as a discussion more than an "expert" giving advice because I'm sure many of you have played fantasy football as long as I have and know just as much or have theories or strategies that are just as valid. Fantasy football is some science and some art.
Good luck with your season!
- 2016 Fantasy Football Mock Draft Simulator
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2015 Season Follow Up
So, although I made the playoffs in the previous season, I did not win. However, I'm happy to report that I won the league title this most recent season.
If I had to point to one thing for my success, it was mock drafting over and over again. I've included a link next to this capsule to the drafting tool I used. By mock drafting, I understood which positions to draft and which players would likely be available. The tool I used was awesome, allowing for all kinds of variance.