Fantasy Football for Dummies, Part 3: Draft specifications

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 27: Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell speaks during the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on April 27, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 27: Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell speaks during the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on April 27, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

With your fantasy football league up and running, it’s time to turn to the most important part of the season: the annual draft.

Just like in the NFL, championship teams are made in the draft. Unlike the NFL, there are multiple ways to do a draft in fantasy football, and you’ll need to decide which best suits your desires. When should you have your draft? What kind of draft do you want to have? Where do you want your draft to be? These are all questions you’ll need to have answered before that glorious day we all know as draft day.

When to draft?

We’ll start with what should be the easiest question to answer, when to have your draft? I know some of you may have already had your draft (and that is not good). The preseason is long and way too many things can happen during that period that can kill a fantasy team before the season even starts. If you drafted Ryan Tannehill two weeks ago expecting a breakout season, now you are already reaching to find another quarterback. A couple weeks ago, Ezekiel Elliott was probably a top five pick in any draft, and now you will need to find someone to replace him for almost half the fantasy season. Injuries, surprise cuts and suspensions are factors that you should want to wait as long as possible to see before having to decide on your team.

Related Story: Part 1: How to Set Up Your League

I’ve found the best time to do the draft is the weekend of the third preseason game. This year that would mean having the draft sometime around August 28. This gets you far enough into the preseason that you know pretty well who will make the starting lineups for each team. The third preseason game is when starters play the most so it gives you the best look at players you will want in your lineup. You also avoid injuries as much as possible because most starters won’t play in the fourth preseason game, so if they made it through three they are probably safe. The day after the third week of preseason should be a universal draft date for fantasy football.

While you don’t want to do your draft too early, you also don’t want to wait too long to have it. You want to give guys some time to set their starting lineups and make a trade or scour the free agent market. With the season starting on Thursdays now, if you do the draft on Sunday before opening week that only leaves you four days to make moves and that isn’t a lot of time. By having the draft after the third preseason game you get a solid week and half to set your roster.

Type of draft?

With the date set, the next thing to decide is what type of draft do you want to have? You can have an auction type draft, snake draft or NFL style draft. The auction draft is one where each team has a draft salary cap and you auction off each player. These drafts are normally reserved for the hardcore fantasy player. There is a lot that goes into the auction draft based on a specific game plan you are using for your team. What position you value the most and how you choose to spend your money aren’t questions easily answered if you’re just going to study a draft book 30 minutes before it begins.

Related Story: Part 2: Deciding on a Point System

The other two types of drafts involve normal drafting or selecting of players. The only difference is the order of the draft. The NFL draft is obviously run exactly like the NFL; the draft order for each round is organized by worst to first from the previous year. In a serpentine or snake draft, the draft order swaps every other round. So it goes worst to first in the first round, then first to worst in the second round and so on.

If you are running a franchise league with the same group of guys, I suggest having the NFL style draft. Like in the NFL, this is the best way to give your league parity by giving the bad teams the best opportunity to improve each draft. This type of draft also helps more when making trades using draft picks during the season, because you know where that pick will be in each round. If you are making a trade with the 0-8 team, then his pick carries more weight picking high than the guy who is 8-0 picking in at the end of each round. It’s what we are all used to when watching the NFL draft, so it makes more sense this way.

For leagues that reset every year, the snake draft is the fairest method of all. If you do a NFL draft in a reset league that means success in the draft has too much to do with the luck of the draw in terms of where you pick. If you get stuck with the last pick, then you are only getting two picks in the first 24 players, while if you do the snake draft, you receive two in the first 13 picks. Yes the number one pick only gets two in the first 24, but they also get the number one player in the league, so that is a big advantage. Like everything else, the type of draft you choose should fit best with the type of league you are going for.

Where to draft?

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The last thing to figure out is where you will have the draft. The best thing to do is to have a draft party. There are plenty of restaurants and bars, like Buffalo Wild Wings, who have draft party packages available for hosting at their locations. These usually come with draft tools and reserved seating, but they also come with decent sized price tags. The Kansas City Chiefs even have a draft day party setup where they will host your draft party inside Arrowhead. For around $90 a person you get food, drinks, and tickets to a game and a suite to hold your party in. The downside to them is they give you a specific day that you have to do it on, and if that doesn’t work for your managers, then it’s a no go.

My friends and I do it old school; we have a get together at one of our houses. It’s a great excuse to get the guys together for a night of eating, drinking, bag throwing and football talk. There are people with a lot more money than me that I’ve heard of going to Las Vegas to have their draft. So the size and scope of your draft party is only limited by the funds the league managers are willing to spend.

Online or no?

Now that the party is set or not, you need to decide whether you want to do the draft online or track it yourself by hand. Online is by far the easiest way of doing the draft, because you just let the computer do all the work. You can do these whether you have the entire league together at a party, or if you are spread across the country. It tracks which team on the clock to select, which players have been picked and who is the best available.

If managers aren’t able to make their picks for any reason, the computer will have their picks made automatically. If a manager has planned ahead, he or she can preset their draft order to pick the players they want. If they don’t do that, then the computer will simply give them the next best available player on the board. This is good for those busy managers who can’t gurantee their schedule. The downside is if the best available player could leave you with nine wide receivers and no defense or tight end. But that is the risk you take, and the punishment you deserve for not making time for the draft. Once the draft is over, it sets the rosters and all you have to do is click finish and your job as a commissioner is done.

Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs /

Kansas City Chiefs

Doing the draft offline by hand is much more difficult to organize and track, but it’s also a lot of fun. Like the draft party, how you do the draft by hand is only limited to the amount of money and time you want to spend. Many websites offer offline draft tools like draft boards, and my favorite I’ve used is They have solid boards, good player labels and good prices that fit any budget. These types of drafts make a lot of work for the commissioner, but it gives you that true draft experience as you watch the names go on the board. It makes me feel like I’m in a war room when those names go up. You see all the managers marking off the names and letting the manager know how poor of a pick that was. This draft takes a little longer than online and it’s a little more chaotic, but that’s half of the fun.

The downside to this draft comes for the commissioner when the draft is over. Once the draft is over, it’s the commissioner’s job to then input every pick into the website. I’ve done this multiple times and it can take an hour or more to enter all of the draft choices. This brings human error into the equation and if you do this type of draft, you need to really double check your work before you click submit.

No matter what draft you choose, where you have it and how you do make the picks, the draft is the biggest day of the fantasy football year. It’s when the league truly begins and the teams take their shape. Just like in the NFL, you can’t win the league by having a great draft, but you can lose it by having a bad draft. So as you head towards your draft I will pass along to you words of wisdom I received years ago, draft your kicker early because they will go fast!