It is never too early – or late – to prepare for your fantasy football draft. This year still contends with COVID-19, but the NFL made it through 2020 without missing a game, so expect it to be a non-factor again. Every season has changes that impact fantasy football and a unique set of trends that can help make a roadmap to a successful fantasy draft.
2021 fantasy football draft tips
- Back up your running backs. Last season, the top-24 fantasy backs only included four that played in all 16 games, and three of those were No. 2 on their own team. A full dozen missed at least two games, and that’s from the highest scorers in the position.
- Running backs and wide receivers dominate the first eight rounds. The decision you must make in advance is when to take your first quarterback and tight end.
- Unless your league allows starting two quarterbacks, there is usually no real benefit in burning any of your first four or five picks on the position. It looks good at the time, but you pay the price by delaying other positions that experience a steeper decline in value than quarterbacks.
- Tight ends are the lowest scoring fantasy position and can wait until mid-draft. However, if your league awards reception points, the Top-3 tight ends can offer a significant benefit. Finding a difference-making tight end from later in the draft is almost impossible. Not so for all other positions.
- Kickers and defenses are notoriously difficult to predict and taking them in the final rounds of the draft is very common. However, owning one of the elites from either position can offer a small advantage and moving up each a full round than normal doesn’t hurt. Do you really expect to use your seventh wideout? You realize he’s the first cut when you visit the waiver wire after Week 1.
- Watch your bye weeks when you draft. This year there are six teams on their bye in Week 7 – Bills, Cowboys, Jaguars, Chargers, Vikings, and Steelers. The Colts, Dolphins, Patriots, and Eagles are off during Week 14 when some leagues and contests are starting their playoffs.
Reliable fantasy football trends
While each fantasy league is unique, many trends are common in fantasy drafts. And that helps to formulate a rough plan of when to take different positions.
Quarterbacks – In leagues where you only start one, there is significant consistency in how they are drafted. Expect Patrick Mahomes to be a third-round pick. Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, and Lamar Jackson are taken, in that order, over the next two rounds. The rest of them end up going in the seventh to eleventh rounds with large variation from league to league. Rookie quarterbacks like Trey Lance, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields have been rising on draft boards all summer.
Running Backs – The NFL may be a “passing league,” but fantasy football drafts don’t care. Running backs can take up eight or even ten of the first twelve picks. About 20 are gone before the fourth round, where player risk starts to ramp up, and the likely reward has a steeper decline. The safest play is to own two running backs after your first three picks. Most will follow that plan. There are still plenty of rushers with upside to exceed expectations through the eighth round, but you need to be good or lucky to land the right ones. Rookie running backs always spawn optimism, and Najee Harris, Javonte Williams, Travis Etienne, Trey Sermon, and Michael Carter offer the spicy tang of “you never really know.” And that drives up their draft stock, so don’t wait if you want one.
Drafters have downgraded last year’s rookies other than Jonathan Taylor. Considering there was no preseason and plenty of team injuries, players like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D’Andre Swift, and J.K. Dobbins merit a mulligan and are better values. Cam Akers has sadly already proven why drafting the backups for your top backs is prudent.
Wide Receivers – Thanks to the running back frenzy in the early rounds, there is great value in the position that usually takes three full rounds to see the Top-12 be selected. The first dozen running backs rarely last to the middle of the second round. You should gather at least two over the first six rounds, and there is tremendous value early on if you are good enough to wait on running backs. Teams that draft near the end of the first round often scoops up two elite wideouts to start and then mine for running backs for the next few rounds.
The most generic – and safest – plan is to end up with two running backs and two wideouts by your fourth pick. In the fourth round, you can still access Robert Woods, Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, Julio Jones and the like. While eight or more rookie receivers end up drafted, the expectation is that they won’t offer as much as in other years. Ja’Marr Chase usually leads the pack in the sixth round, then Jaylen Waddle and Devonta Smith show up around the ninth or tenth round as fantasy backups. All others are just deep roster fodder.
Tight Ends – Travis Kelce is a first-round pick after dominating the NFL for four seasons in a position that offers so few difference-makers. There are only around three tight ends that offer an advantage each season and that means that Darren Waller goes in the second round and George Kittle lands in the late third or early fourth after his injurious season in 2020. That’s not to say the rest have no fantasy value, but the likelihood that they will compete with your other starters as contributors becomes much lower.
Expect that T.J. Hockenson, Mark Andrews and the rookie Kyle Pitts are gone by the sixth round after rosters have filled up on running backs and receivers and are looking for value in tight end. If you miss out on those, wait until the ninth round where you can grab Dallas Goedert, Noah Fant, Robert Tonyan, or Thomas Logan.