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Draft Strategy: Who You Want vs. Who You Can Live With

I'm a firm believer that the best part of fantasy football is the preparation leading up to draft day. Sure, the season is fun too if your team is good, but we all know what the other end of that spectrum looks like. I've always enjoyed the anticipation--reading articles and listening to podcasts, conducting mock drafts, the sheer uncertainty of not knowing what players I'm going to get or what my league mates are going to do.

Ever since I started playing fantasy football, this time of year has always felt like an old friend that stops by to visit near the end of every summer. Each time draft prep season rolls around, my method of preparing evolves.

In 2018, I began employing a philosophy that boils down to a simple question: Who do I want, and who can I live with?

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My Philosophy

There are a couple of reasons I started asking myself this question. The first is that it helps me stay calm when things don't go my way at a certain point in a draft. We all have "our guys." We want our guys over all the other players on the draft board, and we've crafted our dream of the perfect fantasy lineup around the idea that we'll be able to get them. But life ain't fair, and more often than not, somebody else in our league is going to grab a couple of our guys before we can. That can be pretty frustrating and cause us to make rash, impulsive decisions when it's our turn to pick if we don't have a backup plan.

The other reason for this philosophy is that as useful as rankings can be, they're also imperfect. One analyst we trust might be super high on a given player, while another whose opinion we value might be telling us to avoid the same player at all costs. The more rankings we consult--including the ones we come up with on our own, if we're so inclined--the more differing opinions we run into. It can be just as overwhelming as it is helpful.

This strategy has helped me simplify my preparation process and keep a level head when I'm presented with tough decisions on draft day, so I thought I'd share it with you all. Before we continue, this is a general draft and preparation strategy and is not intended as a discussion on specific players' values, rankings, or ADPs. Any player whose name I mention is simply an example. Let's begin.


What Players Do I Want?

Our first order of business is to grab whatever rankings we trust most. Whether the rankings are our own or those of a trusted industry source, it does not matter. We can even consult multiple lists and determine our own opinions. Next, we need up-to-date ADP information, preferably from whatever site our league runs through. Finally, we want an organized way of logging our thoughts. Spreadsheets work well for this, but a pen and some paper are just fine too.

Once we're all set, we simply scroll through the rankings and ADPs, identifying the players we want most and gauging where we'll need to take them. If we know our draft spot ahead of time, we can even narrow our field down to players we expect to be in our range at certain picks (for instance, if we're picking 10th, we probably don't need to factor Christian McCaffrey in, as he isn't likely to fall to us). If not, no big deal. We'll just have a wider array of players on our list.

As we're going through the multitudes of names, it helps to break things down by round and position. Come up with groupings of, say, "running backs I want in rounds 1-2," and "wide receivers I want in rounds 3-4," and so on. This will help us get a clear picture of what rounds we need to target certain positions. For instance, say we notice we have a minimal number of RBs or WRs listed as guys we want in rounds 5-6. So we look over at our tight end and quarterback groupings and see we have several guys listed at each position in this range. Now we know that this is the ADP range in which we're low enough on RB and WR to start considering TE and QB. We may have arrived at this decision no matter what, even without our chart. But being able to visualize it gives us the chance to plan accordingly.

For each grouping, we highlight a couple of players we are the highest on. We may have eight players we want in a certain range at a given position but feel more strongly about one or two of them. Simply making a note next to those guys will help us stay on track in our decision-making process if multiple "wants" are available to us when it's our turn to pick.

We can also refer to these highlighted players when we arrive at a decision on whether or not to reach for a guy. If Josh Jacobs is available in the middle of the second and he is highlighted as a top target in that range, we go and get him because he may not be there when we pick again in the third.

After perusing our rankings and ADPs all the way to the final rounds of the draft board, we probably have at least a few dozen players on our list of wants, with a select handful of them highlighted as top targets. Now we know exactly who we're going after on draft day, and we have a pretty good idea when we'll need to take them.


What Players Can I Live With?

As I alluded to above, things can go south in a hurry at a fantasy football draft. We're not the only ones in our league who "want" Nick Chubb in the second round. This is why it's important to determine ahead of time who we can live with. For this portion of our draft readiness program, we simply repeat what we did in step one, only now we are deciding which guys we are comfortable drafting if our top targets don't make it to us. This can be tricky because after all, there is a reason we passed on these guys the first time around. But by compiling this list of secondary options, we can accomplish a few things.

The first is that we may find ourselves unearthing value on draft day. Maybe we're not crazy about a player at his respective ranking or ADP, but we "can live with" him a round later if our top targets are off the board. If a guy who was projected to be an early fourth-rounder falls to us in the middle of the fifth, we could be looking at a solid value by taking him there. In a way, this also allows us to defeat our own biases against players. Just because we aren't all-in on a guy doesn't mean we're right, or that he can't provide value to our team. It also doesn't mean that we are completely "out" on that player, which brings us to our next point.

Another result of coming up with backup plans is that we will discover which players we are just 100%, no-questions-asked, staying away from on draft day. Maybe we're just too worried about Todd Gurley's health, or the contract situations of Melvin Gordon and Ezekiel Elliott, or the fact that Le'Veon Bell hasn't played football in well over a year and his new team isn't anywhere near as good as his old one. In determining which players we can live with at certain ADP ranges, we are simultaneously eliminating the players we don't want under any circumstances.

The last advantage of figuring out the answer to "Who can I live with?" is purely psychological. A surefire way to leave our draft unhappy is to make panicked decisions when our guys go off the board right before us. Imagine a scenario in which we get crushed by an absolutely uncanny run of five or six straight picks that include all our top targets in a certain range. Do we want to scramble through a rankings sheet and make a hurried, best-available-player choice? Or would we rather refer to a chart we came up with on our own, with personal instructions on how to handle such an emergency?

The former might result in us recklessly taking a guy we don't really believe in at all. The latter at least gives us the peace of mind to know we are getting a player we have something of a positive outlook on.


Final Thoughts

Like with anything, experimentation is key to figuring out whether a plan will work or not. If this line of thinking appeals to you, I encourage you to try it out in mock drafts. Go through the steps, highlight your top targets and backup plans, then join a mock and see how things unfold. Pay attention to the junctures where you're forced into a tough spot because your "wants" are unavailable. Does it make sense to reach for another guy you're targeting? Or should you grab a "can live with" player because he could wind up returning solid value at that draft position?

When the draft is over, compare your team to the list or chart you came up with prior. How many of your primary, highlighted guys did you get? How many of your other desired players were you able to pick up? How many times did you elect to settle for a secondary option?

The ultimate goal is to simplify what can be an information overload during your preparation process by narrowing an extensive player pool down to a handful you're actually interested in. In turn, you give yourself an organized approach to knowing when to go get your main targets, and when it's perfectly fine to relax and go with one of your contingencies instead. And in the end, if you follow the guidelines you set for yourself, you're going to end up with the fantasy football team you want--as opposed to one you can live with.

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