Are you thinking about joining a dynasty fantasy football league for the first time in 2024? Dynasty leagues kick off with the initial startup draft. This draft is immensely important, and there are a few different ways you can attack it. Let’s discuss the different startup draft strategies and how each impacts your ability to be a successful dynasty manager.
Dynasty Startup Draft Strategies
When drafting your initial roster, there are several approaches you can take. Within those overarching strategies are more specific roster construction options for you to consider.
What fantasy football looks like today is nothing like what it looked like 10 years ago, which was also nothing like it looked like 10 years before that.
The advancement is nearly impossible to comprehend, making it impossible to cover every conceivable strategy in just one article.
Since this is more of an introductory article, let’s focus on the basics. Consider this article more for the novice dynasty manager. This will be a more general overview of dynasty startup draft strategies.
Punting Year 1
One of the benefits (or drawbacks, depending on your perspective) of dynasty leagues is the nature of the format prevents fantasy managers from contending for a championship every year.
The best teams may be able to contend for several years in a row. But eventually, everyone has to rebuild (and if not, then your league probably folds because people will get sick of the same team winning every year).
Allow me to present you with two options.
Option 1: You draft a team loaded with older players. These guys aren’t going to be around that much longer, but they’re still really good right now. Your team is super strong and you win your dynasty league in the first year.
Unfortunately, because your players are older, your team isn’t quite as good in Year 2. It’s still competitive, but you make the playoffs and get bounced first round.
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By Year 3, it’s over. You start your rebuild, which, because of how many older players you had, take two full years, and you can’t even begin to compete again until Year 5.
Option 2: You go into the first year knowing you are not trying to win. You skip over the older veterans for young, ascending players. Your team starts out taking a bunch of losses, but surges in the second half of the season, as many of your rookies start to put it together. You almost make the playoffs.
In Year 2, your rookies and sophomores are now established stars. You have several players who are going in the top three rounds of redraft leagues — far more than you should have. You trade your rookie picks and some young, speculative assets for older players, but not guys too close to the end. Your team makes the playoffs with ease but comes up just short.
By Year 3, it’s on. Your team is a juggernaut, filled with elite players who are almost all under the age of 27. You run roughshod over the league and cruise to a championship. But none of your guys are old. In Years 4 and 5, it’s more of the same. You may not win every year, but your team is always one of the favorites and poised to remain that way for a few more years.
Obviously, I’ve painted a very positive picture on Option 2. But hey, I’m trying to sell the upside of the punting Year 1 strategy.
Rather than chase a title in a league’s first season with everyone on a level playing field, many fantasy managers opt to punt the first year in an effort to create an imbalance in their favor going into Year 2 and beyond.
The idea behind this strategy is by focusing entirely on the future, you can draft a team that may not look great in Year 1 but will have players that ascend in value ahead of Year 2. If you get things correct, you can set yourself up to dominate for a very long time.
How To Effectively Punt Year 1
The general theory is simple — don’t draft old players. Instead, focus almost exclusively on players age 25 or younger. In practice, though, this isn’t quite that easy.
In the modern NFL, the best way to build a dynasty roster is through wide receivers. Remember, your goal is not to win now; it’s to win a few years from now and continue doing so for quite the years after that.
Wide receivers’ best seasons are seldom their rookie year. If a wide receiver’s best season is his rookie year, that probably means it was just a fluke and he’s not any good.
The most talented wide receivers — the ones that stick around for a decade — their best seasons are in their third or fourth year in the league. Put a bunch of these guys on your team, and then add the running backs via the rookie draft or trades in the second and third years of your dynasty league.
The reason to not build around running backs is because of their shorter shelf lives. The bulk of RB1 seasons come from backs in their first four years in the league. If you’re punting Year 1, you’re already giving up 25% of that window. So just don’t bother.
Using historical players as an example, if you were able to land Julio Jones or A.J. Green back in 2011, you got a decade of elite production. By way of comparison, if you hit on Le’Veon Bell in 2013, you got one of the best RBs in fantasy football history, but only for about five seasons.
If you go back and look at every running back drafted in 2010 or later, you won’t find a single one that was highly effective for more than six seasons. Of course, six years is a long time. But with wide receivers, you can get a decade of production. Most importantly, you can get 6-8 prime years. Running backs often only have 3-5 prime years.
By establishing a core of young wide receivers, you can set yourself up to dominate for years. Just imagine how you would feel right now if you had a WR corp consisting of Justin Jefferson, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Garrett Wilson.
Additionally, it’s far easier to find immediate fixes at running back than wide receiver. Just about every year, we see running backs emerge who are available on the waiver wire or via a cheap trade.
Yes, 2023 had Puka Nacua, but when was the last time we saw someone like that? The season 2023 also had Kyren Williams. While the surprise breakout running backs are seldom anywhere near as good as Williams was last season, there are several usable ones every year.
Rookie RBs are also far easier to project than rookie WRs. Draft rookie and sophomore wide receivers in your initial startup. Then, once you’re ready to compete for a championship in Years 2 and 3, focus on running backs in your rookie drafts.
Now, don’t take this to mean ignore RB completely. You still need to draft running backs in your initial startup. It’s the type of running back you draft that is key.
You want young players and inexpensive backups. These players don’t cost much because they’re buried behind an established starter, but they have plausible upside if the starter were to get hurt. Ideally, these are also RBs with a conceivable chance to start the following season.
Heading into 2024, there are a lot of old running backs from the 2016-2018 classes nearing the end of the road. Guys like Kendre Miller and Chase Brown are prime examples of players who will be relatively inexpensive this year but could be quite valuable soon.
It won’t always work out swimmingly, but it’s how you should approach the position. You can take big swings with minimal draft capital.
Using the same historical examples I mentioned above, the ideal plan would be to secure a locked-in WR1 like Jones or Green and then draft an RB like Bell the next season or two.
As always, this is easier said than done. You’ve got 11 other managers with their strategies that they’re trying to implement. It’s important to be able to adapt and possibly adjust your strategy on the fly based on how your draft is going. This is a skill you will cultivate and learn as you progress in your dynasty campaign.
Drafting To Win Now
Remember the two options I proposed earlier? I know I made Option 2 look more appealing, but that doesn’t mean Option 1 is completely untenable.
One thing we know for sure is someone is going to win the championship in the first year of your dynasty league. While it’s certainly worth it to forgo one championship to win multiple, no one is going to complain about winning when it’s possible to do so.
If I join a new dynasty league, I can certainly see a scenario where I draft to win right away. In the proper environment, it can be an underrated strategy because of how devalued older players can be.
Dynasty managers love the idea of drafting young players who emerge into studs. In the previous section, we went over how advantageous this can be and how appealing it is. But nothing is certain.
Veteran players, while not certain, are much closer to certain than rookies and sophomores. Guys with multiple years of established production aren’t likely to suddenly fail.
Heading into the 2024 season, there is a world where Rome Odunze, Malik Nabers, Drake London, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are all WR2s or better. There’s also a world where some, or possibly all of them, are unstartable.
Is there any world where Amari Cooper is unstartable? What about D.K. Metcalf? D.J. Moore? There’s added risk with guys over 30 like Davante Adams, Mike Evans, and Keenan Allen, but we haven’t seen many signs of decline. It’s fair to say all of these older players are far more likely to not fail than the younger, unproven guys.
Oftentimes, these players have much more left in the tank than their dynasty ADPs would suggest, allowing fantasy managers to field competitive teams for more than just a year or two.
How To Effectively Draft a Win-Now Team in a Dynasty Startup
When I first wrote this article, I would scoff at the notion of drafting a dynasty startup like a redraft league. I used to be very ageist when it came to fantasy football. Now, I would embrace it.
In redraft, assuming all things are equal, everyone has a 1/12 chance of winning each season. As soon as the initial startup draft is over, the yearly odds will never be 1/12 again.
Every year, dynasty leagues have their three groups of teams: The championship favorites, the spunky playoff contenders, and the rebuilders. It’s the nature of the format. The goal in a dynasty league is not to just get lucky with one year where everything comes together. You want to stack your roster over the years to not merely tip, but completely topple the odds in your favor for a few seasons.
In Year 1, you won’t be able to assemble a juggernaut because you don’t have the advantage of multiple years of finding undervalued players, making trades, pickups, etc. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t scenarios where it’s worth trying to win immediately.
Ultimately, as much as I hate losing, it is crucial to understand what dynasty fantasy football is. It’s not a one-year game. So, drafting solely for the upcoming season is a great way to be miserable 3-4 years down the line. I still likely wouldn’t go into a startup planning on taking mostly older players and attempting to win now. But I’d be far more willing to make that call on the fly.
It’s easier to shift in an auction than it is in a snake draft. If you notice your league-mates heavily favoring rookies and young players, leaving talented veterans available far later than they should be, you can gobble up all the value. And I wholeheartedly endorse it.
If everyone else is overvaluing young players, that’s going to push down the cost of veterans. If you find yourself missing out on the young players you were targeting, that might be your sign to call an audible and try to win in Season 1.
This can be tough in a snake draft because the amount of information you have to work with increases only marginally with each pick. When you make your first pick, at most there have been 11 other players selected. Even with 30+ players off the board by the third round, it still may not be obvious if older players are being undervalued.
However, in my experience, I’ve found dynasty managers tend to overemphasize age. Now, to be clear, age matters. A lot. But dynasty managers can take things too far, creating value propositions for everyone else.
If you are permanently online like I am, you will inevitably see every take on every player. A very common position to have is that a player is at his peak value, so you should sell him. This typically happens with wide receivers around ages 26-28 because fantasy managers can become obsessed with getting younger.
Here is the example I used in last year’s version of this article. What is likely to be more valuable? Three more years of an elite 29-year-old Tyreek Hill or a decade of 22-year-old Drake London? I firmly believe three years of Hill is better.
Hill is now 30 years old, and London is 23. I pose the same question once again. Would you rather Hill for three more years or London for the rest of his career? And this is coming from someone who believes London has an elite talent at the position.
Is this even close? It’s so clearly Hill. But last year, it wasn’t (well, it was to me, but you get the point).
London will still undoubtedly provide fantasy production for a longer period. He’s going to play another 10 years. Hill is probably done after 4-5, max. But are we sure London will ever even have a single season as good as Hill’s worst? I’m not. We think London can be elite. We know Hill is elite.
In the simplest form, is eight years of 13-15 ppg more valuable than three years of 18-20 ppg? For me, the answer is unequivocally “no.”
Leverage dynasty managers’ infatuation with youth against them. Draft a team of undervalued veterans, and you may be able to dominate for a couple of years before you have to blow it up.
Established players, more specifically wide receivers in their mid-to-late 20s, may still have half a decade’s worth of production left in them. Yet, these players are often overlooked because several managers are laser-focused on youth. If you can load up your roster with multiple older — but still good — players, you can dominate in Year 1 while everyone else waits for their young players to break out.
The Hybrid Approach
As with anything, when there are two polar opposite approaches to something, there is inevitably a middle ground. The hybrid approach seeks to take the best parts of punting Year 1 and winning now to set your team up for current and future success.
Another term to describe this approach is the productive struggle. It’s akin to a team several years into a dynasty league going through a competitive rebuild.
This is a scenario where you know your team isn’t as good as the clear top teams in your league, but it’s also not completely depleted to the point where you can’t contend. It’s in the middle. On a good day, it can beat anyone. But it lacks the consistent high-end production that makes the juggernauts what they are.
Your primary focus should still be on the future. But you know your team is good enough to make the playoffs. And as any experienced fantasy manager knows, if you make the playoffs, anything can happen.
We often see rookies surge in the second half of the season. This is how a team focusing on winning later can stumble into winning now. Sometimes, the future you are building towards emerges quicker than anticipated. If you see this happening, you can pivot to making moves benefiting you in the short term if you see things breaking right for you to potentially win now.
How To Effectively Implement the Hybrid Approach in a Dynasty Startup
If you want to go with a hybrid approach in your dynasty startup, the priority should still be on young players. However, unlike in a pure punt Year 1 strategy, you are willing to take older players if the value presents itself.
When trying to exclusively win now, you’re looking to put together the most stacked roster possible for the current season. When punting Year 1, you don’t care at all about the value of older players. You’re exclusively focused on young guys that can emerge into superstars. When implementing a hybrid approach, you’re taking players from both groups.
There is a risk here. You don’t want to get caught with your team floundering in mediocrity because you couldn’t make up your mind about which strategy you wanted to implement.
You always want young players that can increase in value. Also, it’s not like the only players who are already good are older — there are plenty of very young players who are also very good current assets.
The key here is going to be younger veterans. These are guys we know are already good, but are also already in the middle of their prime. Think guys ages 25-27. At the same time, you’re also not ruling out older players. These are guys ages 28-30 who are close to the end but still have anywhere from 2-5 years left.
By drafting a combination of veteran players you can rely on and younger players who are still improving, you’re essentially delaying having to make a call on which direction you want to go in until later in the season.
If your older players disappoint, you can sell them to the contenders for future assets. But if your young guys pan out quicker than expected, perhaps you have the tools to make that title push now.
The real genius of this strategy is that you can stay competitive while neither mortgaging the future to win now nor giving up on the present to build for the future.
In fantasy football, anyone who makes the playoffs has a chance. You just need to get hot for three weeks. With your hybrid roster, you probably won’t be the favorite if you make the playoffs, but your team will have enough firepower to get lucky against a superior roster. There’s no better feeling than winning while compiling a stacked roster for the future.
More Specific Draft Strategies
The strategies outlined above are more general in the sense that they determine how you plan to approach competing in a dynasty league. When actually drafting the players on your roster, there are more specific strategies to implement.
You can apply any one of these specific draft strategies to the more general team-building philosophy you’re going for. There are many different ways to win in fantasy football. Stay tuned for future articles at PFN discussing various draft strategies in more detail.
With the fantasy football season behind us, why not start preparing for your rookie drafts with our dynasty rookie rankings? Additionally, as you look to improve your team heading into 2024, our dynasty trade calculator can help you find the perfect deal to boost your championship chances.