Are you thinking about joining a dynasty fantasy football league for the first time in 2023? 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 types of startup draft strategies and how each impacts your ability to be a successful dynasty manager.
Dynasty Startup Draft Strategies
There are several different strategies you can implement when drafting your initial dynasty roster. In addition to the overarching approaches, there are specific roster construction strategies within that. I certainly cannot cover everything in just one article.
So, we’re going to start with the basics. 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 you are not going to be contending for a championship every year. Of course, the ultimate goal is to put together a juggernaut roster that can dominate for several years. But eventually, every team is going to have to go through a rebuild.
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.
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 may seem simple — build for the future. As always, there’s a bit more to it.
In the initial startup draft, now more than ever, your focus should be on wide receivers. Not only are shelf lives of running back shorter than wide receivers, but 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 can establish a core of strong wide receivers by drafting young players, you can set yourself up to dominate for years and years.
It’s far easier to get instant-impact rookie running backs than wide receivers. Just about every year, we see running backs emerge that are available on the waiver wire or via a cheap trade.
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.
MORE: What Is a Dynasty Rookie Draft? How it Works, Tips, and More
Of course, don’t ignore RB completely. The types of running backs to draft in your initial startup are 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.
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 own 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
It may not be possible to compete every year in a dynasty league, but in an ideal world, you would like to. We would all like to win every year if it were possible.
If I join a new dynasty league, I may very well draft to win right away. It’s an underrated strategy because of how devalued older players can be.
Dynasty managers love the idea of drafting young players who emerge into studs. But nothing is certain. Instead, you can draft the players you know are already good. Oftentimes, these players have much more left in the tank than their dynasty ADPs would suggest.
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. Now, I would embrace it.
In redraft, assuming all things being equal, everyone has a 1/12 chance of winning each individual season. The goal in dynasty leagues is to stack your roster over the years such that your odds are far greater entering a season.
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.
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. 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 one.
Dynasty managers tend to overvalue age. This is not to say age isn’t important. It’s that they place too much of an emphasis on young players. If you draft a 29-year-old elite WR who ends up staying at that level for 3-4 more years, that’s more valuable than a 22-year-old receiver who is merely very good over the same time period.
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
It should come as no surprise that there is a dynasty startup draft strategy incorporating the tenets of both winning now and building for the future. This is the startup version of what is known as the competitive rebuild or productive struggle.
A competitive rebuild is a strategy for rebuilding a dynasty roster several years into the league whereby a manager makes moves geared toward the future but doesn’t completely tank the upcoming season.
Your focus will still be primarily on stocking up for the future, but you know your roster is probably good enough to make the playoffs in the current year. As we know, if you get in, you have a shot. This enables you to 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
For starters, you’re still targeting young players. The focus, as always, is on running backs and wide receivers, but more toward receivers. The primary difference in a hybrid approach is your willingness to take older players.
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 value on 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. You always want young players that can increase in value, but you’re willing to take younger veterans — guys we know are already good. You’re also not ruling out older players. Think guys in their late 20s that are near the end, but not quite done.
MORE: Which Dynasty Fantasy Platform Is Right for You?
By drafting a combination of veteran players you can rely on and younger players that are still getting better, you’re essentially delaying having to make a call in which direction you want to go in until the season progresses.
If your older players disappoint, you can begin to sell for the future. 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. With your hybrid roster, even if it’s not a dominant team, you can get in. And if you can get in, you can get lucky for three weeks.
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’ve probably heard of this before in redraft, but they also apply to dynasty. Zero RB, Hero RB, Robust RB, Zero WR, stars and scrubs (if you’re in an auction), etc.
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.