Fantasy football draft strategy: What’s the best slot to draft from?

Fantasy football draft strategy is often dictated to your draft slot. Is there a best slot to draft from, and how does draft position impact your drafting?

Ideally, fantasy football would be a game that is completely fair and where everyone is equal. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible. We try to make things as fair as we can, but there will inevitably be some inequalities. One of those inequalities is draft position. What is the best slot to draft from, and how does draft position impact fantasy football strategy?

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What is the best position to have for your fantasy football draft strategy?

Most fantasy football leagues determine their draft order by a random draw. Some leagues have graduated to the next evolution of draft-pick selection. Instead of the random draw assigning managers their draft slot, it determines the order in which they can pick their draft position. If you had the opportunity to select your draft slot, where should it be?

Draft slot value over replacement

Fantasypoints.com’s Scott Barrett recently did an analysis of expected value over replacement (VORP) by draft slot. He found that a top-three draft pick has a 114% edge on one that’s in the bottom three.

In the past, I’ve had friends tell me they wanted a lower pick so they could get two of the guys they wanted. I even had that outlook at one point. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that the earlier you pick, the better.

Should you always want the highest pick possible?

On a macro level, the answer is probably “yes.” However, fantasy football isn’t that simple. Just because you pick first doesn’t mean you’re going to win. It doesn’t even mean you’ll have the best players.

There are so many variables when it comes to fantasy football that it’s impossible to make the absolute best pick at every draft slot. You can win from anywhere. But draft position does play a significant factor in determining which players you can even draft.

If you pick toward the back end, there are going to be multiple players you literally have a 0% chance of drafting. While picking at the front gives you more options, the reality is these limitations remain. Based on rankings and ADP, the players that typically go at the 1-2 turn are pretty much off the table for you.

As a side note, this is one of the main reasons I love auction drafting so much. No player gets erased from your draft board simply due to your draft slot.

There are advantages to picking in the middle

Statistically, picking early gives you the best chance to win. Meanwhile, having a pick at either corner gives you better odds of getting both players you want when you have two guys you’re struggling to decide between at your pick. But what about the middle?

The best part about picking in the middle is the ability to catch falling value. When you pick on the corners, almost every other manager in your league gets a chance to pick before you. If there’s value falling, that player needs to get past everyone to get to you. But when you pick in the middle, you can scoop up the value in every round. Players only need to make it by roughly half the league.

Succeeding from a middle draft slot often requires you to be very malleable during drafts. Value inevitably presents itself. You need to be prepared to grab it when it does, rather than sticking to a predetermined plan of taking specific players in specific rounds.

The managers picking at the corners don’t have this luxury. With so many players drafted between each of their two sets of picks, teams at the corners have to assume that if they pass on a player, he’s not making it back to them. This often forces managers to draft players earlier than their ADPs. In the middle, it’s conceivable that every pick you make is a value.

Is there a particular position you have to take based on draft slot?

The most valuable asset in fantasy football remains the elite running back. With that said, your draft strategy doesn’t require you to take one with your first-round pick, regardless of draft position.

Fantasy football is a game predicated on predicting the outcome of another game. There’s no objectively superior approach to drafting your fantasy team.

Try and make the best possible selection at every pick. Some years, that may involve taking running backs early and often. Other years, it may involve going wide receiver heavy. There will even be situations where an early-round tight end appears to be the optimal move.

Whatever you decide to do, know that it’s possible to win with that draft strategy. Unless that strategy is taking kickers and defenses in the first two rounds. Don’t do that.

Jason Katz is a Fantasy Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter: @jasonkatz13 and find more of his work here.

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