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    What Is a Snake Draft? Rules, How It Works, Strategies, and More

    What are the basic rules of a snake draft and how does it work? What are some basic strategies to implement, and what preparation must be done?

    If you ask fantasy football managers what the best part of the season is, the overwhelming majority of them would tell you it’s draft day. There are only so many ways fantasy managers can populate their rosters. The most common method is a snake draft.

    Anyone who has played fantasy football before knows what a snake draft is. But, at some point, each and every one of us did not. And every year, there are new people playing fantasy football for the first time. They may not know what a snake draft is. For those of you, this is the place to learn. Here is a basic primer on snake drafts.

    It’s a pretty straightforward option that is easy to teach those new to the game, but don’t mistake that as me saying it’s “easy.” To put yourself in the best possible spot to succeed in this format, you need to be aware — of everything. You’ll want to have a firm grasp on the player pool as well as where the rosters around you are strong/weak.

    In order to draft the best team, you need to have a strong understanding of value … not just relative to the fantasy industry as a whole, but to those in your specific draft room.

    What Is a Snake Draft?

    If you stumbled upon this article and thought, “Pfft. Who doesn’t know what a snake draft is?” I promise this article is not for you. In order to grow the game and make sure managers of all experience levels can play and improve, it’s important not to forget about the novices. Not every fantasy article can be targeted to experts of the game.

    There’s no reason to be embarrassed if you don’t know what a snake draft is. Think about everything you know. At some point, you didn’t. You had to learn. In about 5-7 minutes, you will learn all about snake drafts.

    While it’s impossible to predict the future with 100% certainty, we can be 99.99% sure snake drafts will always be the most popular form of drafting fantasy football rosters. They are the default on every major fantasy platform.

    On the most basic level, here is how a snake draft operates. Each team has one pick per round, and the picks go in a specific predetermined order. After a round is over, the following round is the reverse order of the previous round.

    To create a clear picture in your head, assume a standard league with 12 teams. All 12 teams need to make a pick in each round. The team that picks first in Round 1 will pick last in Round 2. The team that picks 12th in Round 1 will pick first in Round 2. As the draft progresses, it moves like a snake.

    Snake Draft Strategies

    Diving into specific draft strategies requires more than a couple of paragraphs. Consider this more as an introduction to what they are. For more information on each specific strategy, there will be separate articles.

    Hero RB (Also Known as Anchor RB or Single RB)

    I’m starting with what has become my favorite strategy, and one I find you can consistently execute under the rules of a snake draft. It’s quite the opposite of when I started playing fantasy football.

    Not to date myself, but I started playing in 2003. Before you ask: Yes, that makes me feel old.

    Back then, the NFL was much different. Running back committees weren’t a thing. There was very little nuance to fantasy football draft strategy — you had no choice but to prioritize running backs.

    Beginning in the late 2000s, I started moving away from the mandatory RB-RB start and building more around one elite running back and a bunch of wide receivers. Years later, an official term for this strategy was coined.

    Hero RB, which is known by many different monikers, is probably exactly what you think it is. You take one running back in the first or second round and then load up on other positions, usually wide receivers, for the next several rounds.

    The goal of Hero RB is to have your backfield anchored by a star RB like Christian McCaffrey, Breece Hall, or Bijan Robinson. Essentially, you want the type of running back with the upside to carry your backfield by himself.

    With so many NFL teams using multi-man backfields, securing one of a select few backs with a 20-points-per-game upside gives you an immediate advantage (if that player pans out).

    The idea is that your elite RB is good enough when paired with just about any serviceable backfield mate to compete with a backfield duo of two solid guys.

    For your RB2 spot, you want to take shots on 4-5 players with plausible upside in the middle-to-later rounds, but make sure you take at least one safe player that you can plug in and know you won’t get zero.

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    You want to have a level of potential, but you also want to have locked-in touches because you’re going to be starting one of these players each and every week.

    With Hero RB, the goal is to have your lone elite running back do the heavy lifting. This enables you to gain an advantage over most of the other teams in your league at wide receiver and one (or both) of the onesie positions (quarterback and tight end).

    You want to go into your draft planning to take 4-6 wide receivers before you grab your second running back. This is even more pronounced in progressive leagues catered to the modern NFL, where there are multiple Flex spots or the ability to start at least four wide receivers, especially for roster formats with three starting receivers.

    Zero RB

    The Zero RB strategy came before Hero RB. In actuality, Hero RB is a derivative of the Zero RB strategy. With these two approaches, the basic tenets are the same. As you may have gathered, the “zero” means you don’t take that singular running back early in your draft. Everything else is the same as Hero RB above.

    I do not consider Zero RB to be a viable predetermined strategy. Rather, it is a decision you should make as the draft progresses, based on what other managers are doing. You should only be going Zero RB if you diagnose that doing so is going to give you an advantage.

    Of course, this rule applies to any strategy. Always be malleable. Regardless of what strategy you want to implement, don’t force anything. That’s true for any fantasy football draft but even more so when looking to implement an aggressive strategy like this. If done correctly, though, Zero RB can succeed at a high level.

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    What you want to look for is what your league-mates are doing. If you see running backs flying off the board early, Zero RB alarms should start ringing in your head.

    If everyone else is taking running backs, then by doing the same thing, you will just have a lesser group of RBs. In the modern NFL, the caliber of running back tends to drop off quicker and more precipitously than at wide receiver.

    By going WR-heavy and forgoing RBs until the middle rounds, you should (if done correctly) have better wide receivers than every other team in your league.

    Robust RB

    The Robust RB strategy, as you’ve likely guessed, is the opposite of Zero RB. Instead of ignoring running backs early, you embrace them. With that said, it’s important to recognize this strategy does not mean to ignore wide receivers altogether.

    The most valuable asset in fantasy football will always be the elite running back. In the olden days, the reason running backs were so valued was because there were a bunch of them capable of producing elite numbers. The recent shift toward wide receivers over the past decade is due to the number of RBs with elite potential getting smaller and smaller each year.

    The goal of this strategy is to build a strong foundation of running backs, old-school style. Then, in the middle rounds, you load up on fantasy’s deepest position — wide receiver.

    If you implement a Robust RB strategy, you’ll want to draft at least three running backs in the first five rounds of your draft, solidifying both talent and depth in the process.

    Zero WR

    The reason I made it a point to say Robust RB does not mean ignoring wide receivers is because there’s a separate strategy for that — this one.

    Zero WR is one of the least common strategies but, like any strategy, still viable if done correctly. As you may have deduced, Zero WR is the same as Zero RB, except the positions are flipped.

    Using the Zero WR approach, you won’t be drafting any wide receivers in at least the first five rounds. I must admit, this is not a strategy I would recommend. However, the purpose here is to educate. It does you all no good for me to just say, “Don’t do this,” without explaining why it’s mostly a bad idea.

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    With this strategy, you will take three running backs, a quarterback, and possibly a tight end — all of whom need to be in the top tier of their position. You may take four or even five RBs before your first WR, knowing that the pass-heavy nature of the game allows receivers to emerge when given the chance.

    I would not recommend a Zero WR approach absent very specific circumstances where RB value keeps falling to you and your fellow managers are extra heavy on wide receivers.

    But, again, fluidity is needed. Even if your plan is not to go in this direction, it’s important to understand the general idea in the event that you need to pivot.

    Which Strategy Should You Implement in Your Drafts?

    It’s always important to have a plan ahead of time. You should never go into any draft unprepared. But as Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

    With that said, here’s a quote you will surely find in more than one of my articles regarding planning for any fantasy draft.

    Leonard Snart’s four rules of planning: 1) Make the plan, 2) Execute the plan, 3) Expect the plan to go off the rails, and 4) Throw away the plan.

    So, how does this pertain to fantasy drafts?

    Enter every draft you do with a plan. This will be what you want to do if everything goes right. But, as every experienced fantasy manager knows, and every novice will quickly find out, things rarely go exactly as you expect.

    There are 11 other managers, and what they do matters as much if not more than what you do.

    You have to not only be willing but be able to adjust on the fly. Stubbornly sticking to your pre-draft plan will lead to suboptimal drafting. Sure, you could still get lucky and win. But in the long run, you won’t be successful.

    Do not make a suboptimal pick purely to stick to a predetermined strategy. Adapt your approach based on how the draft is unfolding. Learn your league-mates’ tendencies just as you do the draft and know where the sweet spots are.

    If you need to make a pivot, in which areas in the draft can you make up some value? Knowing that before you are on the clock will keep you from compounding the mistakes and coming out with a team that can compete and one you will enjoy managing.

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