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.

The most common form of drafting is a snake draft. Understanding how to navigate a snake draft may be second nature to veteran fantasy managers, but at some point, every single manager participated in their first. For those new to the game, here’s 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?

Not every fantasy article can be targeted to experts of the game. Fantasy managers come in various levels of skill and experience. We were all novices at one time. If you don’t know what a snake draft is, there’s no reason to feel bad. In about 5-7 minutes, you will!

Snake drafts are still the default on every major fantasy platform and, by far, the most common. On the most basic level, 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 in 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 a separate article for that.

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 from when I started playing fantasy football.

Not to date myself, but I started playing in 2003. Back then, the NFL was much different. Running back committees didn’t exist. There was very little nuance to 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 Jonathan Taylor. Essentially, you want the type of running back with the upside to carry your backfield.

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 also 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 for your single elite running back to do the heavy lifting, allowing 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).

Your plan should be to draft anywhere from 4-6 wide receivers before you take 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 3WR starting roster formats.

Zero RB

Zero RB is basically the same as Hero RB, except without the hero part. 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. You must remain fluid at all times. 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, that should set off a lightbulb in your head that it may be wise to move to a Zero RB strategy.

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. It entails going heavy on running backs. However — and this is critical — it doesn’t mean ignoring wide receivers altogether.

In the olden days, the reason running backs were so valued is because the most valuable asset remains the elite RB. The reason there’s been a shift to wide receivers early over the past decade is that the amount of elite running backs has gotten smaller and smaller.

The goal is to build a strong foundation of running backs and then use the vast depth of the wide receiver position to your advantage in the mid-rounds. 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

One of the least common strategies — but still viable if done correctly — is Zero WR. 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,” as opposed to explaining why you shouldn’t.

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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. 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?

You’re going to enter your draft with a plan. You know what you want to do. But a fantasy football draft isn’t like a round of golf where it’s just you against the course; where only what you do matters. There are 11 other managers, and what they do matters just as much.

You have to be willing to adapt on the fly. Staying stubborn and steadfastly sticking to your predraft plan likely leads to a team that underperforms. Unless you nail the waiver wire moves and trades or just get really lucky, it’s going to be a long season of regret.

Do not make a suboptimal pick purely to stick to a predetermined strategy. Always be willing to adjust 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, what 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.

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.

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