Are you prepared to kill the snake — snake draft, that is? If you want to field a dominant fantasy football team in redraft leagues in 2023, then you should be.
Preseason rankings and sleeper picks differ from year to year, but there are always other variables that need to be evaluated. As factors such as your first-round draft position or the other owners in your league change, all the draft strategy tips and advice highlighted in your past cheat sheets also require updating.
One constant is that you should plan to own the draft from the first round to the last. If you do your preseason research and take part in some mock drafts, you would be primed for a finish in the money.
There are plenty of resources available to you, from player rankings to statistical analysis to FantasyPros’ fully customizable mock draft simulator. Here’s one more, once again: A comprehensive, step-by-step draft strategy guide breaking down how you can get to that desired domination.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2023 Fantasy Cheat Sheet
Fantasy Football Draft Strategy Advice, Tips
Start with a five-round plan of attack
The one thing you do know going into a 12-team fantasy football draft is that you will end up with five of the top-60 picks. Once you draw a selection between No. 1 (Christian McCaffrey) and No. 12, it’s easy to think too much about that first pick and not about the other core-four picks that follow. In most leagues, these are the players who should consistently make up at least half of your weekly starters.
A no-brainer first-round pick of an elite RB1, top WR1, or Travis Kelce means little if you can’t back him up with a bevy of support. Participate in mock drafts with your pick position and league specifics to know what combinations of talent you can get. Then when you’re on the clock for real, you know your best options and how you can audible if a pick doesn’t fall as you expected.
This is the fantasy football version of your opening drive, and whoever scripts their first series the best usually ends up having the most success all season long.
Go early and often with running backs
Running backs are back in a major way. Of course, to those in the know, they never went anywhere.
Like with every position, talent reigns, but volume is just as important. Considering your league’s format — standard vs. half-point PPR vs. full PPR — is valuable, but regardless of the format, you’re looking for the best bottom-line production with scrimmage yards and TDs.
Looking at the top two running back tiers this season, the workhorses are varied. McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, and now rookie Bijan Robinson are in a special feature tier of their own, but right behind them are Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Tony Pollard, and others. Those guys should dominate touches and key opportunities through the red zone, but they will go down different paths to get their numbers with running and receiving yardage plus touchdowns.
In your RB1-RB2 combination, you should have one dependable, often explosive back and one consistent, complementary runner. If you are required to start just two, you should draft five or six among your 17 total players. If you have a flex position, having up to seven backs would be acceptable.
The key to your backups is diversifying your portfolio. Draft some who have well-defined roles for early in the season and some who have massive upside for the second half. Late in the draft, make sure you try to land whatever insurance you can. It’s a good idea to handcuff your top backs or even someone else’s, depending on the injury history of said backs atop a team’s depth chart.
There are a few durable rushers at the top, but there tends to be a lot of attrition tied to both fading veterans and injuries. Make sure you have done enough to hedge your bets and land a few lottery tickets.
Get at least one elite wide receiver
The best running backs might seem to have the ultimate relevancy in fantasy football, but the league’s passing boom has brought standout wideouts to a whole new level. Studs such as Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, and Stefon Diggs are so good at racking up targets and catching passes from strong-armed quarterbacks that they serve as safer picks than most running backs. They obviously carry more top-24 weight in PPR-leaning leagues, but they are also standard-league stars.
The key here is knowing your tiers across positions. With running back becoming deeper again this year, you should take a receiver somewhere before the mid-third round. Should you start by picking between No. 7 and No. 10 overall — followed by picking between No. 15 and No. 19 in the second round — it’s OK to open WR-WR or even WR-TE with a combination starting with, say, Jefferson or Hill, because that’s the better value play in relation to forcing a pick on a back.
If you begin with a good baseline of a tried-and-true game breaker or two at receiver, that can take the pressure off hitting on all the right high-upside sleepers later. There also is less attrition at WR with most of the top players being durable, so in more drafts than not, you should want to tap into wideout twice before the noticeable fifth-round drop-off.
Be calculated in addressing tight end
There’s been a general philosophy at this position to either address it early or wait until much later. That would be ignoring some good value between the surefire WR1-like options and the back-end TE1s.
Traivs Kelce belongs in a tier by himself because he delivers like an elite WR1 as Patrick Mahomes’ favorite target all over the field. That won’t change in 2023. There’s also a worthy second tier of two players to target in Mark Andrews and T.J. Hockenson. While Andrews should benefit from a dynamic Ravens passing offense, Hockenson can play well off Jefferson to be a key second target for Kirk Cousins.
Although George Kittle, Kyle Pitts, Darren Waller, and others don’t have that same status in the third tier, they still can’t be forgotten starting around the fifth round. They provide comparative value to a deep WR2, mid-QB1, or an RB3.
If you don’t tap into the upper half of TE1s before you draft your starters elsewhere, you can be smart by waiting until the ninth round or beyond for upside sleepers, such as second-year players Greg Dulcich and Chigoziem Okonkwo.
Strike a balance between being obsessed with an absolute stud and getting nonchalant about what’s still a key fantasy position, even with only one lineup spot. Treat them just like the WRs and RBs from which you’re deciding to draft, only with needing less depth, a la QB.
Find the best values at quarterback
Quarterback remains one of the deepest positions for top production in the NFL and in 2022, more teams than ever throughout the league have exciting options. When wanting to draft a QB early, Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, and Josh Allen once again make up the top tier.
That means you will need to pay a premium draft pick to get them, as early as the late second round to early third round. Although there’s nothing wrong with banking on all three will live up to their recent past elite production, savvier drafters will look for a bigger return in relation to investment.
Expect Mahomes, Hurts, and Allen to go earlier than expected (or where they are in most rankings) in many drafts. That will give greater appeal to tapping into the promising second tier, either the high running-oriented floors of Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields or young-gun ceilings or Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, and Trevor Lawrence, who are also set up for rewarding ROI.
Digging deeper in the borderline top 12, Kirk Cousins and Geno Smith, coming off fine fantasy years in the same offenses with top weapons, have cases to go higher than their current eighth- or ninth-round average draft positions (ADPs) given they finished as QB7 and QB5 overall, respectively, last season.
Quarterback production tends to look very different from preseason projections, so the goal should be finding someone who far exceeds projections vs. just meeting expectations. There are plenty of QBs ranked after the top 12 who carry upside, including Jared Goff, Jordan Love, and even rookie Anthony Richardson (should he start right away for the Colts).
Streaming multiple QBs over the course of the season based on matchups has proved to be a smart strategy for some. If you do that, you should make sure to get some upside options in the middle and late-middle rounds so one could emerge as an every-week play. If you have two solid options in the end, you can have the luxury of playing the matchups week to week.
Know why you’re taking a player
Sounds simple, right? Make sure you’ve heard of the guy you’re taking in each round. Have a general idea of his talent level and what his potential role can be, both on his real team and your fantasy team. Don’t go for some shaky veteran WR5 when you can take a more valuable young RB4 who is an injury away from big touches. You’re not taking a player because you like his name or where he went to college. You’re making every pick count with the intent that each pick can help you win a championship.
Don’t be a slave to the rankings
While you want to somewhat follow a script early, be prepared to pivot and freelance a little once you see your early draft results develop. Are you happier about some positions more than others? If a player doesn’t excite you or can give you only limited help, you shouldn’t take him. Use your cheat sheet as more of a rough outline than a stone tablet. Make sure you use your gut and make every draft your own. The one predictable thing about a fantasy draft is its unpredictability.
Don’t be influenced by other picks
This is an addendum to the previous tip. During your draft, there are bound to be positional runs or drafters going straight down the list, filling out their starting lineups before getting backups. Every pick should be your own. Don’t base it on what everyone is doing because you think that’s what you should be doing.
Avoid getting too caught up in bye weeks
Other than making sure you don’t draft two QBs who are off during the same week — Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and Matthew Stafford all have byes in Week 10, for example — you don’t need to pay much attention here.
Does it matter that Amon-Ra St. Brown, Calvin Ridley, and Brandon Aiyuk are all off in Week 9? If you can get all three early to have a loaded wide receiver corps, you would do it. For the backfield, the same goes for drafting say, Najee Harris and Aaron Jones, both off in Week 6. Sure, you will have a tough go of it that particular week, but you will be in great shape for the rest of the season.
The goal is to have as much productive talent as possible, then worry about minimizing availability conflicts. Things also can change so much at the non-QB positions that a seemingly solid bye-week fill-in on draft day is a waiver-wire afterthought come Week 6. Know your byes so you are prepared during and after the draft, but obsessing over them is a waste of energy.
Embrace the stream with defenses
There’s always one defense that has a ridiculous season and becomes a team-lifting fantasy force. Last season it was Patriots, who finished in the top 60 overall in scoring. In 2021, that group was the Cowboys, whose big turnover spike with Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs spiked them up into the value of a mid-WR1.
In ’20, it was the Rams. The year before, it was back to the Patriots. In ’18, it was the Bears; in ’17, it was the Jaguars. But it’s hard for a defense to sustain a high level of playmaking (sacks, interceptions, and especially TDs) in an offensive-minded league, especially if it faces a tougher set of matchups. There are many breaks involved with a unit’s defensive scoring from year to year.
Don’t spend a pre-10th-round pick trying to outsmart everyone at D/ST. You can get fortunate with the next Patriots, Cowboys, Rams, Bears, or Jaguars, but wait everyone out to try to get that unit. The Panthers and Jaguars are two of the more intriguing sleepers for 2023.
Look at the early part of the schedule to see who has the best matchups (hello, NFC South opponents), and think about taking a second defense that can be of great service in subsequent weeks. That gets you ahead of the mad dash to get the D/ST everyone is recommending on the waiver wire. Most important, unless it’s evident you’re right on a team that can be a weekly play, treat the position as disposable and interchangeable.
Take kickers in the last round (if your league still uses them)
Much like in DFS, this position needs to get the boot from redraft leagues for good, and 2023 seems like another ideal year for that kind of cancellation.
It’s lucky to win with your kicker and frustrating to lose because of your opponent’s kicker. We all know the best kickers usually play for the better offensive teams, making the weekly results random from that point. If you’re in a league with kickers, you shouldn’t make that pick until the final round, and when you do, just go for someone accurate who can make a few long ones.