How to draft like a pro: use this fantasy football strategy to help you succeed in this year’s draft

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As the 2018-2019 NFL fantasy football season draws nearer and draft dates are in sight, fantasy team owners should begin scripting an outline of their approach to the new season. Typically, the draft is the key to having a successful season and possibly a championship victory. Team owners could very well be doomed for failure if they do not head into the draft with a solid plan. With every year being different, a new approach might be necessary to this year’s draft in order to achieve success.

As experienced fantasy team owners know, unless luck is completely on your side, you cannot (and should not) expect to be able to select every player you queued when heading into the draft. Instead, owners should follow this set of simple guidelines that is similar to those approved and used by ESPN analysts such as Michael Fabiano, an award winning senior fantasy football analyst or Michael Beller, Sports Illustrated fantasy editor. Of course, these can change year to year, depending on the amount of depth, or talent at each position; however, for the most part, it is a solid way to approach the season.

In the first round of this year’s draft, the running back position should be your preferred selection. With top tier talents such as Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley II, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott ranked first, second, third and fourth respectively, the selection in the first four picks should be obvious. However, it gets tricky if you hold the fifth or sixth draft spot. Ranked at the fifth slot, Antonio Brown is arguably the best wide receiver heading into this upcoming season, and, despite trying to select a running back in the first round, Brown would be a solid pick. If Brown is off the board at your selection, though, continue to follow the path of choosing the best available running back with your first choice. Of course, if all first round running backs have been drafted already, it would be wise to not use a first round selection on a running back ranked in the second round; instead, consider drafting remaining first round talents DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr. or Keenan Allendepending on availability.

Heading into the second round, your selection does not necessarily have to be based off your first round choice, but you should be ending the round with at least one running back on your roster. If you chose a running back in the first round, it would be a smart move to pair that running back with another proven running back talent such as Melvin Gordon or Leonard Fournette, which would be a significant improvement to the backs that you would have to choose from later. However, if you went with a receiver in the first round, you should be picking a running back at this point. Although there are loads of running back talent in the first two rounds, there is a drop off when you enter the later rounds, which contain running backs that hold uncertainty for their points production this season. These include Jerick McKinnon, Kenyan Drake, Royce Freeman, Ronald Jones and Derrick Henry, to name a few, who have not yet shown they are reliable, consistent options. For this reason, closing out the second round with either a running back duo or a running back and wide receiver combination in your back pocket is the best path to go down.

In rounds three and four, you should be focusing on making selections that ensure you head into the fifth round with two wide receivers and two running backs being the core of your team. On the contrary, if you have the opportunity of picking a high-end tight end such as Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce (both of which will most likely be selected during or after this round), it might be an option worth exploring, but with solid tight ends farther down the line, it would be wise to pass on selecting one this early.

Once you’ve reached rounds five and six, the decision of grabbing a running back or wide receiver for your flex position (a slot on the team roster in which a running back, wideout, or tight end can be placed) should be made based on the best player available. Once again, tight ends still should be available in later rounds, so don’t feel pressured to pick one now. Yet, if by any point during these two rounds you feel that you have a solid core of running backs and wide receivers, drafting a remaining top tight end (if you have not selected one already) such as Greg Olsen could prove to be a solid pick. Otherwise, stock up on backs and wideouts.

In rounds seven and eight, you should focus your attention on filling the quarterback and tight end slots if you have not done so already. It is extremely likely that the top ranked QBs, such as Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz and Cam Newton, have already been selected by the time you are on the clock. However, viable options such as Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson should still be on the board. Once you have snatched a QB, draft a tight end if you have not already. Depending on your opponent’s’ draft choices, you may need to select a tight end in the seventh round and a quarterback in the eighth, or vice versa.

The remaining rounds should be centered around drafting a substantial bench with plenty of upside. Be sure to pay attention and ensure that your bench does not have the same bye week schedule (a week in which certain NFL teams will not play a game that week, rendering players on that team useless for the week) as your starters. In this case, you will be able to fill the player’s roster spot when they are on their bye week.

In the final two rounds, draft either the best defense (in fantasy football, team’s defenses are drafted as a whole and fill a singular roster spot) or best kicker available. If defenses seem to be flying off the board, it may be necessary to select one before this point in the draft. Try to save kickers for the last selection however, unless you wish to choose a “top tier kicker” such as Greg Zuerlein, as these talents will probably not be available at the last pick.

Even if the draft does not go your way and you are not pleased with your roster’s potential, be sure to remember you are not a complete lost cause; a few smart trades and some luck in the waiver wire can make all the difference. On the other hand, if you feel you have drafted the perfect team, don’t get too cocky, as anything can happen. With every new NFL season comes injuries to possible starters on your roster, leaving a gaping hole at the position. It also opens the door to backup players to break out. These players can be selected on the waiver wire and can turn a team around; just look at Alvin Kamara. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that the draft should not be taken lightly and, if done right, can very likely pave a clear path to success.

Todd Gurley II of the Los Angeles Rams leads all players in total fantasy football points at the conclusion of last season. For the upcoming draft, Gurley currently is ranked second behind last year’s third place finisher, Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo/ESPN)

Sammy Rosenthal is a junior at American Heritage School in Plantation Fla. and is entering his third year writing for the newsmagazine; his first year as the publication’s Sports Editor. Sammy takes pride in being a die-hard Miami Heat and Dolphins fan as well as dedicating his Sunday to watching football.

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