"I swear by the Draftmasters. One of the best ways to get an accurate mock draft experience."
- Bryan Fontaine, FSWA member & dynasty writer for Pro Football Focus.
One of the most important factors to fantasy football success on draft day is experience. Having played fantasy football for the last 10 years is a great starting point, but what I'm talking about is experience drafting this year. Each season the player pool dynamics change and every draft you compete in leading up to the season sharpens your draft skills. With each pick you gain experience and learn new things about how you want to build your team. Ultimately, if you start practicing now, you'll have a huge leg up on your leaguemates who show up to your August draft cold, or after running one quick mock draft the night before.
In this article I will introduce you to an extremely easy and fun way to hone your drafting skills starting today, provide step-by-step instructions for loading 4for4's Value Based Top 200 list directly into your league, and examine an early draft I participated in with my team drafting on autopilot using the 4for4 Top 200.
If you haven't done so already, the first thing you should do is sharpen your skills using our Draft Simulator. The Simulator will allow you to try numerous drafting strategies against computer opponents in just a few minutes per draft. After numerous bouts with the Draft Simulator, you'll likely want to experience the nuances of a live draft against other actual humans. For this I present the Draftmaster format.
The Draftmaster Format
Draftmaster is a draft-only fantasy football format that allows owners to participate in real leagues and gain real draft experience without having to worry about league overhead come fantasy season. These are zero maintenance, best-ball format leagues. This means that you draft a full roster and your best starting lineup is fielded for you automatically each week. You play for total points over a 16 week season. Leagues can of course be customized, but this is the basic setup.
The explosion of the Draftmaster format, thanks largely in part to MyFantasyLeague.com and Jim "Fantasy Taz" Day (@fantasytaz on Twitter), is one of the best things to happen to fantasy football over the past few years (Daily Fantasy Contests are the other. I would say 4for4.com, but we've been kicking it for over a decade).
Different sites run Draftmaster formats in different ways, but we're going to focus on my favorite format, run by MyFantasyLeague (MFL). MFL is a fantastic commissioner site to host your regular league, but they also offer Draftmaster format leagues completely free. One of the many great features MFL offers is the ability to host a slow draft, over email. Configure the pick timer to your liking and MFL will email all managers the draft results as they happen. Conduct your draft over a week or two and forget about conflicting schedules! MFL has also just released a Survivor format option for Draftmaster leagues, eliminating the lowest scoring team each week.
Enter Jim Day, a legend in the twitter fantasy football community. Over the past couple of years Day, or Fantasy Taz as they call him, has spearheaded a series of twitter Draftmaster leagues open to anyone and everyone on twitter and hosted on MFL. Last season Day ran over 150 Draftmaster drafts with over 220 different participants. This year he is hoping to get to 200 (currently in the 60s). Not only is Jim constantly filling Draftmaster leagues from February until September, he is drafting in every single one of them. This is the same guy who manages over 75 teams in the regular season and wins more than his fair share.
Draftmaster: How to get in and get drafting
These leagues are open to everyone on twitter, 4for4 subscriber or not. Here's how you join:
- If you aren't on Twitter already, sign up now.
- Follow us @4for4football, follow our scouts, follow @MyFantasyLeague and of course @FantasyTaz (Jim Day)
- Tweet @FantasyTaz asking for placement into the next available #draftmaster league
- When the league is full, you will receive an email with your draft slot and someone will be on the clock for the first pick.
Setting up your MyFantasyLeague Draft Preferences
In this section I'm going to cover some technical aspects of the MyFantasyLeague interface. I will show you how to leverage 4for4.com's award winning Value Based Rankings within the MFL platform. Feel free to skip ahead and revisit this once you join your first Draftmaster league.
By default, your MFL Draft List will be ordered by MFL ADP (average draft position). This isn't what you want. Many managers on MFL and in your other leagues this season will be drafting largely off of ADP and last year's stats. You subscribe to 4for4.com, so you've got a huge leg up. I am about to show you how to import 4for4.com's Value Based Rankings into MFL (more on our Value Based Rankings methodology here
). This will allow you to use our Value Based Top 200 as your default order on MFL and even autodraft from this list. This is a pretty simple process, but isn't necessarily apparent if you aren't familiar with MFL. Here's what you need to do:
Get 4for4's customized Value Based Rankings:
You will need to be signed in to your 4for4.com account to use the VBR application. It is completely customizable to your league's scoring rules. Full Impact (our suite of custom scoring tools) comes pre-canned with a PPR - 4pt Passing TD league. This is pretty close to the Draftmaster format and sufficient to use for this exercise. If you want to take it a step further, you can create your own Full Impact league and mirror exactly the Draftmaster scoring setup (There is a slight difference in passing yards per point.)
The standard Draftmaster starting lineup is 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex, 1 DST, 1 K, so we'll use 1/2.5/2.5/1 as our core roster when creating our custom rankings.
Clean up the data: Now that we have our custom Value Based Rankings, we need to clean them up a bit in order to import them into MFL. We need only player names, one per line. What I do is copy the full Value Based Rankings table from Full Impact to the clipboard and paste it into Excel or OpenOffice Calc. I then select the entire player name column and copy that to the clipboard.
Importing to your MFL Draft List: from the dropdown menu at the top of your MFL league page, select For Owners -> My Draft List. From this page, click Import. From the import page, paste the player list we created above (one player name per line) into the text area and click Save My Draft List. MFL will complain about a few player names it couldn't match up. You will have to click "View My Draft List" and add them manually from the left. Make sure to move them to their appropriate place in the rankings.
Now we have our default draft list imported. When you go to make a draft pick or create pre-rankings to autodraft for you, it will default to your Draft List. You can also go to For Owners -> My Draft Preferences to specify which positions you want to draft per round. This is handy if after 3 rounds you have drafted 3 RBs (like I did below) and want your value based draft to fill out your roster before continuing to draft RBs.*
So now we have joined a Draftmaster league and imported 4for4's Value Based Rankings. Let's see what happened in an actual Draftmaster draft using this strategy last month.
Draftmaster 42 - A Value Based Draft
I use Draftmaster drafts to experiment with different strategies. In Draftmaster 42
** I wanted to see what would happen if I essentially let our Value Based Rankings autopilot the first 8 rounds of my draft using a few rules. I wanted to fill out at a minimum 3 RBs, 3 WRs and 1 QB in the first 8 rounds. I also do not want to go overweight at any one position, so I will cap my RBs & WRs at 3 through the first 7 rounds. If I still haven't found TE value by the 8th round I will allow myself to get a 4th RB or WR, as you can still land a good TE in the 10th or 11th round (Celek, Gresham, Gonzalez, etc.).
What I did to autopilot was load up my MFL Draft List as detailed above. Then, as each round unfolded I would "Pre-Pick" my selections for the next 1-2 rounds based strictly on my Draft List (Value Based Rankings), taking the basic positional rules above into account. After 8 rounds I like to regroup and address positional depth and any other unique situations (handcuffs, QBBC, DEF, K etc.).
I drew the 4th pick in the serpentine draft. Let's see what the autopilot drafted for us...
The Value Based Rankings are telling me the top 5 picks off the board should be RBs. This strategy can certainly be questioned based on the uncertainties and differing opinions on who the next RBs should be off the board after Foster, Rice and McCoy. We like Ryan Mathews
at #4 due to no real question marks, huge upside and a featured role in a very good Chargers
offense. Mike Tolbert
has left town and the Chargers
coaching staff has made it clear they intend to feature Mathews as their every down, workhorse back.
This is where going straight off Value Based Rankings can be called into question. We love Sproles, but his ADP is late 3rd round and he would likely be available with our next pick at 3.04. Still, he is a stud PPR option with 83 receptions projected out of the Saints
backfield. Sproles currently our #10 PPR RB and we view him as very safe in this format. The five receptions per game offer a nice floor for owners and his big play ability will result in more than a few big games.
The Value Based Rankings excel at pointing out value as it falls, and at this point in the draft they are screaming DeMarco Murray
. Murray's ADP is mid-second round, so seeing him here at 3.04 was a bit of a shock. Conventional wisdom may have had us taking Murray with our last pick and hoping for Sproles in the 3rd, but everything worked out here for us. Through three rounds, Value has told us to forgo reaching on a QB, WR or TE and instead stack up on RB.
Through 3 rounds we're at our personally stated maximum of 3 RBs through 7 rounds. I have set my Draft Preferences to look for the best value among the remaining QB/WR/RB pool. Mike Wallace
it is. There are some question marks here with Wallace wanting a long-term deal and a shift in the Steelers
offensive philosophy as pass-happy OC Bruce Arians (now with the Colts) was replaced by run-loving Todd Haley. But at age 25, Wallace fits the bill as a high-upside WR1 for my team in the late 4th round.
The value continues to be at WR in the middle rounds. After the truly elite 4-6 QBs and 2 TEs, the depth at these positions is extremely deep. As a result they are consistently overdrafted. Kenny Britt
is an extremely risky pick coming off of a knee injury after only playing in two games last season, but the upside is huge. In the two games Britt did play in 2011 he averaged 135.5 receiving yards and 1.5 TDs. The Titans
are moving to a pass-first offense and Jake Locker
should actually improve Britt's upside when he eventually unseats incumbent veteran Matt Hasselbeck
If Kenny Britt
was a huge risk in the 5th, Reggie Wayne
is the epitome of safe in the 6th. We know what Wayne brings to the table. Wayne finished 2011 as the 24th ranked PPR WR with the likes of Curtis Painter
and Dan Orlovsky
passing to him all season. Andrew Luck
will be a considerable improvement, even as a rookie. With the departure of Pierre Garcon
, Wayne should see plenty of targets in Bruce Arian's pass-happy offense.
Why is it not worth reaching on a tight end after Rob Gronkowski
and Jimmy Graham
in the early rounds? Because the depth at TE is tremendous and while most agree Gronk & Graham are the top two, there is considerable debate about 3-10. Jason Witten
finished TE5 last season and has caught at least 79 balls each of the last 5 seasons. Romo loves him and we love the Dallas passing game. Aaron Hernandez
, Vernon Davis
, Jermichael Finley
, and Brandon Pettigrew
all went off the board, leaving our projected #3 PPR TE sitting as a tremendous value at 7.04.
Our draft guidelines didn't force us to take a TE in the first 8 rounds, but the value was there with Witten. This means we must grab the best QB value available in round 8. Ben Roethlisberger
was the pick. Certainly not an elite level fantasy passer, but Ben has good weapons and a limited running game with Rashard Mendenhall
likely starting the season on the PUP list. The depth at QB is tremendous this year, and I'm loaded at RB/WR/TE taking the top values with my first 7 picks. If I'm really concerned about QB at this point in the draft, I can grab a high upside 2nd QB with my next pick (RGIII) or grab Carson Palmer
or Jay Cutler
a bit later. As it is, I decided to roll with Ben and grabbed a cheap backup (Ryan Fitzpatrick
) in the 13th.
What did we learn?
A value based draft, at least one that unfolds like this one does, tells me that for the most part, running backs are going to be the most valuable picks in the early rounds unless Calvin Johnson, Aaron Rodgers, Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham slip far enough to enter the conversation. We can wait on both TE and QB and wind up with Ben Roethlisberger and Jason Witten (or similar players) in the middle rounds (7 & 8). If Ben isn't making your mouth water, you could choose to bypass value in the 6th and draft Matt Ryan who was selected one pick before us at 7.04. This would allow you to capitalize on the depth at TE by grabbing someone like Brent Celek in the 10th round while landing a guy with stud upside in a high-octane, dome offense at QB (Matt Ryan).
I like the team, but the reality of the situation is that it doesn't really matter. The draft is complete and I gained some valuable experience and learned something about the depth at QB and TE. Next time around I might reach for a Matt Ryan, Eli Manning or Tony Romo a round earlier, confident that Wayne or similar will be available later based on his ADP.
Going 100% off Value Based Rankings doesn't account for things like ADP, draft tendencies of your league, your own personal risk tolerance or even how you want to build your team. That is your responsibility as a manager and drafter.
The Value Based Rankings do give you a tremendous starting point and leg up on the competition as you build your team. Participating in one or more Draftmaster drafts well in advance of your live drafts in August will also give you something extremely valuable, an accurate mock drafting experience. And this mock draft keeps score. You'll get email updates throughout the season letting you know how your best-ball team is scoring each week.
Get on twitter, get at @fantasytaz, and get into a MyFantasyLeague Draftmaster league today. I'll see you there.
* Note: If you set a per-round pick list (For Owners -> Draft), this will trump your Draft Preferences. So if you have put in an explicit list for a round that contains RBs, telling MFL to not draft RBs for that round will be ignored. If you simply allow your draft timer to time out, however, you will automatically pick from your Draft List and honor your positional draft preferences.
** Note: In the actual draft I had a bit of trouble with the Draft Preferences. I incorrectly assumed MFL would honor my draft preferences and not draft an RB in Round 4. Because my round 4 pick list contained RBs, Reggie Bush was selected for me. For the sake of this article, I have swapped out Bush for Wallace who was the highest WR value at the time and ended up being selected at 5.06.