Rookie Drafting the Right Way: 10 Quick Tips

Written by: Jeff Melbostad

Rookie draft season is finally here and it’s no secret that many dynasty owners are participating in them at this very moment.  I myself, am in the midst of three such drafts and am enjoying every minute of it.  The dynasty offseason is a wonderful thing and it’s highlighted by the NFL Draft and the subsequent rookie drafts that we all participate in.  It’s time to enjoy it!  Still, it’s hard to enjoy something that you aren’t good at or prepared for.  I have a set of “rules” that I try to apply, as much as possible, to my own rookie drafts and thought I’d share with the rest of you in the hopes that it’ll help.  Whether you agree with each tip, or disagree, I think you can at least take away something from this article.  Especially as your own rookie draft starts or wraps up.

Anyway, enough about how fun rookie drafting is and on to the tips.  Here we go:


1. Use lots of rankings.  Including your own.

A good rookie draft is only as good as the rankings you use to make your picks.  I’d encourage any dynasty owner to use a combination of DFW’s rookie rankings, rankings from other sites as well as your own rankings to make the most informed decision you possibly can.  The more you research and learn the better equipped you are to dominate your rookie draft.  Taking all of the opinions, facts and numbers into account and developing your own set of rankings based on that is absolutely critical to make your draft your own.  As much as DFWs rankings should be a guide for you to go off of, I think your own opinion and rankings should be by far the most important factor in any decision you make.  You can take the easy route and just use our rankings but you’ll feel more accomplished and have a better sense of team if you do the leg work yourself as well.

2. Draft largely based on talent.

Nothing sparks up a good discussion quicker than the age old situation versus talent debate.  While there are many approaches and opinions on the matter, my personal opinion and the one I’m recommending here is to favor talent.  How much you favor talent over situation is really up to you but I think you should regardless of how much.  The theory here is that the cream will eventually rise to the top.  A running back landing in a crowded backfield may seem risky on the surface but if he’s clearly the most talented of them all then you need him on your roster.  Situation changes very quickly in the NFL be it via free agency, trades, or drafting.  With a single draft pick or trade a wideout in a bad spot can become a wideout in a good one.  With a single injury a backup running back can be thrust into the spotlight and dominate.  Not only that, but even in perceived “bad spots” talented players can normally shine through and put up numbers.  Don’t pass on a guy you know has top tier talent for one that landed in a better spot.  Not in general anyway.

3. But… don’t forget about situation.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 19 years of playing fantasy football it’s that you should take nothing to the extreme.  I just got done telling you to focus primarily on talent because it will eventually shine through.  Obviously, that is not always true so this tip #3 shouldn’t be taken lightly.  You’ve got to factor in situation to some extent and that fact cannot be argued.  The question really becomes, how much do you factor in situation?  My advice is to use it in two fairly common instances.  The first scenario where I think situation should be a primary focus is in the later rounds of your rookie draft (maybe mid 3rd round and later) where you’re likely to land players with more of a need for the benefit of situation to break out.  If a guy isn’t good enough to stand out against the odds then he will benefit largely from opportunity.  The second scenario is when you are considering drafting similar players in terms of talent and you need a separator.  This year I see that situation developing with Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon.  Both are top tier RB talents, but one landed in, what I consider to be, a much better situation.  In such a case I’d advise taking the top tier talent in a better situation (Gordon in this case) and letting the chips fall where they may.

All that said I’d like to reiterate that it’s an individual call how much you factor in situation versus talent.  If you’re more comfortable gauging opportunity than perceived talent then perhaps you’ll favor it more than I do.  You wouldn’t be wrong for doing so.  I just think that relying on talent as the more important factor, even if it’s by a slim margin is the better way to operate over the long term.

4. Use average draft position (ADP) every step of the way.

One of the more important tools in a rookie drafter’s arsenal is ADP and here at DFW we provide it for you.  It’s right up there at the top with rankings and should be used extensively to predict the probable behavior of your peers.  For those who are unaware (maybe relatively few of you) ADP measures the average slot a player is taken at among multiple drafts.  Using it as a tool you can get an idea on where your fellow owners will target players, as well as where you should target players.  If a guy you’re targeting is low in ADP then you should hold off on taking him early since chances are that he’ll fall to your next pick.  Don’t target players too early.  Likewise, if a player has a high ADP value you may want to target him earlier than you originally planned to ensure he lands on your roster.  Obviously, ADP is intended to be used as a guide and is not without its flaws.  Don’t rely on it 100% but use it intelligently as a rough guide and you can dominate your rookie draft.

5. Avoid pre-drafting whenever possible.

This may not be a popular tip with everyone.  Lots of folks get impatient with the excitement of the draft moving quickly and the prospect of them making their pick right the F now.  Still, pre-drafting eliminates the possibility of someone offering you a trade before it’s too late.  There are a number of times I can remember wanting to trade into a spot where a player is falling, but am unable to because another owner had his pre-draft picks set.  Some of those times I was even willing to make a blockbuster type deal for the player I wanted.  If you’re dead set on the guy you want then more power to you, but I personally feel that no player is untradable.  If you can net a large profit for a pick and you cheat yourself out of doing so you’ll regret it.  My advice is to take your time in the draft.  Wait for your pick to come up and explore trade possibilities.  If nothing pans out and you still end up taking your guy a few hours, or even many hours, later then so be it.  Even if it annoys your league mates it’s the right thing to do for your dynasty squad.

6. Largely ignore the round players were taken in the NFL Draft.

The NFL Draft is a funny thing when it comes to dynasty players.  At the very top, of course, it’s clear who the playmakers are.  QBs and RBs drafted in the 1st round are bound to be studs (or at least used like them for a time).  The same can be said of WRs or TEs drafted in the top 20.  After that things get a little more interesting.  Don’t fall into the trap of relying on NFL Draft pick number as your guide to how good a rookie will be.  Colts WR Phillip Dorsett was taken in the 1st round of the NFL Draft this year, while Atlanta RB Tevin Coleman was selected in the 3rd round.  There’s no question in my mind I’d rather have Coleman though.  Situation, talent level and pedigree all factor into a player’s rookie draft value far more than NFL Draft position.  It only takes one NFL team to reach on a player because of team need, perceived ability or usage, and any other number of factors.  Don’t mistake draft round with the amount of production a player will have.  It rarely matches up.

7. Avoid drafting based on need whenever possible.

This is often a very difficult tip to adhere to.  A dynasty team in need of WR help will have a very difficult time passing on the top tier RB in the draft in favor of the WR.  Still, it’s the “right” thing to do the vast majority of the time.  The only exception I can see is if your dynasty squad is truly one player away from a championship run.  If that is the case then drafting based on need can be condoned by the likes of me.  If not, I strongly encourage you to take the best player available.  He’ll hold the most value, hold it for the longest time, likely produce the most points and can be traded for another player that your team needs if that’s truly what you want.  Especially outside the first round and a half of rookie drafts don’t chase team need.  Chase talent and opportunity.

8. Trade to get the guys you want.

Half of the fun of rookie drafts is identifying the specific guys you believe in and landing them on your roster.  Nothing is more satisfying than predicting that a player you target will be good and it panning out for you.  This can rarely be done without doing a bit of trading.  If you feel strongly about a player in your rookie draft don’t be afraid to make moves to get him.  With draft picks you have an arsenal of assets to offer and it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult to get deals done unless you’re low on picks.  Even then, moving veterans along with picks is often appealing to other dynasty owners.  After all, those veterans have already proven they can play in the NFL whereas the incoming rookies have not.  If you believe in a guy and you’ve done your research then you should be confident in him enough to make a move like that.  Don’t give up the farm, but don’t be afraid to give up what it takes to get a guy either.

9. Participate in mock drafts to hone your skills.

I’ll be honest, I participate in roughly two rookie mock drafts a week the entire offseason.  That includes both pre and post NFL Draft.  In my opinion, nothing prepares you for the real thing better or helps you predict what will happen more than doing so.  The tried and true saying of “practice makes perfect” really does apply to mock drafting.  If you aren’t mocking you aren’t prepared and if you aren’t prepared then you simply won’t dominate your rookie draft.  While no mock will unfold exactly as your real draft would, over time you’ll get a sense of how things shake out and it’ll give you a competitive advantage over your league mates.  Really there’s no single good reason I can think of for you to avoid doing so.  If you want to mock with us here at DFW then feel free to email us a [email protected] since, as I said before, we’re mocking pretty much all offseason.

10. Forget about handcuffs and teammate pairings.

Lots of rookie drafts I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot of them) result in an owner, or two, or three, reaching for a RB that got drafted by the team their lead back plays for.  If you own a 29-year-old RB whose team just drafted a young up-and-comer it’s very hard to resist taking him.  It’s also sometimes difficult to resist drafting the star WR who just got drafted by the team your starting QB plays for.  The prospect of them hooking up for 1000+ yards and double digit touchdowns is an alluring one.  Still, you have to target the better player not the better fit for your team wherever possible.  As with anything, there are exceptions to the rule.  Consider a team that has no obvious needs at any position (good luck with that) and you might be able to ignore this tip.  For the rest of us that live in reality though, this is a tip that should be followed or, at the very least, considered.  You want the best players on your team, not the players who play for the same team in case injuries happen.

11. “LUCKY SHAMROCK” BONUS TIP: Diversify your selections when drafting in multiple leagues.

You thought I was done giving tips didn’t you?  After all, the article said 10 quick tips so what the hell is going on here with an 11th?!?  Well… I couldn’t resist throwing a personal favorite out there to the masses.  This tip applies to us crazy dynasty owners who have multiple dynasty leagues and participate in a number of rookie drafts every year.  I know many of my league mates and co-workers here at DFW may disagree with me on this one but it’s still a favorite of mine so it works well as a “bonus tip”.  In my experience, everyone is confident in their rankings and their knowledge of the incoming class (as they should be).  I spoke earlier about the importance of having your own rankings and using them as your most important rookie draft tool. While true, no one is right or has perfect rankings all the time.  I personally prefer to “hedge my bet” and I would advise others do the same.  It insulates you from ending up with a bust on every team and while that may sound like a conservative outlook, the fact is rookies bust more than they boom.  The obvious disadvantage to this approach is that you also “insulate” yourself from having a breakout stud on every dynasty roster should they pan out.  Still, I don’t think that risk is as significant.  If you take a different player in each league then that player could also pan out.  In such a case you’d still end up with a stud on each team.  Maybe just as likely he’ll bust but at least he’ll only bust for you in a single (or limited) number of leagues.


There you have it folks.  My 10… ahem 11 quick tips on rookie drafting the right way.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of all that goes into a dynasty owner’s rookie draft but it is a great place to start.  If you have tips of your own please leave a comment as I’d love to hear them.  We can all learn from each other and that’s exactly the point of what we’re doing here at DFW.  Please share your favorite tip and I’ll use it as my rookie drafts continue.

Regardless if you want to share a tip or not I hope you enjoyed the article.  Perhaps it isn’t groundbreaking information and perhaps you’ve considered each of these tips already in your dynasty experience.  Still, it’s always good to be reminded of some basics, as well as some unexpected favorites this time of year.  No one wants to go into their rookie draft blind and here at DFW we definitely have you covered!