You've been waiting all summer for this. Your fantasy football draft has been circled on your calendar ever since the commissioner set the date. So how do you win your draft? I'm glad you asked.
Before we begin though, remember that the draft is simply the beginning. You cannot win your league on draft-day, but you can definitely lose it. Don't engage the auto-pilot due to your draft-day success and cruise on those laurels straight into a fourth-place finish. Midseason management is crucial. Got it? Good, now let's crush the draft.
How to Win Your Fantasy Football Draft:
It sounds obvious, but it still has to be stated. I personally think it's a good idea to get a ton of research under your belt before looking at rankings because of how anchored one can get by them. Honestly, some anchoring is unavoidable, but the key here is that you've exposed yourself to multiple viewpoints and reports before perusing rankings sheets. Now you simply have to fight your own confirmation bias when checking those out! A great place to start is RotoBaller's rolling Draft Sleepers and Waiver Wire list.
Know Your League Settings
Again, this sounds obvious, and yet I see it every season. At some point between the beginning of the draft and Week 1, an owner pipes up saying "wait, I didn't know this was a PPR league?!" Sigh. Just don't be that owner.
This also has another meaning, as one needs to ingest their league's scoring system and take in information with their particular settings in mind. Maybe your league gives a bonus for 100+ yard games, field goals over 40 yards, or penalizes interceptions more than the standard scoring. Be aware.
Don't Marry Your Rankings
It's really easy to go for a broad-spectrum "best player available" draft strategy, and while sometimes that can be a good call (especially in the early-going), it's typically a bad decision to have a rigid motivator like rankings. They provide a solid foundation, but one has to flexible within your draft.
Rankings cannot account for the nuances of your own league's scoring system (as mentioned before), and even if the settings perfectly match then there's no way to incorporate the psychology of your leaguemates. Perhaps your league has a tendency to draft QBs early even though "the book" says to wait, or certain players/teams are over-drafted due to your location and leaguemates' fandom.
Enhance Rankings With Tiers
It does a drafter good to utilize tiers on their draft sheet. It's helpful to know that A > B > C > D, but that linear valuation system doesn't alert you to how much of a respective gap lies between each player. Player A may be Tier One, while Player B and Player C are rather similar in Tier Two but well ahead of Player D in Tier Three. In reality the linear rankings might look like this instead: A >> B > C >> D.
Break Down Rankings By Position
Tiers are a great start, but it can be rather difficult to discern draft patterns when you're strictly looking at a draft board that is all-compassing. Imagine you're faced with your fifth-round pick and you currently have two RBs and two WRs already. Instead of simply selecting your favorite player in the highest tier remaining, you can increase the value gained here by having positional tiers.
Say that the fifth-round pick has you deciding between an RB, a TE and a WR. If you have positional tiers then perhaps you notice that there's one more Tier-Two WR, three Tier-Two TEs and five Tier-Three RBs as the rest of the Tier-Two RBs are gone. It appears that the Tier-Two WR is the best selection here, with a decent chance for one of the remaining RB/TEs in the next-highest remaining tier to make it back to you for your next pick.
Use Your Bench Spots On Upside
This is much more relative to one's league, but for the majority of you playing in one-QB leagues that are fairly standard, listen up. If you drafted Russell Wilson, don't bother burning a late pick on Matt Ryan. There will always be a QB on the waiver wire. The same rule applies for TEs; don't snag Jason Witten late if you took Rob Gronkowski.
Which brings up the point of upside. Witten has a near-zero chance of "breaking out" and posting league-winning numbers. He's a guy you snag late for a solid floor, but your preseason bench spots should be for handcuffs and lottery tickets at the RB/WR positions in most formats.
Kicker and Defense Are Almost Always Your Last Two Picks
I say "almost" because there might be some leagues out there that have crazy kicker-related scoring or something. The point here is that these positions are extremely fluid and tough to project success with. Stephen Gostkowski is probably still going to be the first kicker off the board (he did finish with the highest scoring on Yahoo, so it's warranted), but did anyone peg Graham Gano as the second-best kicker before last season?
As for defense, I can see the temptation to take a "stable" defense in Seattle but the current state of the NFL provides more returns for those who stream defenses in order to target weak opponents. Some popular strategies are to tail the Vegas sportsbooks' team totals (usually a home defense) as well as simply picking on the same bottom-tier opponents on a weekly basis. It takes some work, but when the Seahawks go to Arizona in Week 7, visit New Orleans in Week 8 or head to New England in Week 10, one might lose to a mid-tier defense being streamed.
In the end, your league, team and draft are your own. I'm not going to sit here pushing you to go WR/WR or RB/RB with your first two picks (that's for another day). This is about filling your draft toolbox with only the finest of ingredients (such as RotoBaller's incredible rankings wizard), providing you with multiple paths to success. The key here is to find the perfect balance of focus and flexibility, while minimizing risk early and allowing oneself to chase upside late.