Fantasy Draft Strategy: Tiering Your Player Rankings and Cheat Sheets

Now that the players have settled into their teams for 2008, and overlooking the few free agents still bouncing from workout to workout, it’s time to start preparing your draft cheat sheets and practicing your draft strategy with a few mock drafts.

Tiering your draft cheat sheet is one very effective method of drafting a batch of strong contenders that I swear by — profusely. By tiering, you get a leg up on your fellow drafters because you can see the value when others cannot.

Some fantasy football sites and sources will tier their cheat sheets for you. Whether you trust one source’s rankings or want to combine several intel sources into one power sheet or big board (like I do), it’s always best to look over your draft notes and adjust the tiers based on updated info and/or any personal, gut feelings.

Tiering provides you with a visual reference on draft day of where value is being overlooked, but the greatest benefit is that you separate players by value regardless of position and see when a top-tier player has been skipped over.

Why Bad Drafts Happen to Good People

Too often, bad drafts happen because friends let friends draft drunk. On that note, let’s go to a short public service announcement:

*Ahem* That’s not right, kids. Always take the draft boards away and make your drunk friends spend the night before someone gets behind a draft list and makes a bad decision. You only get to draft once every season, and you don’t want to end up picking the ugly one because they start looking good to you after beer five…

But that’s enough about LenDale White. PSA complete.

When alcohol isn’t involved, sometimes we focus too much on a specific position we are targeting rather than taking the best player on the board. Don’t get caught thinking about running backs into the third round when drafting a wide receiver would give you the stronger team.

The Benefits of Tiering Your Cheat Sheet

Without tiers, you might be looking at a quarterback in the second round when the market is richer for taking another running back since the top two or three quarterbacks are off the board.

Likewise, you might find yourself in the fourth round looking at running backs when grabbing the last of the top wide receivers would make your team a powerhouse or provide trade bait for the player who just spent a high pick on a quarterback and neglected to get a receiver early.

With a tiered cheat sheet, you can easily make the snap judgments and see when a first tier running back is still on the board in the third round or catch when the last top quarterback is about to go off the board in the fourth round.

These small details can keep you from missing a run on an important position in your draft or overlooking opportunity at another position.

Best Way to Tier It Up in Your Fantasy League

  • Tier your draft cheat sheet based upon how many points that player generated on average last season or how many points they are projected to generate this season.

I prefer to mix it up a bit here. I start with the top-ranked players from various fantasy football resources and then move players up or down based upon this season’s projections and last season’s performance — always being careful to notch down players who have inflated values because they outperformed their draft stock last season.

  • Once you have the rankings, place breaks where significant point differences occur, and if you can stand the level of detail, make these point breaks universal across the board for each position.

Depending upon your point system, you might have the top scorers — say 30+ points per week — in tier 1 while players that averaged or will average 25+ in tier 2. Tier 4 might be made up of players that only generate 10-15 points per week.

One easy way to start finding your tier divisions is by separating the RB1s from the RB2s and the QB1s from the QB2s. Once those lines are set, you can divide the QB1s into high-end and low-end options and so forth until you’ve created several tiers. The more tiers, the better.

At this point, you probably get the idea. (If not, just give up now and go with drafting drunk.)

It’s okay if Randy Moss, Tom Brady and L.T. are you’re only first-tier players. Just make sure you establish when the players projected to generate the most points are going off the board.

  • With this sheet, the fantasy football draft strategy is to snag as many top players as you can regardless of position. In other words, draft the best player available.

I don’t worry if I don’t have a quarterback before the fourth or fifth round as long as I have a stable of strong fantasy point generators. You can always snag a backup-quality quarterback later in the draft and put a trade together with some of your stronger talent at other positions for a starting-quality stud.

This “best player available” strategy tends to be the most successful in getting a team that will dominate throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. Even if you miss with a few top draft picks, you should have enough quality players spread out across every position to compensate.

By having tiers on your draft cheat sheet, you shouldn’t be distracted by need at a specific position until the final rounds of the draft, and the majority of the time, you get a balanced team covering every position without even trying.

Ever tried a tiered draft strategy and failed? Do you feel bad putting L.T. and A.P. in their own tier? Having a hard time drawing a line after Brady, Manning and Romo in the QB tiers? Talk back in the comments and you might get a response or discussion from me or, if you are lucky, a Shakespeare-typing monkey.

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  • ffexchange

    I love the using parts of the tiering approach. I mainly use tiers to determine position scarcity. If I have the option of drafting a backup RB of which there is 1 left in a tier or my 2nd WR of which there are 7 left in a tier, I usually grab the RB because I’m pretty sure there is a WR in that group that will be there when my turn comes up again, even though most would consider the 2nd WR to be more important than a backup. Near the end of drafts, I tend to throw away the tiers and would rather take a high-risk, high ceiling guy in a lower tier than a safe player in a higher tier.

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  • http://www.footballburrito.com/ Doug Darroch

    Have you ever used your tier system for an auction? And how would you reccomend someone use this system for an auction?

  • http://www.footballburrito.com/ Doug Darroch

    Have you ever used your tier system for an auction? And how would you reccomend someone use this system for an auction?

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    @ffexchange

    That’s good use of your tiers. When you have a good sense (or secret tidbits of info that you collect all off-season), taking your high-risk players near the end of your draft can payoff big.

    I usually try to mark players that I see as “sleepers” or high upside players regardless of where they tier. When it comes down to the end of the draft, similar to your method, I snag as many as I can.

    @Doug

    I’ve never used this tiering method for an auction draft, but it can be easily adapted. Here’s how I would prep it:

    In tiering for an auction league, do your research and split the players for each position based on how much they will cost you (using average draft pricing or expert projections). I’d try to set aside 2-3 players at each position that could be your high-pay stud to build a team around. You’ll try to get at least one of these studs for you team. Split the tiers where the big hype/money breaks will be.

    The difference when you get to drafting is that you can use the tiers to budget your team. For example, if you get a tier 1 RB stud and maybe a tier 1 QB, you can look to tier 2 WRs to fill out your roster.

    The tiers will keep you from overpaying and also let you track when a player can be “stolen” off the board for much less than he should normally be worth.

    If you use this for your auction league, be sure to let me know how it goes.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    @ffexchange

    That’s good use of your tiers. When you have a good sense (or secret tidbits of info that you collect all off-season), taking your high-risk players near the end of your draft can payoff big.

    I usually try to mark players that I see as “sleepers” or high upside players regardless of where they tier. When it comes down to the end of the draft, similar to your method, I snag as many as I can.

    @Doug

    I’ve never used this tiering method for an auction draft, but it can be easily adapted. Here’s how I would prep it:

    In tiering for an auction league, do your research and split the players for each position based on how much they will cost you (using average draft pricing or expert projections). I’d try to set aside 2-3 players at each position that could be your high-pay stud to build a team around. You’ll try to get at least one of these studs for you team. Split the tiers where the big hype/money breaks will be.

    The difference when you get to drafting is that you can use the tiers to budget your team. For example, if you get a tier 1 RB stud and maybe a tier 1 QB, you can look to tier 2 WRs to fill out your roster.

    The tiers will keep you from overpaying and also let you track when a player can be “stolen” off the board for much less than he should normally be worth.

    If you use this for your auction league, be sure to let me know how it goes.

  • ffexchange

    I love the using parts of the tiering approach. I mainly use tiers to determine position scarcity. If I have the option of drafting a backup RB of which there is 1 left in a tier or my 2nd WR of which there are 7 left in a tier, I usually grab the RB because I’m pretty sure there is a WR in that group that will be there when my turn comes up again, even though most would consider the 2nd WR to be more important than a backup. Near the end of drafts, I tend to throw away the tiers and would rather take a high-risk, high ceiling guy in a lower tier than a safe player in a higher tier.

  • http://footballjabber.com Lee

    Good stuff Jacob. I read your stuff all the time at Bleacher report but don’t know if I have made it over here or not. Hear that? The clang of a new subscriber…

  • http://footballjabber.com Lee

    Good stuff Jacob. I read your stuff all the time at Bleacher report but don’t know if I have made it over here or not. Hear that? The clang of a new subscriber…

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    @Lee:

    A clang? Is that what I am supposed to hear when someone subscribes? Like when an angel gets wings?

    I always thought my notification was the rooster tied into my computer that crows randomly throughout the day until I slap it. Maybe I need to upgrade…

    I have my articles publishing to Bleacher Report at the moment so that fans wander back here for the rest. I’m glad to have you on board, Lee.

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com Jacob

    @Lee:

    A clang? Is that what I am supposed to hear when someone subscribes? Like when an angel gets wings?

    I always thought my notification was the rooster tied into my computer that crows randomly throughout the day until I slap it. Maybe I need to upgrade…

    I have my articles publishing to Bleacher Report at the moment so that fans wander back here for the rest. I’m glad to have you on board, Lee.

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