It’s just about that time for fantasy football team owners to pick their draft position for upcoming drafts in August and September.
Which leads to an eternal burning question — how much does draft order matter?
The gut instinct for a fantasy owner is to want the No. 1 pick. This would provide the most control. Many leagues allow participants to pick their draft order based on last year’s standings, while others automatically assign draft position based on a variety of factors. It might not be the best strategy to aspire for the highest possible draft slot — it can be a little more nuanced. Here are some things to consider when weighing where one should want to draft:
It’s a snake
For the most part, fantasy drafts take a wraparound, snake format. Which means in a 10-team league, the first overall pick would also pick 20th and 21st. That’s a long time to wait between drafting players, and there could be a big drop off in player-quality as opposed to, say, drafting 7th, 14th and 27th. It’s definitely worth considering your plan for the second and third rounds when deciding where to draft from.
The top tier
How many players would you be happy with in the first round? This year, Ezekiel Elliot, Antonio Brown, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are likely to be the top four picks. Would you be happy with any of those four? What about Odell Beckham Jr. or Julio Jones? Perhaps deciding how many players you’d be satisfied with can help determine your optimal draft spot.
The stats are sophistocated
There is not much data available on which draft slots yield the most league champions. One study conducted by fantasyfootballimpact.com found that twice as many league champions came from the 6th spot in 10-team leagues than any other spot, with the ninth spot providing the second most champions. However the distribution was rather equal across the different draft positions — with nearly 1/3 of first and second place finishers starting with the top overall pick (most of them finishing second).
What about 12-team leagues?
In leagues with 12 teams, the data is similar (though still sparsely found). In a study from 2013, CBSSports surmised through number crunching that the No. 3 draft spot had the most league winners, with the fourth and fifth slots tying for second most. In this analysis, 10th 11th and 12th are the three worst spots to draft from.
The data seems to suggest that the latest in a first round you can get an impact player the better spot for a drafter — as they’ll have better position in subsequent rounds.