Dynasty leagues are some of the most fun you can have in fantasy football. It is the closest we can get to experiencing some modicum of what general managing is like, and it allows us to stay engaged with the game all year round.
Though dynasty is obviously a long-view game, the startup draft is by far the most impactful part. An excellent draft can set up your team to be successful for a long time, while striking out can take years to recover from. Here are some important tips to keep in mind as you begin your startup:
Know Your League Settings
This goes without saying, but still needs to be said: You need to adapt your drafting strategy to the settings of your league. Here are some of the more common items to consider, though there are surely others.
Managed vs. Best Ball
It is easy to overlook the differences between these formats in dynasty, where competitors are far more likely to focus on individual players rather than construction, but you should be altering your strategy greatly. In managed leagues, you have to set a weekly lineup, and you are more likely to churn through the back end of your roster/use those spots to take swings on upside. Elite players are super valuable because they represent weekly starts over (hopefully) a number of years. Trading up makes sense in these conditions.
But in best ball, it is wise to prioritize depth. You want as many players as possible to give you a chance at a score. This is made even more important when the roster and/or starting lineup requirement is deeper. Of course, there are limits to this. You don’t want a roster full of players that will need to be replaced in a year, but trading down frequently into value-rich pockets of the draft can yield a roster prepared to win in both the short and long term.
2-QB/SF vs. 1-QB
Superflex leagues have become increasingly popular, and they change a lot of the strategies to consider in startups. In single-QB formats, it is much easier to find production at that position — much like in redraft leagues. You won’t be able to find good, young QBs on waivers, but it is still going to be possible to stream. Simply put: You don’t need to reach for QBs in these leagues.
It also allows you to take some shots at QBs with less reliable long-term outlooks. Jalen Hurts is one such example in our rankings. He has a path to top-five QB production in 2021, but he could be replaced in 2022. We are higher on him in 1-QB leagues than 2-QB because it will be easier to find a replacement if things turn bad.
In Superflex or 2-QB formats, things can get ugly quickly if you don’t secure quality signal-callers. You can develop a fantastic roster at the skill positions but get “locked out” at QB by waiting too long. While you may give up some raw point value over replacement by selecting Kyler Murray or Justin Herbert, it is made up for in long-term, reliable production at a position with far less scarcity than competitors are used to. This will not be the first time in this piece we reference the QB position.
Another wrinkle that can add scoring, and be tons of fun, in leagues are additional points for TE receptions (typically 1.5 PPR). Similar to Superflex QBs, this will push TEs up the board and increase the risk that you can be locked out of the position on the high end.
But unlike QBs, there isn’t as much longevity at TE, and the premium that you pay in the startup cost is likely not equally distributed across the position. I would recommend targeting one of the elite TEs who see a true bump in premium formats — making them akin to elite WRs — rather than overpaying later on for someone making minimal impact for your team.
Have a Goal in Mind
When drafting your team through the startup, it is beneficial to have a vision for your roster. Whether it is a typical snake draft or auction, there are limited resources for you to work with. Having a plan for how you’d like to allocate them will help you to avoid being a team in purgatory with no real direction. You could be aggressive for the title, look to build a true “dynasty”, or somewhere in between.
Drafting young players, trading down or even out of the startup for future picks, and looking to build a dynasty team that it appears could win for 10 years after everyone hits their prime sounds like a ton of fun, but it is also how the majority of people approach startups. You will not be behind on premium youth assets (more on that shortly), but you also will not have a well-defined window to compete for a title if you are too aggressive in doing this. These are teams that often look great on paper but hit some bumps along the way that you need to be ready to adjust for.
My preferred approach in startups has typically been to compete early. Much like the previous approach, being too aggressive here can leave you rebuilding for a long time, which would be disastrous — especially if you can’t actually seal the deal. But I have found that even players in their mid-20s can be undervalued in startup drafts because everyone wants the youngest players they can find. I like to try to win a title early because it will pay for my entry fees later on if I have to go through a true rebuild. Teams that punt early do so with the assumption they will be winners later on, but that does not always come to fruition.
Always be flexible in your approach as well. It is possible you go into a startup looking to gobble up some veterans, but those players actually end up being taken earlier than expected, and those high-value younger players fall. Adapting and adjusting throughout your startup drafts is key to success.
Understand Premium Assets
Regardless of your strategy, it’s important to know what the premium dynasty assets are, and how they will likely transact post-draft. Something that has already been mentioned numerous times in this piece is youth. Young players, draft picks, and related/similar assets are incredibly valuable — and oftentimes regardless of production. That top draft pick everyone is high on? His value is unlikely to change much if he has an uninspiring rookie season. If you have young assets or are looking to add more, expect an increased cost. This is reflected in our rankings.
Another example of this is QBs in 2QB/SF drafts. Any quality starting QB is likely to increase in value the moment the draft is over. Why? Because it is the toughest position to replace in those formats. During a startup, it is easy to be lulled into thinking you don’t need that QB — skill players are often far sexier and have a lot of built-in mental value due to more standard formats. Don’t ignore this position. If you do, it could cost you some high-end skill guys just to obtain a QB you can start.
Fade RBs Early
Drafting a RB in dynasty is like buying a car: The second you leave the draft, that player has already lost value. RBs have the shortest shelf lives and are a position predicated upon volume first and foremost. I do not recommend spending high startup capital on RBs when there are equivalent — or even slightly worse — players available at WR. Again, this is reflected in our ranks.
Even the very best RBs can be difficult to trade for the value they cost in startups. Take Christian McCaffrey for example. He is the consensus 1.01 in redraft leagues, and continues to be a relatively high pick in startups — usually the first pick in 1-QB formats, according to our Dynasty ADP report. And yet he rarely fetches that kind of premium in trades. In one of my Superflex leagues, he was recently traded for J.K. Dobbins (ADP 30.8), Michael Pittman Jr. (108.2), and the 2.06 in the rookie draft (114.2 using the 18th-rated rookie). That isn’t as great of a return as his startup ADP (3.8) indicates.
These expensive RBs are the Teslas or Corvettes of dynasty (okay, I don’t really know cars that well, but I think you get it). They look nice and they score tons of points, but you’ll never get back the value you paid to acquire them.
The short shelf life of the position can also complicate things if your team isn’t competing. These are the players most likely to not make it into your competing window with high-end productive years left. This leads to the asset dying on your roster, or having to accept a below-value trade just to get back into some potentially appreciating assets. I much prefer to trade for RBs in my competitive windows (or select them in rookie drafts) than to use up valuable startup capital on them.
Don’t Be Afraid to Deal Future Picks
Draft picks are always a hot-button item in dynasty leagues. Most leagues that I have played in will allow you to trade those picks during the startup, which can open up some avenues to add value to your roster. Draft picks always seem to carry a decent amount of value, but they take time to appreciate. If you are drafting a 2021 startup, you have to wait an entire year for that 2022 pick to become a player, and perhaps even more time for that player to be any good.
I think there is an edge in trading your picks during the startup for players that can yield points now. If the asset you trade picks for is scoring points and helping your team win, then it is in turn decreasing the value of said picks — a double-win. When possible, it would be best to trade picks for young players who will maintain/gain value, as mentioned previously. In doing so, you aren’t really sacrificing the long-term value of the pick, and are buying that pick value a year early.
It is important to note here that trading your picks ahead of the rookie draft does not preclude you from trading back in. In some ways, this can be beneficial. You can identify the tier breaks and value pockets of the rookie draft and deal for the least-valuable pick in that group (according to the market) rather than being confined to your default selection.