Originally posted 8/17/2015. Updated for the 2017 NFL Season.
Football season is upon us once again, which means it’s time to partake in the annual tradition of fantasy football. The sport started in 1962 and has grown to become a multibillion dollar industry comprised of approximately 41 million players. (Impress your buddies with more details about the history of fantasy football.) If you wish to join the masses and draft your own star-studded NFL team, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve gathered our very own fantasy football enthusiasts to bring you six steps for starting your own fantasy league and tips on how to throw the perfect live draft.
As league leader AKA commissioner, you get to dictate whether your draft takes place online or in person. While an online draft may be convenient, participating in a live, offline fantasy draft is exciting and a great start to football season.
1. Choose Participants
When setting up your fantasy football league, the first major decision you’ll have to make is who to invite. It’s important that your league has an even number of teams (also referred to as owners or participants) for scheduling purposes. Most successful leagues have anywhere from 8 to 14 teams, but we find that 12-team leagues provide the best balance in regards to player and position availability.
You should also make sure that everyone understands the schedule and commitment involved with playing fantasy football. There’s nothing worse than playing in a league where half of the owners stop paying attention midway through the season.
2. Pick a Time and Location
Once your league is filled with reliable owners, it’s time to schedule your draft. The regular season kicks off on September 7, 2017, so work with the other owners in your league to find a date before then that works well for everyone. Labor Day Weekend is a popular time for fantasy football drafts with the preseason schedule wrapping up and the regular season right around the corner. (Another benefit of scheduling your draft right before the regular season is so you don’t draft players that may get hurt during the preseason.)
For your draft’s location, you’ll want a large space where everyone can hang out comfortably. Most offline drafts are hosted at someone’s home, but certain restaurants and bars will allow you to reserve space for fantasy drafts if you give them enough advance notice. Regardless, having access to a Wi-Fi connection is ideal so that people can easily access player rankings on their laptop or tablet.
3. Establish Rules
Imagine if the NFL’s rules weren’t cut-and-dry, or not everyone got a copy of them before the draft. You would get chaos. Be prepared to run your draft like the NFL: decide your league’s format and rules well in advance of the draft so that everyone has a chance to properly prepare. This includes entry fees, draft format, trade policies, scoring systems, prizes, and the website you’ll be using to track the league’s process.
One way to do this is to create a document that includes all important league information and email it to your league members in advance of the draft. It can be helpful to have printed copies of the document to distribute on draft night as well.
4. Plan For Your Draft Party
Hosting a live fantasy draft is essentially the same as hosting a party – you want to make sure your league-mates are engaged and having a good time. Seeing as live drafts can take several hours to complete, refreshments are a must. Pizza and wings are popular choices for draft parties but, if you’re feeling ambitious, you could always turn the event into a barbecue and grill burgers and steaks. If you want to encourage some friendly trash-talk, a cooler full of beer is sure to liven things up when it’s time to start picking players!
5. Setup Your Equipment
Without question, the most important piece of equipment for any live draft is the draft board. You can make your own draft board using poster board or foam board, or you can purchase a pre-constructed draft board online. You’ll also need labels printed with eligible player names for updating the draft board after each pick. (We saved you the hassle, use our fantasy football labels.) In addition to the printed player labels, you’ll need to have some blank labels on hand – just in case your league-mates want to draft sleepers that aren’t included on your ranking lists.
Other than the draft board, you’ll also want to have a stopwatch or kitchen timer on hand. You’ll want to institute a time limit for each pick or your draft will take all night. Two or three minutes per person should give everyone enough time to make a decision and will keep your draft moving at a fairly brisk pace.
6. Build Your Strategy
Prior to the draft, do some research on player values. We recommend using existing ranking lists for each position as a starting point. Then you can move players that you like up on the list, and ones you want to avoid down.
Next, come up with a basic strategy on which positions you’d like to focus on early. Having said that, you should still be prepared to deviate from your plan depending on how the draft unfolds – don’t let a great player slip past you because he doesn’t fit into your pre-draft strategy!
Some other tips to consider are:
- Wide receivers are important! Try to grab three in the first five rounds.
- If you miss out on the top wide receivers in the first round, grabbing an elite running back is a solid fallback plan.
- Wait until the last few rounds to select a defense and a kicker. Taking them early is a waste of a pick.
- Most leagues are won because of great late-round picks. Spend some time researching sleepers that you can grab toward the end. This is true especially for keeper leagues and players ruled out for the season due to injuries.
- Pay attention to bye weeks! Having multiple key players miss the same week is a tough pill to swallow.
If you need help with your research, we offer some handy fantasy football resources, including alphabetical and ranked lists for each position and PDF templates for 2017 draft board labels. We can even supply blank labels in a variety of different colors to make printing your own draft board labels a breeze. Game on, and may the best team win!
This post was originally written by OnlineLabels.com’s very own fantasy football enthusiast, Josh Thompson.