Here are some of my favorite strategies to build a consistent winning team year after year. I will use a dynasty team I drafted in May 2012 to illustrate these strategies. Listening to someone talk about their own fantasy team is the worst – so this is only to show that I practice what I preach.
This is not meant to be an all-encompassing how-to guide by any means, but it's a great starting point for owners getting their feet wet in dynasty leagues.
Build for the Future
You keep your roster of players from year-to-year in dynasty leagues. So, one of the best ways to have a team that can compete annually is to build for the future. That does not mean that you draft a team to win a championship in five years, but you want to at least look toward next season.
Oftentimes I see owners draft a team that would be a powerhouse in a one-year redraft league. They take older established players with little regard for the future. This strategy can work if you're comfortable finding younger breakout candidates in the later rounds. The problem is in competitive leagues most owners won’t allow the younger sleeper candidates to fall that far in drafts. So you end up having a roster of older players with declining value and very few building blocks in the later rounds. If you don’t win a championship in the first season, you almost always have to rebuild the team from the bottom up and sell players for less than market value.
A better strategy is to build the core of your team for the next two to three years with younger players on the rise. Then, when other teams are looking for younger players that are unlikely to pan out, you can scoop up the veterans that can be a temporary bridge to some of your younger players who may not be ready to become weekly starters in your lineup.
In an ideal world, you want to maximize value by taking players in the early rounds who will likely be worth more next season. None of us have a crystal ball or Gray's Sports Almanac from “Back to the Future,” so there is some element of luck here. Asking yourself at each selection where you would take Player X in a draft next season gives you an idea whether the player is ascending, holding steady or on the decline.
Here is how my roster looks in the second year of a highly competitive 12-team points-per-reception (PPR) league. There are several industry experts in this league including Sigmund Bloom, Andy Miley, Shane P. Hallam, Ryan Forbes, Ryan McDowell, Eric Dickens, and our own Mike Clay. There weren’t many values to be had in this league.
||2012 ADP||2013 ADP||2013 Rk|
|QB||Wilson, Russell SEA||QB35||33||8||6|
|QB||Manning, Peyton DEN||QB13||13||11||11|
|QB||Locker, Jake TEN||QB14||15||27||26|
|QB||Ponder, Christian MIN||QB25||24||35||33|
|RB||Martin, Doug TBB||RB11||14||2||2|
|RB||Spiller, C.J. BUF||RB17||17||5||4|
|RB||Lattimore, Marcus SFO||R||R||37||33|
|RB||Gillislee, Mike MIA||R||R||52||52|
|RB||Ellington, Andre ARI||R||R||56||57|
|RB||Goodson, Mike NYJ||RB60||56||58||58|
|RB||Powell, Bilal NYJ||RB69||67||76||72|
|RB||Green, Alex GBP||RB59||55||84||73|
|RB||Gerhart, Toby MIN||RB55||52||124||78|
|RB||Reece, Marcel OAK||UD||NA||72||80|
|RB||Thompson, Chris WAS||R||R||79||UR|
|TE||Rudolph, Kyle MIN||TE11||12||6||6|
|TE||Davis, Vernon SFO||TE4||11||5||7|
|TE||Housler, Robert ARI||TE28||29||15||25|
|WR||Bryant, Dez DAL||WR6||6||4||3|
|WR||Harvin, Percy SEA||WR9||11||7||7|
|WR||Smith, Torrey BAL||WR27||25||19||13|
|WR||Maclin, Jeremy PHI||WR14||17||31||31|
|WR||Quick, Brian STL||WR42||43||59||48|
|WR||Bess, Davone CLE||WR67||70||92||84|
|WR||Robinson, Aldrick WAS||UD||NA||102||88|
|WR||McCluster, Dexter KCC||WR107||NA||103||92|
My team made the playoffs last year despite being one of the youngest teams in the league. The only player well over the age of 30 is Peyton Manning. When I took him last year, he was supposed to be my bridge to Jake Locker. Little did I know that Russell Wilson would end up as the best value pick I made in the entire draft.
I want to bring attention to some of the ADP differences. Most of my core players have a higher ADP in 2013 than last year. And finally, most of my starters are worth more based on my 2013 ranking of them versus where I selected them in the startup draft. The fact that I have several top-10 options at each position is a huge advantage going forward.
Build for the future – your team will thank you later.
Trade Down in a Start-up Draft
I'm a huge advocate for trading down, if possible. Ranking and projecting players on an annual basis is an inexact science, so I want to give my team as many chances to land young core players in the early rounds. No one is ever going to get all of their picks correct. Spreading out your risk helps produce a greater payoff in the end.
Based on my experience, around the 10th round of a 12-team league is where you usually start to see a dropoff in available talent. So I want to maximize the number of picks I have in that range, even if it means dealing my first-round pick. There's no established trading chart for dynasty draft pick selections, so it can be tough to find a trading partner where you feel that you are getting fair value.
In the same league as above, here is how I traded down three separate times after I was awarded the first overall pick in the draft.
After making those deals, I upgraded seven of my draft picks. Most importantly, I ended up with 11 picks in the top 100 and six picks in the top 50 overall.
This advice comes with a disclaimer. Trading down is not for the faint of heart. I gave up the chance to select Calvin Johnson, but picked up a player (Dez Bryant) that is almost his equal and plenty of other capital for the core of my team.
Learn from your Mistakes
First off, no one is perfect – especially in fantasy football. Knowing what you know and don’t know is vital to long-term success. We all have blind spots and biases that impact our decision making. The only way to learn and grow is to study your triumphs and mistakes. Be honest with yourself.
We’ve all looked back at drafts we’ve done and wondered what we were thinking at the time. How could I have passed on Player B for Player A? Why was I so high on Player X when there wasn’t much of a breakout possibility? How could I have traded away Player C for nothing?
To illustrate this, here are several picks I made in this draft and a player I could have selected instead several picks later:
|7.01||73||Bryan Fontaine||Jackson, Steven STL RB||RB22|
|7.10||82||Bucketheads||Cobb, Randall GBP WR||WR38|
|9.03||99||Bryan Fontaine||Locker, Jake TEN QB||QB14|
|10.07||115||Hog's Breath||Bradford, Sam STL QB||QB17|
|11.01||121||Bryan Fontaine||Collie, Austin IND WR||WR47|
|11.05||125||Rancho Cucamonga Ghosts||Amendola, Danny STL WR||WR49|
|12.12||144||Bryan Fontaine||Hillis, Peyton KCC RB||RB48|
|13.01||145||Bloom||Leshoure, Mikel DET RB||RB49|
|17.01||193||Bryan Fontaine||Nelson, David BUF WR||WR76|
|18.04||208||Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce||Hilton, T.Y. IND WR (R)||WR81|
|23.01||265||Bryan Fontaine||McNutt, Marvin PHI WR (R)||WR108|
|23.09||273||Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce||Pitta, Dennis BAL TE||TE30|
Some of these are extreme cases with the benefit of hindsight, but they highlight the need to have clarity about your convictions. Instead of taking a running back approaching 30 years old (Steven Jackson), I could have had one of the premier slot receivers (Randall Cobb) in the game. Instead of taking a slot receiver on a poor offense (David Nelson), I could have taken a slot receiver (T.Y. Hilton) on an ascending offense.
Most importantly, to learn from your experiences, you have to formulate your own opinions. Continue to challenge yourself to get better.
Trading is one of the best parts of being a dynasty league owner. It gives us one of the closest experiences to being an actual NFL general manager. However, I sometimes see owners needlessly make trades just to keep things interesting. While I can't advocate this practice, it's important to remain active in your league in order to capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves.
I tend to be fairly reserved with my trade activity throughout the year. I trust my evaluations and only look to make moves if I feel like I have an edge to extract value. Most of my trading is done in February and March after I have identified some potential breakout candidates before the masses have. I try to avoid paying market price if possible.
Sometimes there aren’t any moves to make. Not for a lack of trying to seek potential deals, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your team is to stand pat. In the league I have referenced so far, I've only made two trades since the conclusion of the initial draft last May. I dealt Justin Blackmon and a 2014 second-round pick for Torrey Smith last June after Blackmon's driving under the influence incident. At the trade deadline last year, I dealt Steven Jackson for Brian Quick and a second-round pick to replace the one I had traded away months before. That’s it.
Use trades to your advantage. Sell players before a decline or buy players before a breakout. However, do it with a purpose in mind. And stay one step ahead of your league mates.
A lot of trial and error goes into becoming a successful dynasty owner. There are plenty of other ways to build a championship team. However, these are strategies that have worked well for me.
How do you build your teams? Tell us in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook.
Bryan Fontaine is a Senior Editor for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bryan_Fontaine.