News & Analysis

Fantasy football draft strategy: How to approach a dynasty snake startup

Dec 10, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (27) jumps over Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Many dynasty players will tell you that the startup draft is the most enjoyable part of any league. With a blank roster in front of you it seems that anything should be possible. For most players though, the sad truth is that anything is not possible. There are a number of things to prepare for and consider when creating your startup strategy this year and if you ignore these factors it will take a lot of luck for you to avoid flunking your draft, especially if you are new to dynasty. In this piece, I’ll review key preparation considerations for snake draft startups. I’ll cover auction startup prep in a piece soon to follow.

Below are six key areas for you to cover when preparing for your next dynasty startup snake draft.

No. 1: Know whether your draft is a traditional snake draft or third-round reversal snake draft

Traditional snake drafts involve slotting each owner in a particular draft position. In odd rounds, the player with the first pick goes first. In even rounds, the player with the last pick goes first. Some snake drafts also include a component called “third-round reversal.” In third-round reversal drafts, the order from the second round is repeated in the third round. This draft method was created to help balance the difference in player values available to all owners in the league.

Selections in the first four rounds for the owner with pick 1.03 in a 12-team league

Traditional Snake Draft Third-round Reversal Snake Draft
1.03 #3 1.03 #3
2.10 #22 2.10 #22
3.03 #27 3.10 #34
4.10 #46 4.03 #39

It is extremely important to know whether your startup draft is a traditional snake or third-round reversal snake as it can greatly affect your player selection strategy through the first four rounds. In a traditional snake draft, the owner with the third pick will not only get an uber-elite player at 1.03, he or she will also end up with three of the top-27 players overall. This results in an extreme competitive advantage in terms of player quality and overall roster value (or trade value). In the third-round reversal method, the same owner gets the 34th overall selection instead of the 27th. I strongly recommend steering clear of any snake draft startup that doesn’t use the third-round reversal method.

No. 2: Know whether rookies are included in the startup or if they are part of a separate draft

Some startups include rookies in the big startup event while others reserve those players for a separate draft which occurs at a later date. When rookies are included in a startup draft I typically fade them (only draft one or two) and allow the first-year “punters” to take their chances while I hoard proven, mid-career players and take a swing at winning in year one. When rookies are included, it is important to find a good set of comprehensive rankings in which rookies are included. Some sites and rankers do not include rookies in their overall ranks this early in the offseason. Our team here at PFF does.

No. 3: Ask around about the commissioner

If you are playing with your buddies, then you will obviously know all you need to about the commissioner, but you should feel comfortable with who is in charge. It should be someone who can make a just ruling when the league bylaws don’t cover a specific topic. It should also be someone who will actually enforce the rules of the league. If the commissioner isn’t consistent then the league will likely fail within a few years.

If you are playing in a league with people you don’t know and you have never met the commissioner, ask some of your future leaguemates if they’ve played in league with the commissioner before and see what they have to say about their experience. You can also contact the commissioner directly and just gauge their personality when they respond to your questions about the league. Do not join a dynasty league if you have any doubts about the quality of the commissioner.

No. 4: Learn the scoring system and research how it will impact player values

Scoring fantasy points is how titles are won, so this is obviously one of the most important steps to having a successful startup draft. However, you’d be surprised at how often players in your league will just assume it’s a basic PPR league only to find out midway through the draft that they were under-prepared. Don’t be that owner. If you’ve learned the scoring system for your league prior to the draft then you’ll be worry-free during the startup.

So, how do you research player scoring specific to your league settings?

My favorite platform for hosting dynasty leagues is My Fantasy League. There are infinite ways to customize the appearance of the user interface, roster requirements, and scoring settings. One trade of so many customization options is that the menus are deep and sometimes basic stuff can be a bit tricky to find if it’s your first time navigating the site. If your league is going to be hosted on MFL then be sure to follow this path and check the scoring settings before setting your draft board:

League Menu -> Reports -> Rules -> League Scoring

If the scoring settings are basic PPR then you’re in luck, as nearly every fantasy site around has PPR scoring results for the previous year available for you to review. However, if there is any customization at all (such as points per carry), then uncovering player production under the modified settings becomes a bit more difficult. There are two ways to find this information. On MFL, follow this path:

League Menu -> Reports -> Player -> Top Performers/Player Stats

The output will be a list of player rankings based on their scoring for the previous season. You can also edit a few dropdown menus to change to historical season and observe scoring trends over time, sort by a single position, or even just check out rookies in a list by themselves.

What about leagues that aren’t hosted on MFL? We have a great toolset at PFF called Season GM that will import the settings from any publicly viewable league hosted on MFL, Yahoo!, ESPN, or You can then view PFF player rankings and projected stats for the upcoming season that are adjusted for your league settings.

No. 5: Review your roster settings and know how to leverage them

Knowing the starting lineup requirements can help you make educated guesses about when positional runs could occur mid-draft and whether you can wait on your target player for another round. Roster settings are also important because this is how you will leverage the knowledge you uncovered when researching the scoring system into building a winning roster. For example, in a 0.25 PPC league that lets you start up to five running backs, you’ll want to draft heavy at that position early and find wide receiver values later. However, in a 0.25 PPC league that only lets you start two or three running backs, it may make more sense to stick to a traditional zero-RB build, pivoting to stockpiling elite wide receivers while your league mates race to build a three-deep at running back.

Superflex is a roster format where one flex position can be filled by a quarterback. These leagues are growing in popularity so make sure you know check the options for flex positions in starting lineups. Superflex changes draft strategy more than any other roster setting, so don’t miss this one.

Another important roster setting to know is whether your league will be a traditional dynasty league where each owner controls their players indefinitely or whether your league will have player contracts. I have not seen a snake draft league where player contracts are used, but I’m sure they exist out there somewhere. If contracts are used, it greatly affects player values. For example, only being able to control a player for up to four years would significantly depress any age-related value boost which a 25-year-old player might have over a 28-year-old player.

Some leagues allow owners to assign rookie players to a taxi squad. It is very important to know if your league allows this because if it does then you can leverage the rules to gain access to more players after the draft. If your league allows five taxi squad players, then make sure you draft five rookies and assign them all to the taxi squad. Then, after the draft, you’ll have room to immediately add five more veteran players to your active roster from waivers. If you hit on even one of these dart throws due to a camp injury, retirement, or NFL trade, then you’ll have created additional roster value for free. You’ll likely cut a few of the dart-throw players prior to the NFL season in order to promote your top few rookies to the active roster, but playing this game is a great way to maximize your chances at a year one championship.

No. 6: Choose your team build style

Now that you know everything you need to know about the startup draft, scoring, and roster settings, you’ve got the necessary information to determine how you'll build your squad. Some popular startup roster building strategies include: win-now, punting, best player available, and zero-RB. Best player available and zero-RB are technically sub-strategies that can be applied within the larger framework of a win-now or a punt build, but you should know these terms in case you hear or read your fellow drafters discussing their preferred methodologies. Since successful employment of each of these strategies requires in-depth review, I’ll cover them in separate articles.

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