In fantasy football, dynasty startup leagues present a unique set of challenges that you don’t face in a traditional season-long redraft league. Unlike formats where you’re constructing an entirely new roster each year through the draft, you only have one initial draft with the entire NFL player pool. From there, the idea is to replenish and improve your roster through annual rookie drafts along with free agent adds and trades.
Of course, finding viable starters via waivers is a difficult task in most dynasty leagues. Likewise, drafting future fantasy starters in rookie drafts is much easier said than done. In a rookie draft, you’re typically looking at five or six rounds, and a good chunk of those players — especially those outside the first three rounds — simply aren’t going to pan out for fantasy purposes.
The point here is simple: In a startup draft, we want to build a roster that can compete right out of the gate but is also set up for long-term success. We can then use rookie drafts to replenish our roster, and ideally we’ll never enter the dreaded rebuild territory.
When it comes to strategy in dynasty startup drafts, you’re going to find a wide range of advice on the interwebs. These recommendations tend to settle into one of two camps: Some recommend going young in a startup draft, while others tell you to grab veterans and set your team up to win now. The latter piece of advice certainly comes with some instant gratification, but don’t forget the point we’ve already made — the goal is to replenish, and not to rebuild.
Age is always going to be a factor in dynasty startups. As a result, veteran players are going to slide down the draft board. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a few of these guys, but too many will create a problem for you down the line. Given the short shelf life at wide receiver and running back, you could find yourself having to trade or cut veterans on the downslope of their careers. It’s extremely difficult to replenish their value on your team, and you simply won’t have enough rookie picks to do so each year. So your once-championship-caliber team could devolve into a basement dweller in need of a rebuild within the span of only a few seasons.
Often, fantasy advice-givers act as if it’s an either/or scenario in dynasty startups. Either you go young and sacrifice the short-term in favor of the long-term, or you go with veterans and sacrifice the long-term in favor of the short-term. In reality, this isn’t a binary. It is possible to blend the two together, and I’m going to show you how.
Let’s go position-by-position and break down what we’re looking to accomplish.
NFL typically stands for “not for long,” especially when it comes to fantasy production. However, we’re seeing signal callers who have been able to produce elite numbers well into their late 30s. This extremely long shelf life creates an interesting opportunity when it comes to quarterback in dynasty startups. At other positions, you’re going to see the recommended cutoff age a lot younger than we have for quarterback. But we’re going to shoot for any quarterbacks under 30. Here’s the current list of top names excluding the 2020 rookie class, along with their overall rankings:
Mahomes and Jackson are the obvious top two, and both are very young. Unfortunately, their price tags in dynasty are going to be hefty. Sure, you could have them for a decade or more, but there’s better value to be had further down the board. Players like Prescott and Wentz aren’t as young, but both are coming off solid 2019 campaigns and are set up for long-term success. Allen is a bit more volatile, but there’s no denying his high ceiling.
Ideally, you’ll want to grab a player in that cluster and then circle back and grab another name toward the bottom of the list. Winston, Jones, Darnold and Goff come at a slight discount, but all four have shown the ability to put fantasy points on the board. You may think that you don’t have to grab a second quarterback in this range, but this is another place where dynasty differs from redraft.
If your quarterback goes down with an injury in redraft, you’re almost always able to pickup a viable starter off of waivers in a 1QB league. The same isn’t true in dynasty, where all starters are likely to be owned even in a 1QB league. Depending on your bench size, it’s wise to have three or four quarterbacks on your roster. So deep names to consider later in drafts include Gardner Minshew, Drew Lock, Teddy Bridgewater and Dwayne Haskins. None of these four are a lock for fantasy success, but they’re worth a flier if you’ve already drafted two solid names.
Age matters more at running back than any other position. Think about it: Nearly every year in the NFL, we see running backs in their late 20s fade into oblivion. That’s why, for dynasty purposes, we should typically start looking to trade away running backs once they hit their age-26 season. It may seem counterintuitive, but decline tends to set in for running backs at 27 and really hits hard at 28. In trading a player at 26, we’re aiming to optimize our return by getting rid of him as close to his peak as we can. So we’re going to want to stay south of that number in startups — we'll use 25 as our recommended cutoff age.
Some of the top players off the board in startups will meet this criteria. In fact, seven of our top 12 options are running backs who are currently under 25 and will still be under 25 when the season begins in September. Grabbing one of these players makes a lot of sense in the first round of your startup. And, just like in redraft leagues, we don’t want to neglect running back, because the position dries up fast. When we factor in our age requirement, we have an even thinner group of players.
As you can see, outside the first-round group, there are just 12 running backs inside the top 100 who meet our age constraint. It’s going to be challenging to strictly adhere to this requirement, and you may end up grabbing backs who are entering their age-26 or age-27 seasons. Of the four positions, running back is going to be the most challenging. But you’ll also find that it’s a position you can attack in the early rounds of your rookie drafts in order to replenish your rosters.
We can go a little older at wideout, but not by much. We’re going to set our recommended cutoff age at 27. Typically, it’s a good idea to start shopping wideouts at 28, with 29 being the latest you should look to unload them. Remember, trading a player away will give you something in return. This could be younger players or rookie draft picks. Either way, you’re receiving something for the player, unlike when you cut him. In that case, you get nothing in return and have to scrounge through the scraps on waivers. That’s a losing strategy.
|17||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||27|
|32||Allen Robinson II||WR||26|
|41||D.J. Chark Jr.||WR||23|
As we can see, there’s significantly more depth at wide receiver than we have at running back, even with our age constraint. Among our top 50 dynasty players, half of them are wideouts age 27 or younger. That means we can load up on the position and stock our roster with long-shelf-life players. And this is really the key to success right out of the gate — you can easily put together a highly competitive roster that isn’t on the fast track to getting their AARP cards.
A wise man once said: “Tight end is brutal.” The lack of consistent production at the position makes it important to grab a top option. Ideally, that player will be younger, but it’s the lone position where we won’t be setting a recommended cutoff age. In fact, grabbing a young tight end like T.J. Hockenson may not be the best strategy for the short-term, as it typically takes tight ends multiple years to develop in the NFL. As a result, tight ends under 25 tend to be fantasy disappointments.
Kittle is a lock to come off the board in the second round, but you don’t necessarily need him in order to build a successful dynasty roster. Platers like Engram, Andrews, Henry and Waller all have appealing fantasy profiles both in the short- and long-term. Out of this list, Kelce and Ertz are perhaps the most tricky. Neither is especially “old” for the position, but they are the elder statesmen on the list. As such, you may want to fade them in favor of one of the younger names.
So there you have it. Using a recommended cutoff age for each position will help you refine your dynasty startup draft board and build a foundation of players who will not only help you compete in Year 1, but will also set you up for long-term success.
This article doesn’t get in-depth with the later rounds, but it’s ideal to apply the same strategy — favoring players under your cutoff ages. In most cases, it won’t be possible to always draft players under your constraint, but a roster consisting of a majority of these players will put you on the path to replenish annually and never have to rebuild.