News & Analysis

Dynasty fantasy football startup draft strategy

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. 

Quarterback

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:

Rk Player Pos Age
26 Patrick Mahomes QB 24
27 Lamar Jackson QB 23
43 Deshaun Watson QB 24
65 Kyler Murray QB 22
75 Dak Prescott QB 26
84 Carson Wentz QB 27
96 Josh Allen QB 23
103 Baker Mayfield QB 24
113 Jameis Winston QB 26
117 Daniel Jones QB 22
131 Sam Darnold QB 22
134 Jared Goff QB 25
136 Jimmy Garoppolo QB 28

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.

Running Back

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.

Rk Player Pos Age
1 Christian McCaffrey RB 23
2 Saquon Barkley RB 23
4 Ezekiel Elliott RB 24
6 Alvin Kamara RB 24
7 Dalvin Cook RB 24
10 Nick Chubb RB 24
12 Joe Mixon RB 23

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. 

Rk Player Pos Age
20 Josh Jacobs RB 22
28 Miles Sanders RB 22
35 Kerryon Johnson RB 22
40 Austin Ekeler RB 24
52 Devin Singletary RB 22
54 Marlon Mack RB 24
55 James Conner RB 24
56 David Montgomery RB 22
64 Kareem Hunt RB 24
67 Derrius Guice RB 22
92 Rashaad Penny RB 24
100 Royce Freeman RB 24

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.

Wide Receiver

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.

Rk Player Pos Age
3 Michael Thomas WR 27
5 DeAndre Hopkins WR 27
8 Davante Adams WR 27
9 Tyreek Hill WR 26
11 Chris Godwin WR 24
13 Mike Evans WR 26
14 Amari Cooper WR 25
16 JuJu Smith-Schuster WR 23
17 Odell Beckham Jr. WR 27
19 D.J. Moore WR 22
23 Kenny Golladay WR 26
25 Courtland Sutton WR 24
30 Keenan Allen WR 27
31 A.J. Brown WR 22
32 Allen Robinson II WR 26
33 Stefon Diggs WR 26
36 Tyler Boyd WR 25
38 Cooper Kupp WR 26
39 Tyler Lockett WR 27
41 D.J. Chark Jr. WR 23
44 Calvin Ridley WR 25
45 D.K. Metcalf WR 22
46 Jarvis Landry WR 27
47 Michael Gallup WR 24
48 Terry McLaurin 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.

Tight End

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.

Rk Player Pos Age
22 George Kittle TE 26
29 Travis Kelce TE 30
49 Evan Engram TE 25
50 Zach Ertz TE 29
58 Mark Andrews TE 24
66 Austin Hooper TE 25
68 Hunter Henry TE 25
72 Darren Waller TE 27
81 T.J. Hockenson TE 22
85 Noah Fant TE 22
102 Dallas Goedert TE 24

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. 

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