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NFL Fantasy: Tiering through your NFL Fantasy draft

Every year, before my real-money fantasy leagues hold their drafts, I practice with an assortment of free publicly hosted leagues and dozens of mock drafts. But no matter how much I prepare, there is a panic moment or two on NFL fantasy draft day.

Who goes number 1 in your NFL Fantasy Draft?
Who goes number 1 in your NFL Fantasy Draft?

Last year, two players I was bent on selecting in the fourth round were taken off the board by the teams just ahead of me. I needed another player! I glanced at my notes and compared the names to who was available. The clock was ticking. Names were running together. I swear the two-minute clock started at one-minute for me. I didn’t see any player who stood out… until right after I picked.

As the draft coordinator told everyone I picked a mid-range wide receiver, I saw the name of my best-bet sleeper running back still on the board with only one other “name” RB ahead of him. By the time my next selection came up, he was gone.

What happens on NFL Fantasy draft day?

There are two common NFL fantasy draft day issues that confuse our brains, even after weeks of preparation. The first is that our top choices come off the board earlier than expected.

Will a new quarterback with different tendencies affect your draft order?
Will a new quarterback with different tendencies affect your draft order?

Every mock draft we played with had player X available in the third round… but now he’s not! Then we spend too much time trying to figure out why as the selection clock winds down on us.

The other phenomenon that leads us awry on draft day is “following the crowd”. This is what happens when we are set on drafting another wide receiver in round seven, but suddenly quarterbacks are flying off the board. Four are gone in the last five selections.

“What if there are none left before my next pick?” you wonder. So, you blow up your draft strategy and panic-select Kirk Cousins. By the time you pick again, three of your top-targeted receivers are gone and there are still viable quarterbacks to be had.

“Tier” down your NFL fantasy draft!

Draft day panic can be done away with by using the tier system. It is a simple, but effective strategy. All it entails is assigning a level of quality to each position player on your board.

Antonio Brown is better than John Brown, so he is assigned a higher tier. Doing this to each player gives you a quick perspective on what is happening during your NFL fantasy draft and whether a change in strategy is warranted along the way.

Make the tiers your own- trust your gut
Make the tiers your own- trust your gut

How do NFL fantasy draft tiers help? Let’s look at the running backs. There are three or four generally regarded as the top tier. Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and probably Ezekiel Elliott are on a plane by themselves.

The next tier includes first-rounders Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, and (if you believe in rookies) Saquon Barkley. The third level has RB1 consolation prizes (Devonta Freeman, Jordan Howard, LeSean McCoy, etc).

Rushers you’d rather have as your RB2 kick off tier 4 and so on. Running backs on my board covered 13 tiers through RB60.

Wide receivers only have eight tiers, which makes sense since there is little points-per-game difference in the 2017 outputs of most WR2 and WR4 candidates.

After separating the receivers, plug your quarterbacks, tight ends and any defense you would consider picking before the last rounds. Separate them by position, but use the same tier or level. In other words, a DST1 might be on a tier with your WR5 and RB7.

How does that help my NFL fantasy draft?

Now imagine it is draft day and you have your tiers set up in front of you. The seven teams drafting ahead just picked wide receivers. You are tempted to panic-draft one, too. But a glance at your draft sheet shows nine receivers left on that tier, but only two running backs.

Will last season's surprises regress or progress?
Will last season's surprises regress or progress?

This tells you there is a better chance a receiver of that level will be available for your next pick than a running back. Instinct told you to choose a receiver, but you confidently select an important RB2.

When your favorite target gets picked off the board, the tiers allow you a few seconds to grieve before showing you who to replace him with.

The tier system also protects you from a third poor NFL fantasy draft strategy. Some folks feel they need all their starters on the roster before selecting backups. Others may pre-determine the round in which they should pick a QB or defense.

But, if your last fourth-tier running back is still on the board at a higher tier than your TE1, you need to take the RB4 first. The tight end will probably still be on the board later. If not, you have a list of other tight ends that are comparable.

Setting up your NFL Fantasy Draft tier sheet

It does not take much time to set up a tier system. Start by copying a projected NFL fantasy ADP list found via Google. (There are many!) I used the projected rounds from that list to populate my tiers. Projected round one is the first tier, and so on.

Don't tier kickers and don't pick one before the last round
Don't tier kickers and don't pick one before the last round

Then I compared it to my notes and added tiers, especially in the early rounds, adjusting names that looked too high or low. As explained above, the first round running backs occupy three tiers on my board.

Then I elevated a few reaches and sleepers I feel strongly about, circling them so I know they are sleepers. (A “sure thing” player should be picked before a sleeper on the same tier… in theory.)

With tiers increasing in popularity, you can copy someone’s projected tiers from an NFL fantasy site and tweak it to your liking. For instance, I believe in Devonta Freeman more than most other pundits. I have him in my second tier. Most others have Freeman in a third tier, at best.

Make your NFL fantasy draft tier sheet your own

It took me an hour to set up my initial tiers. I have been tinkering with it ever since. It is worth the effort, especially if you will be working more than one NFL fantasy draft board at a time like me.

Use a late round pick on a sleeper or bounce-back candidates.
Use a late round pick on a sleeper or bounce-back candidates.

Research as much as you can, but don’t believe everything you read. For instance, I am about to write an article questioning Le’Veon Bell’s tier-one running back status this season. If my argument makes sense to you, put him in tier 2 or maybe create a tier 1.5.

Somehow, I don’t expect many NFL fantasy owners to do that. (We’ll see who is laughing at whom come Week 16!)

Take the time before the big NFL fantasy draft weekend to tier your player selections. You’ll be the calmest owner at your NFL fantasy draft party and look pretty smart when your team takes the title!