How To Survive In Survivor Leagues
By Jeff Tefertiller
July 12th, 2011

Survivor leagues have become very popular throughout the last few years. There are even several leagues that run throughout the football offseason in the Mock Draft Forum on the Footballguys.com message board. A Survivor draft is a fantasy league draft in which the owner drafts the best possible team and then is no longer allowed to make free agent acquisitions, trades, or alter his team's roster in any way. These leagues remind me of the old infomercial slogan, "Set it and forget it". The players on your roster that score the best each week will be used for your weekly score. For example, if an owner has three quarterbacks on his roster and one scores 30 points, one scores 25 points and one scores 2 points, the highest score (30 points) is the one used for the week. This is true for each of the fantasy positions. Lineup requirements have a big impact on the distribution of the roster during the draft. In these Survivor leagues, the team with the lowest point total each week is bounced out of the league for the remainder of the year, while the rest remain. Contrary to other leagues, the goal is not to win or be the highest scorer each week, but rather not to be the lowest scoring squad. It is a subtle change in thinking. The only caveat is that many leagues offer teams with the highest score each week "immunity" for the coming week. This is the one way to minimize the luck involved. This evolution in the Survivor rules is an attempt to limit the times a normally high scoring team gets bounced on a low week.

Many think luck plays a much greater role in Survivor leagues because of the "one bad week and you're out" rule ... which is a valid argument. Player injuries and poor performance in a given week play a much larger role in Survivor leagues, just like in "normal" leagues, but there are still steps you can take to minimize risk and maximize the potential of your roster.

How much luck is needed?

Because there are no free agent acquisitions or trades, player injuries will knock several strong teams from contention before the weather turns cold. This is the same as in regular leagues. Situations change and players get injured. It is essential to draft for depth at the key positions since there is no way to address these changes after the draft. We will examine the role of depth later in this article. It is imperative that owners in Survivor leagues closely monitor the bye weeks or an early exit may result. Having key players off the same week is a recipe for disaster. There is no luck needed to look at the NFL schedule to stagger bye weeks. There is little an owner can do in Survivor leagues if the players on his roster underachieve or somehow find themselves in a coach's doghouse. This is why it is best to land solid starters at the key positions used in your league while adding depth to cover bye weeks and injuries.

Steps to a Successful Survivor Fantasy Football Season

(League starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 Def - 18-round draft)

  1. Running backs are critical in a Survivor league. Finding a solid RB1 is imperative.
  2. Only draft a receiver in the first two rounds if the value is exceptional.
  3. Only draft a quarterback early if the pick is excellent value.
  4. Select at least 3 running backs in the first nine rounds.
  5. Try to keep bye week repetition to a minimum. This is one of the main guidelines.
  6. Draft for excellent depth at all positions, especially running back and wide receiver.
  7. Ignore both the kicker and the team defense position until late in draft.
  8. Fill out the skill position starters by the tenth round.

Just like in most fantasy football leagues with standard starting requirements (1 QB, 2-3 RB, 2-3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 Def), top running backs in Survivor leagues always are the hardest to come by. They should be targeted in the first few rounds unless extraordinary value exists at other positions. This year, more than any in recent memory, there are fewer elite ball carriers ... increasing the importance of finding a solid RB1 to anchor the position. Round one should almost always be used for a running back because that is where the value is unless the league has unique scoring. If you do select WR/WR or QB/WR in the first two rounds, you must target running backs in the next few rounds just to catch up to the other teams. It is difficult to fully catch up at the running back position with many of these Survivor leagues having 16 teams and the number of viable backs is few. But, the PPR scoring employed by many of the Survivor leagues makes drafting a WR in the second or third round more rewarding.

Many "experts" will tell you that value at the running back position can be found later in fantasy drafts at and it has been somewhat true in the past. This year is different. There are fewer primary ball carriers. There are usually less than 15 capable running backs that are worthy of going in the first 40 picks. This put the teams that pass on the position early at such a disadvantage. It is best not to look to another position unless the value is remarkable. Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning become value plays in the second round and there are a few prominent receivers that also become valuable in the second. Taking two high-quality running backs in the first two rounds really starts you off on a strong note in a Survivor league where only the top producers each week for a team are counted. The emphasis should be on taking the right ball carriers. Taking runners for the sake of taking players listed in the RB category does little good. If a team takes a running back with the first two picks, it is still likely that the owner can put together a solid QB/WR corps who can put points up well. The key on receiver position is on depth and those that can put up solid numbers each and every week. The running back position is the only one (of the skill positions) where quantity cannot make up for lack of quality. Getting an every-week starter at running back is imperative. If a Survivor owner does draft running back in the first two rounds, he should strive to have five wide receivers by the eighth or ninth round. Five solid, mid-tier receivers can put up numbers very comparable to three of the top-tier receivers. The depth at the running back position dries up much quicker than at the wide receiver position. This makes sense and is true for most every Survivor draft.

At the quarterback position, the value in selecting quarterbacks usually begins in the sixth round or later. The depth at the quarterback position is as deep as it has ever been. These Survivor leagues reward having a strong QB2 to cover poor games and bye weeks. The QB2 tier is quite large. But, there are some things to identify to find the best backup passer. Select a quarterback who has a solid hold on his job, even if there are more talented passers available. For this reason, avoid Chad Henne, David Garrard, and John Beck. All could be passed on the depth chart by midseason. In addition, it is best to look at the schedule (or use the Footballguys.com Strength of Schedule) to find the best complementary quarterback for your starter, In some cases, it is best to draft the handcuff to your QB1. Taking Jon Kitna when having Tony Romo or Shaun Hill to backup Matt Stafford is a good strategy if your QB2 position is weak. Taking the pair from the same team enables the owner to minimize the risk at the situation from injury while only sweating the bye week. Since quarterbacks score well, it is important to consider bye weeks and not to take a zero one week if at all possible.

The value of the tight end position really depends on the scoring rules. Normally, most owners should not even consider tight end until the seventh round at the earliest because the position is very deep. But, in leagues that put a premium on points per reception, tight ends can become valuable. Same goes for 16 team leagues due to positional scarcity. This is an extraordinary year for depth at the tight end position. It is important to take two quality tight ends if the league rewards tight end scoring. There are a couple things to remember. Like with the other positions, spread out the bye weeks. Secondly, match the style of the tight end with the league scoring. Some tight ends score best in PPR leagues while some score best in standard scoring leagues. Since you need points every week, a sure and steady veteran is much more valuable than a flashy first or second year player, especially considering the length of time needed for young tight ends to transition to the professional level.

Many have always thought that it is important to draft three running backs at the minimum in the first eight rounds no matter the type of league. The running backs who will score consistent fantasy points on a weekly basis are usually all taken by the end of the sixth round. The only ones left are those backs with undefined roles mired in committees. You do not want too many of these backs on a Survivor roster. Since ball carriers are usually more consistent on a week-to-week basis than the receivers, the steady backs give the owner an advantage over those that go WR/WR or WR/QB to start off the draft.

In Survivor leagues, it is always surprising when the owners pay no attention to bye weeks. Inevitably, this team ends up with three key players with the same bye week. Drafting without paying attention to the byes will result in disaster. All it takes is one bad week and you'll be kicked off the 'Island' without even an opportunity to sit on the 'Jury'. It does not matter how many times you were the high scorer in previous weeks, you are now sitting on the sideline for the rest of the season. There will be times when the value of a player left on your draft sheet is too good to pass up despite having the same bye as other players on your squad. However, all things being equal, try to select players with the bye weeks spread out to minimize risk.

Another very important aspect is to make sure you have solid depth at all positions on your squad. In a 16-team Survivor Draft that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF with an 18-round fantasy draft, you must have an even distribution on the roster to succeed. This is why it is best to wait on kicker and team defense to better address depth at running back and wide receiver. At the kicker, tight end, and team defense position, you'll be able to get by with two players as long as the bye weeks are spread out. In addition, it is a good strategy to try to avoid having your top players across different positions off the same week. For the running back and receiver positions, it is crucial that you try to have two bench players for depth at each starting spot. Those extra players will be there to cover for injuries and bye weeks. In the example above, you should end up with 2-3 QB, 4-5 RB, 5-6 WR, 2 TE, 2 K and 2 DEF with solid depth in all the positions.

By round ten of a Survivor Draft, a roster should already have a minimum of 1 QB, 3 RB, 4 WR, 1 TE and an extra pick that can be used in any of those four positions. Making sure you have covered all four positions is huge because it gives you scoring potential coming from all aspects of your roster and that will help an owner avoid early exile. After the tenth round, the roster pool of good players at RB or WR depth are almost depleted.

Do not draft a kicker or a team defense until at least the 13th round! Since there are fewer kickers guaranteed of a job than team defenses (obviously), it is wise to address kicker before defense. At the minimum, try to have the kicker position fully addressed by the 17th round. It does a fantasy owner no good to have a fantasy kicker that loses his job. There is no way to replace him. This happened to Stephen Gostkowski owners last season. Also, consider the schedules for team defense. Defenses have the opportunity to score well with returns for scores, turnovers, and sacks, so try to find those playing the worst offenses. When looking for a second team defense at the bottom of the tier, look for those with good returners. Josh Cribbs makes the Cleveland Browns team defense palatable.

In Conclusion

Survivor Leagues are a lot of fun and very easy to manage since you merely "Set it and forget it". These leagues take zero management. There is some luck needed stay alive for 16 weeks in order to win. Using the steps above will at least put you in a position to do well in the Survivor league format.

Please feel free to message me on Twitter or email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any questions or comments.

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