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Beginner's Guide to Fantasy Football: Section IV

An examination of different starting lineups

"Success is the good fortune that comes from aspiration, desperation, perspiration and inspiration." -- Evan Esar

Since you now know what fantasy football is, why we play it, and how various scoring rules can impact your fantasy roster. You are well on your way to doing well in this hobby but there is much more to learn still.

In this section, we will walk you through some different types of starting lineup requirements and the impact it can have on your fantasy roster. Starting lineup rules for a league is every bit as important as the scoring rules. The positions you will target early in your draft and directly impacted by these rules and your pre-draft and ongoing-draft strategies will shift and adjust based on these rules.

* NOTE: Later in the preseason, we will have a Draft Slots Study feature at Footballguys.com that takes a look at many different types of starting lineups and runs a mock draft and analysis to help our subscribers set up a good plan heading into the draft. In addition, David Dodds puts together a Perfect Draft series in August that is a must read every football season.

1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF

In the past, this was one of the most common starting lineups used in fantasy football. In this type of league, running backs are definitely the position that needs to be targeted the most. Breaking down each position really illustrates why drafting running backs early is so critical to a fantasy squad's success. We will breakdown these positions based on a 12-team league with performance scoring.

Let's start with the quarterback position. There are 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Not all of them are worth starting in fantasy football but only 12 are needed within these rules. It is easy enough to find a serviceable starting quarterback later on in the draft unless exceptional value presents itself early on.

Also, only 24 starting receivers are needed each week and with many teams having two viable options at the position (Falcons - Roddy White and Julio Jones / Cowboys - Dez Bryant and Miles Austin to name a couple) it is not too difficult to find good value in your fantasy draft. At the running back position, 24 starters are needed as well but unlike receivers, it gets difficult to find worthy starters. Many teams utilize the dreaded running back by committee approach and that is a fantasy owner's nightmare. When a team likes to share carries, often there is challenges picking which running back will get the lion's share of the carries week in and week out.

The tight end position can almost always be left until the mid-rounds of the draft unless terrific value presents itself with the top tight ends such as the Patriots Rob Gronkowski who has developed into a fantasy monster from the tight end position. The kicker and defense slots should always be filled in the back end of a draft where value can always be found.

In this type of league, it makes a lot of sense to take two running backs in the first two rounds to build your foundation. Only target a receiver or quarterback in those rounds if exceptional value presents itself such as receivers A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, and Dez Bryant falling to the mid-second round or a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees being available at the end of the second. It is critical that a roster has three running backs on it by the end of round six or the owner will have to scramble all year to field a competitive squad.

Example of the Start of a Team's Draft in This Type of League

  • Round 1: RB Doug Martin, Buccaneers
  • Round 2: RB Chris Johnson, Titans
  • Round 3: WR Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
  • Round 4: WR Marques Colston, Saints
  • Round 5: RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers
  • Round 6: WR James Jones, Packers
  • Round 7: TE Vernon Davis, 49ers
  • Round 8: QB Eli Manning, Giants

Roster After Round Eight (starters in bold)

  • QB Eli Manning
  • RB Doug Martin
  • RB Chris Johnson
  • RB Ryan Mathews
  • WR Demaryius Thomas
  • WR Marques Colston
  • WR James Jones
  • TE Vernon Davis

1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF

This is a more common lineup. The strategy in this kind of league is quite similar to the first one except that receivers jump up in value somewhat due to the extra starting slot used in the position. It becomes harder to find a viable starter at the receiver position in leagues that must start three. In leagues such as this, it can make sense to pick up a receiver or two in the first couple of rounds but it then becomes absolutely vital that you target running backs in the next few rounds. For example, with the final pick in round one, you don't see any real value at the running back position but both Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green are available. It makes a lot of sense to grab both. However it is very important in rounds three through six if you use this thinking to pick up at least three running backs while there are still decent options to be had. Not selecting a running back early makes it extremely challenging to compete unless you get lucky with a late round flyer in your draft.

In most cases, an owner should always emerge with at least one solid running back in the first two rounds. It becomes very difficult to find value at the position after the first few rounds. It makes sense once again to ignore the quarterback position early on unless value presents itself.

Example of the Start of a Team's Draft in This Type of League

  • Round 1: RB Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
  • Round 2: WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys
  • Round 3: WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
  • Round 4: RB David Wilson, Giants
  • Round 5: TE Jason Witten, Cowboys
  • Round 6: QB Andrew Luck, Colts
  • Round 7: WR Justin Blackmon, Jaguars
  • Round 8: RB Shane Vereen, Patriots

Roster After Round Eight (starters in bold)

  • QB Andrew Luck
  • RB Marshawn Lynch
  • RB David Wilson
  • RB Shan Vereen
  • WR Dez Bryant
  • WR Larry Fitzgerald
  • WR Justin Blackmon
  • TE Justin Witten

1 QB, 1 RB, 2 WR, 2 FLEX (RB/WR), 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF

The flex position can add a lot to a league. It gives owners different branches he can head down during a draft. The most important aspect to remember for an owner in a league that utilizes a FLEX position is to remain flexible. Sure starting three running backs can be a major coupe but it isn't always possible to land three great backs. However in many cases, while other owners scramble to pick running backs, exceptional value at receiver remains on the board. If you can land a trio of receivers such as Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and Julio Jones with the first three picks, do so and don't look back. Make sure to land a couple of decent running backs in the next couple of rounds and your team would be set for a run to the championship. Basically, be flexible enough to change your strategy on the fly (the VBD theory will be covered in the next section and it is perfect to help owners capitalize on value). Don't be afraid to go with a 1 RB / 4 WR starting lineup or a 3 RB / 2 WR lineup depending on how the draft falls to you each round.

Two Different Examples of the Start of a Team's Draft in a Flex League

Example #1
Rnd
Example #2
Pos
Player
Pos
Player
WR
Calvin Johnson
1
RB
Jamaal Charles
WR
Julio Jones
2
WR
Julio Jones
WR
Andre Johnson
3
RB
Frank Gore
RB
Darren Sproles
4
WR
Michael Crabtree
WR
Dwayne Bowe
5
WR
Dwayne Bowe
RB
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
6
QB
Robert Griffin III
TE
Vernon Davis
7
TE
Vernon Davis
QB
Eli Manning
8
RB
Mark Ingram

Example Rosters After Round Eight (starters in bold)

Example #1
Example #2
Pos
Player
Pos
Player
QB
Eli Manning
QB
Robert Griffin III
RB
Darren Sproles
RB
Jamaal Charles
RB
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
RB
Frank Gore
WR
Calvin Johnson
RB
Mark Ingram
WR
Julio Jones
WR
Julio Jones
WR
Andre Johnson
WR
Michael Crabtree
WR
Dwayne Bowe
WR
Dwayne Bowe
TE
Vernon Davis
TE
Vernon Davis

 

2 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DEF

Some leagues like to incorporate a second quarterback slot in order to give the position more clout in the draft. If you are in a league that does start two players at the quarterback position, it definitely should change your drafting philosophy. Once again, using the VBD theory is a great help in determining value at each position. In a league such as this, 24 quarterbacks must start in the league each week. It is very difficult to find 24 quarterbacks capable of putting up fantasy numbers in a given week and during bye weeks it can be almost impossible. Quarterbacks become almost as sought after in the early rounds as running backs and the receiver position definitely becomes the third option. In a draft like this, it could be very probably that an owner drafts three quarterbacks and three running backs before even considering the receiver position.

Example of the Start of a Team's Draft in This Type of League

  • Round 1: QB Tom Brady, Patriots
  • Round 2: RB Matt Forte, Bears
  • Round 3: QB Matt Ryan, Falcons
  • Round 4: WR Wes Welker, Patriots
  • Round 5: RB Lamar Miller, Dolphins
  • Round 6: WR Steve Johnson, Bills
  • Round 7: QB Jay Cutler, Bears
  • Round 8: RB Mark Ingram, Saints

Roster After Round Eight (starters in bold)

  • QB Tom Brady
  • QB Matt Ryan
  • QB Jay Cutler
  • RB Matt Forte
  • RB Lamar Miller
  • RB Mark Ingram
  • WR Wes Welker
  • WR Steve Johnson

In Conclusion

"Inspiration and genius - one and the same." -- Victor Hugo

As illustrated above, different starting lineup requirements can, and should, change an owner's perspective during his fantasy draft. It is vital to take the time to scrutinize both the scoring rules and the starting lineup rules and understand how both ultimately affect the fantasy league. Go into your fantasy draft with a strategy that involves your starting lineup requirements in addition to your scoring rules but don't be afraid to adjust your strategy if value presents itself. Just remember that if you do step outside of your strategy going into a draft, you must make adjustments going forward. If you are in a league that starts two running backs and two receivers and you scoop up A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall with your first two picks, make sure that you target running back over the next few rounds to maximize your chances at that position. You can certainly afford to wait on the receiver position with your two starters already sewn up.

Just remember that understanding your league rules will go a long way towards your ultimate success in the league. If you remember that and do your homework, victories and championships will inevitably follow.