Back in 2019, the then-DFF team wrote a dynasty startup strategy guide. That guide holds up well even now, and I would highly recommend going back and reading it. However, I feel like the guide needs a 2020 update. So much has changed in the dynasty universe since March 2019, especially dynasty startup strategy, and I want to address that before the 2020 season.
Now that the 2020 season looks like a lock to happen, many of you readers might participate in dynasty startups before the season begins. Therefore, I want to give you my version of the dynasty startup strategy guide. I’m going to split it up into two parts, one for regular 1QB leagues and one for superflex leagues. At this point, superflex formats are so popular within the dynasty community that they certainly deserve their own guide. With all that said, let’s get into the 1QB guide.
“Draft for Value, Trade for Need”
I have to thank my Trade Addicts 8 league-mate Dynasty Outhouse for this one. One of the most important things you can do to improve your dynasty startup strategy is to learn from those who’ve played the most leagues and who have the most experience. Nobody knows everything, and being open to learning and listening is how I’ve become the dynasty owner I am today.
Anyway, this phrase has a fundamental meaning. Don’t draft based on positional needs in your startup draft. You can always make trades later on to fill your starting lineup, but you’ll never regain the value lost by making suboptimal value picks during the startup. Be an active trader and scour the waiver wire to improve your team continually. Don’t assume the team you draft in the startup will be your final team, and honestly, it shouldn’t be if you’re an active owner.
If you take nothing else away from this guide, I want you to remember this part. That’s why I put it up top, as it’s the most important and also most frequently broken principle for dynasty owners. Value is always king in dynasty, both during the startup and throughout the life of a dynasty league.
Pick a Direction and Stick to It
The second most important lesson to succeed in a dynasty startup is to either go for it in Year 1 or take a productive struggle approach. Don’t go halfway between the two strategies. In dynasty leagues, finishing in the middle of the pack is a losing cycle. I wrote a recent article about determining whether you’re a real contender, and in that piece, I excoriated dynasty owners that feel content to sit in the middle. That sounds like a sound theoretical concept, but it’ll make more sense once you hear some examples.
If you finish a 2020 startup and you have precisely your original 2021 first-round rookie pick and no others, you’ve probably already done something wrong. You should have either tried to acquire additional first-round picks or sold your future first-rounder to make a Year 1 push. In dynasty leagues, active owners win, and quiet or passive owners lose, and the startup is no different.
Also, you need to consider the mix of players you draft in a startup, primarily based on who you selected in the early rounds. If you spent your first three picks on Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry, and Julio Jones, don’t waste your fifth-rounder on Justin Jefferson. Elliott, Henry, and Jones are perfect assets for a contending team, but Jefferson won’t offer much in Year 1 as a rookie wide receiver.
On the other hand, if you traded out of the first round and began your startup with A.J. Brown, J.K. Dobbins, D’Andre Swift, and CeeDee Lamb as your first four picks, you’ve likely kicked off a rebuilding squad. Don’t then spend an eighth-round pick on a dying asset like A.J. Green or T.Y. Hilton. Those players will lose value on your roster and make no sense for a rebuild. Instead, trade that pick away for future draft capital or more picks in later rounds.
Essentially, what I’m saying here is that you should have a plan. Don’t just take the draft pick-by-pick. In the first section, I noted that dynasty owners should focus on value. Now, in this section, I’m making sure that you obtain that value smartly. The key is to avoid getting stuck in the middle and becoming a perennial middling team that never wins anything.
With the general advice out of the way, let’s get into how I handle each position in startup drafts.
Quarterbacks – Mostly Irrelevant
In 1QB startups, the quarterback position is mostly an afterthought. Don’t bother selecting studs like Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. There are 20-25 usable starting quarterbacks and only 12 teams. Just draft whichever veteran or underperforming young quarterbacks fall in your draft. I always want to leave a 1QB startup with at least two starting quarterbacks, but I’m fine just having two. I’ll save the detailed quarterback breakdown for the superflex guide and move onto the more critical positions.
Running Backs – Studs and Duds Approach
Generally, I prefer to begin my 1QB dynasty team with a stud running back. I include the following players in that tier: Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Dalvin Cook, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, and Jonathan Taylor, in that order. I will make sure that I have one or two of those players on almost every one of my dynasty teams because replacing the production of a stud running back isn’t possible.
However, after those top studs, I hate the value of most running backs through the first six or seven rounds. Of course, there’s a player or two that I like in those rounds in 2020 and any startup year, but I will usually avoid running back for a while after I get my stud or two. As I’ll discuss later, the middle rounds are where I hammer wide receiver, sometimes 4-6 in a row.
Once I’ve filled my team with wide receivers, I love to circle back in the later rounds and grab high-upside backups and undervalued pass-catching PPR backs. I’ll load up on players like Tarik Cohen, James White, Alexander Mattison, AJ Dillon, and Tony Pollard. Guys like Cohen and White provide a weekly floor, while handcuffs like Mattison, Dillon, and Pollard give upside in case of injuries to their starters.
Especially with those handcuffs, selecting late-round running backs provides far more value upside than late-round wide receivers. In dynasty formats, you want to give yourself the best opportunity to gain value. During the season, your league-mates will always need running backs, as there are far fewer startable running backs than startable wide receivers. Therefore, you mostly want to load your bench with running backs.
Wide Receiver – Hammer the Middle
As I mentioned in the running back section and the title, I want to pick at least four, probably five or six, wide receivers that I’m happy with by the end of Round 7. From Rounds 3-7, there’s at least one receiver in each round that I like far above their ADP, so I lean toward receivers in that range. Since there’s a small scoring gap between WR1s and WR2s, you’re giving up a small amount of production by passing on the top receivers compared to what you’re passing on at running back. Therefore, you’ll have superior starters by selecting running backs first and then receivers.
Also, I don’t believe in wide receiver depth. Wide receivers don’t necessarily step into more significant roles when other players on their team go down, so they don’t have the same value and leverage as running backs. Veteran, depth wide receivers are often roster cloggers, who you’ll never put in your lineup and never have any trade value. That’s why I like to finish up drafting receivers in the middle rounds and focus on other positions later on.
Tight Ends – One Stud or A Bunch of Dart Throws
When it comes to handling tight ends, I like to either grab a stud at the position or to wait a long time to select one. I love the value of both George Kittle and Travis Kelce early in drafts, especially now that they both received long-term extensions. I also include Mark Andrews in the stud tier, given his youth and high-end upside. If I get one of those three players, I’ll likely pick just one or two other tight ends, usually dart throws. Blake Jarwin, Ian Thomas, Chris Herndon, and Jace Sternberger are examples of young tight ends I’d pair with a stud.
If I miss out on Kittle, Kelce, and Andrews, I will almost certainly skip the next tier of tight ends like Zach Ertz, Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, and Darren Waller. I prefer to wait longer and invest in two or even three middle-tier tight ends, such as Austin Hooper, Tyler Higbee, Mike Gesicki, Jonnu Smith, or Irv Smith Jr. Hopefully, one of those players takes a jump similar to what Andrews did in 2019, and I then acquired a top-tier tight end for minimal cost. If I didn’t grab a stud, I want to have at least three total tight ends on my team.
Thanks for reading this article and checking out my takes on dynasty startup strategy. You can find me on Twitter at @DFF_Karp. I love to interact with anyone in the community, so reach out at any time! I take fantasy questions and help with all formats, so keep sending those questions my way.
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