A reader mentioned yesterday that he was in a startup dynasty league and was looking for some advice. I love my dynasty leagues and figured a general strategy column would be worthwhile. If you're looking to join or start one up, now is the time.
There are many different strategies and approaches, but I'm going to talk about the ones that have worked best for me. I've been playing for about 10 years in three different leagues with a few championships and some other successful campaigns. Here are just a few bits of advice.
The goal is to win every year. You want to build a team that is successful and competitive year in and year out, though you would accept a team that loses badly in 2017 if it then wins in 2018 or 2019. But sitting here right now in June 2017, you have to be thinking about winning this year. What that means is although you may love Patrick Mahomes, Marlon Mack, Mike Williams and O.J. Howard, you don't want to overbalance on players who probably won't contribute much this season. Not saying I'd draft Carson Palmer and Frank Gore ahead of them, but older players with only 1-2 years of viability do have value. Two years of Tom Brady might get you a championship, even if 5 years of Carson Wentz will give you a starting quarterback for longer. Assemble your draft board with extra value to younger players, but your whole roster shouldn't look like that.
Trading down usually better than trading up. Let's look at some recent high-profile trade-ups at the top of the draft. Big success: Atlanta moving up for Julio Jones. Too soon to say: Eagles trading up for Wentz. Big flop: Washington trading up for RGIII, Rams trading up for Jared Goff (OK maybe too soon to say, but we're just spitballing here), Jets trading up for Mark Sanchez, Dolphins trading up for Dion Jordan. Remember it's not just if the player you traded up for goes bust, but the extra picks you dealt to move up for him. Sometimes it works out and you get a franchise-altering player. Sometimes you exchange shots at 2-3 top players for one who turns out to be a bust.
Load up on running backs and wide receivers. Since most leagues only require you to start one quarterback and one tight end, you can usually find viable starters at those positions late in drafts or during the season. Nobody wants their fantasy team to be relying on Brian Hoyer or Jesse James, but they figure to be starters accruing numbers each week and they will come cheaply in drafts. There are plenty of such players at running back and receiver, too, but you're starting more of them and they're the ones capable of carrying fantasy teams if they turn out to be stars. So make sure you have enough of them, and use plenty of picks on those positions to increase your odds of hitting it big. My 26-player dynasty roster right now has 2 QBs, 2 TEs, and 9 RBs and 13 WRs. As the season gets closer I'll dump a RB and WR so I can add a Kicker and Defense, but for now I want as many of those players as possible so there's greater likelihood of having 3-4 strong starters.
Assess your roster realistically. The draft is over and you've got your team. Take a look at every other team roster and try to figure out if you're going to be competitive. If you don't like what you see, start thinking about possible trades -- maybe you're strong at a position that someone else is weak at. Maybe you landed a key handcuff for somebody else's starter and that player suddenly has extra value. Don't make rash trades, but start thinking about them. Season starts, and you're running into trouble. Injuries, under-performers; you're 1-4. You can start shipping off future draft picks for players to help you win this year, but there's a lot of risk to the future of your franchise if you do that. More reasonably, look at your older contributors who might be appealing to a 4-1 team, and see if they're willing to trade future high picks or youngsters (a la Marlon Mack) for current, productive starters getting long in the tooth. If 2017 is looking like a loser, don't help 2018 become a loser. Take steps that increase its odds of being a winner.
Some of this stuff is probably pretty obvious. It's hard to say, because dynasty leagues are different, situations are different, and it's a fine line between thinking a team still has a chance this year and knowing it doesn't. Every once in a while I'll write about dynasty, and if you have questions, feel free to post and I'll answer as best I can.