Fantasy Football: The case for still drafting before the preseason

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Drafting your fantasy football teams before the end of the preseason has come under fire recently. Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins and Jaguars RB Travis Etienne Jr. both suffered season-ending injuries during preseason games, and there are fantasy football leagues everywhere with managers and commissioners who are thrilled to have waited to draft their teams.

But that shouldn’t be the case, and I’m going to present the argument for why you should absolutely be drafting before the end of the preseason despite the higher risk of injury that exists.

Winning is the Goal

There are plenty of people who play fantasy football just for the fun of it. Maybe they don’t really care if they win or lose, but they enjoy the camaraderie of a league or just watching football with their buddies. If you fit that description, this article is probably not meant for you.

I play fantasy football to win. Between cash prizes, bragging rights, and a simple sense of accomplishment, I have a lot more fun when I win. Waiting until the last moment to draft your team doesn’t give you any greater chance of winning than the rest of your leaguemates. In fact, it creates the most level playing field possible, which makes it more difficult to win on margins and separate yourself from the pack.

You have the same chance as your leaguemates that your top picks will miss significant playing time due to injury. But your fantasy teams only have a limited amount of exposure to the player universe, so it’s far more likely that a fantasy football injury in the preseason will damage your field of opponents than your own team.

Making a 90+% Bet

If you’re in a 10-team league, your roster accounts for 10% of the rostered player universe. In a 12-team league, that number is 8.3%.

In each case of a season-ending injury, there’s a 10% chance or less that the injury will damage your roster. Each time a season-ending injury occurs and that player isn’t on your roster, an opponent of yours suffers. You’re virtually climbing the standings each time you win a 90+% bet.

If you want to win your fantasy championship, you need all the lucky breaks you can get. I’m the two-time defending champion in my home league, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that I was extremely lucky to win even one of those seasons, let alone two.

The reason why I’m a back-to-back champion and not a back-to-back runner-up is because I made bets throughout each season that had potential championship ceilings, and hit on my slim odds. Waiting to draft until after the preseason in order to remove injury variance from your league is the exact opposite of applying that principle.

Managing a Season-Ending Injury

If your fantasy team is the unfortunate victim of a season-ending injury, your championship hopes are not necessarily lost in a season-long league. I won’t sugarcoat it, you’re now facing steep odds. But it’s a long season. You have plenty of time to make small, incremental gains through trades, waiver pickups, and even just playing the right matchups.

More injuries will happen. If you feel like you’re down for the count, remember that attrition will hit all of your opponents throughout the season in one way or another. You don’t need an extremely robust roster to win a fantasy championship, but it takes commitment to get a team to the playoffs that has a legitimate chance of winning.

Go for glory in your fantasy leagues. Getting first place is a lot more fun than getting second place.

Although the preseason has come and gone this year, keep this in mind when determining your fantasy football draft date next year. Apply these probability principles to your fantasy teams this season.

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