As an avid Fantasy NBA and NFL player I have had plenty of experience of the draft format, which is why I was so excited to see that we will be getting the official Fantasy Premier League Draft game this year. I decided to dive straight in and detail some draft strategy advice that I believe will prove fruitful when it comes to draft day.
FPL Draft Format
FPL Draft’s standard public leagues will consist of eight teams, each with 15 players; two goalkeepers, five defenders, five midfielders and three strikers with the same scoring system as the standard game. Each Premier League player can only be in one league squad.
With a little simple maths we can see that this means a total of 16 goalkeepers, 40 defenders, 40 midfielders and 24 strikers will be drafted in each eight team league.
The remaining players who are not drafted will become “free agents”. You can transfer a player from the free agent pool to your team using a “waiver request”. Any number of waiver requests can be made each week during the waiver period, which runs from the start of a Gameweek to 24 hours before the start of the next (think Saturday 11.30am to Friday 11.30am). If more than one person in the league requests the same player from the free agent pool during the waiver period, then whoever has priority will get that player. Waiver priority will start the season as the inverse of draft order. Once you successfully get a player from a waiver request you move to the back of the priority list.
The next 24 hours before the Gameweek deadline are a free-for-all where you can transfer players from the free agent pool in and out of your team without a waiver request.
How to ‘Stream’ Defenders
The first thing to point out is that a defender is the position with by far the largest pool of Fantasy-relevant players. ‘Real life’ top flight teams typically play four or five defenders in their starting line-up with only two to three-attacking midfielders and just one goalkeeper and a striker. All four or five defenders in a team would project to score roughly the same number of points in a given week assuming there is not one stand out goal threat or bonus point magnet among them.
This means that we should expect to see every nailed-on defender from the top defences in the league being drafted. I would not be surprised to see five defenders from Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal (who might all play five at the back) being drafted with four defenders from teams like Manchester City, Manchester Utd, Liverpool, Everton and Southampton (the remaining top eight teams). This would represent 35 of the 40 drafted defenders. Throw in a few goal threats like Charlie Daniels, Gareth McCauley and Christian Fuchs and you have your 40 defenders right there.
What this means is that there is going to be a massive free agency pool of undrafted defenders from teams like Crystal Palace, Stoke, Leicester and West Ham who offer fantastic week-to-week value. My strategy proposes you leave drafting defenders until the very last five rounds and employ a strategy known as “streaming”. This is where you transfer in and out free agent defenders every week that have good fixtures to maximise your weekly potential points.
Lets imagine a draft where I pick my five defenders in rounds 11-15. According to my very rough prediction I could potentially end up with a defence like this:
11. Dejan Lovren
12. Michael Keane
13. Cedric Soares
14. Jonny Evans
15. Steve Cook
This seems like a well balanced defence in the standard FPL game, where we are often scraping the barrel with 4.0m defenders, but it can be made even better by “streaming” in and out free agents every week. Since I don’t have any “fixture-proof” defenders from teams like Chelsea or Spurs I will want to play the fixtures with what’s left.
For example I might transfer out Michael Keane in Gameweek 2 since Everton play Man City away and transfer in a free agent Leicester defender like Danny Simpson, who plays Brighton at home, which represents a much better chance at picking up a clean sheet. My number one waiver request would be Keane out for Simpson. If I am worried somebody with a higher waiver priority will snatch Simpson from me, I can set a second waiver request for Rob Huth as backup.
Let’s say I get Simpson off the waiver and he gets me a clean sheet. The following week Leicester travel to Man United, so I would transfer Simpson out and pick up a Watford defender like Sebastian Prodl as it his team’s turn to host Brighton.
The FPL Draft allows us the luxury of unlimited waiver requests each week, which mean we can play the fixtures when picking defenders almost like a weekly fantasy game since the position is so deep.
Ignore Premium Defenders
You might be reading this and thinking – everyone is just going to leave defenders until the end of the draft, we all know they score less points than midfielders and strikers.
And you would of course be right in general terms. But I’m talking about completely ignoring some of the highest scoring players in Fantasy Football, who I’m sure will be drafted inside the first five or six rounds of an average FPL Draft, and instead waiting until the very end of your draft.
Take for example the case of Gary Cahill, who finished the 2016/17 season with the 12th most fantasy points (178) of any player. I think most would agree that Gary Cahill is going to be one of the premium defenders in FPL this year and he will be drafted as one of the first five defenders off the board in the FPL Draft game. I would not be surprised to see casual players pick Gary Cahill, the 12th best player in Fantasy last year, with one of the top 50 picks in Fantasy drafts this summer, which would represent a seventh round pick. Defenders with a goal threat like Marcos Alonso and Danny Rose would probably be drafted even higher.
The problem is that by using an earlier round pick on a premium defender like Cahill means you give up drafting another premium midfielder or striker, positions which have far more “scarcity”. Remember that there are going to be 24 strikers drafted in every league and I would argue that there are not even 20 fantasy-relevant strikers in the league at any one time. The 24th best striker last year by total points was Andy Carroll with a paltry 69 points. Meanwhile the 40th best defender was Ryan Shawcross with 94 points. You are really going to want to target strikers with your early picks because the position is so shallow, especially compared to defenders.
You’re not going to be able to stream strikers on a week-to-week basis when 24 of them are already taken and only about 20 even start every week (one for each team).
…as well as Midfielders and Goalkeepers
The pool of midfielders is larger than strikers but still significantly smaller than defenders. Each team usually deploys around two midfielders, who offer an attacking threat. For every team like Arsenal who have Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey you have a team like Sunderland or Burnley who last year had no midfielder with more than 100 points. Those premium midfielders are all going to be taken in the draft, so you’re not going to be left with a very promising free agent pool to “stream” every week like you can in defence. However, I don’t think it will be impossible and I would like to do some research into a strategy of playing a 3-5-2 formation where you stream the fifth midfielder every week looking for a set piece taking midfielder from a weaker team with a good fixture.
The scarcity of good strikers and midfielders means I would suggest spending your first 10 picks on eight attacking players and two goalkeepers. 16 goalkeepers are going to be taken off the board in eight team leagues, so if you don’t draft good ones you’ve only got four other starting keepers to replace them with. The good thing is that goalkeeper is easily the lowest scoring position and also has the smallest range of outcomes. The difference between Tom Heaton and Wayne Hennessey, the number 1 and number 16th ranked goalkeeper was just 57 points last year, the same difference at the striker position was 128 points.
VORP is key
I believe the key decision to make when deciding where to draft a player is to consider their Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). If you were to draft Gary Cahill with a seventh round pick, his VORP would represent the difference between his expected Fantasy points and the expected Fantasy points of the best available free agent. We have already seen how there is going to be great value in the free agent defender pool by streaming defenders with a good home fixture every week, so Cahill’s VORP is going to be relatively lower.
Now consider you draft someone like Nathan Redmond with that pick instead. Redmond’s VORP is going to be significantly higher than Cahill’s because the best available free agent midfielder is going to be so much worse than the best available defender. Even though Cahill’s Points per Game last year was 4.8 compared to Redmond’s 3.4, this strategy suggests you get more value out of drafting Redmond since the midfielder position is so much more scarce.
By not drafting a defender in the first 10 rounds I expect to miss out on premium defenders like Marcos Alonso, Antonio Valencia and Hector Bellerin. But the depth of the free agent defender pool means I can make up the points by streaming week to week and picking up defenders from slightly lesser teams who have good clean sheet potential in a particular week.
You’ve really got to make your goalkeeper, midfielder and striker draft picks count because the available free agents are not going to offer as much support. The best way to do this is to spend all of your early picks at these positions. The defender position contrasts completely, to the point where you should be utilising the free agents multiple times every week.
An ideal formation should be 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 depending on who you hit on with your draft picks
If this article generates enough interest I’d love to make this a regular series and provide more advice on draft strategies in the FPL Draft game.