This guide presents ideas for how your fantasy league could determine draft order from year to year. Draft order is a highly-debated topic as many owners covet the high draft slots and all owners base their strategy on their draft position.
There are several ways that your league can determine draft order. The method you choose for your league will likely depend on whether this is your league's first year or not. We will cover six of the most popular options for determining draft order: two for new leagues and four for existing leagues.
Random Draft Order for New Leagues
For new league the most sensible approach to determining draft order is through randomization. The idea behind randomizing draft picks is that in new leagues no team deserves to be first or last more than any other team as you have no existing league data to base this decision upon. Since everyone is starting on even ground, the most sensible approach is to give everyone an equal shot at every draft slot through randomization.
If random draft order makes the most sense for your league, you'll then have to decide how and when to perform the randomization. To generate a random draft order you can do something as simple as drawing names from a hat, or you could opt to use an online fantasy draft order generator to perform the randomization for you.
1. Draw Names from a Hat
In theory, picking names from a hat (drawing straws, spinning a bottle, etc) works just fine for the purposes of randomization. But if your league owners are anything like mine, they'll want to be present when this happens. And as anyone who has ever run a fantasy league knows, it's hard enough to get 10-12 owners together for a live draft, much less for a drawing to determine draft position.
When you factor this in, you soon realize that if you're planning on drawing names, and if you want everyone to be in attendance, you're going to be stuck with waiting until the actual draft. However, this poses another problem as many owners like to know their draft position weeks in advance of the actual draft so that they can form their strategy through mock drafts or some other means
2. Random Draft Order Generators
If performing randomization the old-fashioned way makes you unpopular, you can opt to use a draft order simulator or generator to create the random order for you. These tools allow you to specify a list of owners as input (usually by listing each owner's email address). They will then use software program to create a random draft order, ultimately emailing the draft order outcome to each of the specified owners.
By using an online generator, the entire process becomes transparent as there is no way to cheat the system. All owners receive an email from the generating source so they can be sure the process is sealed. Best of all, no one has to leave the comfort of their home! Some of the more populate free online draft order creators include:
- FantasySharks.com - Easy one page interface with free distribution to an email list.
- DraftPickLottery.com - Straightforward interface, but automatic emailing of results to league members will cost you $2.00.
- DraftKit.com - Free service will email all team members with randomized draft order.
- FantasyFootballNerd.com - Free tool but no support for emailing owners.
The use of a draft order randomizer need not be limited to new leagues, although in this case it makes the most sense. Some leagues enjoy the suspense of a random drawing each and every year and are quite comfortable with using this approach.
Factors from Previous Season for Existing Leagues
If this isn't your league's first draft, then it is customary to use some factor from the previous season to determine draft order for the upcoming season. The factors to consider will depend on the personality of your league. It's always best to check the pulse of your league by discussing this topic and voting on a preferred course of action. Don't be afraid to change change things up if you believe a different system may work better.
The most popular factor used by existing leagues to determine draft order is final team rankings from the previous season. There are several schools of thought when it comes to using team rankings from the previous season to determine draft order for the current fantasy season. Each approach has its pros and cons and a few of these are described below.
3. Best Teams Get Best Draft Position
It seems fair that good performance from the previous season should be rewarded with good draft position the following year. On the surface this makes sense as you're providing additional motivation for all teams to finish near the top. However, the reality is actually quite different.
An unintended consequence of this approach is that the both the bad and mediocre teams will lose their motivation when they realize they have nothing to play for once being eliminated from the playoffs. Seeing as how most 12-team leagues only have a 4-team playoff, you can see how many teams may start to tank toward the end of a season.
4. Worst Teams Get Best Draft Position
Another school of thought argues that the worst teams from the previous season should be awarded the best draft positions, similar to how the draft works in the NFL. This logic holds true if you are in a Dynasty or keeper league where you retain players from year to year. This is because the best teams will probably retain better players, meaning the worst teams should get good draft position to offset this advantage.
However, in redraft leagues (i.e. leagues where everyone re-drafts an entire team each year) there is really no advantage to offset, so blindly awarding bad teams really makes no sense. Even worse, it could encourage the lower-tier teams to tank their season in search of a higher draft pick the following year. Obviously this is a situation you want to avoid in your league.
5. Draft Order Based on Loser Playoff Bracket
A hybrid approach which I take in my own leagues is to award the best draft positions to the bottom-tier team, but to make these teams compete for the best position. The goal of this approach is to ensure that all owners in your league stay engaged throughout the entire fantasy season by giving every team incentive to win each and every week, even during the playoffs.
In our sample fantasy football constitution, we used a system whereby the bottom 8 teams of a 12 team league completed in a tournament to determine the top 8 positions in the following year's draft. This method for determining draft order encourages participation from teams who are not vying for the Championship:
- 1st Place Finish: 1st Draft Position
- 2nd Place Finish: 2nd Draft Position
- 3rd Place Finish: 3rd Draft Position
- 4th Place Finish: 4th Draft Position
- 5th Place Finish: 5th Draft Position
- 6th Place Finish: 6th Draft Position
- 7th Place Finish: 7th Draft Position
- 8th Place Finish: 8th Draft Position
- 1st Place Finish (Champion): 9th Draft Position
- 2nd Place Finish: 10th Draft Position
- 3rd Place Finish: 11th Draft Position
- 4th Place Finish: 12th Draft Position
You can see that the outcome of the Loser's bracket determines the top 8 draft positions for the following year. Again, this is to encourage the worst teams to continue maintaining their team and starting optimal lineups throughout the entire fantasy season and into the playoffs. Nothing is worse than watching a team tank after they realize they’re out of playoff contention; this configuration aims to avoid that scenario.
In looking at the Championship bracket, you can see that the Champion gets the highest remaining draft position while the last-placed team in the Championship bracket picks last. Some commissioners prefer to reverse this order (where the Champion would pick last instead of 9th), so feel free to do whatever makes the most sense for you and your league.
6. Fantasy Draft Lottery
If you are an owner in a league with a significant amount of player participation, you could opt to implement a fantasy draft lottery. A draft lottery (similar to draft lotteries in the NBA) uses factors from the previous season to determine the probability that each team will be awarded the available draft positions.
The idea is pretty simple: You earn lottery entries by performing well and making strides to improve the league. Some examples of how you might earn fantasy draft lottery entries include:
- High weekly scorer
- League's best content creator
- Breaking a league record
In much the same way that you award draft lottery entries for actions which further the league, you could just as easily take away draft lottery entries for actions detrimental to the league. For instance, if an owner sets an illegal roster you can take away a lottery entry or two.
Draft lotteries work well because they promote league participation while adding an element of suspense to the draft order determination process. As long as a team has earned one entry, they've got a shot at the best draft position. The one drawback of a fantasy draft lottery is it takes a bit of time to coordinate. I would suggest letting the fantasy commissioner appoint someone to manage the draft lottery if you choose this route.
These are just a few ways that your league could choose to determine fantasy draft order. Some leagues like to keep it simple while others have elaborate rules for assigning draft position. The important thing is to choose a system which promotes league participation and that your owners enjoy.
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