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Planning and Hosting a Fantasy Football Draft

Updated 8/22/2017 by Brad Perniciaro

Football Draft Board


In Part 7 of this article series on organizing a fantasy football league we discussed how your fantasy league configuration settings and league constitution provide a foundation for how your league will conduct business. In this article, we'll cover the 3 most pivotal hours of the fantasy season: the fantasy football draft.  For most league owners, this is most exciting part of the fantasy season.  Championships are won and lost at the fantasy draft and it is here that your fantasy supremacy should begin to shine.

Draft Formats

There are several ways that your fantasy league can draft players but the two most popular methods are the serpentine draft and auction draft. Both draft types can either be conducted live in person or virtually through an online hosting service. Most fantasy hosting websites provide a user interface designed specifically for conducting fantasy drafts. These interfaces are getting more and more sophisticated and are a nice fallback option if you absolutely cannot hold a live draft (the preferred option, as we’ll discuss shortly).

Serpentine Draft

In a serpentine draft (derived from serpent or snake, which slither ‘back and forth’), teams choose players in sequential fashion,but reverse order at the completion of each round. Before the fantasy draft begins, each owner is assigned a number (1 - 12 for a league of 12 teams) and this is the position that the owner picks in the first and all odd-numbered rounds.

In even-numbered rounds the order of draft selection is reversed; this means that the owner with the 12th pick also picks 13th (Round 2, Pick 1), the owner with the 11th pick also picks 14th (Round 2, Pick 2), etc. Each player can only be chosen once, so after a player is placed on your fantasy draft board he cannot be picked again.

The serpentine style of drafting is designed to equalize the value of each draft position. Typically, the 1st selection of the 1st round in the draft has the highest value, so to offset this owner must wait until the last selection in the second round (24th overall) to pick again. Likewise, the 12th position of the 1st round is the worst spot in the 1st round, so this owner is awarded the 1st pick in the 2nd round. Serpentine drafts are far and away the most popular form of drafting and it is a tried-and-true system.

Auction Draft

In an auction-based draft, each player is literally auctioned off and awarded to the highest bidding owner. Unlike a serpentine draft where owners have to select from the players remaining in the player pool, under the auction system each owner has an equal chance to land any and all players. Some people consider auction drafts to be fairer than serpentine drafts because any team can obtain any player if they have sufficient bankroll.

Draft Scheduling

It’s always best to draft as close to the start of the NFL regular season as possible as every year key players go down with injuries during the pre-season. The closer the draft is to the regular season, the less of a chance that a team will lose a key player before the season begins. 

In addition, numerous positional battles take place during the pre-season and some of these battles aren't settled until after the final preseason game.  The longer you wait to draft, the clearer picture everyone will have of depth charts around the NFL.

If you want to make sure you don't miss any depth chart battles each preseason, you should check out NFL Game Pass.  I wrote a Game Pass review that explains how the service works and why it can give you an edge on draft day.

Conduct a Live Fantasy Draft

One of the best things you can do to build league camaraderie is scheduling a yearly, live fantasy football draft. Live drafts are a great venue for discussing the upcoming season, talking smack about your victories from the previous season, and proving your vast fantasy knowledge to your fellow owners. A draft can be as elaborate or simple as you choose, depending on your budget.  Just be sure that your commissioner has done his homework and has a plan in place before you begin.

Fantasy football drafts can be held just about anywhere: bars, restaurants, or even at an owner's home. If your league owners are located in the same geographical region, one option could be to take turns holding drafts at each owner’s house.  Have each owner kick in a few bucks for food and beer and you've got just about everything you need for a successful draft.

The goal of every live draft should be 100% attendance, but this rarely happens.  Even if one or two of your league members cannot physically attend the live draft, they could take part via an online draft room. If you’re contemplating pursuing this route, spend some time researching your fantasy service's "draft room" user interface to get familiar with how your local and remote users will coordinate picks as the draft progresses.


If you cannot personally attend your fantasy football draft then you may be forced to use the auto draft feature of whatever drafting software interface you league hosting service provides.  Through auto-drafting, the computer will make your selections for you using either your pre-defined player rankings or the default fantasy football player rankings of the hosting service you’re utilizing.

The problem with auto-drafting is that the computer chooses your players from a singular, linear list and cannot make logical decisions factoring the players you've already drafted. I have seen a computer auto-draft 7 quarterbacks in a row for a team that couldn’t attend; the season didn't go well for this owner.

If you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely cannot take part in a fantasy draft, try to get another league member to choose your players for you.  Provide them with a printable fantasy football cheat sheet or a good fantasy draft magazine and give them a rough idea of which positions you'd like to target first. This is a favorable approach since your friend can use some type of judgment to ensure your roster has acceptable balance across all positions. Use auto-drafting strictly as a last resort.


You should strive to hold a live fantasy football draft each and every year.  A live draft builds league camaraderie and makes the draft a much more enjoyable experience.  In the next article in this series, we'll discuss options for awarding fantasy football league prizes.  Bragging rights are great, but tossing in a little cash or a nice fantasy trophy is a nice tough.  Springing for a funny fantasy football trophy for the league's losers wouldn't be a bad idea either.

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