2020 AFL Fantasy Draft Strategy Tips and Sleepers

*Blog note: I usually post weekly on Wednesday’s but decided to push this forward because I’m guessing a lot of drafts may be happening soon. Posting will continue its regular schedule from the 19th*

So you and your mates have an AFL Fantasy Draft league. There’s money at stake and you obviously want to win. What’s the strategy? How much of your selections is an art and how much is science? Pick with your head or pick with your gut. I’ll aim to highlight some possible tactics and plans you should at least be aware of. I’ll do a brief explanation and argument for draft leagues for those noobs new to the game. If you know what you’re doing feel free to skip down to the Assumptions title and read onward.

What is a Draft League?

Sort of explains itself. A draft. Each participant gets to pick a player that once chosen, no one else may pick. Leads to some interesting strategies that won’t be found in a classic league. The price of players has no factor in your ability to pick them either.

Why Do a Draft League?

I find it incredibly more interesting and diverse than classic fantasy leagues. When you’re in a classic league the top few teams may only have minuscule differences in players selected and strategies. Whereas in a draft league the scores, strategies and ideas behind teams are vastly different. Last year I focused on snapping up the best defenders first, trying to prevent others from access to A-grade players down back.

Assumptions

So obviously this will change depending on your league. The assumption I’m running with is the same as what league I’ll be in this year:

  • 8 players (teams)
  • 5-7-1-5-4 team structure
  • Snake draft order
  • Captains and emergencies enabled
  • Rolling lockout disabled
  • Playing opponents flexible
  • No restricted free agents
  • Trade Approvals are commissioner based 
  • Bye rounds enabled (3 odd weeks with no draft games we find incredibly boring)

Pre-Draft

Remember the six P’s. Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance. If you know your draft order, plan accordingly. Hold the #1 pick? Plan ahead because your next picks won’t be until 16 & 17. So if you don’t choose a premium ruckman, there may not be one left. I highly recommend trying at least one mock draft through the Draft Doctors. It’ll at least give you a smidge of an idea of what you might expect.

I’d argue you should have a fair idea of who might be available and who you’ll want for your ruckman, and top 3 or so at each position. And then know what roughies or sleepers you are happy to take a punt on at the end.

First Picks and Early On

If you have captains enabled. Get one. And get one first. Literally nothing worse than having unreliable captain options week to week. Whitfield was my first pick last year. And while he was my captain lock and score guru. He only played 16 games which was mildly annoying. This year I’ll be aiming for either Grundy or a premo mid with my first choice.

Also early on is probably not a good time to start experimenting with your picks and trying to pick breakout players you think might jump from an 80 average to 100 average. I thought this should go without saying but happens rather frequently.

Knowing Positions, Their Scores & Their Meaning

Ok, let’s see how many at each positioned averaged over a certain amount.


DEFMIDRUCKFWD
Over 10022431
Over 9095954
Over 8025911320
Over 70591292454

Highlights just how important that often mentioned phrase “more midfield time” is (when implemented). The same amount of midfielders averaged over 90 as defenders over 70!

But how do the top possible players in a position (plus one on the bench) compare to the bottom possible players? E.g with 7 mids plus 1 on the bench, gives us 8 possible mids to choose from. Across 8 teams, *theoretically* the top 64 averages will be chosen. How do the top 8 compare against the bottom 8 in those 64 players listed?

Mids: The highest possible average would 112.65. The lowest average would be 89.95. So, a difference of 22.70. Over 8 players this comes to a 181.60 point difference between the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ mids

Backs: 5 Backs plus one on the bench. The best possible average would be 98.95. Lowest possible average at 73.67. A difference of 25.28. Over 6 defenders it’s a 151.70 difference between the best and worst defenders.

Forwards: 5 Forwards plus one on the bench. Best possible average would be 97.05. Lowest possible average at 71.62. A difference of 25.43. Over 6 forwards it’s a 152.60 difference between the best and worst forwards.

Rucks: If we go with one ruck, then it’s Grundy and Goldstein. 33.70 point difference.

Awareness of Who Others are Choosing

Seems obvious, but you’ll often see certain types of players start to go quickly and start a domino effect. All premium defenders may be gone by your 3rd pick. Ruckman are also a common choice early on that run out fast. You got two choices. Either 1. join in, or 2. go against it.

  1. Joining in: Gundy and Gawn are now gone. Do you commit to a Witts? There’s a chance you miss out and are stuck with a mid 80 average ruckman. If you don’t want to commit to Witts, maybe option 2 is more suitable.
  2. Go Against: So, the Ruckman have been snapped up left, right and centre. Going before their usual average draft position. Which means other players are sliding. You could get an early start on premium defenders or forwards.

Sliders and Sleepers

After the consensus gun player picks, the strategy starts to pick up and things get interesting. Incredibly important to at least have an idea of some potential late value players to be aware of. I find when picking my bench players I go with high-risk high-reward type players. So it’s critical to be aware of what players that suit that criteria might still be available at the end.

Potential Sleepers and Sliders I think worth considering for this year:

  • Jack Steven (Mid/Fwd): As a forward DPP, I think he can be pretty good value. Especially if he manages to get some midfield time this year. 76 from 7 games and clearly not in his best shape. If he pushes back up to 80 at least he’ll be in the top 20 out of the forwards.
  • James Sicily (Def): With Jack Frost as a key back and Jonothan Patton up forward, hopefully, should free up Sicily the guru intercept defender we know he can be. A lot of people will have been burned previously and will stay away which is fair enough. Did play 22 games last year though so consistency was good.
  • Angus Brayshaw (Mid): Again, a lot of people have been burned previously. Including me. But with Ed Langdon and Adam Tomlinson coming to the dees and playing the wings. You’d hope Brayshaw would rack some inside midfield minutes where we know he can score big. Look to see if still available after mid-rounds.
  • Stephen Hill (Def/Fwd): Wasn’t able to spend much time on the park last year. But this year he seems to be fit and firing. A DPP as a defender and forward is quite rare. So gives him a point of difference. In the past, he’s been extremely useful in fantasy. A new Fremantle game style could help along with the loss of his brother Bradley Hill and Ed Langdon should benefit him.
  • Dylan Roberton (Def): Averaged 90.5, 76.1 and 92.5 between 2015 and 2017. So he can play. And as a defender, he’s mighty handy too. Missed all of last year with a heart condition. But he’s still only 28 so in his footballing prime.
  • Hunter Clark (Def): 77.4 average from 14 rounds last year but averaged over 90 points for the last eight rounds! Brett Ratten coached 6 out of those 8 so hoping the new coach form continues. Will be his third year in the AFL so hoping for a big breakout and the typical ‘more midfield time’.
  • Hugh Greenwood (Mid/Fwd): DPP which is another handy addition to your bench or even one of the last spots in your forward line. Averaged 78 last year through 14 games but I’d imagine both of those increase with midfield time on the Gold Coast. One of my favourite sleepers.
  • Luke McDonald (Def): Averaged 86 back in 2017, before a lower 70 in 2018. Interrupted 2019 that caused an average of only 58. I’ll be eyeing him off with potentially my last available pick. Especially as defenders averaging 80+ isn’t commonplace. Only 25 defenders averaged 80+ in 2019 FYI.
  • Nathan Jones (Def/Mid): I don’t think I’ll pick him (nor anyone else in my league). But will closely monitor the free agent’s list for his form. Fantasy scores as a Mid are lacklustre but as a DPP Defender, he could be decent value as a last on-field or bench cover.
  • Jordan Dawson (Def/Fwd): With a 82.7 average he’s rated 16th among defenders and 17th among forwards which is nothing to sneeze at. Depending on how your league views him, he could easily be a draft slider, or a value trap if taken early in my opinion.

Insurance Picks

Picking a player and then his backup in case they miss games or suffer an injury. The best example this year I can think of would be Max Gawn and Braydon Preuss combination. Gawn is a gun player in his own right and should be a high selection. But with his recent minor knee strain, even though he’s expected for round 1, it may be worth having Preuss on your bench in case . Preuss has the added bonus of being a DPP, giving him greater flexibility in either your RUCK or FWD line. Having insurance players just gives a sense of stability knowing that if one of your guns goes down, the understudy is ready to step up.

Dual Position Players

Underrated or overrated? With a 4 man bench, I lean towards underrated. Gives massive flexibility with a rolling lockout and you have a late out. Means that as long as they haven’t played, you can cover two spots. Especially helpful as well when you have multiple outs in a certain position. If you go with one position each on the 4 man bench, having a DPP would help if you had multiple Mids or Fwds out for example.

Spreadsheet

Here’s my spreadsheet I’ve been using for this year’s draft. I’ve put it in a Google Drive hoping I’ll add more stuff and update later on. It’s a total mess if I’m honest. But it offers all available players, their 2019 averages, Last 5 games average, 2019 games played and total points. 

Hopefully, I’ve structured it in a way so that you are able to manipulate and play with the data yourself. If you make any cool changes feel free to send it back to me and I’ll re-upload for anyone else! 

In Summary

I don’t think AFL Fantasy is pure art nor pure science. You have to be able to analyse the numbers and respect the stats, but I think you need to have a nuanced understanding of the game to succeed too.

Do your research. Have a plan. Have a plan for your plans in case things change. And may the odds be ever in your favour.

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