The A to Z of Draft Fantasy Football
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Are you new to the world of Draft Premier League? Do the other managers in your league constantly talk about things you've never heard of? Not a problem. We've got you covered with the A to Z of everything you need to know about Fantasy EPL. From Autosubs to Zero-Minute Players, this long list educates, advises, and hopefully even entertains as you aim to become the Pep of your league.
Whilst much of this article can be applied to all Draft Premier League formats and all scoring systems, some sections are specific to Fantrax Default Scoring and most examples and anecdotes given are based on that.
The A to Z of Draft Fantasy Football
There are two ways to impress your rival managers: win loads of games or throw out fancy sounding terms like "counter", "FAAB", and "stream". The latter is easier. The latter is below.
Autosubs is a league setup option which automatically replaces any zero-minute players (see letter ‘Z’ below) with a player from that teams bench at the end of the gameweek. The system can be customized so that the replacement can be any empty slot in the team (that maintains a valid formation) or where the replacement has to be like-for-like in position. The choice of which bench player is brought in depends on whether the ranking method is “Most fantasy points” or “Each owners sets their own order”. As the names suggest, the former replaces any zero-minute players with bench players in order of fantasy points scored during that gameweek, whilst the latter uses a ranked order set by a manager prior to the gameweek commencing. This is an excellent feature for leagues with individuals who may not be active when team lineups are announced or games kick off (like our good friends in Australia and New Zealand). Just be careful, because the “Most fantasy points” method can be exploited by the cunning fantasy manager…
Blank gameweeks are gameweeks where a team does not have a match. The occurrence of a blank gameweek more often than not is a result of progress to the final of the League Cup, or to the quarter finals and beyond of the F.A. Cup. FIFA Club World Cup commitments and general postponements would also likely result in a blank gameweek, though these are much rarer. Whilst planning for blank gameweeks is often not as essential or difficult as planning for a double gameweek (see letter ‘D’ below), it is still advisable – particularly if you have multiple players from a team affected. Ben Crellin is THE MAN to follow on Twitter to keep track of this (and all other fixture-related information).
Countering is a strategy where you acquire a player (usually through waivers or free agency) specifically because your upcoming opponent has their real-life teammate. In most cases, this teammate is the same position. The logic behind this is that, in defence (GKs form part of this), if your opponent’s player gets a clean sheet, then so should yours. And to a lesser extent in midfield or attack, if your opponent’s player scores, there’s a chance that your player may be the one with the assist (or vice versa). Historically, Burnley have been a good example of a way to implement the counter. Their centre-backs like Tarkowski and Mee have high ownership, but their fullbacks, such as Taylor and Lowton rarely do. As such, if your upcoming opponent owns one of the centre-backs and Burnley have a favourable fixture coming up, picking up one of the fullbacks can be a good decision.
Double gameweeks, or DGWs, are gameweeks where two or more teams have more than one match. They are the consequence of the blank gameweek (see letter ‘B’ above) and therefore between two and four DGWs of varying sizes (i.e. how many teams get two matches) are to be expected each season*. The DGWs usually occur between March and May, making strategy important – particularly if you have a playoff system and make it to the semi-finals, as gameweek 37 is almost always a DGW. Planning in advance is crucial and bringing in an average player – like someone with a 6 FP/G – with a DGW is obviously going to be preferable to bringing in a decent player – like someone with an 8 FP/G – who does not. The key consideration, of course, is game time: just because a player has two games, doesn’t mean they will play both of them.
*The 2020-21 “COVID” season being an anomaly with what seemed like a million DGWs.
I guess “early” is relative (you West-Coast warriors getting up at 3:30am on a Saturday…I salute you), so what we really mean here is the first match of the gameweek. The first match always feels more important than it is, but there are still a couple of key strategies to live by when it comes to these games. Firstly, don’t get too excited. I know you haven’t had you fantasy fix since last Sunday, but there’s no reason to pick up Jeff Hendrick just because you want to have some involvement at the first time of asking. Stay patient and stay disciplined – ask yourself: would I be grabbing them if this were one of the later games? The second, is to not screw yourself over on the bench. If you’re not going to start someone from the early kickoff, are they still worth a place on your roster? Or should you get rid completely? Placing Ashley Westwood on the bench may not seem like a bad move at the time, but a few surprise lineups from Pep, Potter, and Tuchel could see those other bench spots fill up quickly. Next thing you know, it’s the last match of the gameweek and you have to decide whether or not to risk a benched Bobby Firms coming on, or to release the man altogether in order to ensure you field a full 11. Not a nice position.
FAB stands for Free Agent Budget. It is a type of waiver wire system that uses bidding to acquire players, as opposed to a predetermined order (i.e. ‘rolling waivers’ or ‘league-ordered waivers’). With a FAB waiver system, each team bids on any players they want using virtual dollars, with the highest bidder winning the player when waivers are processed. In the case of a tie, the league can set one of four rules: 1) lowest ranked team wins, 2) earliest bid wins, 3) next in the rolling list wins, or 4) random selection. The budget for the season can be customized to any amount, and whilst debate exists as to whether this number actually matters, most leagues using FAB tend to go with around $100-$200. Other functions, such as whether to show the highest pending bid or not, are also available.
Ghost points are all points that come from categories outside of the big three: goals, assists, and clean sheets. Common ghost point categories include key passes, shots on target, successful dribbles, accurate crosses (excluding corners), interceptions, tackles won, aerials won, and clearances – though there are countless other options available. For example, if Kevin De Bruyne scores 53.5 points with two goals and one assist in a 5-0 win, his ghost points would be 53.5 minus 9 (goal) minus 9 (goal) minus 6 (assist) minus 1 (clean sheet), which comes to 28.5. Given that goals, assists, and clean sheets tend to be the least reliable scoring category (for most players anyway), ghost points give you a good idea of a player’s reliability and floor.
The handcuff strategy is where you own both the starter and the backup from the same real-life team in order to cover yourself if the former gets injured, rested, or loses his place for any other reason. The strategy originated in American Football and, whilst it is less applicable to our football (due to the more fluid nature of player positions), it has become fairly commonplace for certain duos of players. Notable handcuffs in recent years have included Sergio Aguero-Gabriel Jesus, Matt Doherty-Serge Aurier, Ben Chilwell-Marcos Alonso, and Riyad Mahrez-Bernardo Silva. “Handcuff” is a good term too, because not only does it symbolise the attaching of one player to another, but it also works as a metaphor for restraining your team strategy and waiver freedom. You are essentially one bench spot down every week. This shouldn’t hinder you in most weeks, but then once or twice a season – probably at the worst imaginable time – it could cause a serious selection headache…and the potential unwanted dropping of a valued asset.
Injuries can derail a title charge, make a playoff push precarious, and cement a wooden spoon, and therefore strategy related to injuries are key. Five-man benches make holding on to a long-term injured player fairly easy, but one of these combined with a couple of short-term injuries and a few rotation-risk players can suddenly lead to a roster that requires some careful decisions to be made. If you do find that a change is needed, always try to trade first. Trading an injured player is fair game – it is on the recipient to do the due diligence of researching what’s been offered to them (a 30 second search on Google isn’t hard). But even supposedly shady deals aside, some rosters may just be set up to take on your forward that has just torn his hamstring. Granted, you may not get a whole lot in exchange for him, but it’s probably better than scouring the free agent list. To keep up to date with everything injury related, make sure you follow Ben Dinnery on Twitter – he is to injury updates as his namesake Crellin is to fixture schedules.
J...Jorginho, JWP, and James Maddison
No, these players aren’t listed because I like midfielders, they are here to emphasise the importance of set-piece takers. Owning players who are on penalties (like Jorginho), or free kicks (like James Ward-Prowse), or corners (like James Maddison) can be a handy little bonus, particularly the latter two, where any subsequent efforts on goal by a teammate count as a key pass. Thus, staying alert to set-piece priorities across the Premier League is important and can give you important information about which players are seeing their roles in this area increase or diminish during the season. Fortunately, The Draft Society has you covered in this regard.
First off, keeper leagues have nothing to do with goalkeepers! It’s perhaps a confusing name if you’ve never come across the term before (another one that’s travelled over from across the pond). Keeper refers to “keeping for next season”, and therefore a keeper league is one where each team can retain one or more players from the previous season. Any number of keepers can be selected (even the whole roster!) though it’s important to bear in mind, of course, that the more keepers that picked, the less drafting there is to do…and that’s arguably the best part of fantasy football!
L...Last Game of the Weekend
Just like the early kickoff, the last game of the weekend has its related strategies. First of all, it’s wise to always try and leave some wiggle room on the bench. By that I mean, if you have one of your elite assets (or even just someone you’d rather not drop) left for the Monday night fixture, make sure you have space on the bench for him in case he doesn’t play. It can be the difference between winning and losing. There’s nothing worse than expecting Mason Mount to pick up the few points needed for victory, seeing that Tuchel has rested him, and then turning to your bench and finding out that it’s a choice between dropping your star man to secure the win, or taking a big fat L. Having a spare bench spot for that final game is also an essential part of our second strategy here. Even if your matchup is no longer in the balance, there’s no reason you can’t (or shouldn’t) stay involved and try and screw over some league rivals. If you’re in a title race and a fellow challenger has all eyes on the Monday game, it doesn’t matter if you’ve already cruised to victory and played all 11. I wholeheartedly endorse picking up anyone that they may be looking at if you’ve still got room on your bench. A loss for them is often just as good as a win for you!
Mock: 1) “to make a replica of something”, 2) “to tease or laugh in a scornful manner”. Mock drafts cover both of these definitions. You get to practice your draft strategy and you receive abuse in the group chat for doing so. Nerd. But who’s the one laughing at Christmas when you sit top of the league with a roster stacked full of stars? You are. Mock drafts may be nerdy, but if you want to get the edge on your rivals, you gotta do one or two. Without a mock, who knows where KDB is going to go? Or Bruno Fernandes? Okay, those two aside, it can actually provide some useful insights. The draft is like the starting blocks of a race – a good one can put you yards ahead of your competition; a bad one and you could be playing catch up for a long time.
I should probably leave this one to fellow Draft Society writer Genie, as I’ve seen some of the rosters he constructs, and damn, he manages to put some rosters together that have to be the product of some incredible negotiating skills. It probably explains his success too. Negotiations are essential in trading, and trading is essential to winning. Finding a way to convince a rival to let go of Raphinha in exchange for a backup mid, rotation risk defender, and a bag of crisps (chips, to the Americans reading this) can take you from title contender to title favourite. The classic rookie mistake in negotiations is to value quantity over quality. This is a myth that you hopefully learn pretty quickly. Two Ndidi’s don’t equal a KDB, no matter what the FP/G’s equate to. Three Westwood’s don’t add up to Bruno. Remember, 2-for-1 and 3-for-1 trades are never really that. Factor in that free agent that must get picked up, and you’ll find that the team getting the 1 player is also often getting the better deal.
O...Out of Position
No, this isn’t a reference to Kyle Walker’s general style of play (don’t worry, he’s fast enough to recover, as commentators love to point out – rolling eyes emoji). Out of position in the fantasy world refers to those players who have been classified as a DEF, MID, or FWD in the game, but in real life, routinely play elsewhere. The famous example of this is probably Sheffield United’s John Lundstram, who was classified as a DEF in the Blades’ fairytale return to the Premier League, despite solely playing in midfield. The midfielder quickly became a cult icon as he picked up five goals, three assists, and a serendipitous 10 clean sheets across the season! Finding the IRL midfielder classed as a DEF or the IRL forward classed as a MID (see: Michail Antonio) is like unearthing a fantasy diamond, but it can also work in the opposite – and less beneficial – direction. Matt Ritchie, Romain Saiss, and Bukayo Saka are all names that have at one time been hindered by the ‘MID’ tag whilst being positioned in defence in real life – less attacking threat and one-sixth of any clean sheet reward makes their fantasy value considerably lower than what it probably deserved.
PP90 - or 'points per 90' - is the Casey Affleck to Ben Affleck's FP/G. Sure, FP/G gets more airtime and more people have heard about it, but the one that produces the goods is the younger brother, PP90. PP90 is simply the FP/G of a player if they were to play the full 90 minutes. By and large it is probably a better reflection of a player’s fantasy value than FP/G, which does not take into account how much of a game a player has played, only that they played. PP90 better appreciates the value of those players who do not always start and knowing this can then give us an advantage on those occasions when they do make the starting eleven. Aston Villa's Anwar El-Ghazi is the embodiment of that (at least in the 2020-21 season). The midfielder (at the time of writing) had an FP/G of 10.9 but a PP90 of 24.2!! The legend that is Christian Benteke is also another great example, with his 8.0 FP/G jumping to a 14.6 PP90. This new(ish) metric isn't flawless, of course, but it can definitely help a manager when it comes to making decisions on players.
As the old saying goes: “it’s the hope that kills you”. That damn red flag is in some ways, a far worse sight than the broken one. With the broken flag, at least you can plan accordingly. You know the player is out, so he can be removed from your starting 11. With the solid red flag – the symbol of questionable status – we managers have no idea. We are left to scour the Twitter rumours and the club fan forums for the tiniest hints of truth. “King Jeff” tweeted a picture from a Villa training session and there’s no sign of Grealish…”Draft God FC” posted saying that the Leicester team bus has just left for their away game and Maddison’s not on it… You bench them both but next thing you know, they’re in the starting lineup. Some players wear the red flag of questionable status so often you’d begin to think it’s a part of their club’s kit. Saint-Max, Michail Antonio, Adama Traore – these guys have had more broken red flags than Marcus Rashford has dished out hot dinners.
Reliance in this context is referring to GACS reliance; GACS being the big three scoring categories of goals, assists, and clean sheets. These things are game changing IRL, and therefore – as is appropriate – are worth a lot of points in fantasy. But they’re also some of the rarest and least predictable categories. So a player who scores points in the absence of goals, assists, and clean sheets – accruing ghost points (see letter ‘G’ above) if you will – is an interesting commodity. Their low GACS reliance is an indicator of their consistency, their high floor, and perhaps their potential to start scoring big if things turn their way. Anything south of 40% reliance is generally excellent, so Adama Traore’s 7% reliance at the time of writing (whilst maintaining 11.3 PP90 with 16 starts) certifies his status as King. Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Oliver McBurnie – both at 12% - also deserve to be mentioned. On the flip side, Ederson’s 71%, Jamie Vardy’s 63%, and Callum Wilson’s 60% are numbers that should make you wary as an owner. Check out our stats section for full GACS reliance numbers.
The streaming strategy is one of my favourites. It’s my forte. It refers to the picking up of a player based more on their upcoming matchup than their true fantasy value. Who are Newcastle playing this weekend? Southampton? Okay cool, that’s their goalkeeper picked up, along with Bednarek and Bertrand. Nice 20 points, minimum, in the bag already. Leeds have got Brighton? Right, I’ll have a bit of Neal Maupay then. And West Brom take on Arsenal? Don’t mind helping myself to some Dani Ceballos, thanks. The PP90 Against numbers can give you a good idea of which teams to target here. Not all streaming works, of course – you’re going to whiff on a few pickups. But it can most definitely be an effective strategy. Acquiring 10 good players can be hard to do, and more importantly, it can be beaten. Having one elite asset, a few premium assets, and finding the rest each week with the streaming strategy…that’s my preference all day long. It’s also far more fun too.
Trading…where to begin?? We could write a whole article on trading…in fact, we do! So let’s keep this short. Simply put, you can trade your way to a title. But you can also trade your way out of one! In most leagues, trading is rare than it should be. Spoiler alert: both teams can win a trade. That doesn’t mean, though, that you should only trade players of equal value (however you determine that). But taking a perceived hit by swapping Riyad Mahrez for Luke Shaw is just that – it’s perceived. If you have five decent forwards and zero good defenders, then Mahrez is killing you every time he doesn’t start. You can get probably get by without him. Is Mahrez a better fantasy asset than Shaw? Sure. Does this trade still benefit you to make it? Absolutely. The slight hit in straight-up player valuation is more than made up for in the improved balance of the roster. Maybe people forget this. More likely, people know it, but think that the ridicule they’ll receive from the rest of the league – people who only see the trade and not the makeup of the squad – outweighs the benefits. Don’t think emotionally, think logically.
Buy low, sell high. It may be the oldest strategy in the game, but it’s certainly not the easiest. What we’re talking about here is finding those players who are on the verge of breaking out. Maybe they are underperforming IRL but will no doubt bounce back; or maybe they are performing fine, but the fantasy scores for one reason or another just aren’t quite reflecting it just yet. These are the diamonds in the rough. How do we find them? Well, maybe the eye test can give you a clue. One look at Bukayo Saka in the first half of the 2020-21 season would have told you that this guy’s a baller – but his 7.6 PP90 wouldn’t have. Things weren’t quite going for him, and Arsenal perhaps weren’t consistently playing to his strengths enough. If they were to do so…well, a PP90 of 15.2 in his 10 games since Christmas 2020 (the point at which this is being written) would have been quite the reward for any prescient manager who took a punt on the youngster. Unfortunately, 99% of us cannot watch every single minute of every single game and with our eyes peeled for indicators of future fantasy greatness. So are there any shortcuts? Here’s two. Understat and other sources show expected goals and assists numbers – look for players with considerably lower xG’s and xA’s than actual G’s and A’s. As of this writing (March 8th, 2021), Adama Traore has 0 assists but 3.8 xA…he should improve on his current 11.3 PP90 by the end of the season. Second; check out the amazing Overthinkingfootball’s xFpts rankings…they are like gold dust…but I’ll discuss them in more detail shortly…
The value of a player is subjective, right? Wrong! I present to you, the Official Inner Geek Player Valuation System. Here, yours truly values the players in the game and assigns them to one of six carefully thought out categories designed with years of pain-staking research, iterated algorithms, and judiciously scoured feedback*. The lowest possible value is a SWAYD player. As in, “Seriously, what are you doing?” if you have this player on your roster. Classic SWAYDs include Conor Coady and Patrick van Aanholt. After this, we have Rainbow players, named after a team in my league who, in five seasons of playing, have never – not even for a single week – been in the top half of the table. These guys are simply “meh”. Then you have your 2pm-ers. These are the guys usually found on the FA list because their game time is so unreliable, but when they do start, should be worth an add. Think Anwar El-Ghazi, or Benjamin Mendy. Next we have the Statham’s. The solid, unspectacular players that rarely fall to free agency, but who aren’t exactly going to win you a game single handed. A few of these are needed in every lineup; see Che Adams, or the 2020-21 Ruben Neves. The final two valuations – the highest two – are best explained together. At the very top of the pile, you have the Elite. The elite are few and far between. In 2020-21, we probably had four: Bruno Fernandes, Jack Grealish, Kevin De Bruyne, and Harry Kane. These are the superstars that you wouldn’t even think about trading. Any player too good for the Statham category, but not quite Elite, is Premium. Premium assets range from Son to Soucek and from Raphinha to Reece James. The Premium pool is where the best trading happens.
*or 20 minutes of completely personal opinion.
The waiver wire is the place where non-owned players go when they can’t be immediately added by a team. This latter part is what makes them differ to the free agent list. Non-owned players (in most league settings) are moved to the waiver wire once their IRL teams match kicks off, or if they have been dropped by a team that owned them before the most recent waivers were processed. It basically acts as a way to allow everyone in the league to have a chance at acquiring a player, rather than just making it a case of “fastest finger first”, or benefiting that guy who spends every minute of every day on the app. Claiming players from the waiver wire can take a number of formats and I would highly recommend using the FAAB system (see letter ‘F’ above). Not only is it fairer, but it’s also more fun. Not knowing whether you’re going to get a player or not, then waking up to see who’ve you been given when the waivers are processed…it’s like a being a kid at Christmas.
xFpts – or expected fantasy points, to give it their full name – show what a player should have scored in a given gameweek, rather than what they actually scored. It’s based on expected goal and expected assist numbers; the intricacies of which are explained by its creator, Overthinkingfootball, far more eloquently that I could ever hope to. So this blurb here will simply outline how you can use it to your advantage. Check the xFpts rankings table – specifically, the final column “mean_xFpts – mean_fpts” (catchy title, Overthinkingfootball). Here you can basically see those overperforming in the fantasy world (the ones with the biggest negative value) and those underperforming in the fantasy world (the ones with the biggest positive value). For instance, as of this writing, new West Ham recruit Jesse Lingard had a score of -4.98, meaning that each game, Lingard was scoring almost five points more than what he should be based on his IRL performance. He has a PP90 of 16.6, but xFpts would expect this to come down considerably by the end of the season (let’s see if it does!). On the flip side, Christian Pulisic’s season hasn’t felt like it’s ever really begun, such are his fantasy returns. But according to xFpts, he should be averaging 10.73 per game, and not 8.28 – a fairly handy difference. This screams out trade target…
Y...Yellow Cards, Goals Against, and Those Pesky Dispossessions
Yellow cards, goals against, and dispossessions…recognise the link here? Yep, we’re talking negative points. These are the notable and more common ones, but we also have red cards, own goals, and penalties missed; your league may have even added your own custom ones such as fouls committed, offsides, or errors that led to goals. It’s yet another nuance to scoring that makes Fantrax the equivalent of chess with OFPL the equivalent of checkers. Where would Palace’s Luka Milivojevic be without those 12 yellow cards in 2019/20? An irrelevant PP90 of 6.6 suddenly becomes a tempting 7.8, that’s where. What about if his teammate Wilfried Zaha could somehow avoid being disposed 148 times (Jordan Ayew was next highest with 98!!)? A nice PP90 of 9.4 becomes a very nice PP90 of 11.4. And what if Aston Villa could tighten up a defence that conceded 1.8 goals per game in 2019/20 (as of this writing they have done just that, averaging just 1 goal against per game in 2020/21)? Well, Tyrone Mings has gone from a frankly embarrassing 4.1 PP90 to a not-too-shabby 7.7 PP90. These numbers matter, adding a whole new layer to the fantasy game.
The first page on Fantasy Football 101 says that you should do what it takes to field 11 players. Players in your starting 11 that don’t get on the pitch in real life are “zero-minute” players, and they can be extremely costly. An interesting debate often crops up when a premium asset is benched, and fantasy managers are left to ponder whether to keep him in the team in the hope that he comes on. My advice? Don’t. Sure, there will be occasions when this backfires – Salah’s 33 minute cameo against Crystal Palace in 2020/21 when he came on to score two goals, get an assist, and rack up 30 points is the epitome of that. But 99% of the time it’s a risk that doesn’t pay off – they either get given so little time that they can’t make a meaningful impact, or they don’t come on at all (“zero-minute player”). Want absolute, undeniable proof that fielding 11 is the key to success? The last two champions in my league have gone through the whole season with just two zero-minute players played – far and away the best record. If that’s not proof, I don’t know what is.
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