Fantasy Football 101: Breaking Down The Different Draft Types

fantasy football draft types

Welcome to part two in this three-part series. I’ll be covering draft types in fantasy leagues in this article. If you missed the first part, you can read that here. Also check out our guide on fantasy football settings?

Part II: Draft Types

Draft type is almost as critical as what type of league you choose. In some ways, it’s more important and in others, less so. When most people start playing fantasy football, the default draft type is a snake draft.

Snakes are simple and easy. You can look at a projection sheet prior to or during a draft and not get lost at any point. For many people, this is the way to go because it’s what they’re comfortable with. For those of us who took the plunge and tried out auction drafts, it was truly eye-opening.

I saw a poll on social media a year ago showing “preferred draft types” and the results were as expected. 55% favored the snake format. What was more interesting was the poll immediately following it. In the follow-up poll, the individual who posted it said, “This poll is only for those who have done both types of drafts.” The results were 91% in favor of auction. The point here is, you can be comfortable doing things the way you’ve always done them, or you can try something new. Today, I’m going to lay out arguments for both.

Snake Drafts

I did my first snake draft in 1998. I didn’t know there were other formats at the time, nor did I care. Like many others choosing to give fantasy a try for the first time, you make the decision that you’re going to play and you just sign up. In a snake format, one team gets the first pick and then the next team follows with their pick and on down the line until all teams have drafted. Once the second-round hits, you reverse the order.

The final team to draft in the first round will get the first pick of the second round. It will snake back and forth until every team has filled out their roster. There are some advantages to a snake draft, but they’re more in regards to simplicity. Snake drafts are easy. It’s easy to make your pick when it’s your turn and then watch the remaining players, arranged by points projections, sit in order on the “Available Players” list on your draft lobby screen.

It’s user-friendly, easy, and not confusing in the slightest. Another advantage of the snake draft is the time invested. If you want to get a draft over as quickly as possible, you can have a snake draft and be done with it in one and a half to three hours, depending on league size and time allocated between picks. However, the issue I have with it is typically the gap and the value.

The gap problem is an issue that typically affects one to four teams every draft. The gap issue happens when teams close to the turn gets back-to-back picks or picks close to back-to-back. For example, if you’re in a 12-team league and someone drafts a quarterback or a tight end right after you pick on the return-end of the turn, it may open up the flood gates and six or seven tight ends could go before it gets back to you.

If you’re at the turn in the draft, it’ll be 22 picks before you can get a shot to draft again, so there’s a feeling of complete helplessness. Picking at the turn can be a blessing and a curse. You could end up with tremendous value or get completely shut out at a position when there are 22 picks ahead of you between rounds. The second problem with snake drafts in fantasy football are that they allow the teams at the front a strong chance (barring injury typically) of getting a player who will produce at a disproportionate rate.

For example, if you were at the top of the draft this past year, you had a choice of Saquan Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. If you got McCaffrey, you probably had a really good season. Had it not been for injuries, these three would’ve likely finished as the top three or four players overall, which is typical in fantasy football. Every year, the top three or four non-QBs will typically be at least 75 points higher than the next grouping of players. This is what we call a tier drop in fantasy.

This past year, Christian McCaffrey scored 471 points in a full-point per-reception scoring format. If you were outside the top three in your draft, you had absolutely no shot at getting him. The next running back down from him was Aaron Jones with 315 points. That’s an average difference of 9.75 points per week, over 16 weeks. Because of the snake draft format, that pick carries the same value as your choice of Leonard Fournette at pick 12 with 259 points. These scoring gaps happen every season.

This past year was much more volatile than most. It’s rare a player taken outside the top three to five doesn’t finish as the top player in fantasy. For this reason, my long-time league decided to switch to an auction draft in 2010, and no one in the league has wanted to go back since.

Auction drafts

Auction drafts were the best thing to ever happen for fantasy sports. At some point, someone realized there’s more than one way to do a draft. Thank god for whoever got auction drafts onto fantasy platforms like ESPN and thank you to all the brave people who realized a free market is the one, true way of drafting players in fantasy sports.

In an auction draft, every team starts with a pre-determined amount of money. For example, a league will start with $200 and from there, teams will go in order, nominating players of their choice for bidding. If you nominate a player, anyone can bid on the player until someone makes a winning bid. From there, the player will go to the highest bidding team and that amount from the bid will be deducted from that team.

There are many advantages to doing an auction draft and few disadvantages. One of the many advantages is value. For players like Christian McCaffrey and Saquan Barkley, the price you’ll end up paying for them will significantly hinder your ability to pay top dollar for anyone else. It also means you’ll likely have to go light in some areas if you still want to be able to afford decent players overall.

For the teams who miss out on the elite players, they’ll carry a big advantage in bidding with the second-tier players and others throughout the draft. It’s the most free-market, American way of doing a draft. The only downside to this style is the time it takes. A typical auction draft can last anywhere from three to six hours, depending on league size.

Hybrid drafts

One alternative to auction and snake drafts that are beginning to get momentum is the “hybrid” draft. In hybrids, for example, a ten-team draft will usually involve a team’s first five players being taken through an auction format, with the remaining ten picks for each team going via snake.

In this format, each team must successfully roster five players prior to the snake portion beginning. Once the snake portion begins, teams can accelerate their picks and fill out their remaining roster spots the old-fashioned way. This format is great because you’ll get the chance to bid on those elite players and you won’t have to spend six hours filling out your roster. It’s the best of both worlds.

Final thoughts

I’ve probably done over 60 fantasy football drafts in the 22 years, and I’ve had the most fun with live, hybrid drafts. I’ve done live snake drafts, but they’re remarkably boring. Everyone just sits there on their own computer and hardly anyone interacts. The draft moves so quickly, there’s no time to enjoy the moment. In live auctions, it takes way too long.

By the time everyone has five or six players each, the level of care and enthusiasm really dips because people already have the core players they covet. The rest of the players on the board aren’t really riveting and the amount of money you have remaining to bid on these players either make you think, “Ah, I should’ve bid more on the top-end guys” or “I spent too much money on my top-end guys.”

Online auctions are pretty fun. The bidding goes a lot faster and the clock restrictions prevent bidding from dragging out. You can knock out an online auction in two hours in a ten-team league. Online snakes aren’t horrible, but they feel a lot like chatting with someone you love online. You can’t hear a voice. You aren’t really invested in it, but it’s stimulating because it’s moving fast.

Live hybrid drafts have been the most fun, every time. I’ve done four or five now and all of them have been exciting and memorable. Where online drafts are a lot like online dating, live hybrids are like being on Bachelor in Paradise. Everyone is interacting. Everyone is involved and emotions run high.

With live hybrids, you can complete the auction portion in around an hour and a half to two hours. From there, reset, check your roster needs, adjust the available players list, get some snacks, take an intermission. At that point when it switches to snake, it’s fast-paced, people are just going in turn, grabbing stickers off the player board and slapping them on the big board. It takes about an hour from that point and you’re done.

Next week, I’ll be going over “League Settings” in Part III of “Fantasy Football 101.”

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