Almost 20 years ago, Glenn Colton and I played in the League of Alternative Reality for baseball and created a set of rules that could help guide us when we disagreed on talent or strategy for fantasy baseball.  We won consecutive titles and when invited to play in expert leagues for fantasy football, we wanted to publish the rules before we played. 

In the summer of 2003, Matthew Berry was the publisher of the first Rotoworld fantasy football magazine.  The system below was published in that year as rules for us to play as fantasy sports partners. 

So here is that SMART system updated for 2021, a set of general principles to help you draft and WIN!


This pertains to the offensive system that is used by the player’s NFL team. Each fantasy football player needs to ask some questions surrounding players.  What are the head coaches and offensive coordinators like? What is the offensive line like?  How does the talent on the team complement the player within that system? You need to factor this information into your drafting. 

For example, knowing that Anthony Lynn is the Offensive Coordinator in Detroit is important. D'Andre Swift is now an early second round target. Lynn helped Austin Ekeler’s performance and before that LeSean McCoy in Buffalo. 


Manage your draft preparation and your team all season.

Here are some basic rules when drafting:

DO NOT DRAFT A QUARTERBACK EARLY– You will get good quarterback value later in the draft. Do not pass on quality running backs or wide receivers in favor of an early quarterback. 

In normal drafts, you need to watch the flow of when the quarterbacks are coming off the board, but generally that is the seventh or eighth round and not the first or second.

SuperFlex drafts are very different, but having drafted five of them already, I can tell you it is better to take QBs in rounds five and six than in one and two.  See an example here:

RUNNING BACKS RULE – Draft an elite running back in the first round. There are some exceptions with Stefon Diggs falling to you in the later part of the first round, but do not reach for Travis Kelce or even Patrick Mahomes.  

Draft a full-time starting running back in the second round unless a stud wide receiver has fallen to you and you already took your stud running back in the first. 

In leagues with a Flex position that allow you to start three running backs per week, we always get three running backs in the first four rounds. Here are the finer points on this: (1) Finding productive wide receivers later in the draft is easier than finding an elite running back; (2) With the backfield sharing that exists today, there are so many less stable running backs you can count on week in and week out.  (3) Simple math. There are about fifteen bell cow running backs so if you get three, that means the rest of the teams in a 12-team league can have ONLY one a piece. Play defensive. (4) Simple math. There are at least two good wide receivers on almost every team meaning that there are 75-80 potential starters. You will have plenty to pick from and will have one good one in your first four rounds. There are ONE-FIFTH as many running backs to count on at draft time.

TRACK COMPETITOR’S NEEDS – Make sure you keep up with all the teams' needs. For example, if you need both a quarterback and a tight end and notice that all the teams who pick before you pick again have their QB1, then wait on quarterback and take the tight end. Start the runs and do not end them. No one has a tight end after the first three big tight ends? Take a tight end to start the run and get one before you miss out on any that are important to your strategy.

FOLLOW THE DRAFT WHILE NOT ON THE CLOCK – Watch the board for position runs and other opportunities. Most importantly, there is NO excuse for making a bad pick because your guy was picked one spot before you. Have a plan A, plan B, and plan C for every pick.


PAY ATTENTION TO BYE WEEKS – Grab your BYE week replacements a couple of weeks in advance to avoid overpaying in FAAB. Also, players on BYE in each week do not get picked up but can provide value for you. Your competitors will be shocked that player is no longer on the board in FAAB the next week.

PLAYOFF WEEKS – Look ahead and roster players with great matchups in your critical playoff weeks. This will pay off.


The older the player, the more likely they are to get hurt or suffer a steep decline in performance. For running backs, it is about talent, youth, and opportunity. For wide receivers, it often takes some time to learn a system and to get used to the NFL. So, we believe that second- and-third-year wide receivers provide better value – especially when fantasy owners think that player underperformed the year before.  For example, a couple of strong second-year wide receivers who will be undervalued will be Michael Pittman and Jerry Jeudy.  You can get them in rounds 11 or 12.  Also, move up to get Justin Jefferson early.  He is going in the third round, but despite an amazing season, he has even more upside. 


In a typical fantasy football league, there are 12 fantasy teams with 16 NFL players on every roster. There are 32 NFL teams. Thus, you are guaranteed to have two starting quarterbacks, two starting running backs and two starting wide receivers. Assume you draft a quarterback, four running backs, four wide receivers, a tight end, one kicker and one defense to make up your 16 roster spots. That leaves you with four spaces. Think about using at least one of those four spots to back up your most vulnerable running back (provided he is in a good system and has a capable backup).  

For example, Dalvin Cook should be backed up with Alexander Mattison since there is always a chance of injury with an offense that runs through their star. 


Football is more predictable than baseball. The players with talent often score most of the fantasy points. You should use a couple of roster spots on the most talented players irrespective of their current slot on the depth chart.  

We mentioned three super talented players in the Age section, but you can add AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, DJ Moore as super young rising stars in the NFL.


We do not preach that you must use the SMART system. We preach that you must use A SYSTEM. Have a plan. There is so much information out there and so many people who are good at fantasy football. If you are busy and cannot keep up with "that guy" in your league, then you must have an edge. The SMART system can be that edge. Try it on and if you do not like it, make your own, but please, have a plan. 


Changes in the real game always present challenges in the fantasy game.  Do not think that is the case with the addition of a 17th game. More football is good for everyone, and it is a chance for leagues to have meaningful games into January. So, enjoy the games, have fun and draft SMART!