Fantasy Football Draft 2012: 10 Mistakes to Avoid

Dan Kukla@@kooks13Correspondent IIIJune 27, 2012

Fantasy Football Draft 2012: 10 Mistakes to Avoid

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    You can't win your fantasy football league on draft day, but you can definitely lose it.

    Don't lose it.

    Many fantasy football players are spending this offseason debating draft strategy. Should you stick with the tried-and-true formula of drafting multiple stud running backs early? Should you opt for the new trendy strategy of grabbing an elite quarterback with your first pick? Are two tight ends really being drafted in the second round?

    Calm down. Get a hold of yourself. Don't lose it.

    Many of those fantasy football draft strategy questions will work themselves on draft day. You may or may not know what spot you'll be draft from yet. Even if you do, you don't know which players will fall to you there.

    Instead, worry about what you do know and can control.

    Scratch that. Don't worry. Prepare.

    To quote every coach in America, "It's all about the fundamentals."

    Here are 10 fundamentals of drafting the ultimate fantasy football team. They are listed here to make sure you don't lose it.

1. Don't Draft Alone

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    Fantasy football is fun.

    Don't ever forget that.

    Even when there is money on the line, fantasy football is still fun. Even when your friend sends you 100 texts reminding you about your loss, fantasy football is still fun. And even when you trade five dynasty draft picks away for Jamaal Charles only to watch him shred his ACL (no, that's never happened to me), fantasy football is still fun.

    If we all agree that fantasy football is so fun, why do we try to make it so boring?

    I get it. Not everyone lives within driving distance of all their league mates. Online draft rooms make everything easier and more efficient. Drafting in a room full of friends will just distract you from making the most important decisions of your life—like whether or not drafting a sixth running back is overkill.

    All I can say is that drafting is like drinking. It's addicting. Doing it in excess can be dangerous to your health. Doing it alone produces the same results, but takes all the fun out it.

    The best drafts include every single member of your league. Typed out trash-talk just doesn't have the same effect.

    There's nothing like a good draft party to get the banter flowing—among other things. Inside jokes from last year. Running jokes still going from 10 years ago. The occasional audible sigh after someone picks a player just to get in their head.

    Try sending that "Really? You want that guy? What were you thinking?" look across an online chat room.

    There's also strategic advantages. Drafting as a group can tip you off to your opponent's game plan and targets. It also provides a great forum for immediate trade talk, especially after your rival lets you know how bad he wanted that player you just picked.

    A league-wide draft party isn't always possible. Hopefully you can at least draft with a few of your friends. If you happen to live in southeast New Mexico more than 1,000 miles away from anyone else, there's always Skype.

    Whatever it takes, never draft alone. Only drafting and driving is worse.

2. Don't Forget Your Homework

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    Treat draft day like a final exam.

    Yes, fantasy football is fun. We already covered that.

    Fantasy football still requires work, though, just like all of the other best things in life.

    You can bring all the magazines and cheat sheets you want with you to your draft. You are also free to surf any website for advice during your picks.

    I don't recommend any of this.

    A mountain of magazines won't help you during a 90-second draft clock. You don't have time to flip through all of that.

    Instead, condense your own research into single, easy-to-read sheets of paper. Use one sheet of paper per position and another for your overall list of players.

    That's it. That's all you need.

    Make these lists yourself. Don't just take some "expert's" list and call it your own. Do your own research. Make your own rankings. Break them into tiers. Highlight your sleepers and busts. Write short notes in the margins.

    Then be done.

    This process will familiarize yourself with most of the player pool. You will know why Player A is ranked ahead of Player B on your list, and that reason won't be just because Matthew Berry says so. Sorting through your research during the draft will also be much simpler.

    You either know it or you don't once draft day rolls around. A pile of someone else's work won't help you then.

    Also, make sure you know your league rules. That sounds obvious, but I'm amazed at how many people fail to take advantage of specific league nuances.

    Knowing the basics is common sense. How many roster spots and players per position? What's the scoring system? Do you count PPR? Can you keep players next year? The answers significantly affect how you draft.

    Knowing the ins and outs of the rules is even better, especially if you take time to identify rules to leverage to your advantage. Is there a transaction limit? How do waivers work? You know what happens when you assume.

3. Don't Be a Slave to Your Cheat Sheet

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    You covet Calvin Johnson.

    After all of your draft prep, you've decided that Megatron holds such a significant advantage over every other receiver that he is the best first-round investment—better than any other player.

    Then you find out that you have the first pick in your draft.

    Is No. 1 overall too high to take a wideout—even if it is Megatron? Your rankings tell you that only stud running backs or elite QB's should be taken in the top half of the first round.

    Take Calvin Johnson.

    You may be mocked. The decision goes against mainstream wisdom. Your rival drafting at No. 2 will probably send you updates on Arian Foster's monster season all year long.

    I'll tell you a secret, though. This is your team you are drafting. Don't let a piece of paper tell you what to do. Don't let ESPN or Yahoo! tell you what to do. Definitely don't let your opponents tell you what to do.

    Cheat sheets make for great guides. They also make for horrible bosses.

    If Megatron is your man, you better take him at No. 1. He certainly won't be there for you when the draft finally snakes back around at the end of Round 2.

    Be bold and think for yourself.

4. Don't Forget What Round You Are in

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    Doc Brown is back from the future, and he just handed you a sports almanac filled with stats from this upcoming NFL season.

    Your new draft resource tells you that Sam Bradford broke every major single-season passing record in 2012.

    Even is this were all true, drafting Bradford in the first round would still be stupid. He may not even be drafted at all. You can hedge a little and take him just before your kicker and defense.

    This is an extreme example. The point is that even if you expect a player to outperform everyone's expectations, you should still draft him according to those expectations, or only slightly above.

    Drafting is all about value.

    Reach a little to make sure you get your guys. Don't stretch so far that you pull your groin.

    The round in which you are drafting also determines the amount of risk to take with your pick.

    Consider the performance a player gives relative to his draft-day price to be your return on investment. If he plays above that price, you profit. If he plays below it, you lose.

    In Round 1, it is impossible to make a profit. Your best-case scenario is that the player you chose finishes as a top-10 player and thus returns full value. Your worst-case scenario is that he suffers an injury or completely under performs and thus returns no value.

    Everyone is drafting elite talent early. Picking the year's best player will only create a small advantage, but picking a complete bust can kill your season.

    Lesson: Draft safe, consistent players early. No major injury risks. No one-hit wonders. Just proven commodities. Aaron Rodgers may or may not finish as the best quarterback in 2012. It's highly unlikely he finishes outside of the top 10.

    The inverse is also true. There is more opportunity for profit the later you draft. Any owner taking a late chance on Cam Newton last year knows this well. That risk came with the minimal downside of dropping a struggling Newton several weeks into the season for a hot free agent. Either way, it pays better than sticking with tried-and-true Matt Cassel.

    If you know what you are getting in the late rounds, it probably isn't much.

    Lesson: Draft high-risk, high-reward players late. Rookies, former stars returning from major injuries and any other questionable players with high upside are all advised.

5. Don't Forget What Year You Are in

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    What year is it?

    No, this is not a concussion test.

    What year is it?

    So why is your nose buried in stats from 2011?

    Past performances only tell us so much. Yes, they are helpful for finding trends. You certainly need to know about past performances to draft all of those previously recommended safe players early on.

    However, this is 2012 and that's what matters most. Last year's stats are meaningless if you can't understand them in context of what is happening this year.

    The best fantasy research isn't done in fantasy magazines. It's found in newspapers—or at least websites of newspapers. Do newspapers even exist anymore?

    Fantasy players often forget the fake game they love so much is still based on real life. Your primary research should come in the form of reading current news. Forget fantasy analysts. I want to hear from people that actually understand the real game of football and not just stats.

    Identify smart football people and read their coverage of the NFL. Beat writers and NFL insiders give the best fantasy information without even trying to. Reports from this summer's training camp beat last November's game recaps every time.

    You don't draft offensive linemen, but they still block for your running backs and quarterbacks. How do Jamaal Charles, Kenny Britt, Adrian Peterson and Rashard Mendenhall look and feel these days? Who is Tampa Bay's starting running back? Will Matt Forte and Mike Wallace miss any time for money? How is Peyton Manning transitioning to Denver?

    These are the questions you should be pondering this offseason. No one can say for sure if Cam Newton or Jordy Nelson can repeat their 2011 numbers, so don't waste your time trying to do so yourself.

6. Don't Play Fantasy Football Like Fantasy Baseball

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    You can probably skip this slide if you have no idea what rotisserie chicken has to do with fantasy baseball.

    Fantasy baseball and fantasy football both come from the same concept of translating real sports, players and results into a fake competition between fake GM's. That is where the similarities end.

    If you still play in a rotisserie fantasy baseball league, this is probably pretty obvious. However, it's still true even if you play in a head-to-head fantasy baseball league.

    Fantasy baseball rewards statistical balance and totals. To be successful, you must be competitive in all (or at least most) of the set stat categories. When those stats are collected doesn't matter, as long as you have them at the end of the week (head-to-head) or the end of the year (rotisserie).

    If Ryan Braun hits four home runs during a week, it doesn't matter if they come all in one game or if he hits one in four different games. And if Braun never steals a base while hitting for a low average, then those four home runs are much less valuable.

    Yes, fantasy baseball does reward consistent performance from game to game. Yes, fantasy football does reward single-game breakouts and well-rounded players.

    However, a fantasy football player just needs to score points. Rushing 15 times for 60 yards is exactly the same as rushing one time for a one-yard touchdown.

    Fantasy football players are also more valuable if they consistently score game to game rather than all at once. Each week you tailor your roster to win that specific week. How roster moves affect your team in the long term is still a thought, but it is just an afterthought and not the main focus.

    To illustrate this difference, I'll defer to ESPN's Matthew Berry.

    The difference between trying to win every week and trying to win every season is the difference between Steve Smith's and Roddy White's seasons. Smith scored 176 points. White scored 173 points. Both played 16 games, so essentially, Steve Smith was 0.18 points better than Roddy White every week, right? Wrong. In fact, White outscored Smith in 8 of the 15 weeks in which they both played. So which one actually had the better season?

    Great, so how does that change how to draft in fantasy football?

    Don't look at end-of-the-year point projections. Target players that consistently score a valuable number of points each week. Avoid players that run the risk of putting up dud weeks. In general, go after consistent stats like targets and yardage totals while putting less stock in volatile stats like touchdowns.

    This isn't rocket science. ESPN's Tristan Cockcroft provides a great tool to help you get started.

7. Don't Panic

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    The first nine owners in your league all drafted running backs.

    Good thing you designed your draft strategy on landing a stud ball-carrier and pick 10th.

    This is exactly why spending too much time worrying about which positions and players to take when is a mistake. You don't know what will happen on draft day. Locking yourself into any one-game plan or setting your heart on any specific set of players is a recipe for disaster.

    Stay flexible. Keep an open mind. Expect that all will not go according to plan. It is advisable to have a plan going in. Just don't chain yourself to that plan.

    If you find yourself at the tail end of a position run, grab the top of a different position. Already have your elite WR in place? Grab another. That's much better than scraping up leftovers.

    Creating a surplus on your team also creates scarcity on others. Trading partners will line up when you have too much of the one thing they need.

    Creating tiers on your cheat sheets is also advisable. This helps you know if a position run has gone too far or not. It also reminds you Frank Gore and Michael Turner are basically the same player for fantasy purposes, even if your favorite team is the 49ers.

    Whatever you do, don't let your opponents know that your plan is crumbling before your eyes.

    Don't let your rival know he just took one of your sleepers. If you do, he will only charge you extra when you try to trade for him later. Same goes when everyone in the league knows you wanted to land a stud running back but missed out.

    Project confidence, even when you're not sure of anything. Touting a pick you actually hate may drive up that player's trade value later. At the very least it rattles your opponents when they too are scrambling to keep things together.

8. Don't Worry About Byes and Schedules

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    Draft the best player.

    That's it. That's all you need to focus on.

    Yes, take your own roster construction into consideration, but generally the best player will provide you the best value for your pick.

    Fretting details like overlapping bye weeks and strength of schedule will only lead you to compromise.

    Everyone seems to have their own preference when it comes to managing bye weeks. Some like them spread out. Others like them all at once. Arguments can be made for both sides.

    At most, byes and your personal preference on how to space them should be used as a tiebreaker between two players you value equally. They should never come as a reason to take a player you value lower than another.

    A lot can and will happen between your draft and each player's bye week. Trades and free agents will change your roster on a weekly basis. Prepare for overlapping byes a few weeks in advance, but don't do it draft day.

    Strength of schedule is an even worse reason to compromise. At least byes are a sure thing and not just pure perception. Did you circle San Francisco as a tough matchup last summer? How about Seattle? Surely you had St. Louis pegged as a tough team to pass on.

    All three teams finished 2011 ranked in the top 10 in total or passing defense. In that case, Larry Fitzgerald is a player to avoid in drafts because of that stingy NFC West he plays in. See how silly that sounds?

    One final note: Drafting two players with the exact same schedule is OK too. As long as you are drafting the best player available, worrying about rostering players from the same team on your fake team is pointless.

    It may feel like Chris Johnson steals touchdowns from Kenny Britt, but drafting a lesser RB or WR just to avoid that is a mistake.

9. Don't Rely on Unproven Rationale

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    The five-second rule.

    Where did that even come from? Why do clumsy eaters everywhere swear by it? Why is it ever accepted as sound reason without further investigation?

    The five-second rule simply supports a decision we want to make. There's no immediate way of proving or disproving its validity in the moment. At face value, it sounds at least half reasonable. So we spit it out of our mouths just before we put some bacteria-covered food from the floor in.

    Sorry, folks, the five-second rule is just another busted myth.

    Fantasy footballers are prone to drafting based on myths too. We come up with weak, unproven rationale to justify a selection we already want to make.

    ESPN's Christopher Harris examines some of those myths. Here are four fantasy football "crutch phrases" he says aren't actually true.

    1. Quarterback X has an advantage because he's always playing from behind. Running Back X is at a disadvantage because he's always playing from behind.

    2. You want Quarterback X because he plays for a team without a good running game. Those guys have to throw.

    3. Team X finally got a serviceable second wideout. That means the incumbent top receiver will see less double coverage and his production will rise.

    4. Don't draft Running Back X. He's not going to get any goal-line carries.

    You should have a reason for every pick you make on draft day. Just make sure those reasons are actually valid before leaning on them.

10. Don't Draft a Defense or Kicker Before the Last Two Rounds

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    Kickers need to be banished from fantasy football.

    I've lobbied for this change for several years now. The position is a total crapshoot.

    Yes, some kickers are better than others. If we must keep them around, accuracy needs to be a much bigger part of the equation. At least that requires and rewards evaluation of talent.

    The traditional scoring system for kickers, however, almost elusively rewards volume. This is a problem because predicting a kicker's volume of field goals and extra points from week to week is a fruitless endeavor.

    Isn't that what fantasy football is all about? Aren't fantasy football managers supposed to be rewarded for their ability to project statistical performance?

    So why do we include such an unpredictable position? Why do we reward this position based on opportunity instead of talent—opportunity they have no control over creating?

    Drafting kickers on high-scoring teams doesn't work. Five extra points doesn't amount to much. Good luck sorting through kickers on offenses that move the ball well but sputter in the end zone.

    For defenses we go back to ESPN's Matthew Berry.

    The top two picks for defenses last year were the Steelers and Packers. They finished 10th and 13th respectively. The top two picks in 2010? The Jets and Ravens, who finished at five and eight among defenses. That sounds OK until you realize the Ravens averaged 7.9 points per game, or just 0.8 points per game more than the No. 11 defense that year, the Titans, who averaged 7.1 points per game. In 2009, the top two defenses picked were the Steelers and Giants, and they finished 16th and 26th that year.

    I'm in favor in keeping team defenses around because you can actually evaluate the position's talent and be rewarded for it as the season progresses. Doing this over the summer is the tricky part.

    Don't reach for a kicker or defense. It's never worth it. Take a lottery ticket player instead and grab your kicker and defense with your last two picks.

    As Berry points out, here's a list of some other players who were drafted in Rounds 11-13 last year: Jimmy Graham, Matthew Stafford, C.J. Spiller, Michael Bush, Julio Jones, Roy Helu and Rob Gronkowski.

    Find me a kicker or defense with that kind of upside that you can identify in the preseason.

    Sure, plenty of total busts that quickly end up on the waiver wire are also drafted in Rounds 11-13. So are plenty of kickers and defenses.