Is it a coincidence that Spygate and Bountygate were both committed by Super Bowl champions? Why do NCAA recruiting violations only seem to occur at major BCS programs like USC, Ohio State and Auburn—and not at Coastal Carolina?
The answers to these questions could make for a provocative philosophical debate on the relationship of morality and success in the realm of professional sports, maybe even in society as a whole. Or we can just say that in the world of football, winning and breaking the rules aren't always mutually exclusive.
Football has become a win-at-all-costs game, and if you want to keep up with the pack you need to be prepared to massage the rules. The following is a list of suggestions for when honesty, integrity and the "right way" just aren't enough. Consider it the pocket sand of fantasy football draft strategies.
1. Spreading Misinformation
The less your opponents know about your intentions, the better. This concept may seem simple—even obvious—but maximum success requires total commitment. The next few weeks of summer will increasingly lead to fantasy football conversations, and you should be selling as many untruths as possible.
Believe it or not, knocks exist against every player ("Arian Foster lost 40 percent of his offensive line. No thanks."). Make those negatives your public position for everyone you're targeting. Likewise, fall in love with the players you hate with the hope that someone else will reach for them ("Michael Turner was the sixth best running back last year!"). The name of the game is red herrings, and you want more than a Pup Named Scooby-Doo marathon.
As long as your information is valid and your resolve is firm, even the most false or misleading argument will be accepted.
For example, I've made it common knowledge that I can't wait to draft Aaron Rodgers with the fourth overall pick. When I unexpectedly take Ryan Mathews, the rest of the league will scramble to readjust the plans they've so carefully crafted all summer. (If anyone from my league is trolling here, this may just be part of an elaborate long con to convince you I'm not taking Rodgers.)
2. Honing Your Smack
Smack talk may not be an art, but it can be a weapon. Contrary to popular belief, the best smack talk isn't necessarily clever, funny or offensive. The best smack talk is well-informed.
Fantasy football drafts are already high stress environments, with weeks or even months of preparation coming to a head in a singular event that will directly affect the next year of your life. That's a lot of pressure.
The best way to increase the stress on your rivals is to point out just how poorly they're doing. Again, this is when it comes in handy to know the downside for every player. However insignificant, if you can make others begin to doubt or second guess themselves, your situation is improved.
Ideally, you want to engage them in your smack talk. Get people to explain and defend their picks. This is especially effective on self-styled fantasy gurus. These guys actually know a lot about the game, and they can't wait to educate you. While the Jamaal Charles owner is busy telling you how well Eric Winston fits in Kansas City's zone-blocking scheme, he won't be paying attention to the fact that you just stole Peyton Hillis.
3. Exploiting the Homer
Every league has a manager who just has to draft his home team's best players. Usually camped at the bottom of the yearly standings, he isn't playing to win—he's playing to have a good time. He's a fan first, and a fantasy footballer second. There's an old saying about a fool and his money, but basically you just want to draft his favorite players before he gets the chance.
In my league, the homer is a dependably wide-eyed Minnesotan. Thus, I'm making it a point to draft Adrian Peterson. And Percy Harvin. And Toby Gerhart. Hell, even Randy Moss. I may have to reach for them, but I know that I'll be able to get above-market value in return. Homerism is so strong and so predictable that extortion isn't just easy, it's too easy.
The point is that certain players may have esoteric value to certain managers. That value shouldn't be overlooked or underestimated, because a player is worth exactly what someone else will pay for him. It would be foolish not to exploit these opportunities.
Note: This strategy should be refrained from if your homer is a Dolphins fan. No one wants Brian Hartline.
4. Faking an Injury
Consider this an advanced technique. It has the highest degree of difficulty, the lowest probability of success, and the smallest payoff. Not to mention, if you're successful your ruse will be immediately known to the entire league. Still, it might just mean the difference in landing that big fish.
The premise is simple. Your favorite target is sitting atop the draft board, and your next pick is too far away. Rather than sit back and hope he slips, you get proactive. Concoct a false rumor about a minor yet nagging injury—something that might fly under the radar, but give other managers just enough pause to reconsider drafting him. Turf toe, muscle strains, groin pulls or even the dreaded concussion are all acceptable.
With precious seconds per pick, your buddies may not have time to debunk your claim, so they'll move on. When you surprisingly draft said player with your next pick, however, the jig is up. There will be backlash. But you'll have your guy.
It should also be said that the karmic implications of faking an injury are unclear. You will almost certainly be inviting a Maddenesque curse upon your player's head. Be warned.
5. Stockpiling Quarterbacks
There are two schools of thought on drafting a quarterback this season. Some say you need to spend a high pick on one of the five super elites. Others will tell you to wait; there are much better values to be had in the middle rounds.
Both arguments are sound, but for the discerning trader a third option exists: Draft as many quarterbacks as you can. Take Brady in the first, Brees in the second, Vick in the fourth and Rivers in the eighth. Collect as many top-10 quarterbacks as possible.
This may seem reckless, but there is method to the madness. You will monopolize the quarterback business. You now control 40 percent of the elite quarterback market, and you've diluted the second tier as well. Players like Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub and Carson Palmer will sit precariously atop depth charts. Anyone who wants an upgrade will have to go through you. For once, your trade offers will not be ignored.
If you don't have the stomach for spending your first two picks on quarterbacks, at least consider investing multiple mid-round picks at the position. Starting fantasy quarterbacks are more valuable commodities than middling talents like DeAngelo Williams or Robert Meachem. Depth is overrated, stock up on assets.