A Fantasy Football Draft: Discovering and Drafting "Diamonds in the Rough"

Chris DiLeoCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2009

This article assumes a 12-team, re-draft league.

When it comes to fantasy football drafts, even the least experienced players will know enough to pick quality starters in the first five rounds. As long as one is a football fan, he will know enough of the big-name players who generate yards and points.

There are usually a few popular rookie prospects mixed in with the well-known studs drafted during this period as well.

Following round five, players tend to start grabbing quality veterans who have proven to be consistent performers over the years. These are the ones whose production is slowing because of age, or they have always been considered “solid yet unspectacular.”

As the quality veterans quickly evaporate, fantasy players start filling out their starting lineup.

Any major skill position that's not drafted will fall into this category. Many times, this is when a player will draft his first quarterback or take a chance on a defense that is suppose to dominate in the upcoming year. As we get closer to round 10, it becomes a popular time to begin selecting the remaining highly-valued rookies.

By round 10, most players have drafted their starting lineups (except for kicker and perhaps defense). Now is the time to start filling out the backup positions with players considered average but who have the potential to shine.

Rounds 10-15 are also a good time to start drafting “sleepers” who are players expected to significantly out perform their projected ranking.

Assuming a draft is 20 rounds, there are usually about two or three picks that can be spent after round 15 on players that I like to classify as “diamonds in the rough” or DITR.

Before I continue, I must say that drafting a quality starting lineup and acquiring plenty of quality depth is of utmost importance. Without a solid foundation, DITR will not be of much help.

Similar to sleepers, DITR have the potential to perform like an early-round draft choice, which would make them a terrific value.

Most sleepers, however, eventually become bunched into a well-known group of players, and by September, most “sleeper lists” look about the same. This usually results in someone drafting a member of this group a little earlier than expected. When this happens, the value of that particular sleeper becomes diminished.

Unlike sleepers, DITR remain relatively unknown (or undesired) throughout the summer and right up until fantasy drafts in September. To be a true DITR, a player should not have an average draft position before the 15th round. In fact, many players that I target in this category end up undrafted, if I do not select them.

I personally spend a significant amount of time finding DITR to target in my drafts. These are guys that can turn a good season into a championship season.

If you can nail one, they either make it into your starting lineup, play an important role in bye weeks, or can be used in a trade to upgrade other player positions.

At worst, you can take your dud and use him as a cut when that necessary free agent move is inevitably required. Of course, success rates will be low, but as long as you can hit one out of three, it will pay big dividends.

I do not claim to have exclusive knowledge of these players. Other fantasy diehards who start their research in February are usually privy to the same information.

The fact remains, however, that a large majority of fantasy players start their research between June and September. Due to minimal preparation, most of these drafters start getting mentally tired toward the last quarter of the draft, and they often seem unsure of whom to pick. Meanwhile, I have a whole list of players that I cannot wait to select.

I always keep a list of potential DITR players. Players get added and crossed off of the list as news makes itself available.

I continually monitor the off-season performance of the prospects on this list. I use every news source possible and constantly update the rankings. I check out and analyze every positive report on a player and never dismiss a story as “just preseason hype”.

There are so many factors to be considered. The important thing is to always keep an open mind.

I consider not only production on the practice field, but a player’s attitude as well. When coaches rave about a player, it’s a good sign that this player may get plenty of opportunities on game day.

Pay attention to a player that says “the game has slowed down” in any interviews. This is a good sign the player will breakout.

I heard Roddy White mention this prior to his 2007 breakout year. Also, DeAngelo Williams said it prior to his stellar 2008 campaign. Williams was not a sleeper by any means, but it shows what happens when a young player catches up with the speed of The NFL, both mentally and physically.

Also, injuries to certain players opens the door for others (think Steve Breaston).

Some of the more productive DITR players that I have drafted throughout the years include: Keary Colbert and Michael Clayton in 2004, Greg Jennings and Tony Sheffler in 2006, Wes Welker and Selvin Young in 2007, and Kevin Walter in 2008.

All of these players helped me tremendously in varying degrees.

Walter and Sheffler came up big in isolated cases when I needed them.

While everyone had their radar on Randy Moss, I managed to scoop up Welker in the 16th round, and he was a beast as one of my starting wide receivers.

Selvin Young helped me in a couple of important games down the stretch of 2007.

Greg Jennings got off to a hot start in 2006, and I was lucky enough to trade him in a package deal before he got hurt. The trade helped me land Carson Palmer.

Believe it or not, Colbert and Clayton had productive years in 2004, and I was able to package them in a trade to get Edgerrin James.

Keeping track of lesser known, unwanted players has other advantages.

For example, last year I drafted Courtney Taylor of Seattle as one of my DITR. Another player on this list whom I did not draft was Antonio Bryant of Tampa Bay.

I really liked what I saw and heard about Bryant in the preseason. In the end, I decided Taylor had better potential, so I passed on Bryant, who ended up going un-drafted.

In week three of 2008, Bryant had a 10-reception, 138-yard performance at Chicago. Many felt this was a fluke performance. Having already targeted Bryant, I decided to act quickly and pick him up in free agency.

Seeing that Taylor was struggling as a starter, I cut him and picked up Bryant. Fantasy players in this league heckled me for picking up “a one-week wonder”.

By week nine, most of the guys in this league were offering me trades for Bryant. Some of them complained about how I always seemed to “get lucky.” I did not bother explaining to any of them that the decision to pick up Bryant began in April.

As the spring approaches, I will begin to publish my DITR lists for each position. As mentioned, these lists will be continually updated.

It is a long process but a worthwhile endeavor.  


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