Fantasy Football 2012: 4 Draft Tips to Save Your Sanity This Season

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIAugust 27, 2012

Fantasy Football 2012: 4 Draft Tips to Save Your Sanity This Season

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    If you’re anything like me…

    You probably feel like an idiot. A lot. And you spend a TON of time studying midseason pick-ups. The waiver wire can feel like a maximum-security jail cell, minus the friendly roommate.

    I have some drafting strategies that have worked well for me in the past. They’ve worked so well that in 2007, I looked like a genius when I drafted LaDainian Tomlinson, Tom Brady and Randy Moss in the first three rounds. Never mind the fact that I traded away all three of those guys by Week 5 and missed the playoffs. We’re talking draft. And we won’t revisit those trades. Ever.

    The point is, I know how to draft. It’s not brain surgery or Scrabble. Drafting is a simple exercise in value-based investments. You need to visualize how each pick is going to play out and work to create the best product you can for the second half of the season, when all your early work starts to pay off.

    Here’s a little help. Consider this list a bunch of blank tiles for your fantasy game.

The 1st Round Is for Safe Picks

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    Matt Stafford put up ridiculous numbers last season, aided by a freakish robot named Megatron and a lot of opportunities to air it out in the fourth quarter. Make no mistake, Stafford could surpass last year’s numbers this season, but only if he can stay healthy. I don’t trust him week to week.

    Slotting Stafford in the starting spot and proceeding to watch the Lions play is kind of like realizing you left your wallet at Subway and praying to the BMT-on-wheat gods it’s still there when you go back.

    Stafford is tough, but he’s taken a beating—a lot of them, actually. Are you comfortable using your first-round pick on a guy who could be in a full-body cast by Week 14?

    I had the third pick in my annual “drinking buddies with a college problem” league last season. Those guys are ruthless when it comes to fantasy football, and unless you want to be introduced to cute bar girl as “our slow friend,” you don’t want to finish last. Don’t worry, I didn’t. (I was the jerk at the bars, by the way.) But only because I got lucky with some waiver adds late in the season. With the third pick, I selected Jamaal Charles. Ouch.

    Don’t be like me. Use that ultra-valuable first rounder on a guy who will produce for you until the end of the season. Boom-or-bust guys can be found almost anywhere in the draft. If you don’t make a wise selection in the first round, it’s hard to recover.

Forget New Trends. Running Game Is Everything

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    Hey, rocket scientist! What’s with Mars? And is the NFL a pass-happy league?

    Let’s be honest, you didn’t know much about Victor Cruz at this time last year. You certainly weren’t drafting him in the second round. You probably couldn’t even find him in the player pool. But by the end of the season, everyone knew all about Cruz and his salsa moves.

    NFL passers air it out more now than at any time in league history, and the wide receiver position is ridiculously deep because of it. Not to mention the dozen or so tight ends I’d love to have on my roster this year.

    Like I said, drafting is all about value and smart investing. Carolina’s Steve Smith is going as late as the fifth round in a lot of drafts right now. The fifth round, people.

    That said, the depth at running back dwindles every year. Only two backs carried the rock more than 300 times in 2011. Feature backs are few and far between, and it should be your goal to get one of the few available. Sure, future features are going to surface in 2012, but you may not be lucky enough to claim the next Arian Foster off waivers. Do the smart thing and lock up your rushing production early and often, then take advantage of the depth at receiver and tight end later in the draft.

Mo' Depth, Mo' Problems

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    Trying to set the optimal lineup can be maddening. This is coming from a guy who sat Cam Newton in favor of Tom Brady for nearly half the 2011 season. If you concentrate too intently on one position while neglecting others when drafting, you’re losing production in your starting lineup.

    Sometimes the value is there, and by making the right deals later, it can be easy to parlay those depth-adding selections into a better starting lineup. But remember, you can only start so many players, and you don’t want to leave too many points on your bench.

    I try to focus on drafting the best starting lineup I can (save defenses and kickers), and then I turn my attention to the bench. This strategy can prove risky if you get nipped by the injury bug too often, so you have to place a premium on handcuffs and sleepers. Maximizing production from your starters not only helps you win matchups, but also keeps you sane. Choosing between Dwayne Bowe and Ahmad Bradshaw for your flex spot every week seems like a dream scenario, but much like choosing between two beautiful ladies, you’ll likely walk away with some regret. The grass is only greener on the other side when you can actually see over the fence. Focus on your own lawn and make it as green as possible.

Kickers Come and Kickers Go… but They’re Still Just Kickers

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    If you’ve ever drafted a kicker before the last round, congratulations. I commend you for trying to atone for your fantasy football sins by reading this column. We’ll right that ship, kiddo.

    Let’s be honest, no one has ever credited their kicker for winning a fantasy league. Just like in real football, a kicker is either overlooked or he’s the goat for missing that 30-yarder you really needed. No one blames their kicker for putting up six fantasy points. Do you really expect more than that? These guys get hurt celebrating (see: Bill Gramatica).

    Save that final-round selection for your team’s PAT monkey. Unless 39-yard field goals are worth 10 gazillion points in your league, he’s not worth a selection in the first 15 rounds. Keep adding sleepers and handcuffs, mix in a solid defense or two and then turn your attention to the only guys on the football field who get better protection than the visiting cheerleaders.