The Definitive Blueprint for Drafting a Fantasy Football Champion
It's Christmas time for fantasy football enthusiasts.
As the calendar turns from June to July, fantasy draft season will begin in earnest, as friends and strangers from all across the land gather at watering holes, man caves or online to hold their league's draft.
Every one of these people have one thing in common: They all want to win.
However, the strategies that these fantasy owners will employ varies greatly. For every fantasy owner who swears by grabbing running backs early, there's another who loads up on wide receivers.
Then there's that weirdo who grabs a kicker in the fifth round, but he's also the guy who ate the paste in grade school.
However, if you're unsure of how to attack your draft, due to inexperience or a confidence-rattling faceplant in 2012, fear not! We're here to help, with an easy-to-follow, position-by-position blueprint for having a solid fantasy draft in 2013.
Average draft position data courtesy of My Fantasy League.
The first key to a great draft happens before the draft: You have to do a little homework.
Quit crying, it's not that bad.
First, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the league's scoring and roster requirements.
Does your league start two wide receivers or three? Is there a "flex" spot? Does your league give four points for passing touchdowns or six? Does it award a point for receptions?
All these factors can impact draft strategy. For example, if your league awards a point for catches, then a possession receiver like Jeremy Maclin of the Philadelphia Eagles gets a bump in value.
It may seem like common sense, but fantasy owners shoot themselves in the foot far too often by assuming they know the rules, only to find out after the fact that they were wrong.
Also, print out a cheat sheet to use during your draft. You don't necessarily have to agree with all of the rankings, but it will help you track who has and hasn't been drafted.
Do NOT use a cheat sheet from a fantasy football magazine. Magazines are entertaining, and they contain a number of good strategy articles, but their cheat sheets are usually woefully out of date.
You want one that reflects recent injuries and camp battles, and they can be found all over the Internet.
Thanks to the emergence of young stars like Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, the quarterback position is deep in fantasy football this year.
Avail yourself of that depth by waiting to draft your starter.
You can read this article here at Bleacher Report to get an in-depth feel for why waiting is a good idea, but the cliffs notes version is this.
The price you pay at running back and/or wide receiver for reaching for an elite quarterback early isn't justifiable in a year where quality starters such as Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys are available in the seventh round or later.
Fantasy football is all about value, and the value at the quarterback spot lies in being patient.
Overvalued: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (QB5)
Kaepernick was ninth among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game last year after taking over as the starter in San Francisco. He lost his top wide receiver when Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles, yet he's being drafted as a top-five fantasy option.
Undervalued: Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (QB9)
Robert Griffin was fifth among signal-callers in fantasy points per game last year, and his rehab reports have been overwhelmingly positive. Hedge your bet against his injured knee by drafting a quality backup a few rounds later.
Sleeper: Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (QB24)
Carson Palmer topped 4,000 passing yards for a terrible Oakland Raiders offense. This year, he plays in Bruce Arians' vertical passing offense and gets to throw the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. The 33-year-old is fantastic value as your fantasy QB2.
I have a mantra in fantasy football: You can never have too many running backs.
With the number of true work-horse running backs shrinking, the position has as much value as ever in fantasy football, and running backs will dominate the first round of your draft.
In fact, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green are the only two non-running backs with a first-round ADP at My Fantasy League.
Loading up at running back early is likely the safest course of action in fantasy drafts, especially for beginners. The backs will get picked over quicker than the clearance table on Black Friday at Walmart.
It's not a bad idea to make your first two (or even three, if your league has a "flex" spot) picks running backs. It's a rather conservative strategy, but it's also an effective one.
Depth at the position is also important, as injuries hit the running backs harder than any other spot.
If your star running back has a "handcuff," get him. Use some mid- and late-round picks on upside picks and sleepers.
There have been plenty of fantasy teams sunk by a lack of depth at running back, but I've never seen one trashed by having too many. At the very least you'll have valuable trade bait down the road.
Overvalued: Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns (RB4)
Trent Richardson scored double-digit touchdowns as a rookie, but nagging injuries limited him to under 1,000 yards on the ground, and he's already battling a shin injury this year.
Undervalued: Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers (RB22)
Frank Gore was a top-10 fantasy running back in fantasy leagues that awarded a point for catches last year, yet he's being drafted as a low-end RB2. Gore is a great fourth-round pick for teams that grab a wide receiver or tight end early and need a second starter.
Sleeper: Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams (RB46)
Zac Stacy gained over 1,000 yards against SEC competition at Vanderbilt last year. If the youngster wins the starting job in St. Louis in training camp, he has the talent to absolutely destroy this draft spot.
A good group of wide receivers is very important to a winning fantasy team. There are many fantasy experts who place just as much importance at the position as they do running backs and some that actually prefer stud wideouts to top-tier ball-carriers.
However, there's also a lot more depth at wide receiver than at running back, so in most cases you can find value later at this position than in the backfield.
Here's a good rule of thumb when it comes to drafting your wide receivers: You want to have at least one dependable weekly starter, a top-15 player who you can just plug into your lineup every week without giving it a second thought. These players can be found anywhere from the first round (Calvin Johnson) to the fourth round in players such as Vincent Jackson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For your second slot, you'll want another fairly dependable weekly starter such as Marques Colston of the New Orleans Saints (fifth round), Danny Amendola of the New England Patriots (a sixth-rounder on average whose value gets a big bump in PPR formats) or Greg Jennings of the Minnesota Vikings (seventh round).
As you can see, there's a wide range in which to draft that second receiver, leaving room for you to grab a quarterback and/or tight end.
Then, round out the group with undervalued veterans and upside plays. If one of those players emerges as your third starter (if you need three, that is), then great. If not, you can "rotate" that third spot based on matchups.
Overvalued: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (WR3)
Julio Jones is a phenomenal talent and is capable of taking over a game, but early in the second round is a hefty price to pay for a receiver who still has to compete with Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and now Steven Jackson for targets.
Undervalued: Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers (WR35)
Yes, he's 34 years old, but Steve Smith has topped 1,000 receiving yards and posted a top-20 fantasy finish in PPR leagues each of the last two years. He remains far and away the Carolina Panthers' best receiver.
Sleeper: Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers (WR50)
A broken ankle cost Vincent Brown the entire 2012 season, but he's healthy now and has been wowing the new coaching staff in San Diego with his precise route running.
The tight end position is a bit tricky in 2013.
The uncertainty cast over the position by Rob Gronkowski's back injury and Aaron Hernandez's arrest and release haven't just thrown the New England Patriots for a loop, it's done the same to fantasy football as well.
Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints is now far and away the top fantasy option at the position. Unfortunately, his second-round asking price reflects that, and his ADP will probably climb even higher.
Still, having a solid weekly starter can be a real advantage for fantasy football owners, especially casual players or those new to the game.
A solid course of action is to take a pass on the pricey Graham, but use a mid-round pick on a player such as Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys (fifth round), Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers (sixth round) or the ageless Tony Gonzalez (seventh round).
Overvalued: Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (TE7)
Kyle Rudolph caught nine touchdown passes in 2012 but still finished outside the top 10 in standard scoring fantasy leagues. For some reason, he's being drafted with the expectation that his fantasy numbers will somehow improve this season.
Undervalued: Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers (TE9)
Greg Olsen quietly finished sixth among tight ends in standard scoring formats last year. With a ninth-round ADP at My Fantasy League, Olsen is a fine consolation prize for fantasy owners who miss out on the higher-end tight ends.
Sleeper: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (TE27)
Rookie Travis Kelce is a better pass-catcher than Tony Moeaki and a better blocker than Anthony Fasano. He could be in the Kansas City Chiefs' starting lineup by Week 1 in an Andy Reid offense that makes significant use of the tight end.
Team Defenses and Kickers
It can be tempting to grab a so-called "elite" fantasy defense such as the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers.
Resist that temptation.
There are a couple of reasons why.
First, team defenses can be very unpredictable. Many times, the teams that enter the year ranked at the top don't finish there.
That makes picking defenses something of a crapshoot, and the middle-round pick needed to get the 49ers can be better spent on depth or a sleeper at another position.
Instead, simply grab a team late in your draft that has a favorable matchup or two to start the year. Then, when the matchups dry up, just grab another defense off the waiver wire and repeat the process.
A good place to start is the New England Patriots. The Patriots were a top-five defense in most scoring systems last year, they start the season with a pair of juicy matchups, and their current ADP is the 15th round.
So far as kickers go, it's easy.
Draft your kicker with your last pick. Period.
This blueprint is meant as a general guideline, and if you follow it, odds are good that the team it generates will be more than capable of competing for a playoff spot.
However, you have to be ready to deviate from a draft plan or even abandon it altogether if the situation calls for it.
Every draft is different. Team owners have differing opinions on players. A run on quarterbacks that starts in the third round of one draft may not start until the sixth round in another.
Fantasy football is all about value, and sometimes you have to change up on the fly when value presents itself.
That elite quarterback I said not to draft? If he's there in the fifth round, it becomes a pretty good idea. That running back you can't believe is still on the board in the seventh round who you don't really need? Grab him as depth or trade bait.
Take value when it comes and remain flexible during the draft, and when all is said and done, you'll be pleased with the final result.