Some fantasy drafts take things as seriously as the real thing.
Training camps are about to kick off, and we'll soon be getting ready for one of the most important parts of our football season.
No, not Week 1—fantasy football drafts. Armchair football coaches have a lot to get prepared for between now and their draft, and the following piece should serve as a good checklist for you as the time for your own fantasy draft approaches.
Some of these things may seem obvious, while others might not have occurred to you before. You should take a look at all of them for just a few minutes. If they apply to you, see what you can do to make sure you're ready.
Now some of you will think, "I don't need to read this slide." However, even if you think you know the general rules pretty well, there are always small things we forget or even never think to ask.
Don't just look the rules over to refresh your memory for scoring and how many players you can have per position. Look for an edge to use during or after the draft.
For example, do you need to have a complete starting lineup at the end of the draft? More specifically, do you need to end the draft with a kicker?
Maybe you think it sounds insane, but think about it for a second. Many owners wait until the last few rounds, if not their final pick, before they get a kicker. Sometimes it's the same with team defenses.
Now if you're waiting that long for those positions, you're not bent on getting the top player at them. Or at least, you don't care enough to stress about it.
If there is no rule stating you have to have a full starting lineup at the end of the draft you could pick up a kicker or defense just before Week 1 and instead use the last few rounds to pick up high-upside players who could emerge as during training camp.
So look and find those loopholes and make sure you know how to use them. Then be prepared for them to get closed next season.
Bill Belichick doesn't do anything without a clear plan. Neither should you.
Before you go into your draft, you should have a clear idea of what you want to do. You don't have to be completely hardcore about it and have charts, battle plans and secret code words for "crap, we're out of beer," but you should have more than "I'd really like to have Adrian Peterson and stuff" if you can help it.
Of course, like Belichick, you should be prepared for that plan to go to hell as soon as the first round commences. Don't be so locked into your plan that you can't adapt to things not going the way you want them to. Have multiple strategies.
For example, if you start out bent on grabbing one of the top three quarterbacks and they all go before your first pick (unlikely, but it's a hypothetical), there's no reason to freeze up. Just switch to the next plan and grab the running back or wide receiver that would inevitably fall because the quarterbacks went early.
Any good owner will remember that flexibility is the key to victory in any arena. So have a plan. Make sure it's a good one. And be ready for it to completely fall apart.
Of course, to make a plan, there are a few things you need to have to form the basis.
In a lot of fantasy leagues, Cam Newton was a top-five fantasy quarterback. In a lot of fantasy leagues, owners have no idea.
That's because they don't look to see who did well last season, and they almost never try to figure out why. Some of that comes from not examining the rules (see Slide 1), and some of it is confusing NFL wins and losses with fantasy value.
Whatever the reason is, you need to look over the scoring history of your league and find out who has done well over the past multiple years.
You'll also see who has been trending both upward and downward. Seeing a player trending downward is an enormous help—it's always better to bail on a guy a year early than a year too late. Ahmad Bradshaw and Ryan Mathews are good examples.
Both of their issues were largely injury related, though Mathews was pretty underwhelming even when he was healthy. Bradshaw's were consistently an issue for two years before the wheels completely came off last season.
Again, you could see that in your league's scoring history. You'd also have seen guys like A.J. Green on the rise. Take a few minutes to check out who did what over the last few years. You'll be happy you did.
Also, don't just check one league if you're in more than one. Just because a player did well in one league doesn't mean he didn't suck wind in another.
Last year, Doug Martin was a major surprise. Who will it be this year?
Everyone knows who the top performers will be at any given position. It's just a matter of whom you believe in more. The key to many a fantasy championship is actually the guys nobody knows.
Like Martin. Like Eric Decker, who was one of two receivers in Denver to break 1,000 yards. Or T.Y. Hilton, who became a big-play magnet for rookie-quarterback Andrew Luck.
See who is walking into a good opportunity. For Martin, he had only a little competition ahead of him in LeGarrette Blount, who we knew wouldn't be a full-time back.
With Hilton, he only had to split time with a streaky-at-best Donnie Avery for the second spot behind Reggie Wayne.
Eric Decker had led the team in receiving yards, but he was hampered by mediocre play by Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton.
All of them were well positioned for opportunity. And all three players looked good enough to expect at least good things due to their work in training camp.
That's the second half of this. After you decide which players have opportunity, you have to track them and then decide when you need to grab them.
You've looked at the rules and scoring; now it's time to start ranking your players. But before you do that, you need to think hard about which positions are the most important in your league.
Everyone tends to look at running back first, but in a point-per-reception league, you might lean toward wide receivers early. You might also do that if your league starts just one or two running backs compared to three or four wide receivers.
You may really want Aaron Rodgers in the first round—as I have said before, Rodgers is the only quarterback I'd take in Round 1—but if the league only gives you four points per touchdown, clearly going for him early will hurt you.
You're better off focusing on other positions that will score you more points and grabbing a quarterback later who can put up yards (Matthew Stafford comes to mind). On the other hand, in a two-quarterback-start league, you want to go early on a QB since the best will go early, and with two starting quarterbacks, you need guys you can rely on.
So before you even rank a player, you have to know which positions are more critical for your league. Otherwise, your rankings will be off the moment your pen hits paper.
You know the high-value positions for your league, and you know the order in which you'd grab them after creating your rankings. The question now is: Who can't you live without?
Every owner has players he really believes will hit it big. Some of them might be players from Slide 4—guys ready to bust out. Some might be players who have been reliable for you before and whom you know you can count. Some are guys on your favorite team.
Hey, we don't judge here at Bleacher Report. Whatever your reasons, these are guys you have to have on your roster by the end of the draft.
Right now David Wilson is on a lot of owners' lists. He fits the profile well—a guy in good position to bust out on an explosive team. Not high among the elite running backs, but definitely a player with the potential to get a lot of carries and see a few stacked fronts.
He's a "must-have" for many owners. Who are yours? Know them before draft day, and don't leave the bar without them.
Michael Vick may be an easy call here, but he's a great example. He's a player who can put up fantasy points each year, but also has enough injury worries to drop him down in drafts.
Appearances can be deceiving, especially if your draft happens before the end of training camp. Vick may not even end up starting for the Philadelphia Eagles and will get pushed hard by Nick Foles. He's also got rookie Matt Barkley to contend with.
Even if Vick manages to win the job, he probably won't have a long leash. He's not the long-term answer for the Eagles, and they'll want to see what Foles can do in new coach Chip Kelly's offense. They may even toy with Barkley if he looks OK in practices and the Eagles struggle enough. Avoid Vick.
Of course, there are far more players to avoid beyond Vick. You need to look at the rules of your league, look at the scoring history of it and then research.
You need to know who is not in a safe or stable position, who is coming off severe injury, who has been scoring fewer and fewer points over the last few years, whose offense is changing...check all the variables and then make a list of guys you will never, ever draft.
Every owner in your league—including you—has a tendency that can be exploited.
This is harder to do for someone new to the league. However, once you've been through a few drafts with a league, you get a pretty good idea of who will do what.
This can be even more critical for leagues that draft live and in person. Aside from knowing which guy will drink too much and make regrettable draft picks, you'll know whom you can rattle with constant trash talk or chatter, who is easily distracted by other things (television, waitresses) and miss guys he wants, as well as guys who just make their plans up as they go along. Who will inevitably draft a ton of guys off his favorite NFL team?
Whether the draft is live and in person or slow and over email, though, knowing the other owners can help you get an idea of how your draft will play out.
If you know that the league tends to favor a run at wide receiver early, maybe you focus on grabbing the top tight end and a quarterback. If running backs always fly off the board, maybe you make your second pick a receiver.
Preparation is the key to victory—so be prepared and know your enemy!
ESPN's Matthew Berry is the godfather of fantasy football. Without him, we might all be spending our day doing something else useful with life instead of pouring over rankings and computer screens all fall.
That said, even the esteemed "Talented Mr. Roto" himself can whiff. For years, Berry talked down Adrian Peterson. He said not to draft him and severely undervalued the Minnesota running back.
Here was Peterson putting up top-10 fantasy RB numbers every season, and Berry kept saying "nope, avoid him" each year. Even after tearing his knee up in 2011, Peterson was a top-10 back. This isn't to cap on Berry, as you can look at virtually every expert's rankings and see misses every season.
This is why (and Berry himself will tell you): At the end of the day, you have to do your own work. If every single year you saw Peterson on Berry's no-list and every year it felt wrong, and you still followed that piece of advice, whose fault is that?
It's incredibly useful to read all the rankings you possibly can. Go read Berry's stuff, then head to Footballguys and read the staff rankings. Then go to Pro Football Focus for their fantasy stuff, then over to any number of sites that do great work.
Then make up your own mind.
You have to run this team. Experts' rankings are a tremendous basis to form your own opinion. Hey, these guys spend more time doing nothing but watch football than most fantasy owners—they're informed and involved.
But they aren't infallible. The only person responsible for your wins and losses is you. So do your work and don't follow the crowd. Even if the expert has a book deal or magazine.
Maybe the piece should have opened with this since, unless you do this, the rest isn't going to matter.
Oh, most owners are pretty sure they know the NFL. Yet every year you hear of horror stories (maybe comedies) from some friend's draft where some guy drafted a retired/injured/free-agent player, and every year you roll your eyes.
Of course, that's the most egregious and over-the-top type of story and doesn't apply to most. It's the little things that most owners miss.
Being a casual fan is fine for fantasy if you're in a casual league. You get by with a list of players, usually cobbled together from a few magazines or websites, perhaps with a somewhat-current team depth chart so you know who is where. You may even know a team intimately. After all, you're probably a huge fan of at least one team, right?
If you want to win (especially in better leagues or contests), you have to do more.
You have to know more about what teams are doing offensively, how their schedules look, how the division is shaping up and whether the stud player with the Achilles injury is really going to be 100 percent (and even if he is, if the team is likely to use him like he's healthy or protect him).
You need to know if a quarterback will have a short leash and what it will mean for the wide receiver you have targeted for the fourth or fifth round if he gets benched. You need to know about the offensive line's new blocking scheme and how it's going to get a quarterback killed or free the running back up by clearing running lanes.
You have to know if the read option is really the majority of San Francisco's offense (it's not) and if the Packers did enough to counter it when they see it (they look like they haven't).
There's knowing the NFL and there's knowing the NFL. The former is nice—it's the latter that wins championships.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.