There’s more than one way to win a fantasy football league. Some are just better than others.
Everyone has their own approach to drafting, but years of stats and numbers have taught us a lot about the best ways to go about forming a fantasy team. Injuries aside, predicting fantasy production isn’t as difficult as it once was.
You can study the waiver wire like a Where’s Waldo? book, but if you failed to draft well, producing winning results is an uphill battle.
As such, it’s important to have some smart drafting strategies in your pocket for selection day. Let’s take a look at some tried-and-true methods for acing the draft and giving your buddies a reason to play catch-up later in the season.
Running Back or Bust
There’s a case to be made for selecting Calvin Johnson or Aaron Rodgers in the first round, but as a rule, it’s typically a good idea to key in on running backs in the early rounds of the draft.
All fantasy production is reliant on touches. Apart from quarterback, there isn’t a skill position on the field that’s going to yield more touches than the running back position.
This year’s crop of fantasy backs is laden with feature backs capable of shouldering 30-plus carries per game and versatile three-down backs who are going to garner plenty of touches. With a deep group of worthy early-round rushers, there’s no reason to overlook the position in the formative rounds.
Last season, Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles were coming off ACL tears, Alfred Morris and Doug Martin were sleepers (at best) and C.J. Spiller was still an underutilized weapon giving false hope to fantasy owners everywhere.
None of those five are going to make it past the first round in most fantasy drafts this year.
Include Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster and Ray Rice on that list and you have the makings of perhaps the deepest group of top-tier running backs in recent history.
It’s easy to see that depth as a reason to wait until later rounds to select a starting running back, but it’s important to remember that depth is relative. If other owners are employing the same strategy, top-tier wide receivers and tight ends will be plentiful in later rounds.
Quality Over Quantity
One of the easiest drafting mistakes to make is selecting too much talent at a given position.
It may sound counterintuitive, but depth can sometimes be a bad thing, especially if the injury bug remains at bay and you’re left to decide which elite receiver to leave on your bench in a given week.
Depth is important, but at some point, leaving too many points on the bench can be both counterproductive and downright maddening. It’s better to spread the wealth and fill out the starting lineup before stockpiling players at a particular position.
The obvious caveat to that strategy is in the trade value of certain players, but there’s no guaranteed return for a player on the trade market. When in doubt, go with a starter and worry about depth later.
Kick the Habit
Unless your league’s scoring settings are designed to heavily favor kicking stats, there’s no reason at all to select a kicker before the final round.
Apart from the obvious imbalance in scoring between kickers and other positions, there’s also the matter of differentiating between an elite kicker and a guy who is going to self-destruct in the middle of the season.
Take David Akers, for example.
Akers has always been a solid NFL kicker, but he took the position to a new level in 2011 with a historic season of 44 successful field goal attempts, including nine of 50 yards or longer.
But Akers followed up that campaign with a putrid 2012 season in which he made just 29 of 42 attempts and seemed to lose all confidence in his abilities.
Anyone who selected Akers prior to the last round a season ago were probably more accurate kicking their remote toward the TV than Akers was splitting the uprights.
The point is this: The gap between the most productive fantasy kicker and the least is far too small to warrant wasting a pick on one before the final round, and it’s nearly impossible to predict at which end of the spectrum a given kicker is going to end up from year to year. Fill out your lineup, add some depth—add some more depth—and then worry about selecting a kicker.
Play the Value Game
Take your pick: Jimmy Graham or Cecil Shorts?
If you have a pulse, it probably didn’t take you long to pick Graham, but here’s the scary part: In a non-PPR format, Graham only outscored the Jacksonville Jaguars receiver by 13 fantasy points last season. Average draft positions varied by platform, but you can bet Graham was well ahead of Shorts in virtually every draft last season.
That’s not to suggest Shorts will have a similar season to Graham again in 2013, but there’s something to be said for not overvaluing top-tier players at lesser positions.
Graham is perhaps the only tight end (outside of an injured Rob Gronkowski) who is going to produce like a high-end receiver. Vernon Davis and Jason Witten are great players, but neither is going to match the value of some mid-level receivers who can be found in later rounds.
It’s easy to be lured into the trap of trying to fill out each starting spot with the best player at his position, but sometimes value suggests opting for a lower-caliber player at a more crucial position is the best decision.
When faced with a difficult choice involving players of different positions, ignore the temptation to get the best player at a specific position and instead focus on the numbers. Decide which player is more likely to produce better overall numbers by the end of the season and pull the trigger.