25 Things You Absolutely Must Know for Your Fantasy Football Draft
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Adrian Peterson will get picked No. 1 in your fantasy football draft—only that much is clear.
After that, everything figures to spew out like guts from a tauntaun's belly.
We give you a comprehensive guide to making sense of the quickly unfolding madness right here. After you consume The Complete 2013 Fantasy Football Primer at Bleacher Report and bone up on all the sleepers, busts and breakouts, we give you the top 25 things to take with you from the offseason movement, training camps and preseason action as you get set to prepare for your draft.
In this article, you will find big-picture fantasy thoughts like:
- Quarterbacks are not getting as much love in the early rounds anymore, as everyone is buying into the theory of the late-round quarterback.
- Also, a lot of elite running backs are in new offensive systems like Jamaal Charles, C.J. Spiller, LeSean McCoy, Trent Richardson, Steven Jackson, Matt Forte and Reggie Bush.
- Old age leads to injuries and breakdowns.
With all this in-depth analysis and knowledge, there is no way you won't be the most prepared person at your draft table. Grab a beverage and a snack and take a journey with us through fantasy football 2013 in this slideshow.
* All average draft position (ADP) statistics courtesy of ESPN.com's standard-league live draft results page, unless otherwise noted.
1. Everyone Is Waiting on Quarterbacks
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The quarterback position is deeper than it has ever been, and there is also a bigger clump at the elite tier.
In a standard league, you can be the last to pick your quarterback and still wind up with a very good one.
Everyone in your draft knows there are 12 upper-echelon fantasy starting quarterbacks, so they are going to be less willing to pull the trigger on one in Round 1, 2 or even 3.
This means that even if you like to zig when everyone zags—go Robert Frost and take the road less traveled—you can still do it a bit later. Outside of two-quarterback leagues, you don't have to draft Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees early.
You will be nearly as competitive taking Peyton Manning and Cam Newton a round later. Matt Ryan, Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Matthew Stafford might even last through Round 5 in the heaviest of quarterback friendly leagues.
That fails to even mention the fact that Tony Romo and Andrew Luck are available, too.
2. Arian Foster Is Just Fine, Thank You
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Reports of Arian Foster's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
After being the most heavily used running back the past three seasons, Foster took the preseason off amid issues with his calf and back. There was always time to get ready for the season, though, and he is on target to be full-go for Week 1 at San Diego, according to Kristie Rieken of the Associated Press.
Consider his light workload a well-deserved break and keep him among your top three running backs to target in drafts. Don't let him slip out of the top five.
3. Super Bowl Champs Are Still Ray Rice's Team
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What happened to the phrase: to the victor go the spoils? Amid the Ravens' offseason and training camp, the reigning Super Bowl victors have merely spoiled.
Sure, Joe Flacco got paid like a Super Bowl champion, but Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers and Dennis Pitta (hip) is potentially lost for the season. The Ravens didn't prioritize wide receiver or tight end in the draft or free agency either.
Clearly, they are planning to be a run-heavy team. Ray Rice is still the front man to lead that attack.
Sure, Bernard Pierce is coming off a nice postseason, but Rice shouldn't be falling out of the top-five picks in fantasy this year. However, his ADP of 5.6 makes it seems as though it may be trending that way in most leagues.
Keep Rice among the elite, though. Even if Pierce emerges as a viable fantasy option, the Ravens are going to run the ball often and run it well.
4. Andy Reid Can Make the Chiefs Relevant Again
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Although Andy Reid's time with the Eagles ended with many of his fantasy standouts going bust a year ago, you have to like the talent he has to work with in Kansas City now. And no one is getting more love than breakaway back Jamaal Charles.
Fantasy owners have endured years of frustration waiting for a regime to give Charles the appropriate amount of touches and to do it week to week. Reid has made fantasy stars out of Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy in Philly.
The only question know concerns the slight-statured Charles—at least in terms of starting NFL running backs—and whether or not he is prepared for the pounding he will take. Take Charles just after the sturdier likes of Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice are off the board.
5. Bills Will Run Spiller 'Until He Throws Up'
The Bills have quarterback issues—at least until first-round rookie EJ Manuel (knee) is able to play—but fortunately, new head coach Doug Marrone is bringing a run friendly system to Buffalo.
New offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said it best to WGR 550 Sports Radio in an interview this preseason:
It's real simple. We're going to give him the ball until he throws up. So he's either got to tap out or throw up on the field. Let's just put it that way.
That quote needs to be posted somewhere in the fantasy Hall of Fame—if there is such a place. Fantasy owners have to love to hear that Fred Jackson will no longer be stealing time from one of the most exciting breakaway backs in the game.
Spiller is No. 7 in SI.com's top 300, but only because you cannot be sure of the Bills' overall offensive success or Spiller's ability to handle a full-season, feature-back workload for the first time.
6. Chip Kelly Brings Tempo to Philly
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Among the new coaches this year, no one generated a bigger buzz about the new wrinkles he can bring to fantasy football this season than Oregon's Chip Kelly, who is now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kelly turned college defensive coordinators on their ear with his fast-paced attack over the past half-decade, and he has always been a run-heavy head coach, even if it was out of the college spread offense.
LeSean McCoy expects his lungs and body to be tested, but he knows that he cannot do it all himself, telling PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
You're going to need another back in this offense. This is the kind of offense where it's not a debate, 'Oh, I could do it myself,' because, one, you're going to do more plays than any other offense, even in practice ... For two, the amount of hits. You're running so much. If you're faking it or you're running it, or if it's a pass or not, you're constantly going. I think any back, no matter how great of a shape that he's in, he's going to need some extra help. I know that, and Bryce (Brown) is good enough that he can play. I think every team has two good backs if you look around the league and I think Bryce is good enough and I'm confident in myself that I think us together will work well. In this offense, you need another back. And don't be surprised if Chris Polk gets some carries because you're running so much it's like a freaking track meet. It's like a relay, you need extra guys.
Despite all this talk of tempo, McCoy is consistently being taken as an early second-round pick in most standard, 12-team formats. That should just not be, as he is still the bell cow in this offense and deserves to go in the first round.
Remember, Brown is the mere handcuff, albeit one of the first backup running backs that should come off the board in drafts.
7. Where's the Love for Alfred Morris?
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Imagine if Trent Richardson rushed for 1,610 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Where would he go in most drafts? Perhaps No. 2 overall? Heck, some might consider him over the older Adrian Peterson.
Everyone has forgotten that the aforementioned numbers were those of Alfred Morris last season, and since when did a rookie running back post that kind of season and not even get picked in the first round of a fantasy draft?!
Apparently this year, as he currently has an ADP of 12.5. Ouch.
He should be going off the board in the top 10, perhaps even before the shakier second-year back Richardson. Also, Morris runs behind a great offensive line and is in a run-heavy scheme, even if he doesn't impact fantasy through the passing game.
8. Brandon Marshall Admits He's Not 100 Percent
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Usually, if you ask Brandon Marshall how good he is, you would expect an arrogant reply that says he is the greatest of all time. That is what makes Marshall's comments this week regarding the fact that he is not fully recovered from hip surgery so alarming.
His ADP of 21.6 should scare you, especially since the following is coming from a man who is usually so self-assured. Via CBS Chicago:
I'm not where I want to be right now. It's a little frustrating. But we'll see. ... Some people might think I need to be farther on than where I am, so it's a little frustrating not being where I want to be right now and maybe being pushed a little bit.
Although we usually avoid making a rash decision on fantasy value this close to a draft, this is enough to avoid Marshall in the early part of Round 2, and perhaps even late in Round 1 in PPR formats.
9. Chicago Bears Have an Offensive Mindset Now
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While we should be a little bit worried about Brandon Marshall's hip, the Bears offseason move away from famed defensive coach Lovie Smith to the offensive-minded Marc Trestman and the West Coast offense could end up being one of the biggest game-changers in fantasy football this season.
It should be most influential in regards to the production of Matt Forte, particularly in his involvement as a pass-catcher. Those that use the West Coast offense like to pass the ball to backs in space, and Forte is one of the best backs in the NFL as a receiver.
It should mean far better offensive numbers from the Bears, and perhaps a little less fantasy awesomeness from an aged Bears defense.
10. There's Only One Football in Denver
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Everyone is seemingly in love with Wes Welker in Denver, but there just cannot be the same kind of production waiting for him in Denver that there was when he was Tom Brady's go-to target in New England.
So if you are picking a pecking order in terms of targets, it should go Thomas, Welker and Decker. But, outside of PPR formats, if you are picking based off of overall fantasy production, Welker should be a clear No. 3.
As I stated a few weeks ago, Welker has the potential to go bust for fantasy owners now that he's no longer his team's No. 1 option.
11. 30-Year-Old Running Backs Are Dangerous
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The decline of 30-year-old running backs in fantasy annuls is well known. Still, some of the Bleacher Report message board posters don't buy it.
Those people probably haven't turned 30 yet, or they watch too much ESPN. They might have even read this story by Brian Gramling on ESPN.com.
Don't buy into 30-year-old running backs at their draft position, though, particularly heavily used ones like Steven Jackson, Frank Gore and Darren Sproles. It is notoriously a bad strategy.
Jackson, Gore and Sproles will only be on this writer's fantasy teams if 11 other drafters let them slip a round or two later. That won't happen, though.
12. Draft Your TE Like You Draft Your QB
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It was enough to get them to forget Graham was a broken-down disappointment at his elevated draft position a year ago.
Liking a player more because of the decline of others is an odd reason to increase a player's fantasy value, particularly when you can get good value at tight end later in the draft.
Like quarterback, you start just one tight end, and there are 32-plus starters at the position in the NFL. The late rounds can net you a suitable starter while you load up on running backs and receivers at Graham's ADP (27.7).
One of my favorite mantra's this year is to draft your tight end like you draft your quarterback. If you like to swim against the current and pick your quarterback early, go ahead and pick Graham early, too. You already cost yourself an elite running back or wide receiver, so you might as well hit those positions with quantity over quality later instead of the upper-tier leftovers.
13. Sean Payton Is Back, but He's No Doctor or Fountain of Youth
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It is easy to see how the return of Sean Payton from a full-season suspension can be a boon for the Saints' fantasy prospects this season. It is much tougher to see the end before it smacks you in the face, though.
Easily the most despised of my preseason predictions was the labeling of Drew Brees as a potential bust among quarterbacks. Frankly, I expected to catch more flak for calling new-wave quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson 2013 disappointments.
If you have read the two previous slides, you noticed the warnings on Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham. Also, do not forget that Marques Colston is 30 years old. Also, as noted by Larry Hodler of NOLA.com, Colston is not feeling 100 percent either, as he has been dealing with a chronic foot issue.
So, if Sproles, Graham and Colston all have their arrows pointing down, that must mean Brees' will, too.
14. Larry Fitzgerald, We Have Missed You
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Bruce Arians' famed vertical passing game made an instant star out of Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, but it is perhaps overlooked what he did for 30-something receiver Reggie Wayne.
Say what you will about Carson Palmer in the clutch or his intestinal fortitude, but the Cardinals picked up a gunslinger to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball this offseason. Fitzgerald turns 30 years old on August 31, but he shapes up to be a steal at his Round 3 draft position (34.1).
Fitzgerald can be a 120-catch, 1,500-yard, 12-touchdown monster again under Arians, especially for a team that figures to be playing a lot of catch-up.
15. DeMarco Murray Is Healthy
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Unlike injury-risk backs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, we should really like DeMarco Murray's potential to defy the odds and finally stay healthy for a full season. Also, the Cowboys know they need to take the pressure off Tony Romo this season, and they intend to do it with the running game.
Murray is headed for a season in which he will finish among the top-10 fantasy running backs, with around 1,200 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.
Make sure to pull the trigger on him late in Round 2 when everyone starts turning to wide receivers.
16. A Few Third-Year Wide Receivers Will Erupt in 2013
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It is a long-held fantasy theory that Year 3 is the coming of age season for a wide receiver. It is the year that receivers are finally comfortable with the speed of the NFL, the complexities of NFL offenses and the trust of their quarterback and play-caller.
I am a big proponent of the third-year receiver breakout candidates each year, and this year's class is real exciting:
- A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
- Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
- Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
- Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens
- Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers (pictured above)
- Greg Little, Cleveland Browns
- Jon Baldwin, San Francisco 49ers
- Jeremy Kerley, New York Jets
- Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders
17. Reggie Bush Will Be a PPR Monster
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Everyone loves Darren Sproles as the leading receiving running back in PPR leagues, but Reggie Bush deserves a look in the second round of those formats.
Bush enjoyed a huge preseason Week 3 against New England, and he projects to be an 80-catch back in that pass-happy Detroit Lions offense alongside Matthew Stafford.
The Lions might not use Bush at the goal line and might not run the ball that much, but Bush can be dynamic on that Ford Field turf. He will also be running in the open space created by all of the coverage that rolls over to Calvin Johnson.
18. Danny Amendola Is the New Wes Welker
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Fantasy owners tend to place too much emphasis on what they have seen, not what will be.
For those that often opine about Danny Amendola's injury-plagued career to date, they seem to forget that Wes Welker was a relative unknown castoff from the poor Miami Dolphins before he became a fantasy superstar with Tom Brady.
Danny Amendola will be next.
With Brady having lost his top-five receivers from a year ago (if you count Rob Gronkowski as being "lost" right now due to injury), Amendola is the new go-to guy for one of the greatest quarterbacks this game has ever known. "Gronk" figures to be back in mid-September, but it won't change the fact Amendola fits right in as Welker's replacement working out of the slot.
Amendola is headed for a huge year, injury-risk be damned.
19. Don't Get Sucked in on Read-Option Hype
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We have alluded to this in earlier slides, but the read-option is not the most effective offensive scheme in the NFL right now; it is just the most trendy.
Consider it more like the no-huddle, as it is a mere tool and not the entire toolbox.
It also has made instant stars out of Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. These young quarterbacks are exciting, but they are more likely to be overrated coming off their exciting stretch runs than true fantasy values at their draft positions.
Cam Newton was drafted in the second round last year, but he rated as a fantasy disappointment until his team scrapped the read-option as its base attack and went to a more traditional scheme in the latter portion of last season.
The NFL is still a dropback passing league. Pick a dropback passer to be your fantasy quarterback and let others take last year's breakout scramblers.
20. Rob Gronkowski Is Going to Return and Star
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While we did say to hold off drafting tight ends early, we said it with the idea that Rob Gronkowski's back surgery has dropped him to a much lower draft position (52.2) than he would have had if he were fully healthy.
Gronkowski might not be ready until Week 4 at Atlanta, but the moment he steps on the field, he becomes the most intriguing tight end in fantasy.
Tom Brady needs someone to throw to, and Danny Amendola isn't the red-zone threat that Gronkowski is. Rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld, who has had a terrific preseason, is merely a placeholder for Gronkowski.
If he falls into Round 5, you have to pull the trigger on him.
21. RG3 Is Going to Be Ready for Week 1
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Yes, we did say beware of the new-wave quarterbacks at their draft position, but injury risk has Robert Griffin III being drafted at a reasonable level.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Griffin III will start Washington's season opener. When healthy, RG3 is a top-five fantasy quarterback. The position is such that you can take the risk on RG3 and still back him up with a matchup friendly quarterback like Eli Manning, Michael Vick or Ben Roethlisberger.
RG3's suppressed draft position is yet another reason to wait on quarterbacks this year.
22. Show Me the Money!
Hakeem Nicks is injury prone and has had another slow start to training camp, but he is entering the holy grail of seasons for fantasy owners: a contract year.
There is not a great class of impending free agents this season, but if you like to follow the money trail in fantasy leagues, you will want to pick the Giants' Nicks just after the top-15 fantasy receivers are off the board. A healthy Nicks is potentially a top-five producer at the position.
A contract year just might be the motivation for him to prove that.
23. Montee Ball Is the Only Starter-Worthy Rookie Pick
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There is value in this year's rookie class, but it mostly lies in the depth it provides to fantasy rosters.
Montee Ball is the only rookie fantasy player that should be slotted as a starter in lineups come Week 1. This bit of advice even comes with a bit of risk, too, as Ball still hasn't even put away Ronnie Hillman for the Broncos' starting job yet.
If you exclude Le'Veon Bell, who has a mid-foot sprain that might keep him out through Week 6, here are the projected top five rookies:
24. Kenbrell Thompkins Will Be No. 1 Rookie WR
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The New England Patriots drafted Marshall's Aaron Dobson in Round 2 and Texas Christian's Josh Boyce in Round 4, but undrafted rookie free agent Kenbrell Thompkins has stolen the show in training camp practices and the preseason games.
Thompkins enters the season as Tom Brady's No. 2 target after Danny Amendola and will wind up being the most productive rookie fantasy receiver this year. First-round pick Tavon Austin won't be a red-zone threat and will run underneath routes in a mediocre offense, while Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter are far too raw.
DeAndre Hopkins and Keenan Allen are interesting in their offenses, but nobody makes more out of less with his receivers than Brady. Target Thompkins after you have your three solid starter-worthy running backs and wide receivers and a quarterback on your roster.
25. Ryan Mathews Is Finally Going to Come Through
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It is Murphy's law: You have finally given up praying for a huge year out of Ryan Mathews, and this is exactly the wrong time to do that.
Mathews is still young, 25, and now his draft position (64.1) has come down to a reasonable level. You might not trust him as a fantasy starter, but you also might be able to finally pick him as a fantasy reserve this season.
This just figures to be the year that some know-nothing fantasy chump lucks out because of Mathews' suppressed draft position and reaps the rewards of 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Mike McCoy, the Chargers' new head coach, made 30-year-old Willis McGahee fantasy worthy a year ago along with longtime bust Knowshon Moreno.
Go back to the well on Mathews.
Note: We are not saying the same thing for Darren McFadden, even if he's in a contract year. The Raiders are going to stink.
Bonus Slide: Defense Wins Championships! ... ???
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Defense won't win you a fantasy championship in the way you think it will, and you should not draft Richard Sherman's Seattle Seahawks defense and expect to shut down your opponent.
Instead, you steer clear of facing the top defenses in the NFL, particularly those that stuff the run.
Avoid drafting offensive players that play in NFC West or AFC North, or even the ones who will face those rugged defensive divisions this year. And, throughout the season, consider benching your non-stars against the stalwart defenses.
And, if all else fails and you choke away your draft, you have the waiver wire and defensive matchups every week to bail you out.
Anyone can play fantasy football, and anyone can win—especially if you follow these top 25 things that you absolutely must know before your fantasy football draft.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.