Things Owners Should Know Before Preparing for a 2014 Fantasy Football Draft

Kristopher KnoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2014

Things Owners Should Know Before Preparing for a 2014 Fantasy Football Draft

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Believe it or not, the 2014 NFL season is almost upon us. Training camps are right around the corner and the annual Hall of Fame game is a mere three weeks away. For millions of fantasy football owners, of course, this only means that it is draft preparation time.

    Smart roster management, astute waiver monitoring and a little bit of good old fashioned luck can help you along the way to a fantasy championship. However, most fantasy titles are won or lost on draft day.

    Winning on draft day requires the right kind of preparation. The ultimate goal here is to head into the draft with a clear idea of the players you want to target and when to target them.

    Familiarizing yourself with player rankings (like this one from NFL.com) is a way to start. However, there are plenty of other factors that should impact how you approach your draft and your personalized draft board should be constructed to reflect them.

    These are the factors we will address over the next few pages. There will be no player previews or strict draft guidelines in this article because league and draft formats can vary greatly. This is a list of things fantasy owners must know before preparing for their own individual drafts.

Know Your Scoring System

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    Before preparing a personalized draft board, a good fantasy owner must know which positions hold the greatest value in terms of fantasy scoring. In order to determine the most valuable positions, you must first understand your league's scoring system.

    A quick look at this page from ESPN.com should give you a good idea what you can likely expect from standard and customized scoring formats. 

    Does your league award additional points per reception (PPR)? If so, then it makes sense to add value to that receiver who catches 100 passes per season, even if he doesn't find the end zone on a regular basis. Running backs who are regularly utilized in the passing game should hold more value in PPR leagues than in leagues with standard scoring formats (see example below).

     

    Jamaal Charles 2013 ScoringYDS RushingRecYDS RecTotal TDsTotal Points
     1,2877069319 
    Points via Standard Scoring128.7069.3114312
    Points vis PPR Scoring128.77069.3114382

    Does your quarterback get six points for a touchdown pass instead of four (see example below)? If so, then you might want to target your starting signal-caller a round or two earlier then you would otherwise. The same holds true for a quarterback who gains a point for every 10 or 20 yards passing instead of every 25.

     

    Andy Dalton 2013 ScoringYDS PassingTDsINTsFumTotal Points
     4,29333203 
    4 Points per TD Pass, Point per 25 YDS171.7132-40-6257.7
    6 Points per TD Pass, Point per 20 YDS214.6198-40-6366.6

    Fantasy scoring can vary greatly from league to league. therefore, it is not only a good idea to familiarize yourself with your league's guidelines, it is essential.  

Know Your Roster Guidelines

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Once you have a good idea of which positions are going to score you the most points over the course of a season, the next step is to identify what your starting lineup can possibly look like.

    We can see here that a standard starting lineup on ESPN.com consists of one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one running back/receiver, one tight end, one kicker and one defense/special teams unit.

    However, customized leagues may offer lineups that include three starting receiver slots, a flex position (running back, wideout or tight end), two tight ends, a team quarterback or a variety of other roster options.

    Knowing your roster limits can help you put together that winning lineup and, more importantly, can help you avoid over-drafting players you cannot use on a week-to-week basis.

    Are you in a PPR league that allows you to start four wide receivers each week? If so, then it might not be a terrible idea to go receiver heavy in the early stages of your fantasy draft.

    Conversely, you might find yourself laughed at if you spend a pair of high draft picks on Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski only to discover that you can only start one tight end per week.

Know Your Opposition

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    This rule only applies if you play in a league with the same people every year. 

    If you are in an annual league, then by now you probably have a good idea of the tendencies of your opposition (and you also know who it is that you really, really want to beat this season).

    Knowing your opponents' draft strategies can help you set your draft board and can help you know when and if you should target certain players.

    Does the guy drafting two spots ahead of you always go with Calvin Johnson as his first-round selection? It's probably a safe bet that he'll do it again this year and you'll want to target a different player with your initial pick (or you might want to drive Johnson's price up a bit if your league uses an auction draft).

    Is your sister who is drafting ahead of you obsessed with the Cincinnati Bengals? You might have to pull the trigger a round early if you have your heart set on nabbing Giovani Bernard.

    It is also important to know how the other owners in your league value each position. If tight ends are typically ignored until the later stages of the draft, you can probably hold off on grabbing your starter while strengthening other positions on your roster.

Know Your Schedules

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Knowing when the best players will be confined to the bench because of a bye week is one good reason to know the upcoming NFL schedule.

    However, there are plenty of other reasons to know who will be playing who this coming season.

    If for some reason you are thinking about drafting Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel of the Cleveland Browns to be your starting quarterback, it's probably worth knowing that the Browns open the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. 

    The Steelers (ninth), Saints (second) and Ravens (12th) all ranked near the top third in the league in pass defense last season.

    A good starting point might be to familiarize yourself with each team's strength of schedule for 2014. Of course, you have to be careful not to over-think things here. The Denver Broncos face the league's second-hardest schedule based on 2013 winning percentage, but that doesn't mean you should ignore Peyton Manning as a quarterback option.

Know Your Injuries

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Tracking preseason player injuries is a good idea, because you want to make sure the guys you are drafting will be available see the field during the season.

    However, it is just as important to know the types of injuries players are dealing with as it is to know which players are currently on the injury report.

    For example, it is fairly common knowledge that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been out since late last season with a torn ACL. According to the team's official website, however, Gronkowski should be available to play in Week 1. Therefore, there should be little reason to downgrade his value leading up to your fantasy draft.

    On the other hand, you might want to avoid targeting that injury-prone running back in the second-round if he has spent the majority of the offseason sidelined with a serious of nagging injuries. Nagging injuries can prevent a player from being truly effective on the football field, even if they don't keep him off of it.

Know Your Suspensions

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Knowing your suspensions may seem a little bit like a common sense issue, but it is important to go beyond just knowing who is on the NFL's suspension list.

    If you avoided drafting Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon last season because of his two-game suspension, for example, you made a major mistake. Gordon wound up leading the league with 1,646 yards receiving with nine touchdowns on the year. In most PPR leagues, he provided more than 300 points on the season.

    Of course, if Gordon is suspended the entire 2014 season, which is entirely possible, you'll want to go ahead and avoid him this year.

    The bottom line here is that smart fantasy owners don't just know which players will open the season under suspension. They also know when players will return and what situation they will be walking into once back on the playing field.

    A good tool here is the fine/suspension tracker offered by Spotrac.com.

Know Your Coaches/Coordinators

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    In addition to knowing the capabilities of draftable players, it is worth knowing the guys who will be calling the plays from the sidelines.

    Even an average running back can have good value in an offensive system that leans heavily on the ground game. Conversely, a well-known receiver has the potential to disappear in a similar offense due to under-utilization.

    Knowing each team's system can also help you identify potential breakout players. A guy like tight end Kyle Rudolph or wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson might just surprise this season thanks to the presence of Minnesota Vikings coordinator Norv Turner.

    According to NFL.com, Turner's Browns led the league in pass attempts last season despite rolling out a trio of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer at quarterback. Of course, Cleveland had virtually no semblance of a running game last season, which leads us to our final point.

Know Your Team Weaknesses

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    Richard Lipski/Associated Press

    Knowing each team's biggest weaknesses can be just as important as knowing the strengths when it comes to evaluating the players you want to target on draft day.

    Take the 2013 Chicago Bears, for instance. Chicago fielded the league's second-worst scoring defense last season (29.9 points per game allowed). The Bears naturally had to spend a lot of time on offense trying to even the score, which led to big production out of their passing playmakers. 

    Receivers like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery remained fantasy stars even when starting quarterback Jay Cutler was sidelined due to injury.

    Identifying weaknesses on each team can also help you avoid potential draft busts. Will that shiny new running back be playing behind a terrible run-blocking line? You might want to think twice about drafting him in the first round.

    Preseason scouting can help give you an idea of where particular struggles exist. Another useful tool is the website Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of each individual team and player. Of course, it is very important to keep in mind that most third-party analysis found at this point in the offseason will likely be based on games played in 2013.