The NFL is back, which means fantasy football is right around the corner and it's time to mock draft. Whether your league drafts in early or late August, there is no excuse for not sharpening your managerial instincts by participating in a few mock drafts to prep for the real thing.
Rather than try to explain an overarching mock-draft strategy that factors in every single variable one can look for, let's take a brief look at how mock drafts can help you, as a fantasy footballer, avoid a couple of pigskin-specific cognitive biases.
Running drills on mock drafts on a site like Fantasy Football Calculator can give you the leg up on your friends/coworkers/countrymen, or whomever you are trying to beat this season. ESPN also has a standout mock draft lobby.
Mock drafts are a good way to work on avoiding team or hometown bias. It can be extremely tempting for a North Carolina fan to grab rookie tight end Eric Ebron in the later rounds, believing that the karmic pick will increase your fantasy football happiness twofold if a player from your favorite school does well and turns out to be a steal.
However, try to hold off on any local favorites—this logic goes for any player on your favorite NFL team as well—and see where your player is getting drafted. Avoiding the NFL version of this bias can also help you to avoid piling up players who have the same bye week.
A down week in a fantasy football season could make all the difference come playoff time. Here is some sage advice to keep in mind, courtesy of ESPN's Matthew Berry:
The correct question to ask is "How can we construct a weekly, winning starting lineup?" More specifically, when we contemplate setting weekly lineups, we have to ask ourselves, "Where do our starters come from, and what do we need those starters to do?" Those are the questions we need to answer before we draft our first player or place our first bid.
That being said, if it looks like mock drafters also find your surprise player or favorite alumnus to be worth a shot in later rounds, go ahead and take him. Give your team a personal touch and have fun with it.
If his name is nowhere to be found, perhaps it's time to reassess and realize that trampling your opponents with a savvy veteran pickup like the undervalued Owen Daniels will make the entire fantasy football season much more palatable.
Don't feel pressured to undervalue players with an injury history if you're drafting before the preseason begins. There is little rhyme or reason to the bumps and bruises picked up during exhibitions, although it's easy to see how this variable could cause some hesitancy.
Coaches are more aware of their players various maladies and how to protect them; if you want to take a player like Ryan Mathews, go ahead. See where he's falling and take note of his stock amongst other drafters.
As far as breaking down players goes, properly evaluating running backs will be a true necessity, since the dominant ones are at a premium in this pass-happy league.
Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles lead the pack, but after that things get murky. Drafting in various positions in the first round can help you get a feel for which backs are still trusted to produce.
If you're in the late first round and can't get a premier back, you already know the kinds of deals you will have to make to flesh out a backfield.
Be wary of preseason numbers for "scheme" players, especially at running back. Teams are loath to reveal their full offensive and defensive gameplans during preseason, which can definitely cloud any potential consensus on some players.
Who should be the first running back taken in 2014 fantasy football drafts?
Darren Sproles is an example of a player who hardly touches the ball in preseason, but almost always comes through as a solid late-round pickup, especially in larger leagues. The types of plays he gets involved in are usually down in the nitty-gritty areas of a coach's scheme; he doesn't really get to show what he's working with until the regular season.
Danny Woodhead is another example of this; he tallied just one lone carry in the 2013 preseason, partially due to injury. This kept drafters from getting a read on how then-offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt planned to use him.
This goes for most players, but the guys who fill niche roles can easily get lost in the shuffle. Don't break down players based on preseason numbers; wait for the depth chart and the injury reports.