Fantasy football is more difficult on owners than ever.
Back in the day (two years ago), the easy strategy was to gobble up the best running backs early and build around the workhorses. But as the NFL changes, so too does fantasy football, and nailing down which backs will perform well in a committee is another added hurdle.
Think about it—how many backs are sure things outside of Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles? Arian Foster and Doug Martin were hurt last year, Ray Rice is a wild card, Trent Richardson is a bust, DeMarco Murray is a huge gamble and Marshawn Lynch has other players breathing down his neck.
That's just the running back situation. Below, let's nail down some of the top sleepers (still the most difficult thing to do) and list some strategies to live by in the ever-changing landscape of fake football.
Sleepers Cheat Sheet
|Andre Williams||RB||New York Giants||9.07|
|Tavon Austin||WR||St. Louis Rams||9.11|
|Philip Rivers||QB||San Diego Chargers||9.11|
|Khiry Robinson||RB||New Orleans Saints||10.07|
|Ladarius Green||TE||San Diego Chargers||11.02|
|Kenny Stills||WR||New Orleans Saints||11.03|
|Cecil Shorts||WR||Jacksonville Jaguars||11.09|
|Steve Smith||WR||Baltimore Ravens||12.01|
|Justin Hunter||WR||Tennessee Titans||12.04|
|Markus Wheaton||WR||Pittsburgh Steelers||12.11|
|Tre Mason||RB||St. Louis Rams||12.12|
|Charles Clay||TE||Miami Dolphins||13.03|
|Carson Palmer||QB||Arizona Cardinals||13.03|
|Josh McCown||QB||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||14.03|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||New York Giants||14.04|
Organized by ADP
Sleepers are based on average draft position, meaning owners who think a player will outperform where he is typically drafted better understand that spot and grab him before it.
To nail down the best of the best, one must have an intricate understanding of the player, the situation around him and more.
For example, let's look at Kenny Stills in New Orleans. We know he is in one of the league's most prolific offenses, led by Drew Brees. But will he have opportunities and can he produce?
Well, as a rookie last season Stills led the NFL with a per-catch average of 20 yards and brought in 32 receptions for 641 yards and five scores. So the ability is there, but remember that Lance Moore and Darren Sproles are gone, which means 90 receptions in the offense are available.
All of those factors in tandem mean an ADP in the 11th round is sure to get outplayed by Stills, which in turn means he is a sleeper who represents great value.
Mock Draft Strategy to Utilize
Take the Temperature
Look, there is no exact way to go about a mock draft. Outside of knowing critical rules such as scoring info and how many players at each position must start, the most important concept is diagnosing with a bit of foresight how other owners in the league are going to draft.
The first two rounds are the most important by a long shot. It is not even close. So if running backs are flying off the board, do not be the guy or gal who decides to roll with Jimmy Graham. Just don't.
Running back remains the most important position, and a wait-and-see approach means hinging on luck each and every week with the Bobby Raineys of the world to get production at the critical spot.
Conversely, if the top wideouts are going early and backs are falling down the board, nab a wideout before all the value is sapped from the market. If a position is careening down the board, the value will certainly be there next round. The NFL is very much a copycat league, and it does not hurt to take a similar approach on draft day.
Understand the Risks
So an owner did take the dive on Graham. He gives off peace of mind, but his 211 points last year would have still ranked just sixth at running back and now the owner is at a disadvantage at other positions.
With tight end, owners will want to be the first to grab the position or the absolute last given how risky and even the scoring totals usually are.
As ESPN's Matthew Berry points out, even ignoring wide receiver is a major risk. It is a deep position, yes, but that means more guesswork:
By comparison, wide receiver is the wild, wild West, with almost three times the percentage of unpredictable good outcomes as running backs. Essentially, if you're counting on making a smart pickup for your WR2 or steaming receivers at flex just because the position is deep, you'll need to get lucky to do so. Remember that for every UGO, there's an equal and opposite highly ranked player who didn't make the cut.
He also points out that waiting on a quarterback is very much a viable strategy—production is easier to predict at that position—but the risks of doing so infer that owners will hit perfectly at other spots:
Some of these QB's going later will definitely pop. But if you wait, can you maximize advantage at RB/WR while picking right one?— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) August 4, 2014
In short, the best route is to nab a back and wideout in the first two rounds to shore up those spots. A misfire early means a trip to the cellar of the league rather quickly.