Over everything, fantasy football requires luck. From an injury standpoint to the draft breaking the right way to simply catching opponents on weeks where their teams don't go off, variance is high in most long-running fantasy leagues.
It's in many ways like the NFL. Every league has its Patriots, a bastion of consistency who is always somewhere near the top of the standings. Every league has its Raiders, a bastion of disarray filled with street free agents caused by poor draft decisions.
But championships are won by the lucky. The Patriots' consistency does not always lead to championships. They've lost their last two Super Bowl appearances because they caught the wrong matchup. The Raiders can even fumble their way to good fortune, as their 8-8 records in 2010 and 2011 highlight.
The job of every fantasy general manager is to become the Patriots. Getting to the playoffs is the key. What happens in the last couple weeks is left up to chance. My job, as someone who is being paid to write about fantasy football, is to help you on your Belichickian journey.
With that in mind, here's a quick look at a few things to keep in mind heading into your draft or auction in 2014.
Draft Strategy Advice
Thinking RB-RB? Think Again
Acquiring good running backs remains the key to winning a fantasy football league. No one is going to offer much argument otherwise. That fact lends credence to the most classic draft strategy available: going back-to-back running backs with your first two selections.
The reasoning seems obvious. We know Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris and Arian Foster have their starting jobs. Being able to lay the foundation of your team with a Lynch-Foster combo meal then sounds enticing.
It's also a fundamentally flawed strategy.
Fantasy writer Shawn Siegele has drawn praise in recent years for his "zero running back strategy." That doesn't mean you eschew the position altogether. It merely means skipping out on the position in the first five or six rounds. Build the foundation of your teams through the wide receiver, tight end and quarterback positions and then start filling out the roster elsewhere.
The reasoning is simple: Running back is by far the highest variance position in fantasy. If you spent a first-round pick on Doug Martin, Foster, C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson or Ray Rice last season—each of whom were first-round picks, per ADP Calculator—then fantasy football probably didn't go so well. Meanwhile, those guys each went ahead of Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green.
I'm not sure if you know this, but those guys were awesome in 2014.
Injuries, general ineffectiveness and touchdown vulturing is much more likely at the running back spot. As NFL rules continue to make passing easier, having wide receivers one or two tiers above their contemporaries becomes more important.
No one is suggesting one draft Green over Adrian Peterson. There are exceptions to every rule, and Peterson is a yearly lock for at least 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Players with his consistent excellence have value. But if your choice is between an elite wide receiver—or even a Drew Brees type—and a running back because you "need" one, go with the better player. You'll be patting yourself on the back when said player is on the injury report in Week 4.
There Are Only 6 QBs Who Matter; Wait Afterwards
Every draft has a quarterback run. It's as reliable as a broken clock being right twice a day. One owner takes the guy everyone wanted at the top of his wraparound pick and then creates a domino effect in which the owners behind him panic and grab just a guy.
Here is a piece of advice: Stop it.
The reason aforementioned owner—usually better known by every four-letter word in the book after his selection—is being so derided is simple: He or she typically takes the last "elite" quarterback on the board. This year the panic will set in right about the time "Matthew Stafford" comes out of someone's mouth.
In 2014, there are six quarterbacks who matter: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Stafford. That group can easily be whittled into two tiers. Manning, Brees and Rodgers are reliably elite superstars who can be taken in the first three rounds without issue. Newton, Luck and Stanford are reliably good semi-stars who are near locks to finish among the 10 best fantasy quarterbacks this season.
Everyone else? Meh.
Robert Griffin III comes with a host of injury issues. Tom Brady was a terrible fantasy quarterback and mediocre real-life one last season, poor supporting cast or not. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson have the skill set to be elite fantasy quarterbacks. In practice, they've been much closer to replacement level. Philip Rivers probably isn't having the best season of his career again.
On down the line you can point out flaws in selecting one of these guys with a leverage pick. Going down the line also exposes the fact that there are plenty of good quarterbacks to choose from. Andy Dalton was the fifth-best quarterback in fantasy last season. ESPN ranks him 17th among quarterbacks. Tony Romo, who can be penciled in for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns every year, is 15th.
With quarterbacks, go elite or wait until the rounds reach double-digits. Taking a mid-tier guy when you should be focusing on high-upside running backs is death.
Here is a table of potential team names. Some of them I made up. Some of them I found by searching "funny team names" on Google and selecting the ones I liked. Fantasy football is not a land of super creativity, folks. Mostly just bad puns and references to no-no parts—sometimes within the same name.
(Of note: 99.4 percent of the best team names are inside jokes with your league-mates or vulgarities unprintable on a family website.)
|Team Name||Why You'd Name a Team Such a Thing|
|Beyonce Can't Read||Only applicable if a #Beyhive member is in your fantasy league. Will make said person go into convulsions whenever reading.|
|Bortles Bortles Bortles Bortles Bortles Bortles||(Just continue writing Bortles over and over again until you reach the character limit. If Bortles stops midway—e.g. Bort—please keep it. Thank you.)|
|Team (Your Last Name)||Because nothing angers a competitive fantasy league more than someone too "lazy" to name their team. Plus, it'll be all the more sweeter if said "lazy" person wins the championship.|
|A Mingo Ate My Baby||Only applicable in IDP leagues in which you own Barkevious Mingo. Don't be that guy.|
|2 Games, 1 Cut||You may name your team this only if you draft Ray Rice and then release him|
|Macklemore Can't Rap||Because you want your league-mates to know that rapper Macklemore cannot rap. And that they are in a league with a person who has good taste in music.|
|Corn on the Cobb||Name your team this—or any really, really terrible and lazy pun—and then never stop talking about how awesome your team name is. It'll infuriate everyone but make you laugh.|
|My Wife Left Me||Mostly in honor of the best Twitter meme of 2014, @Lonely_Dad|
|Phil Dawson's Creek||Because who doesn't love and fondly remember the angsty teen drama Dawson's Creek?|
|Hangin' With Riley Cooper||Because who doesn't love and fondly remember the hilarity and hijinks of the sitcom Hangin' With Mr. Cooper?|
|The Cool Guys||Only applicable if your team is full of cool guys. Don't fudge the truth.|
|Is Joe Flacco Elite?||Well, is he?????|
|Matty Ice Bucket Challenge||Because...good causes and stuff.|
|Figure Out What Your Best Friend Is Naming His Team and Name Yours the Same Exact Thing||haha|
We've already covered some super-deep sleepers in this space here. These are just your standard, garden-variety edition ones—guys you should take one or two rounds ahead of where they're currently being drafted.
Stevan Ridley (RB, New England Patriots)
The Patriots back was a second-round pick and even a first-rounder in deeper leagues last year. After breaking out for a 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown season in 2012, it looked like Ridley was going to become the first reliably stellar backfield fixture since Corey Dillon.
That didn't quite work out. Ridley struggled with injuries and fumble issues, being benched multiple times in frustration by Bill Belichick. He finished with 773 yards and seven touchdowns—numbers as respectable as they were unspectacular—but was basically unusable in the fantasy playoffs. All seven of his touchdowns came in a five-game stretch, and he was basically a bit player at times late in the season.
The Patriots better hope that changes in 2014. Ridley came into camp looking stellar and seems to have established himself as the lead rusher. A fumble in Friday's preseason game won't help matters, but he is the most talented runner New England has on the roster. Taking a chance on him in the sixth round is the exact type of move that can help the "zero RB" strategy pay off.
Devonta Freeman (RB, Atlanta Falcons)
Steven Jackson is already injured. There's your first clue. Your second is that Freeman has looked stellar running the ball throughout camp and the preseason. The rookie fourth-rounder has accumulated 81 yards on 16 carries thus far, leading the team in both categories. Jacquizz Rodgers has been held to limited duties, but Freeman has far exceeded the performance of fellow former Florida State Seminole Antone Smith.
Jackson is expected back for the beginning of the regular season, so the situation bears monitoring. Of course, Jackson is also a 31-year-old dude who missed four games and was mostly ineffective due to hamstring issues in 2013. Rodgers, himself once the recipient of rookie hype, has three years of replacement-level work as a rusher at this point.
Freeman is the highest-upside player Mike Smith has at the position. He probably won't break the glass and insert him into the starting lineup immediately, but I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the Falcons have a new starter by Week 8 or 9. The eighth or ninth round is a good spot if Freeman is still available.
Brandin Cooks (WR, New Orleans Saints)
Every fantasy pundit has a mancrush on Cooks. There is no other way to put it. He's the type of dynamic talent who makes evaluators swoon with the number of ways he can be utilized in an offense. He can be lined up in the backfield, thrown in the slot or even flanked out wide for bubble screens or misdirection actions.
The natural comparison here is Darren Sproles, who will be plying his trade in Philly this season. The Saints used Sproles all over the field the past few seasons, and Cooks fits the bill as a jack-of-all trades successor.
One slight difference: Cooks is bigger, just as fast and has his entire prime ahead. The former Oregon State standout was the Saints' first-round pick in May and has a good four inches on Sproles. He's also a natural wide receiver—not a running back who can catch the ball well. In New Orleans' pass-heavy offense, Cooks might catch 70 balls as a rookie without even having a "good" season.
It's wise to be wary of a hyped Saints receiver. We've all been down the Devery Henderson road once or six times. But ESPN ranks Cooks 51st among wide receivers. I'd be shocked if he didn't wind up significantly exceeding those expectations.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.