As the game itself continues to evolve, so too must fantasy football owners who wish to rise above the pack and reel in league titles.
Gone are the days when much of anything is straightforward when it comes to drafts, as even most of this year's running backs come equipped with a hefty amount of risk. Still, an ample amount of research into trends, news and more can put any owner at an advantage when paired with a modern approach to the draft.
Below, let's take a look at a few rules that, when disobeyed, spell doom to a season rather quickly. While IDP, point-per-reception and dynasty leagues are spreading like wildfire in terms of popularity, this will detail the approach to 12-team standard leagues.
RB-RB or RB-WR/WR-RB
One of the most prevalent thoughts when it comes to the draft is the RB-RB approach, but even that is beginning to fade.
If owners can get, say, LeSean McCoy in the first round and Giovani Bernard in the second, then that can be chalked up as a win. But the position as a whole looks rather volatile this year after the top four (McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte).
Pair that with the ever-evolving talent of wideouts, and it is easy to see why RB-RB is debatable.
A wideout in the first round is not all that outlandish. Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green all broke the 200-point barrier last season, while Jimmy Graham outscored all but five backs (Rob Gronkowski surely can, too).
The point is, nabbing a top receiver or tight end is a viable solution late in the first round with all of the surefire backs gone. But understand the risks—running back gets even more complicated the longer owners wait, and the top two tight ends give off a sense of comfort but throw the rest of the draft for a loop.
Running backs continue to endure as the most critical part of any fantasy roster. Owners have been afforded more flexibility in recent years, but a minimum of one in the first two rounds is a must.
Draft Quarterbacks Late
Quarterbacks are far and away the most important position in the NFL, but that is the furthest thing from the truth in the fake-football realm.
In part, this has to do with the fact owners are tasked with starting just one signal-caller, but the other facet of the equation is the simple fact production is rather easy to predict.
JJ Zachariason, author of The Late Round Quarterback, explains this approach best, via Josh Collacchi of Pro Football Focus:
The beauty of the approach is that it doesn’t really matter who you draft, given you’re spending a late-round pick on the passer. Whoever I get, chances are I’m not sticking with him every week throughout the season, something often misconstrued with the strategy…The quarterback position has a predictability aspect each week that a lot of people don’t realize, making waiver wire players and adds more reliable than any other position.
It seems to be an approach that continues to gain more steam each year. Why go out and get a Peyton Manning early when Matt Ryan can be had in the sixth round, Robert Griffin in the seventh, Jay Cutler in the eighth, Philip Rivers in the ninth and Andy Dalton in the 11th?
Ryan still scored in the top 14 last year with Julio Jones out 11 games. RGIII was not far behind while hobbled and now has DeSean Jackson and an offensive-minded coach. Cutler has Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Rivers is the Comeback Player of the Year under quarterback guru Mike McCoy. Dalton has a new coordinator who plays to his strengths and was a top-five scorer last season.
As ESPN's Matthew Berry explains, the approach allows owners to maximize production 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
Quarterbacks are easy to see coming from a mile away. Perhaps living wire-to-wire is a bit dangerous, but waiting until at least the sixth round will give owners plenty of room for error at much more important spots.
Ditto for Rookies
Generally speaking, rookies are best to be ignore until late.
Of course, last year's major outliers fly directly in the face of this thinking.
Eddie Lacy bullied his way to 1,178 rushing yards and 11 scores without Aaron Rodgers. Keenan Allen exploded for 1,046 yards and eight scores. Giovani Bernard gained better than 1,200 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns.
But again, that sort of outbreak from first-year players is quite rare.
Sammy Watkins is not going to go all Keenan Allen with EJ Manuel under center. Bishop Sankey is not going to explode for major totals in a downtrodden situation. Carlos Hyde is not going to steal enough carries from Frank Gore.
It goes on and on without an end in sight. Names such as Lacy and Allen get the publicity from a season ago, but rarely ever do we hear about how Tavon Austin, the No. 8 overall pick, did. His 40 receptions after months of offseason hype exemplify how volatile rookies can be.
The better approach is to lock down third-year players in the range of the age 27, as en route to their primes with a few years of experience under their belt they offer the best chance of a breakout season.
Rookies, not so much.
Grab a Tight End First...Or Last
So the saying goes.
Fantasy drafts are all about maximizing production with each pick, so tight end is far and away the worst way to do so outside of the first round with a name like Graham.
Now, it is important to note that Gronkowski throws a bit of a wrench in this idea this season exclusively (he has an ADP that hovers in the third round currently), but owners better feel comfortable with the fact he has only played in 18 games the past two seasons.
It is rather consistent to see a variety of lesser-known names break out at the position at very little investment cost. Last year it was Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Charles Clay, among others. This year figures to be Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz and more.
Last season, Graham outscored all others at the position by 55 points. Only eight other names broke the 100-point barrier, with only six coming within 100 points of Graham.
Like the approach to quarterback, it is best to load up at other positions and then take the dive at tight end. The position is of little significance when consistency and explosiveness is so difficult to nail down. Value and production trumps all, and most tight ends provide little of either.