With less than two weeks to go before the start of the 2014 NFL regular season, it's crunch time for fantasy football and planning drafts. The obsessives have already gone through at least one draft, but the smart players know you never pick before the preseason games are over.
Injuries and position battles can change everything in a hurry, so if you already have a roster set, you're going to kick yourself when someone goes down in the next two preseason games.
As you start to put the finishing touches on your mock drafts, player rankings and everything else you need to properly prepare before the big night, we have a strategy to follow, a first-round mock draft and we finish with some sleepers at the quarterback position.
Strategy To Follow
Not that it comes as a surprise, but the top of this year's draft is going to be dominated by running backs. That's often the case because of how easy it is for the top-tier runners to rack up points, but the separation from the elite backs to the second tier is substantial.
Therefore, if you are picking anywhere in the top five, the best strategy is simply to take one of the top running backs and worry about the rest later.
Stockpiling runners in the early rounds, not just the first, is also essential to success because there aren't any guarantees when you start getting into No. 2 backs or flex options. Don't be afraid to draft a pair of running backs from the same team if you know that both players will get carries.
For instance, everyone knows that Frank Gore will be the No. 1 option in San Francisco, but he's going to be a free agent after the year and is 31 years old, so rookie running back Carlos Hyde figures to be a prominent part of the offense.
With the 49ers using a run-first style on offense, there will be plenty of carries to go around for Gore and Hyde. They have built one of the best running games in the NFL over the last three years, so carrying both players and using Gore as a primary starter and Hyde as a flex option in certain games can score you a lot of cheap points.
Things get more complicated if you don't get Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte or Marshawn Lynch. Peyton Manning got my vote as the No. 6 selection, but it comes with the caveat that repeating a historic season isn't likely to happen.
ESPN.com projects Manning to be the No. 1 fantasy quarterback this season with 5,210 yards and 48 touchdowns, yet he still loses 38 points from the previous year. His 368 points aren't substantially higher than the projection for Aaron Rodgers (347) or Drew Brees (329), so you can still wait a bit and get an elite fantasy quarterback.
What's the best fantasy draft strategy to ensure a title?
The point being that value for quarterbacks is substantially higher than running backs because there is more depth and you can get a top-five player at the position in the fourth or fifth round.
When it comes to wide receivers, the top 10-12 players are so cluttered together that you can get any one of them and be happy. Calvin Johnson is the No. 1 receiver, to no one's surprise, but ESPN.com's fantasy projections have Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant breaking the 200-point threshold.
Going down to Randall Cobb, Andre Johnson and Vincent Jackson in the 10-12 spots, those three project for at least 172 points and they are going three rounds after Johnson and two rounds after Thomas in 10-team leagues, per ESPN.com.
Value is the key to success in fantasy drafts. Quarterbacks and wide receivers are the deepest positions, so make sure that you are getting running backs, especially if you are picking early.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
The worst thing that happened to Joe Flacco was signing that huge contract extension last year because it left the Baltimore quarterback open to more criticism than ever, even coming off a Super Bowl win.
It didn't help that Flacco's offensive line broke down and he had the worst year of his career in 2013 with 22 interceptions. Accuracy has never been his strong suit, so I'm not concerned about the completion percentage of 59.
Besides the turnovers, Flacco's 2013 numbers were in line with his career averages, including a career-high 3,912 yards and 362 completions. He's never going to be a No. 1 fantasy quarterback, but assuming the interceptions return to normal levels, the 29-year-old is a solid backup to keep in case your starter gets hurt or you play in a two-quarterback league.
The Ravens are breaking in a new system under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, moving to a West Coast style that utilizes more short passes, so Flacco could see an uptick in completion percentage and decrease in turnovers.
Of course, short passes don't take advantage of Flacco's immense arm strength, so the Ravens are giving something back to the defense as a result.
Josh McCown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Unlike Flacco, whose long track record suggests there is a ceiling he's already hit and won't get better, Josh McCown is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma because there's so much we don't know.
McCown came onto the scene last year in Chicago when Jay Cutler got hurt, throwing 13 touchdowns and for 1,829 yards in eight games (five starts). He is a 35-year-old career backup being given his first chance to lead a team from the start of the season.
A cynic will say that McCown's success came by simply throwing the ball up to the 6'4" Brandon Marshall and 6'3" Alshon Jeffery. He's going to a place with two receivers who are taller than Chicago's dynamic duo in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, both 6'5", and a 6'6" tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The Buccaneers do have problems on the offensive line, allowing 47 sacks last season, but McCown wasn't exactly playing behind a brick wall in Chicago. The veteran quarterback is going to a system he knows well, with Lovie Smith taking over in Tampa Bay.
While no one would tell you to expect a repeat of McCown's numbers from last year stretched out over 16 games, he is in a situation that will allow him to succeed. Those weapons on the outside are going to make the Buccaneers quarterback look better than he is.
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