As the proverbial inches dictate the outcomes of close NFL contests, so too will minor fractions of strategy employed in fantasy football drafts help decide which owners win leagues.
The NFL is a copycat league at heart, a classification that is quickly becoming true for the world of fantasy football as well.
With so much quality information available to owners—whether it is sleepers, mock draft guides or more—it is as difficult as ever to win a league. That even applies to non-standard formats such as dynasty, points-per-reception and IDP leagues.
Below, let's take a look at an overview of draft strategy and some of the notable sleepers to tab in drafts.
Mock Draft Strategy
What sets owners apart more than anything these days is two simple factors. One is the amount of research. Again, all owners need to know is widely available. The lazy won't prosper in this sort of race.
More important is factor No. 2—or the golden rule of drafts: Don't. Overthink. Just don't do it.
It's great that in the middle of the first round an owner got cute and took a quarterback. That in no way means other owners should overreact and grab one of their own. Those other quarterbacks are not going anywhere, and in picking one in a reactionary manner, owners set themselves back dramatically at running back or wide receiver.
Speaking of those slots, the only proper strategy is RB-RB or RB-WR/WR-RB in the first two rounds. It depends on where owners pick and how the boards fall, but there is little to no sure thing after the top four players at each slot, those being LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green.
Anything after those names is a gamble. We can't know if Eddie Lacy was a one-hit wonder. Or if Marshawn Lynch will see the lion's share of the carries again. Or if the Dallas Cowboys can actually block for DeMarco Murray. Or if Montee Ball can produce 2013 Knowshon Moreno numbers. And so on.
There will be a temptation to grab a tight end. If those eight players are off the board, Jimmy Graham works. He scored better than all but three wideouts and five running backs last season. That peace of mind, like nabbing a quarterback early, hurts other positions though—especially when owners can get Rob Gronkowski in the third round at his current average draft position.
The point is, the tried-and-true formula tends to still work. Grabbing top running backs is more important than ever now that the league has switched to a committee approach. Other positions may seem to be a savvy bet, but running back or wideout is the way to go based on how the board falls.
Sleepers Cheat Sheet
|Andre Williams||RB||New York Giants||9.10|
|Philip Rivers||QB||San Diego Chargers||9.11|
|Tavon Austin||WR||St. Louis Rams||10.02|
|Justin Hunter||WR||Tennessee Titans||10.06|
|Khiry Robinson||RB||New Orleans Saints||10.12|
|Ladarius Green||TE||San Diego Chargers||11.04|
|Kenny Stills||WR||New Orleans Saints||11.06|
|Cecil Shorts||WR||Jacksonville Jaguars||11.12|
|Steve Smith||WR||Baltimore Ravens||12.04|
|Markus Wheaton||WR||Pittsburgh Steelers||12.04|
|Carson Palmer||QB||Arizona Cardinals||12.09|
|Charles Clay||TE||Miami Dolphins||13.04|
|Tre Mason||RB||St. Louis Rams||13.06|
|Josh McCown||QB||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||14.04|
|Organized by ADP|
Unearthing sleepers appears easier than ever thanks to the dissection of each and every player out there.
Without basic fundamentals, though, owners will gamble on the wrong guys. Plain and simple.
A sleeper is a hodgepodge of factors, with the most important being a favorable situation, loads of upside and the most risk-averse option available at the time.
Look at Andre Williams in New York. The Giants' fourth-round rookie is set to explode with David Wilson out of the picture and only the underrated Rashad Jennings in his way on the depth chart.
By now, owners understand that touches equal production at running back. Not only is the depth chart favorable, but we know Williams has the talent to excel—he has 33 carries for 151 yards and two touchdowns this preseason. With an ADP of 9.10, he is a safe gamble with a huge payoff if Jennings gets hurt or dips in play.
Past production is one of the other key facets, especially outside of running back. Look at sophomore Kenny Stills in New Orleans, who, in one of the NFL's most pass-happy offenses, brought in 32 receptions for 641 yards and five scores and led the NFL in per-catch average last season.
Why gamble on a Mike Evans or Hakeem Nicks in front of Stills when he is more proven and clearly in a more prolific passing attack?
Really, sleeper quarterbacks should be starting quarterbacks if owners are crafty enough to make it happen. CBS Sports' Jamey Eisenberg is one expert who advocates this approach:
The key for quarterbacks, like all positions, is the players you put around them. But the difference is when you draft these quarterbacks to maximize your value. And since quarterback is a deep position my choice is always to grab as much talent at running back since it's such a thin position while mixing in a few receivers and possibly a tight end before I typically target my passer.
While others grab a Peyton Manning early, owners on the hunt for "sleepers" can nab Andy Dalton, who has an ADP of 11.02. Andy Dalton, who was a top-five scorer at the position last season. Russell Wilson is available a round earlier and came in eighth a year ago.
Dalton in particular is one to monitor, as he wants to do nothing more than climb higher net year.
"I expect this team to play better; I expect myself to be better," Dalton said, per ESPN.com's Coley Harvey. "We have high expectations for what we're trying to do this year. Regardless of the contract or not, I would have expected to go into the season with the same mentality and the same attitude."
The bottom line is that owners who follow a conventional set of rules and are able to read between the lines when it comes to news, situations and more will be able to have a great draft when it comes to sleepers.
Injuries unfortunately can do much to derail these approaches, but the basic sleeper groundwork laid out will prevent owners from taking other unnecessary risks in the process, further stacking the deck in their favor.