Fantasy Football 2014: Keys to Building Perfect Rankings for Draft Cheat Sheet

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2014

GREEN BAY, WI - AUGUST 22:  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks to pass during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field on August 22, 2014 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Raiders 31-21.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The next week is prime drafting season for fantasy football. The most important preseason games are over, giving everybody time to complete their draft in time for the opener next Thursday between the reigning champion Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers.

Barring any major injuries during the final week of exhibition action, the rankings should remain pretty stable the rest of the way. At this point, there isn't much more to learn that would significantly change the status of any group of players.

Now it just comes down to perfecting your rankings so that you are prepared regardless of which scenarios play out. With that in mind, let's check out a trio of important tips that should help get an owner's cheat sheet in order before entering the draft room.


Analyze Preseason Performance

Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

Some fantasy owners believe what happens during the preseason is completely useless while others tend to overreact to every little thing. As usual, the answer is somewhere in the middle. It comes down to examining the right things about the exhibition slate.

More specifically, the stats themselves hold very little value without context. It's important to dig deeper into what type of role was being played when those numbers were accumulated. Check if a player was running with the first-team offense or destroying reserve defenders.

Since it would be difficult to re-watch every preseason game, sites like Rotoworld do a nice job of tracking that type of information. For example, the outlet's Adam Levitan notes A.J. Green has tore it up despite limited snaps, which should alleviate concerns about a potential drop-off:

So while there are usually some statistical outliers, don't ignore the preseason completely. It's a good way to either reaffirm your belief in certain players or get you to steer clear of others due to a lack of involvement with the first unit on offense.


Use ADP Rankings as Guide

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 07:  Running back Chris Johnson #21 of the New York Jets celebrates a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in the second quarter during a preseason game at MetLife Stadium on August 7, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Elsa/Getty Images

The most crucial word in fantasy football is value. Drafting isn't always about taking the best player available but rather the most value based on what else is available. If there's only one second-tier running back left, it's better to grab him over another player at a position with more depth out there.

That's why it's good to use an average draft position list like the one on ESPN as a ranking guide. It gives owners an idea of where each player is going during the selection progress, so they can build their cheat sheets based on whether they think that placement is too high, too low or just right.

Chris Johnson is currently the No. 24 running back being drafted after his move to the New York Jets. Owners who believe he can return to past form will view that as a major bargain and rank him higher. He certainly believes he's ready to roll, as he told Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post.

"I want to be the guy," Johnson said. "I've always been the guy. I want to be in the game. I know they didn't bring me over here to sit on the bench. I still look at myself as an every-down back. I can do it all."

The same goes for every draftable player at each position. Check where they are getting drafted and then rank them accordingly based on your individual outlook. It's the best way to get a team of players you're high on while also not reaching too early to get them.


Strike Balance Between Upside and Reliability

A key mistake fantasy owners often make while creating a cheat sheet is ranking all of their sleepers together. They don't want to get caught without nabbing at least one. Ranking them together ensures that won't happen.

Yet, sleepers cover a wide scope. Some may have value in the sixth round whereas others are probably best left for the double-digit rounds. Ranking them together leads to over-drafting the latter group and takes away from their overall value.

That's why it's vital to mix those high-risk, high-reward picks with more reliable options. Perhaps you really like Sammy Watkins. Surround him in the rankings with guys like Marques Colston and Reggie Wayne. If you miss out on Watkins, grab a veteran and target fellow rookie Brandin Cooks later.

Some of those risky picks in the middle rounds will probably need to pay off in order to win a title. But creating a strong base around them provides a little more margin for error. That's why it's important not to go too sleeper heavy despite the obvious appeal.