Knowledge is power in fantasy football.
Preparing properly gives you an edge on draft day. You must act as a scout, general manager, head coach and other front office and sideline types all rolled into one.
The responsibilities and challenges are fun, but they can also be daunting. There's a lot to remember and absorb as you prepare for the new season, and sometimes it doesn’t always comfortably fit in one type of article or under one header.
So here are the most important things I can impart to you as the new season approaches, to make your road to the top a smoother one. They are not listed in any certain order, because they are all equally important.
You’ll never have full peace of mind in this game, but you’ll be ready to fully outwit the opposition when we’re done.
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Now, here's the Big 75 for 2009.
1. You don’t always have to follow “runs” during your draft. Except at the beginning. running backs are going to fly off the board, and the tiers drop off quickly. You can still get an outstanding WR with that second pick.
2. We always tell you to know your scoring system, but stick fast to your starting lineup requirements, too. Fill out those starting RB and WR slots first before worrying about depth. If your league starts three or four WRs, grab that RB early, but make sure you come out of the first four rounds with at least two WRs.
3. Point-per reception leagues are becoming the norm, so tailor your approaches accordingly. Wide receivers like Derrick Mason and Kevin Walter aren’t “sexy” in standard performance leagues, but they won’t let you down in PPR formats.
4. Believe in the decisions of the staffs of proven winners. You think the Patriots would have let Matt Cassel go if Tom Brady wasn’t primed for a big comeback? The Colts obviously think it’s Anthony Gonzalez’s time to shine, so they have cleared the way for him to start.
5. Remember that dropped passes are not a negative stat in fantasy football. Terrell Owens isn’t going to hurt you, he’s going to help you. The guy is still is in outstanding shape and is playing on a one-year deal in Buffalo.
6. Don’t get locked into drafting RB handcuffs, because the primary backup may change later in the year on some teams. Evaluate every situation individually.
Who was thinking about Le’Ron McClain or Tashard Choice at this time last year? Injuries can quickly put a guy like Mewelde Moore back into action. In some situations, it makes clear sense, but handcuffing certainly is not absolute, and I’d rather take the best player available in many cases.
7. Don’t overrate the departure of Fred Taylor when considering Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD isn’t about to become some type of major workhorse with significantly inflated touches.
Jones-Drew has always been successful in the past because the team had not overworked him, and they’re not about to dramatically veer away from a proven model. Jones-Drew may certainly see a career-high amount of reps, but he will still share some time with another guy who steps up in camp, possibly rookie Rashad Jennings. Expect just a bit more of what you received from MJD in the past, and you will be happy.
8. When you’re considering players based on their fantasy playoff schedules, how about simply trying to make the playoffs first? You can’t realistically evaluate late-season matchups based on last season, not knowing what may change during the first 13 weeks of the NFL schedule. I find much of pre-draft schedule analysis to be wasted time, and preseason playoff schedule forecasting to be a bigger waste.
9. Don’t give me that 370-carry stuff about Michael Turner. An internal alarm doesn’t go off when a player hits that mark. Well, at least not for a guy that finally became a starter in 2008. Turner never had more than 80 rushing attempts in a season before last year.
10. Other than running backs, I fully avoid drafting rookies. Separate the glowing scouting reports from the reality of the pro game, please. For as much talent as guys like Hakeem Nicks and Percy Harvin have, it rarely translates into instant impact in the pros. Tight ends are likely to develop even more slowly than wide receivers, and even the average player knows to avoid first-year quarterbacks.
11. All the rage is about time shares, but it’s not a bad thing at all. Tandems in Tennessee and Carolina have shown us two RBs in the same backfield can both produce well. Backups such as Chester Taylor and Jerious Norwood can help keep top RBs like Adrian Peterson and Turner fresh. Look for Norwood to be more of a factor as the Falcons keep Turner rolling in 2009.
12. I’m simply steering clear of Matt Cassel. A QB with his experience and pedigree only could have survived and surprisingly thrived in New England. His most dependable possession target will be Bobby Engram, who is about to fade out, and Dwayne Bowe simply won’t be enough. There’s a big dropoff from Tony Gonzalez to Brad Cottam or another potluck TE there.
13. Stop obsessing about your first-round pick. You can never properly speculate how things will fall out, and just be ready for anything. You really think I expected Peterson to fall to me at No. 4 last year? Or Turner at No. 9 this season?
14. Let someone else worry about Brian Westbrook this season. Even if he has no setbacks, his recent health concerns and wear and tear over the years suggest he will really start to decline and may be less able to play through pain. Again, trust the moves of staffs on winning teams. The Eagles drafted LeSean McCoy for significant reasons.
15. Someone inevitably laughs at us “experts” when they see selected picks in our mock drafts. Don’t take every pick as gospel. Mocks indicate what you may see in your own draft, and give you a picture of what various owners may think. Mock drafts, even expert ones, contain various schools of thoughts. Use them to educate yourself on how there are so many different strategies at play and how to be ready to adjust on the run.
16. Watch for a passing revival in Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck is revving up for a big comeback year, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh will help him keep the sticks moving while also being a top TD target. John Carlson will be very dependable and Nate Burleson should be able to stretch the field. Expect a controlled, but very effective air game.
17. Don’t draft to trade. Take the players you must use to fill key starting slots, don’t load up to position yourself for a deal when a player you really need is right there for the taking. Don’t take a third RB if you can only start two when you still need to fill out your other key starting slots at WR and QB.
18. I love Steven Jackson, and the young WRs in St. Louis are very promising. But Jackson is going to draw so much defensive attention, and I can’t help but fear he’s going to be gang-tackled and sidelined into submission again this season. Don’t use a first-rounder on one of the nicer guys in the game, but I’d still go for him in the rare instances when he falls to the second round.
19. Don’t give me that nonsense about Jay Cutler being a bust because he has “no receivers” with his new team. That receiving corps was a reflection of the ragtag QB play before Cutler arrived. He is very capable of spreading the ball around and using all the weapons at his disposal for optimum production. He’s at least a Top 10 QB in 2009.
20. Don’t share information on draft day. If the other guy didn’t come prepared, that’s his fault. You don’t even have to lend him a magazine (trust me, there are such types). You’re friends before and after the draft. Last year, someone asked me who he should take with the first pick. I said “someone.” He took Tomlinson, who I didn’t want, and Peterson, the top player on my board, dropped to me at No. 4.
21. When you go to the newsstand, you can be intimidated by the amount of fantasy football mags you see. There are publications that fit all types of experience levels. Take some time to sift through as many as you can to get one you truly feel comfortable with. Always purchase a regular NFL preview mag, too. The scouting reports can be really helpful when making tight decisions. E-mail me for recommendations if you like. There are lots of good ones out there, and enough for all types of experience levels.
22. Don’t underrate Joseph Addai and Tim Hightower, especially the latter. They will be pushed by rookies, but both players won’t be shoved aside easily, and could end up in time share situations where both are quite productive.
23. It’s now or never for Laurence Maroney. He must show he can be an effective inside runner and stop dancing, or we’ll have to forget him for good. Some have already completely written him off. I say take a late flier on him for sure.
24. Derrick Ward is overrated. He’ll leave the offensive line of the Giants behind, and will show he is just a complementary RB who isn’t going to score often for a sputtering offense.
25. Don’t be too rigid when planning for bye weeks unless they are early in the season. You shouldn’t pass on a better player because you need a Week 8 reserve at another position. Your roster is likely to change, maybe a lot, by then.
26. Don’t overreact to stories coming out of training camp. According to the puff pieces in many dailies, lots of players are looking good in July.
27. Don’t draft backup tight ends, defenses and kickers unless your league requires it or you play in a league larger than 12 teams. You can always find a viable one-week play on the free agent list.
28. A lot of people don’t seem to believe DeAngelo Williams is capable of having another outstanding season. Such doubts seemed to drive Williams to great heights in 2008, and will do so again, along with the presence of Jonathan Stewart, another apparent motivating factor.
29. Drew Brees may have a slightly higher statistical ceiling. Peyton Manning, however, is the most reliable player in fantasy football and I’d still take him first at QB.
30. Because of his suspension, I’m seeing Marshawn Lynch fall as far as the sixth round in some drafts. After he sits out, Lynch will return with a vengeance and show he is still among the better RBs in fantasy. I’ll gamble on the missed time for the pretty good numbers when he takes the field again.
31. When you make your pick in every round, start queuing up as many applicable guys as you can for your next selection. Then you can simply take the top player remaining on your list when it’s your next turn instead of saying “rats, the guy I wanted was picked right ahead of me.”
32. Just because certain players are unproven or are unknown does not mean they cannot contribute or will not establish themselves. Someone will have to step up at WR in Cleveland and Jacksonville, and maybe even at RB in Denver if Knowshon Moreno doesn’t meet early expectations. This is why you should pay attention to exhibition games and camp battles very closely. You may not have to draft these types of players, but the next Eddie Royal is out there somewhere.
33. On the subject of lesser-heralded WRs, three I really like to step forward this season are Earl Bennett, Keenan Burton and Chansi Stuckey. All three have nice skills and opportunities to seize in 2009.
34. I’d rather be in the top four slots in any drafts this year to get one of the truly elite RBs. I usually don’t advocate trading up or down in yearly drafts, but I’d consider moving down from the fifth pick on this year. I can still get a very good RB later in the round and an elite WR early in the second round.
35. With so many leagues moving to PPR formats, outstanding RBs will drop further in the first two rounds than you might expect. Watch Michael Turner and Brandon Jacobs slip to the back of the first round, and middle of the second, respectively. I’ll gleefully take them and compensate with other strong PPR picks soon thereafter.
36. The Dolphins are this season’s underrated defense that you can sometimes easily grab in the final rounds. Joey Porter is the star of the unit, but the physical safeties and solid defensive line will make this unit solid. The personnel isn’t glamorous overall, but they will get the job done, especially at home, where they often have an underrated weather advantage in the oppressive heat that can wear on the opposition.
37. More on Le’Ron McClain: I’m not buying the hype on Ray Rice and I certainly can’t have faith in Willis McGahee. I think McClain rises quickly to the top of the depth chart again.
38. Josh McDaniels brings New England style-thinking to Denver. That could mean a RB committee if Moreno doesn’t come out of the gate as hoped, and can also make LaMont Jordan viable. Kyle Orton will spread the ball around a lot in a controlled short passing game that may harken back to when Cassel first started for the Patriots last year. I’m not looking for too much from Royal with Cutler gone.
39. If you don’t get one of the top three tight ends, you can easily back off and wait for good upside prospects after the middle rounds. John Carlson and Greg Olsen can be landed as late as the eighth to 10th rounds in some drafts. Carlson will last longer than Olsen, but if you whiff on either one, you can also nab Visanthe Shiancoe or Brent Celek late. I really like Carlson and Celek this year.
40. More on defenses: With so many changes on units from year to year, it’s a real gamble to rely on last year’s results and final ranks. That’s why you don’t take a defense until the final rounds. As promising as the Jets defense looks, if the offense makes them spend too much time on the field, you won’t get the desired results. The Ravens could drop off after a few key departures, most notably Bart Scott, who landed with the Jets along with Rex Ryan. Changes on both teams could lead to defensive downturns.
41. In an online draft, save the chatting for when you really need it. Focus as much as you can on the draft itself, and leave the chatter for before and after. You should be queuing up players and doing between-rounds research between picks.
42. Thomas Jones is reportedly still in great shape, but he’s coming off five seasons with pretty heavy workloads and will be 31 when the season begins. I’m liking Shonn Greene to start contributing in 2009.
43. Player most likely to draw snarls/howls of frustration this year from other owners when you take him in the middle or later rounds: LeSean McCoy.
44. Darren Sproles is being overrated by some owners. Should LaDainian Tomlinson go down, Sproles really isn’t capable of carrying a large load for an extensive period. He’ll make some big plays, but won’t be reliable.
45. In keeper leagues, anchor each of your important positions first. That means keeping the possible No. 1 WR over the third RB. Seems simple enough, but the rule/theory isn’t followed often enough.
46. Nothing in fantasy football is absolute. There are lots of axiom and rules, but none of them apply to all situations.
47. We’re not playing fantasy baseball. Don’t get too wrapped up in numerical analysis from the past. You want to find what drives the numbers, not stick to what they were.
48. Fantasy football is no longer geeky. It’s become so popular, you’re a geek if you don’t play.
49. Again, stop obsessing about your first pick. I see you doing it again. That first selection is going to come and go so quickly, and you’ll realize that you have about 15 more rounds to go after the “biggie.” Plan for a full draft, not just one round.
50. Eli Manning is going to have to find someone to throw to. He’ll get quality protection, and his version of Steve Smith will turn out to be pretty darn reliable, especially in PPR leagues.
51. It’s fine to bank on comeback years from QBs like Hasselbeck and Carson Palmer, as long as you back them up with “safe” alternatives such as David Garrard or Chad Pennington. You want to have a respectable backup if your top QB doesn’t bounce back as hoped.
52. I’m looking for a fine season from Kevin Curtis. The Eagles may have to throw a lot in 2009, with Westbrook being less effective and a rookie learning the ropes. Curtis will emerge as the team’s most trustworthy pass-catcher.
53. Felix Jones is a future star waiting to explode. If he can avoid injuries, he’s going to deliver a few huge outings.
54. Keep a watch on Washington’s Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas. Now is the time for at least one of them to start stepping up to help Santana Moss out. Watch to see how each one progresses during the preseason.
55. For those of you who play in individual defender leagues, linemen who make more tackles than their peers are always my first picks. Linebacker is a much deeper position. I’m all over guys like Shaun Rogers when starting to look at my initial IDP selections.
56. I won’t leave kickers out this year. Go ahead and pick one.
57. Keep your head in the game during a live draft. Cross players off your cheat sheets as they are selected, because you don’t want to be the guy who calls out players who are already taken.
58. The more prepared you are, the better your trash talking can be during a live draft.
59. Don’t overreact to preseason injuries. If a guy is hurt on draft day, that doesn’t mean he won’t be ready for the regular season in many cases. Think ahead, not about today.
60. Don’t make a loud stink about league rules. If you agree to join a league, you know what you are getting into, and simply adjust to the settings. If you prepare properly, you can win in any scoring format.
61. Don’t get crazy after the draft and start making lots of trade offers. Trust what you have built and be patient. Your job after the draft is to keep abreast of player news and trends, not to make overhauls just for the sake of excitement. It’s hard to come down from the “high” of a draft, but you should only make moves that fill realistic needs in most cases.
62. Did you win your championship last year? Bring the trophy to your draft and sit it on the table in front of you for everyone to see. If it’s an online league, post a picture of the trophy on the league home page before the season starts.
63. Willie Parker will be a boom or bust pick for yardage. The returning threat of Rashard Mendenhall may spur him to some good outings, but Mendenhall is the obvious choice for short-yardage TD chances. He has the upside, Parker’s downside can only be staved off for one more year at most.
64. Tampa Bay will have some real QB issues. You don’t really believe Byron Leftwich is capable of a real revival? I sure don’t. I don’t like the outlook for Antonio Bryant at all.
65. I’m not getting any royalties for this. Subscribe or pick up Pro Football Weekly every chance you get. Read "The Way We Hear It" regularly. That is an order.
66. Help me petition the Fantasy Sports Trade Association to officially make Reggie Bush a wide receiver. Pass him up in standard scoring leagues.
67. Don’t create worries where truly there are none, or focus too much on negatives with a player you’re about to pick. I’m talking about the 370-carry thing with Turner, yeah, but also stuff like a “soph jinx” for Matt Forte. You already know the downsides of some players, don’t speculate and conjure up extra ones.
68. Join an auction league. You don’t have to wait to see what players fall to you. It’s a great, fun alternative. If you do participate in one, target two to three certain key players beforehand, and then let everything else fall into place.
69. Larry Johnson is quietly going unnoticed and overlooked this preseason. Don’t forget about him. He has to play well in order for Cassel to have a prayer of surviving.
70. When the top 20 to 25 RBs are gone, Cedric Benson will serve you well. He’s going to be very serviceable when you still need a No. 2 RB or like a flex guy who gets regular touches.
71. If your league uses a flex, the days of me recommending the RB over the WR are gone. That’s even more obvious in a PPR league. I have already gone the route of four WRs in the first six rounds of a PPR/flex league.
72. This is the last time we should give Chad Ochocinco a chance to prove he is still a top fantasy WR. If you draft him, get solid depth a round or two later, because I’m still not fully confident he will shake off extra defenders.
73. Roy Williams is set for a big year. He is a true fantasy WR diva, I’ll say it again, and he wants the ball. Now with Terrell Owens gone, he’ll get what he wants and re-emerge as a top player at his position.
74. This season seems to offer much more unpredictability than ever. This requires all of us to study harder than ever. As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to read another magazine and peruse the latest online updates. Not just for skill position news.
75. Thanks for coming this far with me. I’ll be with you all year long.
E-mail me at email@example.com and I can offer even more tips and advice that I didn’t cover here. Maybe next year I’ll have to double the amount. Register for the full courses at ROTO UNIVERSITY to get even more insider expert tips!
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