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Fantasy Football Draft Strategy 2015: Blueprint to Forming a Winning Squad

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel (28) breaks up a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press
Andrew GouldFeatured Columnist IVDecember 31, 2016

The first rule of fantasy football: Don't talk about your fantasy football team to NFL players, particularly Jeremy Maclin:

To the chagrin of the new Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver, let's take a second to examine his value for fantasy gamers with upcoming drafts. At first, nobody wanted any part of the 27-year-old once he left the uptempo Philadelphia Eagles for a team with zero touchdowns from wideouts last year.

But with everyone saying he's not worth the high investment this season, his price careened. Suddenly, a perceived overvalued bust has become a tantalizing mid-round bargain. There's an important lesson to learn here: Don't ever go into a draft prepared to select or avoid someone at all costs.

As a fourth-round pick, Maclin is a regression candidate in a less appealing offense with an injury history. As a sixth- or seventh-round selection, he's a bargain who has averaged 999 receiving yards and eight touchdowns per year over his last four healthy seasons.

That takes us into the first and most important key to fantasy football drafting: When all else fails, seek value at every turn.

 

Value Above All Else

Other strategy articles will tout a specific formula to victory. One such theory is the zero running back approach, where drafters defy common tradition by avoiding the most traditionally desired position during the opening rounds.

SI.com's Michael Beller explained the philosophy originated by Shawn Siegele of RotoViz.com:

An owner pursuing the zero-RB strategy has no interest in early-round running backs because of the risk inherent in such a pick. Instead, that owner will target elite talent at wide receiver, tight end, and, in rare cases, quarterback, in the first few rounds, before turning to running backs in the middle rounds. A typical zero-RB owner might not have his or her first back until the fifth or sixth round, though, on occasion, it might make sense grab a running back in the fourth round, depending on how the draft has unfolded. 

Could following the zero-RB model work? Totally, but committing to it hamstrings your options during the early rounds. Sure, eschewing rushers will look fine if Antonio Brown and Calvin Johnson fall into your laps during the opening rounds. If you're too blinded by the plan to notice Marshawn Lynch slipped to pick No. 10, you missed a great value.

That defeats the whole purpose of minimizing risk when a consistent stud falls. The idea first developed to exploit a market inefficiency, one that may no longer exist with many competitors playing along.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Unless this is the first fantasy football article you've read this summer, you've also come across passionate pleas to wait on quarterback. Whether you're instead targeting Matt Ryan and Tony Romo in the sixth or Eli Manning and Ryan Tannehill a tad later, there's value waiting for patient players.

But with everyone on board, Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck could instead become the value picks in certain rooms. If your league awards six points for a passing touchdown and one of those studs is sitting there in Round 2, skid away from the new norm.

 

Mix Safety with Upside

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Fortune favors the bold. Loading up on the likes of Alfred Morris and Jason Witten lessens risk, but you're not going to finish in first without taking some chances. At the same time, taking a flier at every turn creates a narrow window for success and wider likelihood of failure.

The key is finding a healthy blend between safe selections and swing-for-the-fence gambles. In a perfect world, you'll start the draft by procuring a few steady rocks, enabling fun choices in the later rounds.

That thinking has scared drafters away from volatile rushers. Last year, Montee Ball, Giovani Bernard, Andre Ellington, Doug Martin, Zac Stacy and Toby Gerhart were among the top backs taken last year. Then again, how did Brandon Marshall, Keenan Allen and Victor Cruz work out?

There's no such thing as a surefire pick, but four straight 1,400-yard, 12-touchdown seasons from Lynch makes him a much more comfortable building block than C.J. Anderson or the overly worked (436 carries including the playoffs last year) DeMarco Murray.

Look for game-changers later, but keep an eye on the boring guys who fall because nobody has sung his praises as a sleeper this summer. Despite compiling more than 80 catches and 1,000 yards in both seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Anquan Boldin is easy to snag as a No. 4 wide receiver.

After responsibly picking the veteran wideout, go wild and target John Brown, Brian Quick and DeVante Parker. Mike Clay make a particularly intriguing case for the Miami Dolphins rookie on ESPN.com, comparing his preseason foot injury to Odell Beckham Jr.'s predicament last year:

Consider Parker's current situation: He's a top-15 draft pick entering a quality offense, but an injury has all but derailed his chances of making a significant early-season impact in what is one of the league's deepest wide receiver units. So, basically a carbon copy of Beckham's situation last year. Parker was nothing short of tremendous at Louisville and has arguably the most upside among this year's rookie class. Standing 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Parker is Miami's tallest wide receiver by three inches, which means he'll certainly be busy near the goal line. Available late in drafts as he recovers from foot surgery, Parker has second-half breakout written all over him and is, thus, well worth stashing on your bench.

Doug Baldwin is fine, but at best he's a serviceable No. 3 wideout in the right matchup. Fantasy football is all about hitting big on a couple of breakout stars, so swing away during the later rounds.

 

Round out Roster Wisely

Make the mistake of missing an online draft, and most auto-picks will select reserves for each position, including defense and kicker. Those are two wasted slots better employed on high-upside skill players. Any human being in attendance should know better.

Don't let a single bench spot go to waste. Use every late pick meaningfully to augment your starting squad. When in doubt, look for running backs and wideouts who can make a difference.

The waiver wire is there for a reason. If Rob Gronkowski gets hurt, pick up a tight end to fill the void. On his bye week, find a replacement with an advantageous matchup and discard him the next week. But there's no scenario in the universe where anyone plays Larry Donnell or Dwayne Allen over a healthy Gronk, so why have one toil away on the bench?

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Same goes for quarterback. Someone who drafted Eli Manning certainly needs another option to complement the up-and-down passer. Those who snagged Luck or Rodgers, however, need not take Joe Flacco. You'll only use him once, so why not stash Parker instead?

And please, whatever you do, don't be the buffoon who drafts a kicker before the final round.

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