Fantasy Football's Keys to Winning Your League

Nikil RamanathanCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2008

I started playing fantasy football back in 2000. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the strategy surrounding the game. It seemed easy enough: create the best team possible. However, the task proved far harder to accomplish than I ever dreamed of.

As a high-school student, I enjoy playing fantasy sports. Each year, a bunch of friends and I would get together and participate in a fantasy basketball, baseball, and football league. I found myself taking the title in two leagues each year and a couple others that I participate in on Yahoo.

Fantasy sports, particularly fantasy football, has grown on me ever since. It seems to be the perfect mix of strategy and fun. I find fantasy football comparable to your favorite class in school.

It requires strategy and homework in order to craft a great team. It also requires vast research. Yet, the work does not seem burdensome. In fact, it feels the exact opposite.

Because of the love and appreciation I have for the game of football, I enjoy nothing more than kicking back on the coach with a cup of coffee and skimming through a fantasy football magazine.

But when it comes to the actual rankings themselves, it is clear the best names in sports don't know much.

Whether it's ESPN, Sporting News, CBS sports, or you name it, the rankings just don't cut it. I find the most valuable information for draft day to be the mock drafts and the ADP or average draft position.

The idea is mainly to trust your own instincts. The rankings are made for complete newbies. That is, people who have just learned that a touchdown is worth six points should follow these rankings strictly. Otherwise, the rankings aren't going to give you a leg-up on the competition.

The truth is, first-year players that draft players from their favorite teams have as good of a shot as the next guy drafting the best available player off of a Sports Illustrated cheat sheet.

Am I telling you, if you are a Miami Dolphins fan, to take Ronnie Brown first overall? Absolutely not. Am I telling you to do the opposite of what the rankings indicate? No. What I am telling you to do is use a balance.

The goal is to create that perfect balance between your perceptions and those of the writers of these rankings.

Here is a coherent plan to help you start your preparation.

Buy a magazine or look at some rankings online from a relatively reputable resource. Good examples are Athlon Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, Yahoo, and Fanball. Places to stay away from are Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated.

Obtain the following from said magazine or website or another trustworthy source:

1. Player rankings by position, including projections and three-year statistics

2. Top 300 players overall

3. Cheat sheets (just names of players)

4. Ranking of best offensive lines in the NFL

5. List of sleepers

6. Two or three mock draft results with the same number of teams as your league and similar settings run by expert analysts

7. List of ADP (average draft position) of players from reputable source

8. List of league roster positions

9. List of league settings

10. Red pen

11. Cup of Coffee (no decaf)

Once you have obtained the following, set aside No. 2, 5, and 8. They are solely to use on draft day only.

Then set aside No. 6 and 7 in a different pile. You will need to glance at these fairly quickly, but it is important that you do so before the draft.

Then take No. 3 out in front of you. Using No. 1, start to group players into tiers based on how close one guy will be, production-wise, versus the guy directly below him. Then use No. 9 to move certain players up or down depending on a certain league.

For example, in a league that awards you a point per reception (ppr), I would place Westbrook ahead of Peterson and move Reggie Bush into the low to middle-teens area rather than the high teens or low 20s.

Start this process with running backs and use No. 4 to help you. Any running backs on teams with good offensive lines should be looked at highly, and conversely, any running backs on teams with poor offensive lines should be scrutinized.

Personally, I prefer a guy like Clinton Portis over Larry Johnson because he has a better offensive line and has shown he can produce even when his O-line has been injury-depleted. Johnson, meanwhile, has been a guy who may have simply benefited from the Chiefs' previously brilliant offensive line, but is an unproven runner himself.


To start you off, here is how I would rank running backs in a typical league.

Tier One:

L. Tomlinson

A. Peterson (MN)

B. Westbrook

S. Jackson

J. Addai


Tier Two:

F. Gore

C. Portis

M. Barber

M. Lynch

L. Johnson

I proceed to use the rankings as a way to measure where specific players are ranked relative to others. I then take sheets No. 6 and 7 to help group these players into specified tiers that combine personal preference and typical preference.

This allows me to target players that I like, but prevents me from reaching for them and taking them too soon. By knowing their ADP, I can judge at what pick I need to pick them and when such players will typically be available.

Additionally, if you know the managers in your league, sometimes you can determine their tendencies and that will give you an even better gauge of when players will be drafted.

For example, let's say I am indeed a Miami Dolphins, fan and I have the third pick in a 12-team league. By checking ADP and sample mock drafts, as well as rankings, I figure my man, Ronnie Brown, will still be available at pick 27, my third-round pick. 

Thus, I pick a better player in the second round, rather than stretching for a player I desire too early.

After completing a grouping of running backs, proceed to do such rankings next with receivers. Here are my tiers in this area to start you off.

I have six wide receivers that I consider elite this year, in order: Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens, Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, and Andre Johnson.

I then have the next tier of guys that I consider low No. 1s, but still desirable, such as Colston, Houshmandzadeh, and Burress, followed by strong No. 2 wide receivers, like Welker, Holmes, Chad Johnson, Torry Holt, and Anquan Boldin.  

Again, league settings play a big role. If you are in a point per reception (ppr) league, a guy like Wes Welker will be of greater value than a Holmes. Once again, the right combination must be used and that comes with experience. But this philosophy can work to great lengths.

Then do the same for quarterbacks. I'll start you off again.

Tier One:


P. Manning


Tier Two:

D. Brees

T. Romo

C. Palmer

B. Roethlisberger


Tier Three:

M. Hasselbeck

D. Anderson

J. Cutler

D. McNabb


If you are truly ambitious, you can do the same with tight ends. There is no need to do so with team defenses and individual kickers.

By ranking this way before a draft, you have a much better idea of who to take at a given selection. For example, if the last tier-one wideout remains, but five tier-three running backs are left, take the wideout and get the running back with your next pick.

Without this strategy, at times, managers will second-guess themselves and will ultimately end up making a wrong selection.

Finally, I will leave you with some quick tips to help the average fantasy manager.

1. Take a placekicker with your final pick (or do not draft one at all and pick one up before Week One, using your last pick for a high flier).

2. Draft running-back depth over wide receiver depth (WR will always be available on the waiver wire, while it is hard to find that same quality at the running back position).

3. Use you list of sleepers wisely on draft day, but don't reach for them.

4. Handcuff your top running backs. That is, take their backups and stretch for them if necessary.

5. Always be active on the waiver wire once the season begins. Be on the lookout for injury replacements. At the very least, they can end up being great trade-bait.


I hope you enjoyed this article, and I hope my strategy proves valuable to the rest of you fantasy addicts. Good luck to all, and may my tips help you bring home the hardware.


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