There is no tried and true method to drafting and winning in fantasy football. As the pro game adapts and fantasy rosters and rules become more sophisticated, draft strategies have changed as well. Here are 10 strategies to consider as you prepare for fantasy draft this year.
1. Focus Your Pre-draft Preparation on the Talent in the Middle and Late Rounds of Your Draft (or Under $5 guys in Auction Leagues)
The elite talents are easy to identify and tend to get the bulk of the attention leading up to draft day, but drafts are won and lost in the later rounds.
Identifying this year's Miles Austin or Sidney Rice will dramatically increase your odds of winning. Focus your preparations on finding these players.
2. Use Your Late Round Picks on High Upside Young Players
At the end of drafts it is easy to focus on recognizable names such as Roy Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson or Todd Heap who will provide modest results that can be found on the waiver wire.
Instead, focus on players who may be getting an opportunity for the first time or looking to progress in their second or third season. These players may or may not break out, but if they don't, you can find the modest numbers guy on the waiver wire.
Plus, if you hit on one of these picks, you can always brag that you uncovered a gem. One of my greatest fantasy moments was drafting Anquan Boldin with the last pick in the draft his rookie year. For a list of players worthy of late round flyers, check out my Sleepers article.
3. Chart the Picks In Your Draft
Keeping track of the draft picks and the makeup of each team's roster is the most underutilized technique in fantasy football. It always amazes me how few team's utilize this simple but extremely useful technique.
Tracking opposing rosters will help you determine which player or position will be available for your next pick. In auction leagues, it can help you determine who is bluffing and who is not.
4. Be Flexible
The biggest mistake an owner can make going into a draft is to be locked into a specific strategy.
It is okay to have a plan, but when a run at a position blows it up, don't force a pick to stick to the plan.
As an example, last season entering a 12 team serpentine draft with the 11th selection, my plan was to go wide receiver, wide receiver with my first two picks. But when the 12th team stole my strategy taking my top four off the board, I audibled to Aaron Rodgers, providing a Rodgers-Andre Johnson building block.
5. Never Take the "Just Had to Take Him" Guy
If a player you don't really like appears to fall in your lap unexpectedly (Brian Westbrook or LT last season for example) there is usually a reason.
Trust your gut on this one.
There is too much depth and talent in a draft to waste a pick on a player you are not comfortable with, especially early. (Bust Candidates)
6. Draft Value Over Upside and Even Position Early
In the first four rounds of your draft you are building the foundation of your franchise.
With this in mind, take the best player available regardless of position (as long as you are not drafting a backup), in these rounds.
There is enough depth at quarterback, running back and wide receiver to fill a need in a later round as long as you made your early picks count.
7. Position Yourself to Draft One of the Seven Elite Quarterbacks
In 2009, nine quarterbacks threw for 4,200+ yards and 26+ touchdowns ("will he or won't he" Brett Favre and suspended Ben Roethlisberger round out the nine).
Beyond that group, just two other players surpassed 3,800 yards passing and only two threw for more than 21 touchdowns.
Based on these stats, if you don't get one of those seven you are losing out on at least 400 yards and 5 touchdowns from the quarterback position.
Your league's rules will determine when you will need to draft a top seven quarterback, but just realize you may need to take one a round or two earlier than usual if you want to guarantee yourself one of the top seven.
It is great to be the team who finds the next Matt Schaub but it's not when that player goes bust (just ask Matt Ryan owners last year).
8. Don't Go Running Back/Running Back in Rounds 1 and 2
Once you get beyond the top six or seven backs, the rest of the top 20 backs start to look a lot alike. Lots of upside plays and a couple of solid vets, but considerable risk.
The top heavy nature of the quarterback and wide receiver positions combined with the depth at running back makes grabbing an elite quarterback or wide receiver by the end of round two, if not grabbing one of each (or double dipping at wide receiver) by the end of round three.
9. When Players Play is More Important than the Stats They Put Up in the Pre-Season
Drafting the player who leads the league in rushing in garbage time in the pre-season is rarely valuable, but the wide receiver who is getting reps with the first team is.
10. Listen to What Quarterbacks Say About Their Receivers in the Pre-Season
Head coaches rarely open the vault on their hidden gems, but quarterbacks will often provide hints at their new favorite targets.
Hint: Pay attention to Jay Cutler in Chicago. Quarterbacks in Denver, Washington, St. Louis and Buffalo could also provide useful sleeper knowledge.
Honorable Mention: The Poorest Offenses are Often A Great Source of Sleeper Options
Taking the best players on bad teams has always been a cheap source of fantasy talent. No offense is getting less buzz than the Buffalo Bills this pre-season, but if the team implements the spread as Chan Gailey did in Kansas City two years ago, the Bills could produce a fantasy gem (James Hardy? Steve Johnson? Shawn Nelson?)
Check out NFLDraft101's complete fantasy guide.