For the first time in my life, two days before my fantasy-football draft, I have no idea whom I want.
Why can’t I have a top-five pick? I can’t go wrong with LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Steven Jackson, and Joseph Addai.
But I’m stuck drafting seventh, where the prospects are much bleaker.
Is it possible I get a guy that is as good as one of the aforementioned running backs? Of course there will be more than five fantasy studs, but who can possibly predict which player will step up?
Before I go any further, let me explain the league rules.
• 10 yards per point, rushing or receiving
• 25 yards per point, passing
• 6 points per touchdown, rushing, receiving, or returning
• 4 points per touchdown, passing
• QB, WR, WR, RB, RB, TE, W/R, K, DEF, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN, BN
• 12 teams, week 14-15-16 playoffs
• Entry fee: $100, $2 per transaction
This is the most important thing to know going in. My league actually has a few added bonuses for reaching yardage milestones, but for the purposes of this article, I won’t mention that.
Make sure you know your league rules though! Know how many bench spots you have, know whom you need to start, and know when you pick.
But back to my dilemma at the seventh pick.
Assuming the five running backs I mentioned earlier are gone, I have the pick of almost anyone else. I’ve made awful first-round picks the last few years (Larry Johnson last year, Edgerrin James two years ago, and Daunte Culpepper the year before that), but I’ve still done very well, which leads to my first rule of thumb.
Always be prepared for anything.
Last year, for instance, I was able to steal a great third running back (Brandon Jacobs), and I was able to mix and match Johnson, Jacobs, second-round pick Travis Henry, Selvin Young, Kolby Smith, Ron Dayne, and Aaron Stecker at running back.
Out of those, I drafted the first four, and I was able to roll with them for a while until the Broncos' situation became muddled and L.J. and Jacobs got hurt.
Always scour the waiver wire. Players, particularly running backs and certain quarterbacks, get hurt. Know what backups are on teams that can run the ball, especially behind injury-prone starters (Chester Taylor, Ahmad Bradshaw), and look for promising young players that are trying to supplant mediocre starters (Chris Johnson, Pierre Thomas, Leon Washington).
I’m not suggesting to draft players like this, though I’ll be targeting Thomas in a later round, but keep an eye on how players like Ray Rice, Chris Perry, Tim Hightower, and Jerrious Norwood perform in limited action.
If the starters get hurt or disappoint, someone will step up and be this year’s Earnest Graham or Ryan Grant.
Also, keep an eye on potential plug-n-play options like Stecker was last season. A starting running back on a good offense is a good commodity to have and start, even if it is just for a week or two.
Receivers also can be watched this way, though since receivers usually stay healthier, it’s less likely you’ll find a diamond in the rough. Scouring the newswires for injury news is important for both positions.
And besides, sometimes your fellow GMs will make dumb moves. I was able to snatch Andre Johnson off the waiver wire last year when someone dropped him. Don’t expect someone that good to fall in your lap, but be vigilant and try not to waste your waiver priority on someone who will just be a backup on your team.
This rule works for draft night as well. While it’s good to have a plan and know what you want to do, keep an open mind. Say I decide to take Randy Moss at seven, but somehow Joseph Addai is sitting on my lap.
Deviate from that plan and grab the stud back. Or if you want to take a running back in round two, but you don’t like anyone available, grab the top receiver.
This leads to my next rule.
Tier your players on draft night.
A few draft books I bought this year finally started doing this, and it’s very smart. It’s always been the philosophy among quarterbacks, as fantasy analysts have preached for years to wait on that position since most quarterbacks after the top few are very similar.
This year, it looks like that’s the case at running back. Will Marion Barber and Frank Gore be that much better than Brandon Jacobs and Maurice Jones-Drew? That’s a decision that must be made if you have a late pick.
It’s always better to take the last guy than the first guy in a tier.
It’s a simple concept, but many GMs ignore it. Randy Moss and Tom Brady were far and away the top scorers at their positions last year. If Brady were to repeat his production from last year, he would probably be a top-three pick easily, and you’d have a huge advantage over other teams each week.
Look at receiver. If you think Reggie Wayne, Braylon Edwards, Terrell Owens, and Moss are the top four by a wide margin, and the difference between Steve Smith, Marques Colston, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Roy Williams is minimal, wait and take value at other picks before going to receiver.
Houshmandzadeh, for instance, is listed 17th in Rotowire’s magazine. The Fantasy Guide’s magazine has him third. Jerricho Cotchery, on the other hand, is 18th and 36th in those two magazines, respectively.
Basically, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between many of the receivers, so there are a few ways to attack the middle rounds.
One way to do it is to grab some high-upside guys out of these receivers. Calvin and Andre Johnson have the potential to put up much bigger numbers than, say, Roddy White and Wes Welker.
My favorite way to do it is to make sure I get one of the top few tight ends. This is a very scarce position. Kellen Winslow, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, and Tony Gonzalez are much better options to have at your disposal than Owen Daniels, Alge Crumpler, or Jeremy Shockey.
Once the top tight ends are gone (you can put Dallas Clark or Chris Cooley in that list, too), then wait a while on tight end. As good as Crumpler or Daniels can be, a guy who might not be drafted like Ben Utecht or Greg Olsen can potentially put up similar numbers.
It also depends on your running-back situation. If you’re not confident with your starters, draft a high-upside back like Jonathan Stewart, Kevin Smith, or Selvin Young.
It’s much better to have a guy that can potentially carry your team and be a starter than someone like Willie Parker or Fred Taylor, whom you won’t ever really want to start unless you really need consistent yards.
Remember, the bottom line in fantasy football is to get more points each week than your opponent. You don't necessarily need to go RB-RB to do that. Draft for value, and draft your starters first. Then, after the draft, try to get more quality.
Trade two-for-one or three-for-two and then grab someone out of the free-agent pool. You'll be happy you did at the end of the season.
So, Mackenzie, what do you plan on doing?
If the five backs are gone, I’m going to try to grab Frank Gore, Marshawn Lynch, or Marion Barber III. I’m guessing Tom Brady goes sixth, and I hate taking a receiver round one, since I don’t think Moss will duplicate last season.
If Brady lasts to my pick, however, I don't see a way I can pass him up. If he can put up anywhere near the numbers he did last year, he's worth it. Daunte Culpepper was a first-round pick with Randy Moss for a year, why shouldn't Brady be? Plus, he has Wes Welker.
If I take Barber, whom I’m leaning towards at the moment, I will hope Gore, Lynch, Grant, or Portis will fall to me in round two, but I doubt it. Then I’ll take a look at the receivers available. I should be able to grab Braylon Edwards in round two, who should still be there.
If not, I’ll look at Wayne, Owens, Peyton Manning, Laurence Maroney, and Maurice Jones-Drew, and I’ll probably take the top receiver I can and fill one of my three spots there.
From this point, it’s hard to predict what will be there in round three, but I imagine at least one running back will slip through the cracks. Whether it’s Michael Turner, Darren McFadden, Brandon Jacobs, Willis McGahee, or Earnest Graham, someone should be there in round three. I think the mid-late round two and early round three running backs are very similar, so I’d prefer to wait the extra round and grab one now.
At round four, I’ll look to grab Brees, Romo, Anderson, or Palmer. This is a fair time for one of them to go, and there’s a clear drop off between them and the next tier. I’ll take the chance that someone there is available, and I doubt I am disappointed.
If I am, I’ll wait a while. Last year, I waited until round eight, then grabbed Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Hasselbeck, and Eli Manning. Between Big Ben and Hasselbeck, I had very good quarterback play last season, and because I waited, I was able to grab some talent.
In round five, I’ll look at the receivers available, and if I can steal a Houshmandzadeh, Colston, or Anquan Boldin in this spot, I’ll grab them and run. More likely, I’ll grab Antonio Gates, a high-upside receiver like Calvin Johnson, or a running back with potential like Matt Forte or Kevin Smith.
From this point on, I’ll look for the best value and the best upside picks I can. I won’t take a kicker until the last or second-to-last rounds. I know the golden rule is to not take a kicker before the last round, but if you think whomever you would draft that round will also be available the next pick, then go grab one of the top few kickers. Every little edge counts.
Any earlier than that, however, and you’re wasting a pick.
As far as defenses go, I’ll probably try to mix and match some defenses that have upside. Last year, starting whomever played against Miami or San Francisco would have probably gotten you more points than starting the No. 1 defense, so grabbing two defenses that might go under the radar like Buffalo and the Jets.
Both teams also play easier schedules, so it’s a smart way to go about it. Either way, there isn't a big difference between most defenses at the end of the season, so grabbing two high-upside defenses and mixing and matching isn't a bad idea.
If Brady is my first-round pick, not a whole lot will change. I'll try to grab a running back in round two, but if the value is at wide receiver, I'll grab one. Points are points, no matter where you get one. I'll hate having to catch up at running back in the next few rounds, but I'll have to.
Of course, if someone slips that I like, I'll happily take the back, but I don't expect it.
What I'll probably do in this situation is try to grab an Earnest Graham in round three, and target guys like DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Jones, Reggie Bush, Jonathan Stewart, Michael Turner, LenDale White, Selvin Young, and Kevin Smith.
It's difficult to map out a specific draft strategy. And hell, I really don't want to. Picking in the middle of the draft muddles things a lot more, since there are so many players chosen between my choices. I have to keep an open mind.
But this leads to one last rule.
This is a game, folks. Whether you're in a free or a pay league, remember that it's just a game for football nerds. Make it fun. Watch your players, watch games with whomever you're playing against that particular week if you can, and make searching for the next mid-season sleeper a source of pride.
Make the draft itself fun. Get a big board like the one shown above, get your friends together, and do a real live draft if you can. It's totally worth it. Mock your friends for drafting Byron Leftwich the day after he was released.
Someone makes an absolutely insane pick, like Jeff Garcia at the end of round two? Laugh at them (but make sure the pick is official first).
Finally, don't get too worked up over it. It's all in good fun. It's okay if Brian Westbrook taking a knee at the one-yard line made you feel like you wanted to die, but at the end of the day, it's out of your control. Laugh it off and have some fun.
And if it's Week Nine and your team is out of it, don't bail on the league. Do your lineups, who knows, you could knock your friends out of the playoffs late in the year. If once the going gets tough, you stop doing your lineups and paying any attention, people will be less likely to invite you back in the league.
Plus, it's just less fun for everyone.