Many of you have probably already had your fantasy draft. I know that I’ve already had one of mine. I really hate conducting a draft prior to Labor Day weekend due to the fact that all of the NFL transactions have yet to be conducted. If you have already drafted, or you’re about to draft, keep the following in mind when you do and you could be fighting for your league's title by the end of the season:
- Pay Attention To Trades - Teams will always try and get a ‘mulligan' for a guy that they can’t use for the season. Nearly half the teams have some form of ‘excess’ at a position or two. If a player can’t catch on with an elite team like Dallas, that doesn’t mean that he’s not better than the players on a poor team like Oakland at his position. Good teams already have good players, which is why they ARE good teams. If they, (the good team), are trading someone, the net result could be the traded player will finally get his chance to be a star. It also could mean that the team receiving the player isn’t fully committed to the guys they already have on their roster at that position.
- Pay Attention To Veteran Cuts - This can possibly signify the beginning of a player’s career. This is a rare occasion, but sometimes the starter is beaten out by the less expensive backup. In that case, KNOW who that backup is. You should also pay attention to what team that veteran latches on to.
- Injuries, Injuries, Injuries… - They happen. Sometimes they happen in the last preseason game while other times they’ve already been injured throughout the preseason. If you haven’t been following the team, you might find it shocking when the player gets put on the Injured Reserve list, PUP list, or they’re even cut. When any of these transactions happen and the player was on your cheat sheet, be the first to find out why and react if it makes sense. My favorite draft experiences are the ones where my competition drafted guys out for the season. Nothing says "SUCKER" better!
- Take Holdouts Into Consideration - For example, Steven Jackson has held out nearly the entire preseason. History shows that a holdout usually leads to a season ending injury, sometimes a career threatening injury. It’s a good idea to either have his backup or an eye on him. Wideouts and running backs are the most susceptible to this rule of thumb and I recommend dropping a player at least two rounds in your draft when a player has held out. The risk is just too high to put even Steven Jackson in the first round.
- Players Coming Off Of Injury Can Affect The Value Of Their Teammates - Peyton Manning is a good example of this rule. Marvin Harrison had already dropped in value due to the emergence of Reggie Wayne as the go-to guy the last two seasons, but now that his quarterback is going to be rusty and probably feeling discomfort from an infection related to knee surgery, he’s dropped considerably. Instead of putting Harrison as a low end number two receiver, you should reconsider him all the way down to a lower three or four guy now. Going back to Steven Jackson, if he’s not running well or he gets injured, Tory Holt and Marc Bulger could suffer due to the one-dimensional offense.
- Coaching Makes Players Stars - This is my secret weapon. Nearly nobody takes this into consideration, or follows football enough to follow this rule very thoroughly. Norv Turner helped make Alex Smith look like he deserved to be drafted number one when he was the offensive coordinator of the 49ers. As a head coach, Norvell hasn't been much of a star maker. Mike Martz is in San Francisco now and if he can make Kitna and Furry an elite combo in Detroit, he can do the same with J.T. O’Sullivan and undrafted rookie Josh Morgan. Those guys are both risks, but worth taking late if they’re still available. Offensive and defensive coordinators, as well as head coaches, play a big role in WHO will be the big fantasy scorer on the team. If you study the coaching carousel well, all you need to know is who is starting for each team to have a great (not good) draft.
- Homers Make Mistakes - You got into fantasy football because your a football fanatic. You became a football fanatic because you love your team. Drafting those players that you so often root for will keep you from hoisting the cup at the end of the year. Whatever you have them ranked at in the draft, drop them at least a round. Unless you’re in a league with other guys that are homers for the same team, you’ll get your guy for a lower price, and it will probably be for more than he’s worth. If you’re in a league where everyone is a fan of the same team…good! Don’t draft ANYONE from your team, unless you’re a Vikings fan and you have the first pick of the draft. In other words, unless the rest of the world undoubtedly has the guy rated that high, don’t pick him. Let your friends pay the price of drafting players too high.
- Cheat Sheets Are ONLY A Guide - One year, I came to my draft only to find that another owner had the same cheat sheet that I was using. I think that the cheat sheet that I use from a very reputable source is the best on the market so I wasn’t about to trash it, but it’s not the bible of drafting. Remember that cheat sheets are only another person’s EDUCATED GUESS. Use common sense and YOUR knowledge as well as the cheat sheet. My opponent and I drafted that year, he went straight down the line of his list, while I added my judgement to my selections. I took second and he was dead last in a competitive eight team league. See my point?
- Don’t Be Afraid To Admit Your Mistakes - I’ve made my first free agent move hours after a draft before. You do look stupid to your friends, there’s no denying that, but would you rather look stupid for a day or stupid for four weeks? The worst thing you could do is hold on to a guy that adds no value to your roster or is not a part of your future plans in any way. While you wait to dump him, the best available guy for your team gets picked up by your competition and you’re left with his/her scraps. If you’re lucky, your opponents scraps are better than what you would’ve had, but if you’re in a strong league don’t bet on it.
- Patience Is Required, But Activity Is A Must - You have two types of players in fantasy football, the proven stars and everyone else. If you have a proven star such as Steven Jackson or Peyton Manning who starts off the season slow, don’t give up on him right away. Since both are coming off of quite a bit of inactivity, it may take four weeks before they begin to shine. Don’t drop them or trade them for some guy you’ve never heard of before because he’s had a great start to the season. Be patient. For everyone else in the NFL, if they’re not performing and it doesn’t look good, dump him and find someone that HAS started the season HOT. Chances are, if you’ve identified the player’s correct rating, nobody else is going to pick him up either…except for maybe a homer. Make moves often, improve your team every chance you get, and don’t be slow to react on a guy who’s never been more than average, or hasn’t been great for a couple of years (Marvin Harrison).
There are no guarantees that if you follow all of these rules, you’ll win your league. Last year, I was part of seven fantasy league’s with various methods of scoring. Out of the seven leagues, I won 4 titles, took second once, and third once. In the last league, I was a pitiful seventh out of twelve teams. Hey, it happens! If you do use these methods and some common sense along with keeping YOUR personal feelings in check, you can be competitive nearly every year in nearly every league. That’s what makes fantasy football fun.