This year will mark the tenth year I’ve participated in fantasy football in some capacity. Don’t ask me how I missed out on this wonderful world of gridiron glory during my college years—probably too many other recreational activities—but I digress.
After 10 years of preparation, mock drafts, rankings, and live drafts, I’d like to think I’ve developed some pearls of wisdom to share with my fellow fantasy newcomers and seasoned veterans alike.
These 10 Draft Rules can be applied to any format of league and are a culmination of both lessons learned in triumph and in painful, agonizing defeat to life-long friends, family and co-workers.
Whether you are battling for pride, a trophy, cash, or a combination of the three, make sure you prepare for your draft day with these rules in mind:
Rule Number One: Rank Your Own
Michael Vick or Aaron Rodgers? Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster? Andre or Calvin Johnson? Drafts are full of decisions just like these—and of course plenty of much less enticing options, but nevertheless they're equally as difficult to make.
Before a draft you should rank out your top 30 QB’s, 50 RB’s, 60 WR’s, & 20 TE’s. Of course, you’ll need to adjust these numbers depending on how many owners are in the league and how many roster spots you’re filling.
Too many owners go to drafts with prefabricated lists or ranks. Should you ignore all rankings and lists? No, and I have more on that in rule number two, but taking the time to compile your own rankings will allow you to know who you want as well as ensure you took some time determining why.
Rule Number Two: Compare & Contrast
Equally as important as coming up with your own rankings and lists is scouring other sources to see what the rest of the world thinks. Believe me, I’m not afraid to stand on an island when it comes to picking or ranking guys, but I still like to know how far off the mainland my island will be.
One thing I love to do—especially as I travel in the summertime—is stop off at newsstands or bookstores and pick up one of the endless fantasy magazines and just flip to the rankings section. I’ll look at the top 10 or so at each position. Generally, there’ll be a consensus amongst the industry; however, sometimes you’ll find an outlier. That’s when I take the time to read why so and so thinks Tim Tebow is the eighth best QB or why Steve Smith will be a top 5 WR again.
Rule Number Three: Have a System
Rankings and lists are great, but what happens when the fourth round comes and two players you desperately want are sitting there—and you know you’ll only get one? You need to have a system in place for determining what you will do when this happens.
Sure, you can easily just pick one and hope for the best, but I recommend having a more formal way of selecting. For example, many owners will form tiers or levels of players at each position. They know they want at least 3 RB’s from their top three tiers, so when the time comes to make the choice they have a system in place.
Another way to manage this situation is to compile or use a top 200 list. Simply taking the guy highest on the list will ensure you feel you’ve taken the best option. Looking at strength of schedule, fantasy playoff schedules, and bye weeks can also be a part of your system.
*As part of your system, make sure you never are at the end of a position run. In the fourth and fifth rounds if tight ends are flying off the board simply snag another quality RB or WR. Don’t force a pick. Remember, it’s always better to start a position run than to end one.
Rule Number Four: Prepare for the Worst
If you are solely preparing for the draft by compiling rankings and praying Tom Brady falls to you at the end of the second round then you are going to be in for a rude awakening. Thankfully, not too many owners are as fanatical about their drafts as yours truly, but believe me they are out there and possibly in your league.
What can you do if you don’t have hours a day before your draft to prepare? Here are three simple steps to maximize your time.
First, do a handful of mock drafts – either on-line, on your own, or with a buddy. Actually participating in a draft is the best way to prepare for the real thing.
Secondly, prepare two or three mock drafts where almost every “must-have” guy you want goes to the owner right before you forcing you to readjust. Study these drafts so when the real deal goes down you’re more than ready and won’t be surprised.
Finally, develop a confidante. Having a trusted fellow fantasy player to talk honestly with about players you love and players you despise will benefit you greatly. Yes, even if they are going to be drafting against you. I have a buddy with whom I have no rankings secrets and he’s easily the best source of information—not to mention he calls me out when I get too enamored with a potential bust or too down on a potential gem.
Rule Number Five: Come Equipped
Please don’t be that guy who shows up to the draft with nothing but a 6-pack of Keystone Premium. First of all, PBR is the way to go, and secondly, if you are relying on “sharing” magazines, rankings, and various other draft day paraphernalia you should be left in the cold by your fellow draftmates.
Case in point, our 10-team league drafted in Vegas a few years back and we took a limo from the airport to our hotel. One of our members, we’ll just call him “Diesel”, left all of his notes, mags, rankings, and everything else he needed in the limo. For the next 36 hours he begged and pleaded with any and all of us to share with him. Nobody did.
Call it ruthless, heartless, or call it poor sportsmanship, but the truth of the matter is you need to be prepared and come prepared.
Rule Number Six: Concoct a draft-day deal
The year was 2007. Britney Spears had shaved her dome and gone crazy for real, and after Tony Soprano had faded to black, I was set to take my fantasy league by storm as usual in our annual August draft.
It was a beautiful Colorado day with a crisp blue sky and gentle warm breeze. The fellas and I gathered around to start the show when low and behold the Commish, the Best Man at my own wedding, blindsided me with a steal of a trade that shook up the rankings, the draft board, and my soul…I never recovered that day and went on to post my only sub .500 season ever in the league, finishing a dismal 5-12.
What’s the moral of this tale? Don’t be afraid to craft a deal that will surprise, shock, and decimate the draft board. What made the 2007 deal so demoralizing for me was two things—first, I never saw it coming and the Commish made sure it was completely clandestine, and secondly, it involved a player I was sure I’d get in the first round.
If you can pull off a deal, especially a secretive deal prior to draft day, by all means make it happen.
Rule Number Seven: Get who you want within reason
We all have players we either have a quasi-awkward man crush on or a borderline obsession with—I had to have Megatron (Calvin Johnson) when he came out no matter what. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with going after players you really love and enjoy watching.
Remember, fantasy football is competitive and about winning, but it’s also about rooting for the guys on your team. Therefore, if a guy you like is there in the fifth round and it’s a little early to take him but you want him—then grab him.
Of course, you’ll need to take this rule with a dose of reality. Simply picking guys from your favorite team or consistently grabbing guys two or three rounds too early will leave your team riddled with holes and make it tough for you to make deals later.
Rule Number Eight: Feed and Mislead AKA Know Thy Enemy
As I mentioned earlier, I’m in a hyper-competitive 10-man, 2-Keeper league with guys I’ve literally known and been friends with for decades. We have dirt on the dirt we have on each other. We’re Best Men in each other’s weddings and Godfathers to each other’s kids—and sworn fantasy enemies.
No matter what, I make it a point to start talking draft picks and rankings with these guys sometime around the beginning of July. I throw out names of guys I like and dislike and then I listen—revealing just enough of my own opinion to hear theirs.
I want to know what guys to target, who’s going too early for my tastes, and the players I’m going to have to grab early or not at all.
When somebody gushes about a guy I think is a bust – I never disagree. When someone goes on and on about a guy I want, I poke numerous holes in their thinking. Feed and mislead. You’ll be surprised what you can learn from a five-minute phone call…
Rule Number Nine: Draft Commodities…Ignore D/ST & K
Okay, you’re rolling through the draft and you’ve got a solid QB, two or three nice backs, a legit number one WR, and a breakout candidate at TE…then you screw it all up by drafting a DST in the eighth round? Please, for the love of Barry Sanders, don’t draft a defensive unit or kicker until at least the eleventh round (even that’s early).
You want to build depth and take chances on guys with upside in rounds 8-12, not chase last year’s number one defensive unit.
Finally, if you are having a difficult time making a decision between two players, especially in the first five or six rounds, take the player that will be more desired by other owners. Case in point, last year I selected Brandon Marshall over a few other wide receivers on the board because I knew at least two other owners coveted him. I eventually dealt him for an equal WR and an upgrade at TE.
When all else fails, draft guys you can always move. If you take a bunch of unproven commodities and they don’t pan out you’re left with a bad lineup and no chance to move anyone.
Rule Number Ten: The Cedric Benson Rule
The final rule is also a result of that ill-fated 2007 draft (yes, I have recovered, even if it doesn’t seem like it)—always trust your gut. This is especially true when drafting guys you feel are not going to pan out.
2007 was supposed to be Cedric Benson’s coming out party. He was solid in ’06 and Thomas Jones had been shipped to the Jets. Everyone was high on the former Longhorn and more than one so-called pundit had him pegged as the sleeper of the year. For some reason, I remained skeptical and vowed not to draft him.
Weeks leading to the draft I thought little of his fantasy prospects, had him ranked fairly low, and figured he’d be someone else’s problem. Then the third round rolled around and he was sitting there—a bargain at that point. I panicked. To this day, I can remember the feeling I had of selecting him even though I didn’t want to and didn’t think I should. I ignored my own gut, rankings, and sensibility.
The result? A paltry 3.4 yards per carry, a meager 4 TD’s, and another bust on my now infamous 5-12 squadron of scoundrels and scallywags.
The lesson? Go with your gut. Trust yourself and your rankings—especially when you’ve put in time to develop them and adjust them. And whatever you do, don’t draft your own personal Cedric Benson.
That's all I've got. My final piece of advice: if you don't like my list compose your own, but just make sure you aren't going into your draft without some steadfast rules you're ready to break when the wheels fall off!