Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Basic Principles to Dominate Your Draft
Don't have Ochocinco to help you with your draft? No problem.
Now that the NFL lockout has been settled and training camps have begun, millions of fantasy football players can breathe a sigh of relief as they will once again get to indulge in their beloved pastime.
However, because of the sudden flurry of player movement, there is a bit of a different dynamic heading into this season. A lot of roster spots and positional battles remain fluid, and those fantasy players who stay on top of the day-to-day headlines and transactions will have a decided advantage over the more casual observer.
In order to have a successful fantasy football draft, you must keep these basic principles in mind.
Know Your Rules
First, you have to know your league's rules, scoring system and roster structure. This sounds elementary, but oftentimes a player's value will change based on the specific scoring system your league will employ.
For example, here are some QB rankings from last season with just a slight tweak in scoring systems:
Scenario A: Passing TD equals 3 pts, Interception equals -1 pt
Scenario B: Passing TD equals 6 pts, Interception equals -2 pts
1. Tom Brady
2. Aaron Rodgers
3. Michael Vick
4. Peyton Manning
5. Philip Rivers
Scenario C: Passing TD equals 4 pts, no penalty for INT
1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Michael Vick
3. Peyton Manning
4. Drew Brees
5. Philip Rivers
Only one of the top-20 quarterbacks maintained the same ranking in all three scoring systems, (Donovan McNabb at No. 18), and keep in mind that this doesn't even take into account discrepancies in yardage value, or leagues that factor in averages or bonus points for specific in-game feats.
This is also the case with PPR leagues (points per reception) involving running backs. A running back's value can change drastically in a PPR league.
Here are some final RB rankings from last season, both in a standard league and a PPR league:
1. Arian Foster
2. Peyton Hillis
3. LeSean McCoy
4. Jamaal Charles
5. Adrian Peterson
6. Chris Johnson
7. Ray Rice
8. Darren McFadden
9. Matt Forte
10. Ahmad Bradshaw
Knowing your scoring system will prove to be very important when you're trying to decide whether to take Rodgers in the first round and Bradshaw in the third, or take Mendenhall in the first and Brady in the fourth.
Also, make sure you know the roster makeup of your league. If you play in a one-QB league, odds are you will not go wrong. Barring injury, the top quarterbacks will all produce.
However, if you play in a multiple-QB league or have the option of using a QB as your flex, you may want to take a second QB earlier than you might think since QB's traditionally score the most points. The difference between Eli Manning and Jason Campbell will likely be greater than the difference between Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers, so make sure to not neglect the QB2 position if your league uses one.
Stay Ahead of the Pack
Helpful hint - don't draft this guy.
If you walk into your draft room and see someone thumbing through a fantasy football magazine, consider him or her dead money.
Many fantasy football magazines were published immediately following the NFL draft. That was three months ago. Those magazines can't properly analyze the roughly 550 players who were free agents heading into the 2011 season. They may be able to provide relative value and analysis based on a player's past performance, but success in football is largely about players fitting specific roles in certain schemes, and there's no way to properly evaluate players from a fantasy perspective without knowing where they are going to play and who their supporting cast is going to be.
As of this writing, nearly 100 free agents have switched teams, and there are still more than 300 free agents whose futures have yet to be determined. That makes for a whole lot of moving parts heading into the 2011 season.
Add in a number of recent trades, and some players retiring like Carson Palmer and Randy Moss, and many casual observers will have no idea which way is up come draft day. You do not want to be the person at your draft emphatically calling out Moss' name as your WR3 while the rest of the room laughs at you, and makes you pay for the food and drinks as punishment for your stupidity.
Just make sure to do your own research and follow the recent goings-on. I cannot stress this enough. If you try to take the easy way out by basing your draft strategy on things like average draft position, you will likely encounter some pitfalls.
For example, if you look at the ADP of Tim Tebow over the past two weeks, you might think he's a viable option as a speculative QB2.
Well, guess what? He's not.
The reason he had been getting drafted so high was because the rumor mill had Kyle Orton being traded, which would leave Tebow as the unquestioned starter. This never happened, and now it looks as though Orton will be the Broncos' starting QB heading into the season. As a matter of fact, Orton is not even being drafted in a majority of leagues. That will obviously change once word gets out, but make sure you are aware of all player movement and positional battles heading into your draft.
We live in the information age—the knowledge is at your disposal. Use it, and use it wisely.
When in Doubt, Go with Players in Familiar Surroundings
And if ya don't know, now you know.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Football players are creatures of habit and, for the most part, produce more effectively when in a structured environment and a routine.
Well, needless to say, these past few months have not gone according to plan.
Players had no mandatory workouts and were not allowed access to playbooks, team facilities, coaches and trainers. This does not necessarily mean that the level of football we will see come next month is going to be affected. But it does make me a little wary of certain situations.
For example, I won't draft any rookie QBs this season. The NFL is hard enough to adjust to as it is when you have four months to get yourself acclimated. But one month? Yeesh.
Sure, some rookies will prove they can handle the adjustments in lifestyle and level of play. Mark Ingram and Daniel Thomas have a shot of being their team's best options at RB and providing some good numbers. And if you read any news out of Falcons training camp, Julio Jones is the second coming. I think they'll all eventually be good players, but for this year, give me one of the Green Bay Packers's WR's over Julio Jones, and give me Joseph Addai over Mark Ingram.
When it's your turn to draft and you're tossing a coin between two players, think about continuity. Offenses may struggle in the early going, as offensive lines have very little time to gel. Wide receivers and running backs who are playing in a new system or under a new quarterback may struggle early on in the season as well.
There are several teams that have kept a lot of key pieces from the beginning of last season, in particular their quarterback, head coach and both offensive and defensive coordinators. These teams include the Bears, Bills, Buccaneers, Colts, Falcons, Giants, Jets, Lions, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Saints and Steelers.
Does that mean you should take Matthew Stafford over Philip Rivers? Of course not.
But it does mean you should take Ryan Fitzpatrick over Donovan McNabb, Fred Jackson over Jonathan Stewart and Pierre Garcon over Sidney Rice.
Do Not Fear the RBBC
Tim Umphrey/Getty Images
For years, fantasy players have cringed at the notion of one of their players being involved in the dreaded running back by committee. RBBC is just another four-letter word in the eyes of many fantasy players. This is because logic dictates that less touches equals less production.
But there are a couple of things to consider with regard to running backs.
First of all, RBBCs are now the norm, not the exception. Many people falsely believe that most NFL teams have a workhorse No. 1 RB—this is simply not the case. There were only six running backs in the NFL last year who averaged 20 carries per game:
|Player||Carries Per Game|
Now for the fun part.
Of those six, Only Arian Foster finished as a top-six point-producer in standard fantasy football scoring. And if you think that was some anomaly based on other top-tier running backs missing time due to injury, you'd be wrong. Foster was also the only one of the six to finish as a top-six PPG option as well:
|Player||Carries Per Game||Rank (Total Pts)||Rank (PPG)|
Now, that's not to say that drafting a workhorse is a bad idea necessarily, but it goes to show that the days of going RB-RB with your first two picks are officially a thing of the past.
Release the Cuffs
Toby Gerhart does this a lot during Vikings games, too.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Many experts will tell you to handcuff your running backs. They say that because, in theory, if your stud RB goes down, you can plug in his backup and receive a relatively normal amount of production.
I do not buy into this theory at all. There are too many instances where a team will miss out on a breakout season by a Mike Tolbert or a BenJarvus Green-Ellis because they just had to hold on to Toby Gerhart in case Adrian Peterson got hurt. Those owners who held onto Gerhart all season and played him for his lone start in Week 15 were "rewarded" during the fantasy playoffs with an eight-point effort that fell short of the production they would have received from waiver wire fodder like Maurice Morris, Tashard Choice and John Kuhn.
I consider handcuffs to be a waste of a roster spot.
I prefer to make several speculative draft picks on RB's and WR's late in the draft and hope one or two pan out. If the running backs and wide receivers I have drafted to fill out my bench do not work out, I can always drop them for better options because these are the most volatile positions in terms of performance and injury, and plenty of potential breakout candidates will emerge throughout the season.
Draft Defense and Kickers with Your Last Two Picks
Kickers are all the same. Well, pretty much...
Al Bello/Getty Images
There is absolutely no way to predict which kickers are going to kick a certain amount of field goals in a given week, much less throughout the season. Kickers are a complete and total crapshoot, and there is no reason to use anything other than your last pick on a kicker.
In one of my leagues last year, a team used a pick on Mason Crosby in the 10th round of a 13-round draft. Crosby had an OK season; he made 79 percent of his field goal attempts and finished 11th in kicker scoring.
But I'm guessing the guy who picked Darren McFadden two picks later was a little more pleased with the ROI of his 10th-round pick, don't you think?
I'd rather forgo drafting a kicker altogether and just pick someone up on waivers five minutes before the first Week 1 game. Kickers are kickers are kickers. Throw a dart.
I feel the same way about defenses, although at least with defenses you have some sort of logic or statistical base to go off of.
But even still, the way many leagues are scored, a team that gives up 28 points but records a couple of sacks and returns a kickoff for a touchdown will oftentimes net more points than a team that dominates an opponent and allows 10 points. It's stupid.
But for the most part you know which defenses are good or which offenses are bad. I say just grab a defense with your second-to-last pick and either ride them out or just pick up whichever team is playing Seattle, Cincinnati or Carolina each week.
Have Fun and Play Fair
Now that you've crushed your draft, there's one more thing to remember above all else throughout the season. If you're in a league with family members and friends, make sure you enjoy yourself and play the game the right way. A little razzing and trash talking never killed anybody, but try not to aggravate your buddies over fantasy football. Don't collude, conspire and make ridiculously lopsided trades with other league members to screw over someone you're not particularly fond of. Don't incessantly send emails to everyone in the league every other day trying to acquire their best player with ludicrous trade offers.
And most importantly, if you're playing for money, make with the money already. A buddy of mine got stiffed out of his winnings last year and was given some lame excuse about there being a change in the prize structure. Needless to say he won't be playing in that league this season.
Fantasy football is supposed to be a game, and it's supposed to be fun. It's not worth ruining families and friendships over. Be sure to remain gracious in both victory and defeat, and with that, good luck to anyone not playing in any of my leagues this season.