I'm not going to list off the common and inane "mistakes to avoid" that are regularly trumpeted in this kind of piece; let's try to be better than that. Everyone knows not to draft off last year's stats. Everyone knows not to rely on a magazine cheat sheet that was created several months ago. Everyone knows not to show up at the draft reeking of Old Milwaukee. Everyone knows to monitor the waiver wire like a hawk.
No new tale to tell there.
Here are five mistakes I see even smart fantasy owners make, the second-level of leakage. Consider them, make of them what you will. Add your own ideas in the comments.
-- Looking too far ahead: Obviously fantasy championships aren't finalized until December, but it takes five months to build a champion. We'll place plenty of emphasis on the Fantasy Playoff Schedule when it's time, but I consider it a fool's errand to put any major work into the presumed December Strength of Schedule right now.
The league changes too quickly. No sport reshuffles as thoroughly as the NFL.
What looks like a bad matchup today could be a cookie matchup down the road (and vice versa). Systems gel and fall apart, players improve and get hurt, there's an ebb and flow to the season. It's silly to think we can forecast four months ahead with any great degree of clarity.
The future is generally overrated in fantasy leagues, the present underrated. My immediate focus in any season is what's in front of me. Draft smart today, get off to a good start next month. Stay realistic with long-term injury expectations. We'll worry about the playoffs when it's time.
Play For Today.
-- Constructing restrictive draft rankings and plans: Let's be clear on one thing - I'm in favor of a draft plan. I'm glad you're doing practice drafts, sketching out scenarios, trying to think ahead. These are all good ideas.
But these things need to be constructed with a pencil, not a pen. You don't want to be locked into anything.
Every draft will have surprise pockets and you want to be free to take advantage of unexpected values. The NFL is a game of audibles, and fantasy football should be, too. What if a Top 5 running back slips to the middle of the second round? Are you going to stick with your WR-WR-WR strategy then?
Your cheat sheet and dollar values need to be fluid, too. It's astounding to me how many smart owners become married to their pregame ranks or prices, unwilling to make any adjustments in the moment. A good ranking list should be a suggestion, nothing more. Don't turn it into a mandate.
-- Not filling the player queue: I actually think it's worthwhile to keep the draft ranking applet intact as a draft goes along - I want to be able to see what the majority of the room is seeing. I want to know what names are being suggested to them. But I also have a piece of scratch paper with me at the same time, scribbling notes and names, and I'll liberally fill the player queue just to make sure the key names are in my consciousness as needed.
Yes, it's busy work, but it's important. If you don't pull out the buried treasure at some point, you're likely to overlook it when it's relevant.
A filled queue is also your best friend if you get bumped offline during an online draft - your auto pick selections will draw from it. You can't always control the weather (or the crummy internet company), but you can be prepared.
-- Putting balance over value: The Fantasy schedule doesn't begin on draft night. You don't need to have your defense or kicker, necessarily. You don't need to have all your bye weeks in alignment. The primary goal from draft day is to acquire as much value as possible. You'll have plenty of time to smooth things out later, be it through trading or the waiver process.
Say you own Andrew Luck, whose bye comes in Week 10, and say your bench is deep enough to justify a second quarterback. Do you need to focus on someone who doesn't have a Week 10 bye? Hell no. So much of the NFL will be different when November rolls around. Maybe you'll trade Luck, or the backup. Maybe you'll find a free agent star at quarterback. We're basically circling back to the first point, which is to not look too far ahead. Some tips can't be emphasized enough.
-- Assuming success validates the process: Any strategy can work if you pick the right players, and any strategy can fail if you pick the wrong players. It's human nature to want to find reasons for things, want to explain things. But the merit of your 2013 strategy isn't determined from whether or not you hoisted the year-end trophy.
Try to be aware of how the dynamics of your league could be changing. Did most of the owners come back, or is there new blood? What sources do they use? What teams do they seem to favor? What positions are they likely to concentrate on first? How do they feel about rookies? How do they feel about aging veterans? Some of these questions might be unanswerable, but you should be exploring them anyway.
It's also possible that last year's winning strategy could be copied by several owners - perhaps sucking the value out of it. Football and copycats, you know how that goes.
Good luck in your championship run. Enjoy the journey.
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