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Scott Pianowski

Tip Drill: A chat about cheat sheets

No calculus and no crazy acronyms in the summer Tip Drill series - we're just looking to talk strategy for a few minutes, a quick-hitter. Drive on through and sample today's nugget.

It's easy to be lazy in this game and just copy off someone else, and that's what you're doing when you adopt an outside cheat sheet as your own. We've all done it. Rip, out of a magazine (I'm sure that was a good sheet three months ago, when it was constructed). Click and print, off a website (no matter if it's current, or if it matches your scoring). Online draft room? So easy to use what they have listed (too bad your favorite sleepers are buried at the bottom of the queue, out of sight and out of mind).

It's time to get you out of that habit. And let's talk about building the perfect beast, the cheat sheet that will take you where you need to be.

Tiers of Joy

A simple ranking of the players by position isn't enough. The key to a rich haul on draft day is understanding pockets of talent, doing margin analysis, and being able to attack the right positions at the right time. See 7-8 WRs who look the same, while the QB board is getting thin? You take a quarterback. It's not rocket science, but if you're staring at a mere ranking of the players, the drop-offs in talent won't stand out to you.

When I construct my personal cheat sheet, I like to attach dollar values to the players, as a way of identifying just how much I prefer Player X to Player Y. And once I have the sheet in a good ranking order, with prices attached, I then look at where the clumps of talent are and where the notable drop-offs come (the numbers make it clear, but I'll add line breaks where appropriate). If you're not considering these sub-groups of talent at the draft table, you're essentially driving with your eyes closed. Maybe you'll Magoo your way to a strong roster once in a while, but the odds aren't promising.

Keep it Simple

I don't bother with projected stats on my cheat sheet, and 2007 stats couldn't be more irrelevant. All I want to see is the player's name, his bye week, and my ranking or price attached. On a well-known player, I won't even bother with his team. Brady, $35, 4. Next question.

One specific aim with the "keep it simple" plan: I want my cheat sheet to be one printed page whenever possible. (Forget the margins, and come down on the text size as needed. Landscape works better than portrait.) Let your opponents deal with the shuffling madness. One page is smarter, sleeker, and it even projects confidence - all good things for draft day.

Audit, Audit, Audit

Once you have the player ranks and tiers in a good place, it's time to rip it up and critique it. Find a trusted friend or two and asked them to audit the sheet, beg for disagreements. Compare your sheet to another respected one and note where the major differences are. Tweak, adjust, cross-check, season to taste. You don't want yes-men for this part of the assignment, you want healthy debate.

And for those of you who insist on using someone else's sheet, for the love of all things holy, please inspect that sheet thoroughly. Look the entire list over, top to bottom, far in advance of your draft. It's so easy to blow this off, and the sharp owners in the room will take advantage of your oversights. Don't be that guy. Don't let "buried treasure" take you by surprise.

Put it into Play

So you've got a sheet you like, in theory, great. Put it to work. Mock draft. Shadow draft in a league you're not involved in. Mock again. Join one more free league so you can be ready for your big-money throwdown later. Even the best drafters feel they need 2-3 dry runs before they get the feel of the new season, so don't go into the most important night of the summer with a cold sheet, and a cold plan. Get on the road first, open things up.

That's all I got on the pad. How do you build your championship cheat sheet?

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