Tip Drill: Roto’s Little Instruction Booklet

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

I've been playing in these numbers rackets for a couple of decades. Here's some of the wisdom and fortune-cookie logic I've accumulated over the years. Share your own ideas in the comments.

• Floor early, upside late.

• When a player talks about his seasonal goals, pay no mind. They're all hopeless optimists. The same theme applies when a player discusses an optimistic injury return date. Listen to the doctors (if you listen to anyone on injuries), not the players.

• Auctions are more fair and more dynamic, and take a little longer. Drafts are more tidy and easier to work with, but most of the room never gets a shot at Ray Rice or Aaron Rodgers. It's up to you: do you want to play checkers or chess?

• If you're still in college, take Economics electives. That stuff is all applicable to our fantasy world. Wall Street is also worth a review every few years.

• Everyone's cheat sheet becomes an indecipherable mess during the endgame. Take out a clean sheet of paper and recalibrate your targets and requirements for the final few picks.

• Have a plan, but keep it flexible. This game is all about adjustments, and trying to figure out the new, weird season before your rivals do. (Around October the mainstream media will start telling you how it's the strangest season ever. That Mad Lib never fails.)

• Don't pay much attention to player-versus-team history, especially if it's outside the division. Given how quickly personnel changes in the NFL, what happened a couple of years ago is basically irrelevant now.

• Bye weeks have some value, but it's not a lot. Strength of schedule has some early merit, but otherwise it's an exercise in fortune telling. The NFL is a reshuffle league.

• Consider every intelligent viewpoint you come across, but be responsible for your own decisions.

• Static draft lists aren't good enough. You need to consider where the talent clusters and where the talent drops off at each position and tier. The game is all about margin analysis.

• The meaning of the injury report varies from city to city and coach to coach. Some teams tell us the truth, some teams lie to us, and some teams tell us nothing.

• Most of the time you should select a player because he helps you, not because he blocks your opponent.

• Ideally you want your receivers to have opportunity and protection (good teammates to draw attention). But if push comes to shove, take the former over the latter.

• No good commissioner job goes unpunished.

• Let a few hours go by on Sunday before you even consider how your team is scoring. If you try to track every point at 1:15 ET, you'll just drive yourself crazy. I try to be a viewer, only, during the first batch of games; I'll look at scores and such when things slow down during the second wave.

• In an auction of rookie players, the owners will usually spend like crazy in the early rounds. In many experienced auctions, the best time to buy is during the first few nominations.

• If you're one of the favorites in your league, make the rules more dynamic. If you're one of the rookies or casual owners, vote for the simplest rules possible.

• It's nice to have a sense of where the entire room is at, position wise, but it's critical to know your neighborhood. Every early pick should be framed against their roster as well as yours.

• If you're going to target a running back on a presumed losing club, make sure he can catch the ball and play in spread packages. You don't want him routinely eliminated by the game situation.

• It's important to be price and market conscious for the first 50-65 percent of the evening, considering supply and demand, the construction of other teams, etc. But at some point in the endgame it shifts to "See a guy you want, take him."

• Shoot for a winning NFL team with your kicker and defense (especially if returns don't count). A lot of the goodies for a fantasy defense come during garbage time, while protecting a lead against a desperate opponent.

• Wind is your biggest weather enemy, not snow. Rain doesn't really matter unless it's a torrential downpour.

• Be aggressive early with your FAAB and free-agent priority. If you hit on someone early, you get 3-4 months of help.

• Offense shows more consistency in the league, year to year, than defense does. All the more reason to avoid the designer defenses as fantasy picks; they don't have a strong rate of return.

• If you're stuck between two starters in a given week, consider the over-under tied to their respective games. Go where the points are.

• It's never too early to lock down your draft date. Everyone's a year older, everyone's life is probably more complicated now.

• Get depth where it matters, at the four primary positions. In most leagues you'll do fine with one kicker and one defense. And keep in mind about 50 percent of all kickers and defenses are free agents at any point in time; you could stream that position all year and still come out ahead.

• Generally there isn't a lot of trading in the early weeks, as most owners are happy with their lot. Things eventually will open up because of bye weeks and injuries. Every week you should audit your league, try to figure out who's in a fix this week, who's motivated to deal.

• The Agnostics are value-driven, they take what the room gives them. The Geniuses are target-driven; they project the future and go after the guys they like. I'm in the Agnostic camp, but I know Genius drafters who have been very successful. It's all about your room, your context.

• If a No. 2 back has a significant upside, you might want to consider a handcuff (looking at you, Arian Foster and Ben Tate). But it's a waste of time in most instances; sometimes the depth chart is fuzzy, sometimes the upside isn't worth it. Focus on getting the most potential for your backfield buck, understanding that a diversified portfolio is likely best.

• Don't bother setting a lineup until the weekend (and Sunday is best). Consider moves and plays, sure. But you need to see the full week of practice play out before you know the right collection of starters.

• If you have a losing record by the middle of the season, start throwing the kitchen sink into every game plan. You need to win immediately - you can worry about next week later. If you're sitting pretty at the midpoint, start looking ahead multiple weeks.

• Try to do a detailed free-agent wire audit before the shop is closed for the week (Sunday morning works well). Constantly be asking yourself, "what freely available player is just one injury or benching away from a major role?"

• As my buddy Gene McCaffrey likes to say, any strategy can work if you pick the right players. Choose wisely, my friends.