Before anything else, preparation is the key to success" – Alexander Graham Bell
Finally, draft night!
Everyone arrives with a stack full of resources, a case of cold friends and a head crammed with countless, sometimes unpronounceable player names.
You take a seat beside your buddy and talk about your mundane 9-to-5, that time you lost 500 large on Scooby scuffles one Saturday night at the former Michael Vick compound and whether or not Todd, the morbidly obese member of your league who has aspirations of being a world-renown professional eater, could beat out a My Little Pony in a 10-yard footrace.
Then it begins.
Your heart rate spikes. You nervously begin to bounce your leg up and down. And you pray to the pigskin gods that Laurence Maroney falls to you at pick twelve.
Did you prepare?
Every fantasy football expert will tell you that building a championship team begins on draft day. Widely accepted as the most popular of fantasy sports, fantasy football can be the easiest to dominate by following simple draft guidelines and strategies. Below is a comprehensive list of ten drafting tips in order for you to tower over your feeble-minded opponents en route to capturing the gridiron gold.
Tip 1 – Running Back Wild
Running backs are the quintessential cornerstone for winning any fantasy championship. Some publications and websites will tell you time and time again to take the best player on the board, but if it's not a running back in the early rounds, don't buy it. In order to win in standard leagues, you must draft two solid backs in the first two rounds, period. If you find yourself in a drafting conundrum and have to decide between Torry Holt and Maurice Jones-Drew, go with the Oompah Loompah. If you find yourself in a bind in the middle rounds, pondering whether you should take juggernaut Jerious Norwood or a mediocre second receiver (Braylon Edwards, for instance), go tackle the 'Wood. If you're drafting in the late rounds and you think you need a backup quarterback, take a fifth running back instead. Running Backs get the touches – typically 150 per year or more than wide receivers – gain the yards, and score touchdowns more often than any other fantasy football position. Their trade value is worth their weight in gold and with injuries happening to major players every season, stockpiling them in August will fill your inbox with trade offers come November.
Tip 2 – Quarterback Restraint
Every year someone in your draft room gets overly excited for the services of the fragile and erratic Michael Vick. And almost every year – with last season the exception – they get burned. Fantasy championships can be won with a mediocre second or third-tier quarterback. Believe me. Last year, I won the 14-team Evans Y! Sports Blog league championship with Matt Leinart, who completed more passes to opposing safeties (12) rather than receivers (11) on the year, in my starting lineup. Using my draft strategy won't net you the perceived top tier, but after Round 7, several high upside players like Jon Kitna, Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger will probably be available and are perfect complements to any strong running back tandem. Last season, the top three gunslingers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Vick, averaged 19.4, 16.3, and 16.3 points per week respectively. Meanwhile, later draft day selections, Kitna, Vince Young and Philip Rivers notched totals around 13-to-14 points per week. Not that big of a difference. Concentrate on selecting solid running backs and wide receivers instead with your first four picks and pounce on quarterback values later in your draft.
Tip 3 – Overpaying for Wideouts Equals Fantasy Fallout
Other than leagues that score points per reception, the earliest a wide receiver should be selected is with your Round 3 pick. Several of your opponents will think that landing Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, or Torry Holt is the ultimate coup early in the draft. Don't be that guy. Wide receivers, unlike running backs, are consistently inconsistent – again, unless you're in a PPR league. They are a rollercoaster ride of boom and bust that can only be trusted for weekly maximum performance against weak secondaries, or in prolific passing offenses. Case in point, the top five receivers of 2006 – Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Reggie Wayne, Donald Driver, and Torry Holt – averaged 6.8 games of 75 yards or less. Outside of Frank Gore, Joseph Addai and Jamal Lewis, no other top-15 running back totaled more than four remedial efforts in games started. Remember, a good WR will average seven-plus targets per game, compared to a versatile back that accumulates 25-35 touches each Sunday. Focus on receivers who yield a high YAC (Yards After Catch), get a large number of looks and are involved in pass-happy offensive philosophies. Donald Driver (43.3 Y! ADP), Reggie Brown (57.9) and D.J. Hackett (118.5) all fit this definition and are superior values from late in Round 4 on.
Tip 4 – If His Name Ain't Gates, Wait
Two years ago, one of the owners in my local 12-team league drafted Tony Gonzalez with his Round 3 pick. Just to refresh everyone's fogged memories Gonzo managed to stay healthy, but finished seventh among tight ends and 166th overall, averaging a disappointing 5.9 points per week. Last season, only Antonio Gates topped 120 total fantasy points scored, finishing 37th overall. Other than the magnificent Gates, tight ends are the most overrated position in fantasy football. Instead of jumping the gun early, hold off and select a Kellen Winslow (65.9 Y! ADP), Vernon Davis (68.8) or L.J. Smith (89.9) in Round 7 or later. Remember where Winslow was drafted last season (115.3 ADP in '06)? Where did he finish? That's right, sixth at his position. Like closers in baseball, they can wait.
Tip 5 – Always Carry Handcuffs If you are a savvy veteran of fantasy football you know that when a starting RB is injured everyone combs the waiver wire for the successor like a Cincinnati Bengal in search of a criminal lawyer. Avoid the pain and suffering of a possible devastating injury to your team and draft their backups in the mid-to-late rounds. San Diego's Michael Turner, Washington's Ladell Betts and Chicago's Adrian Peterson should be hogtied, super-glued, welded, to LaDanian Tomlinson, Clinton Portis and Cedric Benson. Acquiring brittle backs and not handcuffing their backups is going to battle without a sword. Just ask every Priest Holmes owner from 2005. Play it smart and pick up the second in command.
Tip 6 – Rookie QBs and WRs are a Brain Tease
Just because the JaMarcus Russells of the world go high in the NFL draft doesn't mean they are draftable. The quarterback position has an incredible development curve that forces inexperienced players to adjust to a new level. When Peyton Manning was thrown into the NFL fire as a rookie in 1998 he averaged a sensational 233.7 YPG and 1.53 passing TDs per game, but his 28 interceptions were brutal. Arguably the best rookie campaign by an NFL quarterback was in 1983 by "Mr. Isotoner" Dan Marino. That season Marino played eleven games – he started nine – and averaged 200.9 YPG, while totaling 20 TD passes with 6 INTs. Marino, Peyton and Vince Young were very rare commodities when they transitioned from the college to the pro game. Likewise for receivers, only Anquan Boldin, Michael Clayton and the once-TE-eligible Marques Colston have eclipsed the 1,000-mark in their initial campaigns over the past six years. In general, most rookie quarterbacks and receivers take roughly two-to-three years to adjust to the fast-paced NFL style. Using this mode of thinking makes drafting an experienced Isaac Bruce (115.5 Y! ADP) over Ted Ginn Jr. (118.3) sensible – unless that guy happens to be Calvin Johnson (56.8). Equipped with incredible natural skills and in a pass-first Mike Martz system, he's the exception to the (avoid rookie WRs) rule.
Tip 7 – Defense and Kickers Should Wade in the Stream
Three years ago in my 14-team league, a close friend of mine – impaired by obvious mental deficiencies and a bottle of Crown Royal – selected the Tennessee Titans defense in Round 3. Unless you want to be viewed by your league-mates as an individual of questionable intellect, never, ever, select a defense or kicker until at least Round 10. Sure, a kicker of Adam Vinatieri proportions, or a tenacious defense like the Chicago Bears can sometimes make all of the difference in any given week. However, in most leagues, a predominant number of defenses, and especially kickers, score marginal points on a weekly basis. Employing a streaming tactic for defenses can be very beneficial. This entails picking up a defense with a favorable matchup off waivers and plugging them into your lineup. Last season, two of the worst fantasy defenses, the New York Jets and New York Giants, each compiled killer outputs in Week 3 and 7 respectively. If you do your homework weekly, you can reap major benefits without having to waste an early pick. When everyone's reaching for the Seattle Seahawks defense in Round 10, you can concentrate on adding depth to your primary positions.
Tip 8 – Don't Sing the Bye Week Blues
How many times have you sat in a draft and realized midway through that both of your starting running backs and your quarterback have the same bye week? Usually, excessive amounts of explicit remarks ensue, followed by nausea and an uncontrollable urge to vomit. How do you solve this? Always take the best player on the board in any situation, but if you can, try to avoid selecting too many players with the same bye week. In many instances, when owners suffer from the bye week blues they simply mail-in a loss, or desperately scour a bare waiver wire in search of a suspect replacement. Draft day is the time to address bye week conundrums. All it takes is one game to squash your hopes of a championship run. Be prepared, have a list of each NFL team's bye weeks next to you on draft day.
Tip 9 – Understand Coaching Philosophies
Scott Linehan loves to pass, Herm Edwards loves to run and Brian Billick depends on a hard-nosed defense. Clearly, understanding the basic offensive schemes a team implements can correlate into fantasy success. For example, new Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt has ambitions of replicating the bruising, ground attack he once coordinated in Pittsburgh. What does this mean? Edgerrin James (48.3 Y! ADP) could excel in a system designed to emphasize his strengths. With the addition of rookie ORT Levi Brown and free-agent acquisition OLT Mike Gandy to resuscitate an offensive line in cardiac arrest a year ago and given the Cards' ability to stretch defenses at will with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, James could be in store for a resurgent season based on the peripherals. Should you depend on him as your RB1 despite the numerous goose-eggs from a year ago? Absolutely. The system improvements could vault Edge back into the 1,600 total yard, 10-12 TD upper class once again. It's these types of surprises that makes owners chumps or champs. Reading up on each team's offensive philosophies will give you an edge on draft day by letting you know who will put up the points and who won't.
Tip 10 – Plan Ahead
In 2006, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore and Ron Dayne were difference makers during fantasy championship clashes in Week 16. Did you have them? Outside of the largely undrafted Dayne, who emerged as waiver wire gold, Jackson, a mid-first rounder, and Gore, a champion third rounder, led many owners to prominence. Why did they outperform top names like LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Brian Westbrook when it counted the most? Simply put: matchups. In the salary cap age of the NFL it takes at least a couple of seasons for team defenses to rebuild. This means that teams that are typically bad against the run last season will sing the same woeful tune this year. Since the Green Bay Packers play Oakland (10th most points allowed to RBs in '06) and at St. Louis (2nd most) in Weeks 14 and 15, former Cornhusker Brandon Jackson (122.1 Y! ADP) – an ideal fit for the Packers zone-blocking scheme and my pick to eventually steal the bulk of the carries – and Vernand Morency (124.3) should be upgraded on draft day cheat sheets due to their favorable fantasy playoff slate. Prior to draft day, grab a schedule and peruse the most important weeks of the fantasy season. Planning ahead and exploiting matchups may be all the difference you need when it counts the most.
Whether you step into a draft room physically or virtually, always remember that draft night should be fun, exciting, and entertaining. If you plan on talking smack, back it up with a simple draft plan. By following the tips described above, you are one giant step ahead of the competition!