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If you're a serious fantasy owner — someone who plays in a competitive and highly incentivized league — then your draft is no doubt happening very soon. Like, it's hours away. Definitely this weekend. Possibly tonight, maybe tomorrow or Monday. Soon.
Cutthroat leagues generally draft as close to opening week as possible, so as to minimize the risk of preseason injuries or other roster-wrecking events. No need to deal with any fantasy disasters beyond those that typically occur in-season. Thus, we draft now, after the exhibition slate is finished. For those of you preparing to assemble teams, we offer these 15 tips, tweets, news blurbs and other NFL ephemera:
1. Zero quarterbacks should be taken in the first round of your draft. None. Nil. Zip. Z-E-R-O. Unless you play in a league that allows you to start two QBs (not the norm), then no. It's important that we make this point right here at the top.
I've heard all the arguments for Andrew Luck in the first, and there's simply no way I'd do it. Not on a dare. Even if you've convinced yourself that Luck is about to deliver his first 5,000-yard season, I'm not sure how you can ignore the fact that four other active quarterbacks have already done it. Drew Brees has actually done it four times in his career, plus he led the NFL in passing yardage last year with 4,952. Brees, for whatever reason, is going 40 picks after Luck in 2015 drafts. QB is the deepest position in standard fantasy leagues by far. Unless you're dead-on sure that Luck is gonna deliver a 6K, 50-TD season, you gotta let someone else snag him at the top.
2. And while we're talking QBs, I'd just like to mention that tweaking your scoring settings to award six points per passing TD (not a great tweak) does not mean you need to draft the position ridiculously early. It's a rising tide situation, impacting all passers. Last year's top-scoring fantasy quarterback, Luck, threw exactly six more TD passes than last year's No. 12 fantasy quarterback, Tony Romo. Don't let the 6-point-per-TD thing direct you down a bad path. It's not a change that necessarily creates massive separation between the top-of-ranks QBs and the mid-draft options like Romo, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and others.
3. If you were to decide to avoid all University of Wisconsin running backs, you probably wouldn't regret it. Melvin Gordon is stuck in a job-share with Danny Woodhead, James White is strugling to earn passing-down snaps in New England (Dion Lewis may have claimed that gig), and Montee Ball has played his way onto the trade market. Don't mess with him.
Perhaps now you're thinking, "But what if Montee lands in Dallas? He'd be great, right?"
Short answer: No, probably not. If it didn't happen in Denver, it isn't likely to happen, period. We all know about the excellent O-line in Dallas, but the Broncos' backfield sees more 5 and 6-man defensive fronts than any other. If you can't run for Denver, chances are you just can't run effectively in the NFL. No shame in that; most of us can't.
5. There's still no clarity to the Cowboys' running back situation. Wish we had better news, but no. This insider thinks the team is leaning toward Joseph Randle, this analyst is a Darren McFadden sympathizer. It reeks of committee — an effective committee behind a bull-dozing line, but a committee just the same. If Christine Michael were to somehow land in Dallas — he's reportedly on the trade market — the committee would only get messier. I'll actually be surprised if Romo doesn't see a significant uptick in pass attempts this season, with last year's featured back now in Philly.
6. Just in case you haven't heard, Tyler Lockett is really, really good. There is no such thing as a high-volume receiver in Seattle's offense — the last guy to see 100 targets was Mike Williams back in 2010 — but Lockett has been silly. He was untouchable at Kansas State over the past two years — he put up a 106-1515-11 line last season — and no one could get a hand on him in the preseason, either. Not a terrible final-round flier. If your league awards points for return yardage (not common), bump him up the board.
Check out this video with my colleagues Brandon Funston and Liz Loza for some more receiver tips:
7. Do not fret about bye weeks. Seriously, stop it. Never again. Just draft as much talent as you can, without regard to schedules. The NFL defies planning. It's a league ruled by injuries, suspensions, scheme changes, unexpected breakouts and unforeseeable collapses. You cannot plan months in advance in this game. The purpose of your draft or auction is to acquire as much value — as much talent — as possible. Don't worry about Week 9 before Week 1 arrives.
8. There's no obvious reason to panic about LeSean McCoy's hamstring issues. He remains in play for the opener against the Colts...
...and I'll remind you that he's pretty good at running with footballs (4.6 career YPC, rushing title, etc.) Last month, his head coach declared, "We'll have probably the biggest playbook in the history of man in our running game." Shady is not the sort of player you need to avoid. He's too good, too accomplished, and the team context works.
9. The Patriots, you might recall, do not care about your fantasy team. No NFL team cares about your fantasy life, but the Pats really don't care. I'm pretty sure they hate you, personally. As an organization, they are not the most transparent. Thus, we can only speculate about which of New England's depth chart backs will lead the team in carries in the opener, while LeGarrette Blount serves his one-game suspension.
Most of us were betting on Jonas Gray, right up until he was released on Saturday. (Kinda remarkable, since Gray has a 200-yard, 4-TD rushing game on his resume, which puts him in exclusive company.) As of this writing, Brandon Bolden, White, Lewis and Travaris Cadet are the Pats back to know. Bolden is the guy I'd own for a week, if I had to own any of 'em.
Generally speaking, a player's preseason stats are roughly as meaningful as his Madden stats (possibly less so), but I do feel obligated to mention that Philly quarterback Sam Bradford went 13-for-15 for 156 yards, tossing three TDs. There's really no way to put a negative spin on those numbers. He's at the controls of an offense that made Mark Sanchez fantasy relevant, briefly. Of course Bradford hasn't proven to be the most durable of humans, which explains why he's priced in the Bridgewater/Kaepernick range. He's a terrific platoon QB for fantasy purposes, and the Eagles' early schedule is a gift: Atlanta, Dallas, NY Jets, Washington, New Orleans, NY Giants.
11. Kickers should be taken with your last pick, you guys. Even if you're at the turn in the final rounds, we expect your to maintain kicker discipline. You are not to draft Adam Vinatieri in the 11th round of a 14 round draft. (Fine, maybe if it's a dynasty league in which salary connected to draft round, but that's it. No other exceptions.)
12. In fact, Yahoo leagues won't actually force you to take a kicker at all if you're live-drafting. This is kind of a huge detail, something you'll want to know. Unless your commissioner specifically requires you to fill all roster spots during your draft, you can leave K and DEF empty, which allows you to take fliers on extra skill players. You'll obviously need to fill those spots via free agency before Week 1 gets underway, but you'll have more ammunition for a 2-for-1 or 3-for-2 trade.
13. Jared Cook is never the answer. Just throwin' that out there, so you can't claim no one warned you. If you need an early-season placeholder for Antonio Gates (suspended) or Julius Thomas (broken), then please consider Tyler Eifert or Ladarius Green or Charles Clay or Dwayne Allen or some Saints tight end or anyone who is not Jared Cook. Because that never works out.
14. Even if you're unsure what to do with the No. 1 overall pick this season — Adrian Peterson? Jamaal Charles? Le'Veon Bell? — the top of the draft, for me, is still the place you want to be. If I could choose my draft spot, gimme a top-three pick. The quality of the players you'll snag in Rounds 2 and 3 is ridiculous — almost unfair. On Friday night, I watched helplessly as a dude in a 10-team league grabbed Peterson at the top, then Randall Cobb and Jeremy Hill at the R2/R3 turn. This particular drafter will eventually find a way to not win our league, per his usual. But it's still an insane starting position.
15. Your draft, no matter how stellar it is — no matter which letter-grade we give you — is just the beginning. There's still work to do, friends. Stay active. Make trades. Add and drop and add and drop. It's just incredibly common for the players who become the most valuable fantasy assets in the game to be mid-season waiver pickups — this was true of Randall Cunningham in '98, and it was the case with Odell Beckham and C.J. Anderson in 2015. You can't reasonably expect your draft-day roster to be identical to your title-winning roster. Fantasy is a game, and it's meant to be actively played.
Take a post-draft victory lap if you like, but then it's back to work.