Fantasy Football: Pre-Draft Advice

Now that the third week of the NFL preseason is over, we can begin to get an early idea of how each of the 32 teams will perform this year. It’s certainly not any sort of exact science, and in no way do preseason successes and corresponding records assure the same in the regular season. For instance, the 2008 Detroit Lions finished the preseason 4-0 before becoming the first team in NFL history to compile an 0-16 record in regular season play. Conversely, the New England Patriots have only one winning preseason record since 2004 (3-1 in ’09). However, it’s the only sort of true team vs. team interaction that we have to go off of, and the third week of the preseason offers an extended look at the starters, who often play close to a half of the game, before barely going through the motions in week 4. Due to the offseason lockout, I do expect teams to play their starters more in the final week of the preseason than in years past to get their players up to regular season speed, but regardless, coaches will still be more concerned with keeping their players healthy for the season opener.

 

It is of no surprise then that the third week of the NFL preseason also happens to be the week in which the most fantasy drafts take place. Setting your draft for this point simply gives you the opportunity to make more informed decisions, as at this point, it is more likely you will have identified supposed “sleepers” and avoided drafting those with season-ending injuries. With this in mind, I figured I’d pass along my personal insights as to how you can finally get over the hump and win the biggest prize in all of fantasy sports. If you watch “The League”, you know that trash talking gets taken to a whole different level in fantasy football. It’s just so much more personal. Depending on the size of your league, you’ll most likely have a maximum of two match-ups with the same opponent, placing a huge importance on winning each and every one.  With that in mind, you’d be wise to assemble your team to do just that. While you can’t predict disastrous events such as Tom Brady going down in the season opener, you can provide your squad with the best chance to win the majority of games by drafting smart and taking the right kind of risks. Easier said than done? Actually, no, not really. And it’s specifically due to those who would say it is that give you the chance to win your league before the season even kicks off. So here it is, my fantasy guidance for all those who seek it, and especially those who need it. For conveniences sake, assume this is for 12-team, head-to-head, normal scoring leagues with snake drafts (1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 W/R, 1 TE, 1 DEF, 1 K).

 

Rule #1: Don’t blow it early

 

No matter what draft position you start with, you’re in fine shape. While some seasons you simply cannot overcome missing out on one of the top-2 or 3 players, rarely is a fantasy championship determined by them. If you had Arian Foster on your team last year, chances are you won the vast majority of your matchups. And he didn’t go until the 4th or 5th round. Conversely, Adrian Peterson didn’t perform to a comparable level, and if you picked him first overall (because that was probably the only way you got him), you didn’t have near the same kind of success (unless somehow you got both of them). Because of this, I often prefer to be drafting, say, 4th or 5th overall, as it gives you a better shot at doubling up on two studs in the first two rounds. However, in most leagues, you don’t have a choice where you draft, so you have to do the best with what you’re given. This is what I mean by don’t blow it early. Go with sure things that will consistently give you the leg up on the competition. Don’t be the idiot who reaches for the second ranked QB in the second round when there are at least five or six of them that can help win you the league. And come at a much cheaper price in the following rounds. I almost always recommend going with two RB’s with your first two picks, unless someone like Andre Johnson absolutely falls into your lap. My feeling is that by drafting two stud ball carriers, you’re guaranteeing your fantasy squad at least 50+ carries a week. At least. And that’s not even counting touchdowns. Some say you can find depth at the position later on in the draft, and while that’s somewhat true, only one RB is on the field at a time, whereas there’s usually at least three WRs. Play the odds. When in doubt, take the running back.

 

Rule #2: Survey the landscape

 

How anyone can take the entire 1:30 to make their pick is beyond me. Unless you’re on the end of the snake, you have more than enough time to prepare yourself to make the right decision. Identify 3-4 players who realistically could fall to you after considering who is drafting before you and what their needs are. That means you need to pay attention to everyone else’s picks, not just your own. Chances are, when it’s your turn, at least one of those guys will be there for you to snatch up. But don’t just draft for that pick. Look down the line. Say it’s the third round and you took my advice and already have two RBs. Unless one of the premiere QBs who happens to play for your favorite team is just sitting there staring you in the face, you’re better off grabbing a top-8 WR and schwooping the 4th, 5th or 6th ranked QB in the next round. Give me Greg Jennings and Peyton Manning over Phillip Rivers and Mike Williams any day. Draft as if you’re drafting for your next two picks, at least. With this mentality, you’ll be less likely to be spend the whole season losing all your skill player matchups. You can lose the season in the first two rounds. You can win it all in rounds 3-6.

 

Rule #3:Depth

 

Once you’ve filled out your starting line-up (DEF and Kicker excluded), it’s time to protect yourself. And by that I mean, not letting one injury ruin your entire season. Football is a rough sport. People get hurt. But your fantasy squad doesn’t have to, if you’ve done the right things. First off, address the areas of need. I would argue 3rd, 4th, 5th, and sometimes even 6th RBs are more valuable than a second QB, and certainly, a second TE. The same goes for WR. We don’t know who this years’ breakout stars are going to be. But I can almost guarantee they will be either a RB or WR. And if they aren’t, they’re not going to score enough points to warrant your consideration. If you’ve handled the first half of the draft well, you’re bench strategy is simple. You drafted your QB and TE as high as you did because they represent a significant upgrade over the average alternative on a week-to-week basis. You’re not going to bench them one week just because they’re playing the Steelers DEF. You’re just not. And if you do, the fantasy gods will conspire against you and your 5th round pick will have his best game of the season…on your bench. With that in mind, I strongly suggest filling your bench with….you guessed it…solely RBs and WRs. The fact is, if you need to replace your starting QB or TE, you’re probably gonna lose anyway. And it’s much easier to find one of those on the waiver wire than it is a stud playmaker.

 

Rule #4: DEF & Kickers

 

Along this line of thinking is the absolute obvious. If you draft a DEF or Kicker prior to your last two picks, you’re an idiot. Success at those two positions more than any others is determined by who the opponent is. Why waste a pick on what could be a very valuable bench player on a guy who may or may not do anything other than kick two or three extra points in a week? I’d almost even suggest NEVER drafting a kicker. Each week, do your research. Look into what teams score the most points. Then look at who allows the most. I hate to spell it out for you, but some of you need it. Put two and two together and pick up the kicker on the team that statistically has the best chance to put the most points on the board. The same goes for DEF. Yes, the Steelers “D” and a few others are going to be measurably superior to the rest of them. But the difference in fantasy points that you’ll gain by drafting one of them is hardly worth all the points you’ll miss out on by selecting them in the 8th round. It just isn’t worth it. In most seasons, there are usually a few teams that are so unimaginably horrible offensively that you are almost assured of being able to pick up a free agent DEF that is playing against one of them. Don’t forget, the Steelers play tough teams too, and are not assured of huge performances every week. If you’re counting on your DEF and Kicker to win you your league, you’ve already lost.

 

Rule #5: Preparation

 

The best players in the game will tell you that they’ve reached that level due to the effort they put into it, both on and off the field. The same goes for fantasyballers, so to speak. If you know your players, and you know generally where and when they’ll be selected, you’ll be in a better position to jump on guys who may have slipped, and less likely to reach for guys that are gonna be huge busts. Don’t forget, a lot of novice fantasyballers lack the ability to reason. They become one-track minded, see the player they had last season, pick him ten spots too high, and there you are, ready and waiting to take advantage. Develop a strategy and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be mine, but it better have some logic behind it. Because championships are won and lost at draft time, and you won’t have a second chance to grab this year’s Arian Foster.

 

Some say it’s luck. And maybe a little part of it is. But I’d argue that drafting well is both an art and a science. Make the right choices and your team will coast to the playoffs. Make the wrong ones….well, you’ll be back here again next year. Either way, it’s your team, and you have to deal with the smack talk. The question is, will you be the one boasting about your fantasy dominance, or the loveable loser cowering in shame?

 

Best of luck. See you in the playoffs.

 

B.W.

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