Commentary: It’s that time of year again and a few of you are asking those same old questions. Why is it that the same guys are always in the finals of your fantasy football league? Why did everyone laugh at you for taking that player? What’s a sleeper and how do you wake them up? Your about to find it all out and more with my secrets to successful fantasy football drafting. Remember it’s all in good fun, but making your friends cry is the most fun so here is some tips to help you make that happen.
#1 Running Backs Rule- It’s impossible to win week to week let alone a championship without a great running back. Almost every mock draft online has the first round completely filled with running backs and depending on the size of your league usually 16 of the first 20 picks should be running backs. However once you consider the amount of injuries and the inevitable slumps that players at this position frequently encounter then your really hoping that 8 or 9 of them will actually have successful seasons. Then you have to realize that only half of them will actually have a great season and rush for 1400 yards and score 12 touchdowns. So in reality we’re talking about 5 running backs if your lucky that should be worthy of being picked in the first round. In order to have consistent success in your league you need to have one of those great running backs. I honestly believe that Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, or Jamaal Charles should be your focus in the first round.
#2 Running Backs Rule Again- Yes a running back is that important and though drafting early in the 1st round gives you a better shot at getting one. Picking later in the round will give you a better chance at getting two. Last season I took Ray Rice at #2, Marshawn Lynch at #19 and at #22 took Adrian Peterson coming off his injury and I got laughed at when I did it. Now drafting Adrian Peterson that early could have been a complete and utter disaster but the benefits of having 3 of the top 5 running backs in the league was too much for me to pass up. Fantasy football is all about odds so bet on players with a history of success over several years, opposed to players that may have had one good season. Taking a little risk is fine but you should always weigh the risk over the reward off all the players available to you when drafting and make the most educated bet you can. For the first 2-3 rounds your focus has to be on acquiring a stable of great running backs. Remembering to look over their whole careers and decide which ones have the best chance at a successful season again.
#3 Stud Quarterback- Now that you have your running backs mostly taken care of you should look to the highest scorer on your team and that should be the quarterback. I won’t say that taking an elite quarterback is crucial but the difference between the top 5 quarterbacks in the league and the next 5 is about 50 points over the season. Which will work out to about 3 points every week. I would rather have those 3 points. So drafting a quarterback in rounds 4 or 5 will be necessary to do so. Unless there is a huge run on quarterbacks early you should see a stud on the board before the end of round 5. In a lot of amateur leagues though you will see owners take big name quarterbacks way too early. If this is the case you should focus on landing another great running back or possibly a top tier receiver who in the long run should even out those 3 points a game for you. If you can’t land Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning then wait to draft a quarterback in the later rounds. I suggest keeping an eye out for Matthew Stafford , Cam Newton or Tony Romo if this happens.
#4 When to go Wide- There is a few things you have to remember when comparing drafting running backs and wide receivers. First is that there are a lot more receivers in the league then running backs. Second is that there were only 3 teams last year that ran the ball more often then they threw it and all of them had elite running backs. Third is that there are about 25 viable wide receivers that should provide consistent points on a weekly basis for your team. Finding 1 or 2 quality receivers in rounds 4-6 should be no sweat. In a recent experts draft online the following receivers where drafted in rounds 4-6: Wes Welker, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, Victor Cruz, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Reggie Wayne, and Mike Wallace to name a few of the better ones. Don’t be afraid to hold off on wide receivers if it means landing an elite player at another position because this position has more quality starters available to you then any other especially in the middle rounds.
#5 Flex what?- I know a lot of you love your flex spots and love being able to start any player you think could have a big week. This is WRONG! I am going to tell you that you need to treat your flex spot like your 3rd running back slot and only if it is absolutely necessary because of bye weeks or injuries should you plug in another position. Running backs simply just score more points and are more consistent scorers. I always draft a third running back before a starting quarterback or wide receiver. I know that some times this is not always possible and you see a player in the 3rd round that is just too good to pass up. Go ahead and draft him and then next round go right back to finding another running back. I guess anything is possible and you could get really lucky and land that breakout wide receiver or tight end late in the draft for your flex spot. I say make your own luck, because you stand to gain much more from a good starting running back in your flex position then you do from rolling the dice later on another position. Trust me on this it is essential that you have three running backs before the end of the fourth round. Because after that the talent pool is just too depleted at the position. Great options that should be available are Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, or Reggie Bush
#6 Stud TE or bust- This is more true then ever in fantasy football today. Now if you see Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski sitting there after round 5 then go for it. However if you don’t land one of them then you need to hold off till much later. The difference between the 3rd and the 10th highest scoring tight ends last season was 35 points for the year. Is it worth drafting the a guy in round 5 when you can get a player in round 12 that’s only going to score a point or two less a game for you? I guarantee you find several other players with much more value available to you in those rounds. These players will more than make up for that point difference in the long run. I might even scratch “Gronk” off that list with his health issues so watch yourself this year and look for a late round steal at this position and let someone else reach too early on a tight end. I was recently in a mock draft that had 5 tight ends one of which was Dennis Pitta all drafted before Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne, and Tom Brady! Don’t be one of those guys!
#7 Consistency over Cool- I have talked about this a little bit already but one thing I have always focused on when I draft is look to for consistent veteran players who have done great work over a few seasons and have a proven track record of success. Opposed to players who have had a one good season or are often injured, benched or suspended. Nothing is worse then taking a Chris Johnson or Michael Vick in the first round like a lot of people did the last few years and having to ride that dead horse into the dirt while your friends laugh in your face all year. Give me a thoroughbred like Tony Gonzalez or Frank Gore any day over that flash in the pan who lit up the sky last year. This year some players that scare me include Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller due to inexperience and inconsistency, as well as the injury prone Danny Amendola and Percy Harvin.
#8 Sleepers and Value in later rounds- I know owners who would sell their souls for a great sleeper. Most people just trust in the pages of the insider magazine they and millions of others picked up. I got insanely lucky last year when I took Evan Royster and Roy Helu late in the draft because I knew Mike Shanahan was going to plug in one of them for a huge season. Then at the last minute here comes Alfred Morris running all over the place. I jumped on the free agent market and picked him up before anyone else could. Thank goodness because I would have cried myself to sleep if someone else would have picked up the player that I knew was going to have a huge year even if I didn’t know it was going to be him specifically. So put down the magazines and look at who’s calling the plays and how they effected the players on their former teams. This year has a lot of high profile coaching changes like Andy Reid, Bruce Arians, Chip Kelly and Marc Trestman all implementing new systems and all with new weapons to utilize. You should also look for high profile roster changes like Peyton Manning last year or Carson Palmer this year who will be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald after posting a 4000 yard season and an 85.3 passer rating last year in the land of the lost. Getting a bunch of middle of the road players on your bench to start once or twice a year is pointless when you can pick those guys up in free agency so go big and take those risks. I’m personally going to keep an eye on Ronnie Hillman, Le’Veon Bell, Tavon Austin, Lamar Miller, Danario Alexander, Emmanuel Sanders, Giovani Bernard and Rashard Mendenhall this year.
#9 Plan, Practice, Predict- Another thing I have always done during any draft is to not just look at the players I am drafting now but to look at the next 15 to 20 players on the board as well. I look for position trends and try to forecast who is most likely to be available the next time I pick. Then I am able to see if its smarter to take a running back now or wait for the grouping of them coming up the next time I pick. You should always look at least one full round ahead in the rankings before you pick. Remembering that usually 95% of owners will draft very close to the computer’s rankings. It’s hard mentally for owners to draft someone they had to scroll down to get. I also draft on several sites to compare them and am always shocked how different the drafts can go from one site to the other just based on how the experts on those competing sites have ranked the players. I suggest doing mock drafts on several sites ahead of time and practice heavily on whatever site your league is drafting on. You should also draft in several different starting positions to maximize your knowledge and planning for the real thing. Unless you know way in advance what starting position you are drafting in, being prepared for anything will help immensely.
#10 Why Backup?- I always want to jab a pencil in my eye when I see someone draft two defenses or kickers before I’ve even taken one. Then I remember these fools will be buying my Christmas presents at the end of season. The truth is that you don’t need to worry about a back up quarterback, tight end, defense or kicker when the season starts. Instead those picks are better spent on four more possible sleepers or solid players to add some depth to your running backs and wide receivers. The bye weeks don’t start until week 4 so wait a month to see if your sleepers are paying off before taking a backup that’s only going to start once for you anyways. Remember you have a much better chance of hitting a home run if you get four swings instead of one so take those extra swings and let the other owners bunt. Once the season starts its first come first serve for anyone not drafted and you will have to compete for those breakout players with everyone else after week 1. Players like Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Garrett Hartley and Kyle Rudolph are all available on a weekly basis to pick up, play, and drop again during your starters bye weeks. Don’t waste your picks on backups when you could swing for the fences and see if that $7.99 you spent on that expert magazine paid off.