The journey that is the 2015 fantasy season is about to begin! Rejoice!!
Of the many questions I’m asked during this time of year, the most frequent is about draft strategy. I’ve been a part of countless drafts already this year, so what follows are some general thoughts. Coming soon I will take a trip around the league to touch upon some individual players from each of the NFL teams.
Back in the early days of fantasy, the best draft strategy was to bulk up on running backs early and often, even to the point of taking a half dozen in the first eight rounds. This was a winning formula, but those days are long gone. The advent of RBBC (running back by committee) has destroyed that approach, as there are only a handful of players that now carry the entire load for their NFL team. In addition to that, the concept of drafting 2-3 (and sometimes 4) running backs from every NFL team insures that when a starter goes down, the lucky person that drafted the backup has now struck gold.
As a general statement, even though running back can be thin at the top, it is wide receiver that drops off considerably after the top 15 at each individual position. This continues a trend that began a few years ago. My recommendation is to lean towards wide receiver in the opening rounds while getting one of the top running backs. I have found that sticking with these two positions in the first six rounds of a draft has been a very solid approach.
Draft position in the first round will dictate which of the two positions it makes sense to draft first. Those at the top of the first round are likely to get the running back first, with those in the middle to late portion of the first round likely to go wide receiver first. Do not be afraid to mix it up, if the draft is trending towards running backs, then jump on the wide receiver list and go there and drift back to the other position when the others shift – zig when the other owners zag. If you can, do not be the “last” in a run to grab at one position, be the “first” at another position.
I have been able to get running backs like LeGarrette Blount, Darren McFadden, Shane Vereen, Darren Sproles, and DeAngelo Williams in some of the later rounds. These players are are not glamorous, but they will be solid fantasy point producers. Especially if you are in a PPR league, players playing on 3rd down will be available for the astute fantasy owner. In the late rounds of the draft, run through the NFL depth charts and select backups to the starter. There will be several injuries so reserving 2-3 roster spots on your team for NFL backups will have you ready to cash in when the starter goes away.
In speaking to the lack of quality at wide receiver, I was able to get players like Davante Adams, Devin Funchess, Michael Crabtree, and Stevie Johnson late in some of my early drafts. Preseason injuries to players playing in front of Adams and Funchess have removed them from the “late-sleeper” list, so getting quality at this position late will be difficult.
Also in general, there should be plenty of good quarterbacks in the 6th/7th rounds. Players like Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, and Sam Bradford will be there for the taking at that time. Sure, it’d be exciting to have an Aaron Rodgers or an Andrew Luck, but like the list of running backs above, the list of quarterbacks available late are not glamorous but will be above average fantasy point producers. Pass on the early quarterback selection and instead continue to bulk up at running back and wide receiver.
Tight end is another position that is crazy deep this year. The caveat here is that Rob Gronkowski is head and shoulders above the rest at the position, so selecting him in the late first round is not a bad strategy. Otherwise, even waiting until 10th/11th round for a first tight end is not going to hurt you.
Kicker and defense are other positions to wait on, and do not be afraid to wait until the very end of the draft to get players at either of these positions. The kicking position is difficult to predict from year to year. Sure, the guys at the top of the cheat sheets are solid, but the separation of 1-15 on draft day is miniscule. Keep an eye on the waiver wire, too. Often times there is a kicker from a weaker NFL team that gets a ton of three-point attempts because their offense cannot get into the end zone.
Last year’s consensus top defense (Seattle) ended the season just inside the top ten. I am not seeing any defenses that stand out this year, so it makes sense to wait. Especially if you are in a league where defensive scoring is very low, the difference between the top defense and the #10 defense is not likely to be big enough to justify an early draft selection. A plausible strategy is to play the waiver wire for defenses during the season, grab the best available defense that is playing against a terrible offense, start them for a week then move on to the next defense.
So to summarize, have a plan heading into the draft, but be flexible when appropriate. Make running back and wide receiver a priority, with the other positions being filled in later. Research and preparation are also key. Have your cheat sheets ready to go, and find a website where you can do some mock drafting with your cheat sheet. This will make sure you know where to look on your sheet, and will give you the opportunity to experiment and see how the draft goes based on selecting different positions. Bring a list of your favorite sleepers and players you do not want to draft; or have them marked off on your cheat sheet. Do not be that guy that is fumbling through a bunch of paperwork looking for last minute information while you are on the clock.
Lastly, remember that this is supposed to be fun, so keep it that way. If you are caught between two players, take the player on the team that you cheer for so you have a rooting interest. When other owners chuckle at your selections, smile and wave knowing that you are not only dominating the draft, but will dominate them all season. Keep your poker face on at all times, even when the player you wanted was selected just in front of you.
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