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Fatal Draft Mistakes

It feels like we’ve waited an eternity since the Super Bowl ended last February. The wait for the football season to begin is almost over and we’re now into late August, draft season, and decisions owners will make in the next couple weeks will help determine their density, I mean destinies, of their teams.

At this point in August, me being the unrepentant fantasy football addict I am, I’ve already taken part in a fair number of drafts. I’ve compiled a list of fatal draft mistakes I’ve noticed owners making and how best to avoid them. Many of these mistakes are timeless and seem to happen year after year. Other mistakes are more specific to the 2013 season. Either way, owners can go a long way towards winning a title by not making these fatal draft mistakes.

You’re Not the Only One who Knows about Kenbrell Thompkins

Back in July, when I was telling friends that Thompkins was making waves in training camp, he was something of a sleeper. I was saying this based on wire reports I was reading and the fact that the New England Patriots don’t have a WR1 and someone’s got to catch Tom Brady’s passes. At that point, most owners hadn’t heard of Thompkins. If drafts happened in July, owners could’ve drafted Thompkins for a great price in the later rounds.

It’s not July anymore. It’s now late August. And everyone’s read the same wire reports I have. Thompkins is now an official sleeper. You’ll find his name on nearly every sleeper list on every single fantasy football site, which does sleeper lists, which is all of them. The book is out on Kenbrell Thompkins. Sorry.

Thompkins’ current average draft position is in the 11th round, but I’ve seen him drafted in the eighth and ninth rounds. Listen, I’m as big a fan of Thompkins as the next guy, but he’s still a completely unproven commodity. He had a strong night in Week 1 of the preseason with four catches for 23 receiving yards but in Week 2 he only had one catch for three yards. We know that Thompkins has been running with Danny Amendola in the Patriots’ two receiver sets so he has a real chance of being a stable part of the Patriots’ passing offense.

While all of this is good news for Thompkins’ overall fantasy value, a lot of this is still speculation. Kenbrell Thompkins still has yet to play one NFL down in his career and 32 teams had a chance to draft him last April and passed on him, leaving the Patriots to pick him up as an undrafted free agent. All of this should give owners pause and prevent them from reaching for him over more established receivers like Lance Moore, Josh Gordon and Golden Tate. None of those guys have been written about as much as Thompkins has lately, and, if they have, in Gordon’s case, it’s usually been negative articles.

Many times owners make the mistake of thinking that just because a player’s getting talked about more than other less heralded receivers, they should reach for that “sleeper” a couple rounds earlier over safer and more predictable options. The key thing to remember, though, is that these sleepers are only sleepers because their average draft position is so low. Once these sleepers become more expensive, they’re no longer sleepers. They’re just another guy on your rankings.

Best Available > Draft Strategy

In every draft, owners are presented with a major choice: Should they draft the position that corresponds to their overall draft strategy or should they take the best player available? The second half of drafts usually has owners picking the best player available but the choice is a lot more difficult when the stakes are higher in the early rounds. There’s no right answer to this eternal draft question for owners. Every draft situation is different, but I believe I can make some reasonable recommendations.

The first thing owners have to avoid is becoming a prisoner of your draft strategy. You’ve been working on your draft strategy for months now. You’ve done mock drafts to figure out which round you can pick the players you’re targeting. And then, out of nowhere, Maurice Jones-Drew is available late in the third round and you don’t know what to do with yourself. I’m using this example on purpose because I think when the running back is in the “Best Player Available” slot and another position is in your draft strategy for that pick, you should give some serious thought to choosing the running back.

Solid running backs are still the most scarce and valuable commodity in fantasy football. When running backs drop in the early rounds, much lower than their expected average draft position, it’s usually because owners are picking quarterbacks too early or there’s been a receiver run. By the third and fourth rounds, most, if not all, of the elite top tier receivers are gone.

The “Best Available versus Draft Strategy” conundrum doesn’t just affect running backs, it can also affect tight ends. At this point, we’ve all read a million articles about how we should all wait on tight ends because the position is deep this year and also because 80 percent of tight ends can be hit-or-miss most weeks. In all of the draft preparation I’ve done, all the mock drafts I’ve had to sit through and listen to wankstas on the Mock Draft Chat Board talking smack to each other about teams they’ll never use or even think about after the mock draft is over…I’ve never picked a tight end early.
“Damn, homie. In that Mock Draft Chat Board you were the man, homie.” Kill me now.

Anyway, believe it or not, every real draft I’ve done this year, I’ve picked up a top-3 tight end. I never in my wildest dreams this summer thought about having massively injury prone Rob Gronkowski on any of my teams. I was doing a draft for a 16-team points per reception league and there he was available as the 55th overall pick. How do you pass that up? The upside for Gronkowski is huge, and if I can get 8-11 games out of him, I’m probably going to win those weeks. He has 38 touchdowns in 43 games. I’m sold. I’ll take that risk.

I was in another points per reception draft where Jason Witten kept falling and he was another guy that I hadn’t even thought about all summer. Witten’s a guy that’s had more than 90 catches three out of the last four years and he caught 110 passes last season, a career high. He’s a guy who is being drafted in the sixth and seventh rounds this summer and he’s also one of the most undervalued studs in fantasy football. Sure the touchdowns are low (and that’s a legit knock on him), but it looks like the Dallas Cowboys have been trying to at least address that this summer.

The key thing for owners to remember is that they can prepare for months, read all the right wire reports, do all the necessary mock drafts … and still have no idea what kind of bojangling moves their fellow owners are going to pull on draft day. Good fantasy players are going to drop farther than they should, and it’s going to be up to owners to decide if they want real draft value or just to be a prisoner of their draft plan. The correct answer is to take each situation as its own separate entity, leave all options on the table, cross your fingers and hopefully make the best move.

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