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Inside the Mind of a Draft Veteran

Kiper –
A flattering nickname I’ve earned from some of my leaguemates for my love of (over)analyzing our fantasy drafts. I’m 28 years old and have played fantasy football for about 13 years, so the draft is just something that comes natural to me. My predictions and analysis aren’t always spot on, but I always keep my old draft writeups in order to study them down the road and to learn from past strategies.

In this article, I’ll be referring back to 2010 fantasy drafts to give you an idea of how your mind should be working during draft day. Why 2010, you ask? Well, because we know what happened in 2010, so why not learn from history?

Let’s get to it.

First, I’ll assume you’ve done your research. I don’t need to tell you which players to take. There’s plenty of ‘Top 10 Sleepers of 2011’ articles out there. Everyone has different players they love and hate, and that’s for you decide when you watch games and study film. I’ll instead be focusing on draft strategy. 

The first thing that needs to be understood about drafting is that there is no universal strategy. Many experts like to pretend there is, but that’s just bull. Strategies change every single year. So how do you pick the correct strategy for a draft?  Here are a few steps.

1. Understand What A ”Draft Board” Really Is

I hate that we call it a draft board, because if it really was my draft board, 75 percent of those players wouldn’t even be on it. Some call it a big board or value board. Whatever the case is, you are creating this board for one purpose: To understand where your league values players. It’s not to indicate whom you will be drafting ahead of whom. Remember this – it is crucially important and it justifies my “reach for your player” strategy that you’ll read about in a second.

You need to keep your league owners in mind when creating this board. What websites do you think they use? Do they use standard Yahoo or ESPN rankings or FantasySharks? You need to use whatever rankings you think most of your league accept as standard and edit them accordingly. It’s not based on who you like or don’t like, just based on how you think your league values the players. 

Now, if you’re in love with a player, feel free to move him up your board a few slots. But not by much because remember, you won’t necessarily be drafting the highest player on your board. If you hate a player, however, don’t drop him at all. Leave him where he is if the fantasy world accepts his value at a particular spot. Why you ask? Well, this will help you identify which players you have a high chance of drafting. 

For example, what if there are 10 running backs in a tier that you project to go in the fourth through sixth rounds, and what if you like four of those 10 running backs? Well, those aren’t bad odds because there are six other running backs out there to distract your competition. On the other hand, if those four running backs you like are in a tier of six running backs, well then your chance of drafting one of them dropped significantly.

2.  Identify Deep/Thin Positions

This seems simple enough, but where owners often mess up is that a position isn’t deep just because there are starting players out there. And that’s what I was trying to get across with my example of players you like and tiers. What if you were really low on Clinton Portis, LaDainian Tomlinson and Ronnie Brown last year?  Well, the running back position got thinner for you! You shouldn’t rely on these three running backs when trying to decide how deep a certain position is. Sure the league will still consider drafting these players, which is why you’d use my tier example to decide if you have a high chance of getting the running backs you actually do like, but these aren’t players you want so they weaken the running back position in the draft for you. Understanding which players you like and the amount of players that have similar value will significantly alter which positions you will be targeting for each round.

3.  Identify Positions To Target in Each Round

In a 2010 keeper league, after analyzing the available talent pool, I realized there was going to be a good amount of fourth-to-sixth round running backs available who had the potential to outplay their draft position. These running backs, which I’ll call “ The Fearsome Foursome,” were in order, Michael Bush, Arian Foster, Ahmad Bradshaw and Joseph Addai (ahem … I took Bush over Foster/Addai and Bradshaw fell to me two rounds later. We drafted early, mind you). 

So I was very high on the Fearsome Foursome, and the beauty of it was that they were sandwiched in a big group of running backs that I absolutely did not want to touch. But those running backs that I didn’t want to touch were considered good values and it was a lock that other owners would draft them, which is why I didn’t drop them on my draft board. Players like Marion Barber, Ronnie Brown Knowshon Moreno, Thomas Jones, Caddy Williams and Justin Forsett just to name a few.  So for example, The Fearsome Foursome, four running backs in a tier of roughly 10 running backs projected to go around the fourth round … not bad odds. I knew there was an owner out there who would jump on those other six, and that led me to believe that I’d have a higher probability of drafting one of my preferred players. 

What this screamed out to me was that my usual strategy of taking running backs and wide receivers early and then stocking up with two quarterbacks later was not the way to approach this draft. Wide receivers in Rounds 4-6 were significantly weaker than my Fearsome Foursome. Same thing with quarterbacks. Drafting a wide receiver or quarterback around Rounds 4-6 would prevent me from focusing on this small group of running backs that I was convinced was the key to a fantasy championship. So the strategy was clear.  Grab an Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson or Roddy White with the first pick. Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo or Philip Rivers in the second or third round, and a Marques Colston, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald or Greg Jennings in the second or third round, depending how the draft panned out. The goal in the first three rounds was to come out with two wide receivers and one of the Top 7 quarterbacks. This would allow me to hit on those undervalued running backs in the middle rounds.

4.  Draft Board and Drafting

Where people often mess up is that they think draft  boards should be followed closely. Don’t fall into the trap of drafting a player just because he fell. A draft board is to give you an idea where the league values a player, not where you value the player. If in 2010 you were convinced that Ronnie Brown was going to have a bad year, then why is drafting him in the fourth round any better than the second or third? Stop worrying about players who fall, unless of course you like those players! 

If you think he’ll have a bad year, don’t justify the pick with the value argument. If your whole draft strategy revolved around grabbing a Michael Bush or Arian Foster in Round 4, don’t take a Knowshon Moreno ahead of them just because he fell from the third round. Take your players.
You should identify players you won’t touch no matter what, and players you absolutely must have.

Reaching for a player is 100 percent acceptable and encouraged if: A) Research makes you believe he’ll outplay everyone else available at his position, and B) There is a chance he won’t be there by the next time you pick.

Make your value board, reach to get your man, and do not take a player you don’t like that slides down to you. Knowshon Moreno Santana Moss? Ronnie Brown Let them keep falling because I wasn’t touching them.

What this translates to is a roster that is filled with guys you are high on. Sure you may be able to draft a Marion Barber in the fourth round and hope Arian Foster fell to the fifth round (I drafted before the preseason so Foster hadn’t had his huge Week 3 preseason game yet). But if that worked out, what does it achieve? Sure I get Foster in the fifth round, but I’m still stuck with Barber, who I don’t like. Why not take Foster in the fourth round and then take another player you like with the fifth-round pick? 

Some of you might think this is obvious, but I’m surprised how many owners don’t use this strategy. Especially when I ask them, “Why’d you take Player X over Player Y?” Where they respond, “Well, Player X was supposed to be a third rounder and he slid to me.” 

If you avoid that instinct to take a player who is falling, you’ll end up with a roster you are much happier with. Unfortunately for me, I picked Bush instead of Foster, but that doesn’t make the strategy flawed in my opinion, as both clearly had very high ceilings when I was drafting.

I believe that in the long run, a flexible strategy such as this will statistically improve your odds of a great fantasy draft. Many experts disagree on many things, but the one obvious thing we all agree on is the importance of that draft. So make those draft boards, identify your future studs and start reaching for them!

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