Like many of our staff and readers, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a number of drafts. With the start of the regular season just around the corner, many of you (like myself) are gearing up for that one league against your closest buddies that you want to win the most. I’m lucky enough to be in a league that was started over 10 years ago (actually closer to 15) and despite the many changes in lives that take place over a decade’s time, 11 of the 12 original owners are still together. Gents, I look forward to this year’s battle.
In the meantime, I’ve collected a few nuggets along the way that are worth sharing. Some trends I’m seeing on individual players, some strategies that I’ve been successful in employing and, in general, some random thoughts. This article is split into two parts. In this one we’ll talk about some general draft thoughts and strategies, while the second will focus more on individual players. I apologize for the lack of a format here, but hopefully you will find a nugget or two of information that you might be able to use in your draft.
I’ll start off by saying this is one of the most exciting years that I can remember for fantasy football. Don’t get me wrong, every year is exciting, but I mean in terms of this year’s draft. In years’ past, you would know who the 1.01 pick would be, you’d know the next two guys to be picked, you knew the next half dozen, etc. There was a clear pecking order. Not so this year. Not only that, but depending on the league scoring system, the draft ranking you use in one league will greatly differ from the one you use in another league. Anything can happen, and I’ve seen that anything does happen. What a change it is knowing that the random draft order can get you almost any player!
Many of the leagues I’ve drafted in, including the Whale One Shark League, I found myself in the top half of the first round. In general, I found that going RB-WR-RB/WR-WR-RB was the best approach when slotted here. I have been a ‘late quarterback’ guy for many years, so this was not an adjustment that I had to make for this year. I’ve also usually waited on getting a tight end. Unless something outstanding presents itself, these are two strategies that I suggest this year, especially if you are drafting in the top half of round one.
Another strategy that I’ve had to adjust for this season is to knock down running backs a bit and make sure to get a couple top-flight wideouts. I have always been one of the biggest proponents on this site to grab RBs early and often. I’ve even gone so far as to draft RBs with my first five picks in a draft, which by the way, I highly recommend against this year. Like last year, it is imperative to make sure you get at least two of the Top 15 or 20 WRs. There will be a few that will emerge beyond that, but by and large, there is a big drop-off from the “good list” to the “eh list” at WR. Yes, there is a drop-off at RB as well, but with so many committees being used in the NFL, you can get by getting your second RB in Rounds 4 or 5.
In conjunction with that, I’m very big on getting depth at both RB AND WR this year. Again, unless something great presents itself, I’m finding that using the first six or seven selections at RB and WR is a very good strategy. I mentioned the Whale One Shark League; I have posted a specific draft recap over in the forum so I won’t go into detail in this space, but you can click
here if you are interested.
To summarize briefly, I got a top RB in the first (Tomlinson), top WR in the second (Steve Smith), RB in the third (Ronnie Brown), then WR fourth (Vincent Jackson), RB next (Thomas Jones), then WRs next (Antonio Bryant, Devin Hester). That seems like a pretty good core that I hope will bring me to the playoffs. I backfilled those guys with a handful of QBs (four actually), a single TE that I like, some sleeper flyers, then closed with K and D.
As for quarterbacks, again, if something presents itself, you have to go with it. And for those drafting near the end of Round 1, I’ve found that going WR then QB is a strategy that works. Tom Brady, Drew Brees and even Aaron Rodgers are going to have stellar seasons. But for those of you that have the cajoles to wait (and it makes sense based on your draft position), don’t be afraid to be the last owner in your league to saddle up with a quarterback. When you do, I recommend banging out at least three QBs in a row, so you can play matchups and ride the hot hand. When waiting late, the key is to make sure you get an established and/or unquestioned NFL starter. I see guys like Ben Roethlisberger, David Garrard and Trent Edwards in this category. These names won’t light the world on fire, but if they can consistently get you average fantasy scores every week then you are golden.
Lastly for positions, tight ends I believe to be deep, and I think you will find that in most leagues, owners will draft a single TE. If you are in a league like this, then definitely wait because I see the TEs ranked 8-15 as being very equal to each other. As for defense and kicker, wait until the end … and I’m talking about the very end. Too hard to predict, no one entity has established itself this year as a must have, and like TE, many teams in your league would only be drafting one, which leaves your 8-15 ranked available very late. The days of drafting the Ravens defense and watching them double up on the second-highest scoring defense are long gone. You are better off getting a defense late, grabbing a hot defense in free agency when the season starts, then find out which teams are turning the ball over the most and play the matchup game against that team all season via free agency.
Speaking of late, as mentioned earlier, this is an ‘anything goes’ year. In addition to affecting the early draft, this will come into play in the middle-to-late rounds as well. Everyone in your league will have their rankings and their ADP chart with them on draft day, which by the way are really the only two things you need to bring with you to a draft (well, besides a cold frostie or 10). The problem in the middle-to-late rounds is that everyone has their favorite sleeper but owners get reluctant to pull the trigger on grabbing a guy if it is ‘too early’ based on the rankings and ADP chart in front of them. I see it time and again: Round 10, a player is drafted prompting another owner to curse and say something like (curse omitted, of course): “Man, I was hoping he’d slide to me in the next round.” FORGET THAT! If you have your core team put together and there is a sleeper out there that you want, GRAB HIM!! Don’t wait until someone in your league accidentally takes the player because they are working off a 2007 draft cheat sheet!
Seriously, I can’t tell you how many times this happens. If you want to be the guy that benefits from Tomlinson going down for the season, then grab Darren Sproles a little earlier than his ADP (note that I’m not recommending this; I’m just saying as an example). If you think that Vernon Davis is going to have a monster year, don’t wait until his ADP of Round 15 (or whatever it is), grab him in the 12th or 13th so that you have him. You’re carrying Kurt Warner and there’s nothing exciting available at QB as your backup? Take Matt Leinart. Don’t be afraid to hear chuckles from your fellow owners or have the commish of your league squeeze his son/daughter’s ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ doll he’s brought to the draft with him. Just sigh, mention how many beers you’ve had that must be clouding your judgment, then move on feeling good about getting the guy(s) that YOU wanted.
Trust me when I say you will be kicking yourself less if you draft a guy too high and he doesn’t pan out than if you wanted a guy, didn’t get him because someone accidentally took him one slot in the draft before you, and then the guy goes on to have a Pro Bowl season. (I think this sentence makes sense, I have re-read it three times and I’m still not sure, but I think it is). My point being, don’t wait too long for players that you want at any point in the draft. Player rankings and ADP charts are guidelines. Every league is different, both in terms of scoring systems and the owners involved.
Make sure you know your league, know your owners and use this to your advantage at the draft. In my main league, I KNOW there will be at least one owner flipping through an outdated magazine; this is helpful information. Not only will that always be a good time for me to hit the hay and grab another, I’ll know what kind of list he’s working on and which players that he might take that were highly ranked early but have been relegated to the bench. I also know that unfortunately one owner is going to be out of town and will miss the draft, he’ll be drafting based on submitting a list, which is more helpful information since I know when and what type of players he likes to have. Also, know who the ‘homer’ is in your draft; you know, the guy that will be drafting players on the NFL team he roots for. Force him to select those players earlier than they would have otherwise been picked.
Finally, I’ll close with draft day materials, and this is more for those having a live draft, but it can come in handy for online drafts as well. I mentioned a cheat sheet and ADP charts, which are very good items to have. Somewhere on one of those sheets, make some chicken scratch markings next to some players, a dash for guys you want, an x for guys you don’t and a dot next to your sleepers. I also recommend bringing a chart so you can keep track of the picks of every team. It’s not necessary to keep track of specific players, but use it to keep track of what position your fellow owners have already drafted. This is especially helpful if you are near the corner. For instance, if you have picks 3.11 and 4.02, you might be torn between a RB or a WR at 3.11. If you know that the person selecting at 3.12 and 4.01 already has two RBs, then you grab the WR making the hunch that you might also be able to get the RB you were considering at 3.11 in the 4.02 slot. Any advantage you can get, use it!