That most sacred day of the year is fast approaching for most fantasy owners: draft day. This is my seventh year of fantasy football, and not once in my first six seasons have I finished the year with a losing record. This trend I hope, and expect, to continue. The key to dominating any fantasy draft, I have found, is to have a structured, yet flexible, strategy prepared. The proceeding 10 tips should put you well on your way to playoff contention for the 2013 fantasy season.
1. Any kicker will do. I know this isn’t an entirely original approach, but under no circumstances should you draft a kicker before the final round of your draft. Of the top four kickers taken last year, only one finished in the top-10 by season’s end. The top-rated kicker, Blair Walsh, went undrafted in all but the deepest of leagues. After my drafts, I usually drop my kicker anyway in order to pick up more depth, and wait until game day to actually grab a kicker based on individual matchups.
2. Don’t draft Jimmy Graham in the second round. Or any tight end for that matter. There just isn’t enough value in such a selection to make it feasible in a standard league. When comparing the “Points Above Replacement” (PAR) value of the top tight end (the difference between the expected points-per-game of Graham and the projected top of the waiver wire), or the baseline starter value (the difference between Graham and, for instance, the 12th-ranked tight end in a 12-team league), to the comparative PAR and baseline values of other positions, it is clear to see that at least 18 running backs, three quarterbacks and eight wide receivers should be taken before the premier tight end. One should always aim to get secondary position players at a discount, and this is not possible with Graham until after Pick 30.
3. Steal value with your quarterback selection. Many say to wait at quarterback this year, and for the most part I agree, though the assertion is a little bit misleading. At quarterback, when value falls to you, you should take it. Drew Brees late in the second or early in the third is great value. There is no more prolific and consistent scorer in fantasy football. Similarly, in many drafts Cam Newton is falling to the fourth round. That’s top tier value! Tony Romo has been a consistent top-10 fantasy quarterback, and he’s going in the eighth round in some drafts! The point is, don’t reach or pay at-cost for a quarterback this year. Find the bargain that works for you. This usually means letting Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady go to another owner as there tends to be Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots homers in every league. Make them pay for performance so that you don’t have to.
4. Make sure that you draft at least one stud wide receiver. There is a huge dropoff in production at wide receiver after the first 12 or 13 are taken. Don’t leave your fantasy draft without one. There is not a lot of turnover among the elite wide receiver ranks. Seven of the top-12 drafted last year finished the year in the top-12. If you haven’t got a wideout by Pick 40, then you are probably screwed.
5. Even if you draft a stud quarterback, get a backup. The primary reason for this is neither to fill in for your bye week, nor to weather potential injury to your starter. The easiest way to upgrade your team is to trade a quarterback for a position player. You can only do this if you have two. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton all were thought of as backups or wire fodder preseason last year. I guarantee that somebody unexpected will rise up this year.
6. Make sure that you draft at least two running backs by the fourth round. I prefer to take two in the first three rounds, but if there is great value at quarterback or wide receiver, that sometimes takes precedence. Running back is the one position that you are almost always going to have to reach for due to scarcity. The earlier you grab them, the less you have to reach. Taking running backs with the first two picks was perhaps not the most dominant strategy last year because there were a lot of question marks surrounding most backfields. That is not the case this year. Stick with the method that is tried and true. Go running back early and often. (I’d try to get that RB3 no later than Rounds 6 or 7.)
7. Tight end: one stud early or 2-3 sleepers very late. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis are all very good tight end options, but after that, they are all pretty much the same. If you can’t get one of the Big 5, wait until after Round 10 and pick up 2-3 sleepers. There are a lot with upside. Jordan Cameron, Jake Ballard, Jermaine Gresham and Rob Housler are all guys that I like that should cost you next to nothing.
8. Handcuff at least two of your running backs. In 8-to-10-team leagues, this might not be necessary; but in deeper leagues, it’s better to invest in a backfield than in an individual runner. Let’s face it; running backs get hurt. In all likelihood, at least one or two of yours will spend some time on the sidelines this season. Having a contingency plan for this eventuality is a must. Handcuffing solidifies the value of your early round running back investments.
9. Wait on a defense. It doesn’t have to be the second to last round, but it should be towards the end of your draft. I focus on teams with great secondaries and strong special teams, as they tend to be undervalued over teams with big front sevens. Remember, just because a defense is great in real life, doesn’t mean that it will translate into fantasy. Don’t be that guy who drafts the San Francisco 49ers in the eighth round.
10. Don’t forget your cheat sheet. If you want to hang with the big boys, you’ve got to make your own.