So what’s it gunna be then, eh? If you’ve ever seen or read A Clockwork Orange, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. In fantasy football, it’s question you ask yourself over and over as the clock is winding down and you need to pick. You’ve read every ESPN, Yahoo!, and Rotoworld article imaginable, scoured through every cheatsheet, and have even made your own rankings. No matter how prepared you are (or think you are), be prepared for chaos. You may think you know what you’re going to do until you’re on the clock. I’ve done it. I remember blurting out “Torry Holt!” as time expired one year. This of course was when he signed with Jacksonville, clearly was on the decline, and in that stupid moment of word vomit, I ruined my chance at back to back championships.
Don’t be that guy. If I’ve learned anything from playing fantasy football the past decade, it’s hold back the word vomit. Fantasy football isn’t a time to let chaos ensue. Your guy gets taken? So what, there’s a hundred other guys that can make up your team. Be angry, upset, afraid, whatever, for a few seconds, then take a deep breath, and get back to the board. Be cold and calculated, not reactive and emotional. These, along with the rest of this piece, will be tips to help you not only survive, but dominate your draft.
Leading Up to the Draft
My buddies and I have had a league since high school. It is the holiest of leagues, and in fact, we were “The League” before the show ever aired on FX (Can I sue? All you lawyers out there help me out). We’re all best friends, but this league is our lives. We eat, sleep, and breathe this league 24/7 365 days a year. I prepare myself by making my own database, and often mocking with a member or two in the league. These are great strategies, to help you prepare based on your understanding of your league. If you like to talk to your other members about it before the draft, remember one thing; be wary of smoke screens. We’re all buddies, but this is also cut throat. I’ll trample over my grandmother if it means getting a certain player to fall to me. I’m sure your buddies are the same way.
Make your own rankings. It helps a lot, especially when you account for keepers and scoring. You can start to get a realistic idea of what your team will look like after a few rounds without using a mock draft that doesn’t account for those types of things. For example, “The League” plays with two quarterbacks, has three keepers, and is a PPR league. I’d be foolish to use a standard mock draft like on ESPN or Yahoo!.
Figure out a winning formula. Literally. Matthew Berry makes a great point of it here for ESPN Standard Scoring Leagues. Take into account your settings, and find out a winning point total. Then, go position by position and see what an average to above average point total combination will get you that number. As much as we say fantasy football is “luck”, there is a bit of science to it. Personally, I like to nickel and dime. A few extra points from a receiving running back, combined with the extra two points from a good kicker, added to more points from my ppr favorite wideouts, and it adds up. You can get an extra ten points a game just by nickel and diming from the right types of players.
Go with the safe picks early, the upside picks later. The first few rounds of your draft build your foundation. Don’t take the guy who is all hype, always hurt, or has been in decline the past several years. Don’t take the name, don’t take the surrounding cast, don’t take the guy who needs everything to go right. Take the rocks, the guys who are a lock for the most touches on the team, or who barring catastrophic injury (sorry 2011 Peyton owners) will be worth the pick. If you nail those first few picks, you’ve at least got the ship afloat.
The upside picks are the guys I mentioned above; guys who need the right situations to come to fruition in order to succeed. The platoon running back, the wide receiver who is helped by a new system, the quarterback who got new weapons (I’m talking to you Sam Bradford) are all guys who you get later. The key is to stockpile on these picks later in the draft, and hope someone pops. The studs keep the ship afloat, but more often than not, one of these upside picks are wind that guides the ship.
Don’t pay for the career year. Yes AP rushed for 2000 yards. Yes, Megatron almost had 2000 yards receiving, but that doesn’t mean he’ll do it again. Remember, you’re drafting based on not only talent and past production, but the player’s current context within the team. Reggie Bush just came to Detroit, and both Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles are expected to come back strong. Yes, a guy like Calvin will still have solid production, but to think he can repeat 2012, you’re only fooling yourself. While running backs are the best bet to come back strong after a great year, it doesn’t mean that they can do it again. Touchdowns are the biggest stat that is most likely to regress. When you’re lookingup stats, if a guy posted TD totals of 5, 6, 7, then 14, don’t think he’s suddenly a touchdown machine.
Lastly, listen to your gut. I don’t care if 50 analysts are saying player x is ranked higher than player y. If you have some sort of justification for saying otherwise, and your gut says take player y, then do it. Your intuition sometimes can be a lifesaver. You may not even be able to put a finger on it, but if something tells you to take someone, than do it.
Pass on the Quarterback
I’m going to say this again. Don’t be that guy. This year, there’s a cornucopia of quarterbacks. When analyzing each position, you need to consider the depth at the position, relative to the depth at other positions. This year, there’s depth at wideout and quarterback, and after the top running back and tight ends, the talent takes a nosedive.
Take your quarterback late. If you can gain an advantage over your competition at the positions of scarce depth, you can afford to take the small hit in production. A running back/quarterback core of say, Doug Martin, Matt Forte, and Tony Romo looks a lot better than a core of Aaron Rodgers, Steven Jackson, and Darren McFadden. In a year where there aren’t too many stud RB1s, you can’t afford to have a RB2 leading your backfield.
If you decided to go with a QBBC approach, I wouldn’t blame you either. Nabbing someone like Romo and Andy Dalton as a solid backup, or platooning say, Jay Cutler and Michael Vick in the later rounds isn’t a terrible idea. If you can capitalize on taking studs at positions of little depth, it can be worth it, and who knows, maybe it can lead to a trade midseason.
The point is, why take Aaron Rodgers in round 1 or 2 when you can get someone who will put up only a few less points per game, when you can take a guy at another position who puts up significantly more points compared to the field?
As for the rookies, no rookie QB is going to even come close to what happened last season. The only rookie I like is EJ Manuel, and even I see him as a low end QB2 that should be mostly drafted in keeper or dynasty leagues.
Take the Running Backs and Run
As I stated earlier, running backs are the key position this year. If you don’t have your top 2 running backs after round 3, more likely than not you’ve already shot yourself in the foot. “Alright Joe, I get it, get the rushers early, but how do I know who to take?” Take the guys who can do it all. You’re foolish not to. Yes, some guys are touchdown machines, but that varies from season to season. I’m grabbing the running backs who are undoubtedly toting the rock for their team, catch passes, and are on the field on third down. Yes, some guys like Adrian Peterson don’t need to catch the ball to accumulate eye popping point totals, but he’s in a league of his own. In most leagues, 60 yards is worth the same as a TD. So a guy who rushes for 1000 yards, 5 tds, and has 480 yards receiving has the same point total (in standard leagues) as the guy who has 1000 yards and 10 tds and 180 yards receiving.
In terms of overall strategy, after you take your safe picks, it’s a crapshoot. Stockpile on some running backs later in the draft and pray one of them goes off. Whether it’s the rookie who’s an injury away from playing time (David Wilson 2012), or a platoon man who can emerge if something goes right (CJ Spiller 2012), take a gamble. If you throw enough shit at the wall, something’s bound to stick. Once you hit the part of the draft where upside is key, running back should be the primary target. This year? I’ll take fliers on guys such as DeAngelo Williams (better scheme), Mark Ingram (Payton wants to run the ball), Ryan Williams (can Mendenhall stay healthy?), and Giovani Bernard (can easily take over for the lawfirm).
Rookie running backs have had major impacts over the last few seasons. This season, Montee Ball and Le’Veon Bell are the two names being tossed around most. If they both get the job (and at this point it looks like they sure will), then don’t be afraid to pull the trigger. Personally, I don’t take rookies before proven studs, but if its round 4 or 5 and the RB pool is starting to get ugly, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Not only have rookie running backs had a better YPC than veteran running backs since 2008 (4.3 compared to 4.1, thank you Michael Clay), but since 2003, there has only been one season where a rookie rusher didn’t finish in the top 20 in rushing. One of the two will almost certainly payoff, if not both.
Pick A Wideout, Any Wideout
I tier my wideouts like this: Megatron and the Bipolar Beast (Brandon Marshall) as the cherry on top, AJ Green, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, and Roddy White as the whipped cream below the cherry, and then the next 27 guys or so as the bland vanilla ice cream below that. Any of the guys in this third tier can have monster seasons and I wouldn’t be shocked, but I see them more as WR2s and high end WR3s than anything else.
If you miss out on a top RB, or want to go some combination or WR/RB in the first two rounds, then you better be taking the whipped cream and above. I’m talking the guys who have a legitimate shot at 100 receptions, 1000 yards, and 10 plus TDs. Percy Harvin, as good as he is, is not worth sacrificing a surefire running back when you can get Victor Cruz, Reggie Wayne, or Demaryius Thomas a round later without costing yourself a guy like Steven Jackson or Trent Richardson.
If you’re in a PPR league, look for the guys who are going to get 70+ receptions. Unless someone is a redzone monster, catches will add up. If you can grab a sneaky PPR guy like Lance Moore, Wes Welker (a very risky pick at this point), it will reward you more than taking a guy who relies more on TDs. Just like running backs and the receiving yardage vs TD guys, go with the receptions over TD guys once you start to hit that middle tier. If you don’t know how to predict catches, just look at target totals.
Since we used Percy Harvin as an example previously, let’s do it again. If you’re considering taking Tavon Austin as a starter on your team, pump the breaks, slap yourself, maybe splash some water, and briefly leave for fresh air. Tavon Austin is a guy who’s skill set is nearly identical to Harvin’s and many people think that will translate right away. Wrong. In Harvin’s rookie year, with Brett Favre throwing him passes, he finished with 60 receptions, 790 yards, and 6 TDS (8 if you count his rushing and return TDS). Those are decent numbers, but I see those for a bye week fill in or a matchup man, or a low end WR3. In deeper leagues with keepers or dynasty leagues, maybe you can take him around round 9 or 10. Don’t count on him topping Harvin’s rookie numbers though, and last time I checked, the underachieving Sam Bradford is throwing the rock, not the gunslinging, penis flashing Brett Favre.
As for the rest of the rookies, I don’t see anyone worth drafting unless it’s as a late round flier. Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins might have good rookie campaigns, but I wouldn’t count on them shouldering the load of a fantasy starter. Maybe the right circumstances arise, maybe they don’t. Don’t be dumb and dream big on a rookie when you have more pressing needs.
Tight Ends: Russian Roulette
Ideally, I’d say Jimmy Graham, Gronk, and Aaron Hernandez are the clear cut top tight ends, with Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez following right behind them. Unfortunately as of today, Gronk has had more operations this offseason than Frankenstein, and Aaron Hernandez is in some deep shit that Ray Lewis would have a hard time getting out of. So now, the field is down to three. The three safe guys are Graham, Witten, and Gonzo. After that, your guess is as good as mine. There’s old faces in new places, the annual underachievers, and the big old question marks. I’d advise to take one of the three tight ends early, if not, go TEBC.
Vernon Davis is a guy who has been a big question mark, but with Crabtree out, he becomes the 49er’s de facto top option (and they’ve been lining him up at wideout too). He also has been hit or miss just like the rest of the bunch. If you do decide to take Gronk or Hernandez, I’d say only if the value makes sense, and if you take a backup you feel comfortable starting. Besides Davis, I think Jermichael Finley, Owen Daniels, and Dennis Pitta are the only middle of the road guys that are low end TE1s.
While tight end was a steady position production wise, that no longer appears to be the case. Like I mentioned, after the top three, it’s all upside and heavy risk. The silver lining here is that there a ton of TE2 options with massive upside. Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook Jr., Dustin Keller, Brandon Myers, and Kyle Rudolph are guys I wouldn’t be shocked to see have good years. As for the rookies, there’s a few guys here who can take advantage of the right opportunity, but I think Tyler Eifert is the clear cut top rookie tight end.
Don’t Boot Your Kicker
There isn’t much to say about kickers except this; they’re overlooked. While a kicker isn’t vital to your team’s success, getting an extra 1 or 2 points a game can be extremely helpful. When drafting a kicker, obviously take one within the last few rounds. Look for the guy on a team with a great offense, or the guy who’s team struggles with converting in the red zone. For kickers, it’s all about opportunity. If during the season your guy is struggling, check the waiver wire for someone who isn’t. Usually each year one or two kickers come out of nowhere and are typically pretty good. Blair Walsh, Justin Tucker, Legatron, and Dan Bailey are a few names just in the last few years alone.
The Best Defense is the Multiple Defense
The meat and potatoes of fantasy scoring for defenses come off of turnovers and special teams play. Go after the defense that has ballhawks, or a slew of guys who can take it to the house on any given play. Sacks are nice too, but I only advise getting a sack reliant team if that’s truly what they excel at. Defenses, if treated properly, can contribute just as much to your weekly success as any other position.
Unless you get a clear cut top defense (which varies year to year anyway), I suggest you take an extra defense, depending on your league’s settings (I play in a two defense league, so I typically draft three). The reasoning? You play the matchups, as in, defense A and whoever plays the Jets. Again, I’m all about nickel and diming. If starting a defense based on the matchup nets me an extra 3 or 4 points a game, then why wouldn’t you? Also, defenses are pretty fluid. If a defense begins to shit the bed as the season progresses, why resort to picking up a crappy waiver wire D when you can be smart enough and have a viable backup already. You never know what can happen. In fact, I won “The League” championship off of an Arizona Cardinals blocked kick. It was a last second play of the game, and they were the third defense I drafted. Some call it a miracle, but I call it shrewd drafting.