Fantasy football strategy: Preparing for your draft
Now that it’s been confirmed that we will all be blessed with an uninterrupted season of professional football, preparations can begin for another fantastic fantasy season. Fantasy football continues to grow and grow, and there will be millions of new teams and owners this year.
There are many things you can do to give yourself an advantage while preparing for your fantasy drafts. Implementing and maintaining a solid pre-draft strategy is one of the biggest factors that separate successful fantasy owners from ill-prepared newbies. Let’s take a look at some things you can do to give your team that competitive edge before your draft.
Don’t waste your money on fantasy magazines
Normally one of the highlights of late May and early June is when you walk by your local newsstand and see that first fantasy football magazine on the shelf. You instinctively grab it and purchase it so you can start reading, learning and gaining that invaluable knowledge.
The problem with 2011, is that the magazines that are available are underwhelming, to say the least. All of them went to press in April or May and are nothing but speculative. The best and most reputable annual magazines didn’t even publish books this year because they knew that printing cheat sheets, sleepers and depth charts when there had been no off-season, would do their readers more harm than good.
Magazines that are out were hastily put together, have damaging errors, and are full of guesswork. One 2011 offering has Derrick Ward still listed as the #2 running back in Tampa Bay despite the fact that he played all of last season with Houston and even re-signed with the Texans.
How can someone walk into a fantasy draft confident with a magazine that has no updated free agency or trades especially after the lockout will make this the most unpredictable off-season ever? Would you feel comfortable drafting DeAngelo Williams as the 22nd running back. Where will he sign? What will his role be? What if he was signed as the starter for the Packers or Colts?
Rather than spend upwards of $20 on two subpar magazines, fantasy football players are better off spending their hard earned money on a premium website or professional service that is well informed, constantly updated, and caters towards more hard-core, serious fans. These websites will often offer personalized cheat sheets and advice, up to the minute updates, and offer a much better return on your investment.
Get on twitter
When it comes to free, up to the minute, breaking news, there’s no better place than twitter. If you haven’t joined the wonderful world of breaking news and gossip in 140 characters or less, you are missing out.
Nearly every NFL beat writer, television personality, fantasy football analyst, web site, and sports network have active twitter feeds. A nearly unlimited amount of immediate, accurate and important news is right there in front of you. You can follow anyone that you want and get dependable, friendly advice from a number of reputable sources.
There are some really fantastic fantasy minds in the twitter world, and some of them have even done the work for you. Following a great list, like this one from Chet Gresham, gives you a wealth of information, and a serious edge over your opponents. When you join up, or even if you already are tweeting, be sure to follow us @GridironExperts.
Dedicate a few minutes to daily news
Now that you’re aware of all the fine fantasy resources available at your fingertips, find a few minutes each and every day to utilize them. These first few days recovering from the lockout will be crazy, and smart fantasy owners will need to stay abreast of all the signings, cap casualties, and trades.
Bookmarking all your favorite fantasy football sites, reading profootballtalk.com and checking your twitter feed is a great way to stay informed. You could spend as little as 10 minutes each day or evening doing this, and it will pay off handsomely.
Never choose auto-draft
Having a computer instantly and automatically choose your team for you might seem like a convenience, but you’re better off not even joining a league if you have to consider the dreaded auto-draft. The computer will “guess” at who you wanted by drafting from a pre-loaded list of players based on a likely out-dated ADP (average draft position). You’ll have no idea whether you’re getting a QB or position player. Far too often, these auto-draft teams start to fill out your roster completely, so while the computer is selecting a defense and kicker in round seven, all the savvy live drafters get to load up on real values and depth.
Only choose an auto-draft situation in an emergency. You wouldn’t want to miss out on a league that you’ve been established in for years if you suddenly must board an airplane to fly cross-country, but understand that you’re likely to be seriously lacking in depth, and at a huge disadvantage if you do so.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
When preparing for your draft, you want to keep an open mind, be diverse, and read many different sources. There will be countless differing opinions of “sleepers”, “busts”, values and predictions. If you read just one source for news, you’re bound to miss out on different points of view that can help you make more educated decisions.
There are countless sources out there for fantasy stats, strategies and knowledge. Your best bet is to consider them all. Open your newspaper, watch ESPN, read gridironexperts.com every day, and stay active on twitter. Most importantly, accumulate all the knowledge that you have, and make your own lists. Not only is it better to be diverse, you’ll feel more pride when you win thanks to your own hard work.
Know your scoring details
A common mistake for people new to the fantasy world is to not pay close attention to all the scoring rules and details. Most listings you see are ranked in a standard scoring format, which generally rewards more points for touchdowns and a slight bonus for yardage. PPR leagues add bonus points for receptions, which skews the league towards receiving backs and wide-outs.
For every 1000 leagues, there might be 1000 different ways to calculate scores. The slightest change to those scoring rules can dramatically affect scoring and player values. If you’re using a cheat sheet or online guide, make sure you have the right one for your league’s format.
Once you’re sure there won’t be any last second changes to you scoring rules, wait until the last possible moment that you feel comfortable printing and studying your own list. There are many free online tools that will allow you to enter your own personalized scoring parameters and generate a solid draft list for you.
Be an overachiever
One of the worst things you can do is to show up to a fantasy draft underprepared. If you hastily printed up a top 200 player list on your way out the door, but your draft exceeds 16 rounds, you’re in trouble because at the end of the draft, you will be out of names or drafting multiple kickers and defenses just to fill your roster.
Know the specifications of your draft and always exceed the minimum. If you estimate that 60 running backs will be selected, have 80 ranked. It’s far better to be over-prepared than to ask to borrow your buddies magazine just to come up with some names.
When possible, know your enemy
If you’re in a recurring league, you should have met all of your opponents. At the very least, you should have an idea of what kind of people they are, and what kind of fantasy team they run. Paying attention to your opponent’s past trends and being able to make educated guesses at what they are likely to do in the draft gives you a huge advantage.
Say you know that the owner that picks right after you is a die-hard Cowboys fan and you both need a quarterback. By knowing him or her, paying attention to their current roster, and making a calculated guess you might be able to steal Tony Romo right before they select him, rather than gamble that he’ll be available at the next round. Imagine the joy of knowing you got the last elite quarterback in your draft, broke your buddy’s heart, and at the same time, set them up for a season of misery with a lesser signal-caller.
Don’t forget to have fun
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind about our great game is to not forget to have fun. It’s a blast to use strategy and smarts to field the best team and crush your opponents, but when we start to take things too seriously and a bad fantasy football week leads to a miserable life at home or work, it might be time to take it down a notch.
Everyone enters the year thinking they’re going to be the league champions, but in the end, only one person will get the glory. It’s not always going to be the best team that wins. Often our competitive nature comes out and we forget the most important elements in joining a fantasy football league. It’s really all about finding an excuse to stay close to your friends, and, most importantly, to have fun.
Jody Smith is a 21 year fantasy football veteran. Follow him on twitter @jodysmith_
Senior Writer Gridiron Experts. 2012 FantasyPros Most Accurate Fantasy Expert. Member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. 26-year fantasy football veteran. Featured on NFL.com, Fantasypros, Football Diehards annual magazine, local AM sports radio, podcasts everywhere and SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. Once scored 4 touchdowns in a single game for Polk High School.