Fantasy Football Strategy: Draft Day Advice
With the NFL season creeping ever closer to kicking off, fantasy football fanatics are rejoicing as it’s almost time to prepare for their own fake football season. Hopefully the lockout hasn’t diverted all of your attention and you’ve had some time to get ready for your draft.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro who is locked and loaded, or a beginner who could use some helpful advice entering your first fantasy football draft, we’ve got you covered. Hopefully you already read our advice on how to prepare for a fantasy draft. Now we’re going to tackle some tips on the Big Day itself. What advice or strategies can help you have a better fantasy draft, and ensure that you have the best chance possible of taking home the championship?
QB or not to QB?
The days of the running back being the dominate figure in producing fantasy football championships are long gone. This is a passing league, and as such the quarterback has become the king of the fantasy mountain. Of course, like any other position, there are a limited number of dependable, first-tier quality signal-callers available. So what’s the best strategy: Take one of the tippy-top studs early, sit and wait to see what falls, or just ignore the top tier and target a couple of mid-range guys?
It’s nearly a consensus that there are seven Tier 1 QB’s available in 2011. The only way to safely assure that you grab one of them is to plan on taking him early. Of course, by doing this, you cost yourself valuable studs at the WR and RB positions. Taking an elite QB in the first two or three rounds is a big risk/reward venture. You won’t likely have to worry about the most important position in all of fantasy football all season, but you may be scrambling to find competent starters to fill out a weekly lineup, and if your top-notch QB misses a significant part of the season due to injuries, that lack of depth will be very difficult to overcome. For leagues that may have extra emphasis on passing yards, or 2 QB leagues, this strategy is more important. For most leagues though. you’re better off waiting.
Perhaps the soundest strategy for filling out a quality line-up and still having an elite QB is to plan to grab your QB in round 5. If you can enter the fifth round with two studs at both the RB and WR slots, and someone like Tony Romo is still available, you’re going to have a title contender. Romo represents top three or four QB numbers at a deeply discounted price.
As with any draft, flexibility is key. If all the top seven QBs are gone by your pick in round five, you would be better off targeting an elite tight end or other position depth, then grabbing two of the top twelve guys later. Having two of these guys, like Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, or Matt Schaub, would allow for good production and let you play the match-ups.
Avoid Position Runs or Panics
Sometimes an owner will reach for a player a little early and begin a run of consecutive selections as other owners over-draft to avoid missing out on the top tier guys. The best example of this often involves the first owner to grab a tight end, often as early as round three. As there are precious few elite tight ends, other owners will follow suit and take tight ends far earlier than they would like.
Don’t fall for this. Stick to your strategy, and recognize this for the panicked reaction that it is. If you are well prepared for you draft, you can avoid position runs and fill in your gaps with really good values later. Meanwhile, you can build an impressive array of solid values and depth at other positions. In most cases, you never want to let other owners dictate what you are going to do.
Have a Solid Strategy, But Remain Flexible
You’ve spent countless hours reading, tweeting and absorbing every breaking football tidbit that’s out there. You’re entering your fantasy draft ready to execute a solid game-plan and you’re confident at how it will develop. But, as with anything, there are always variables that can derail any draft.
As said, normally you would never let other owners dictate what you’re planning to do. But sometimes you will have to be open to adapt to change or unexpected opportunities. This is known as the “zig when the others are zagging” strategy. If key players or positions are being ignored, even if it’s not on your game-plan, the most successful fantasy owners will see the opportunity and capitalize on it. By all means, honor your draft day plans, but pay attention to you opponents, and be ready and willing to make them pay for their mistakes.
Kicker is Last, Defense is Next to Last
Everyone knows this is one of the key commandments of the fantasy football drafty strategy rulebook, yet every draft has an owner that just has to grab that top notch defense in round eight or nine. Often times, this will start an unfortunate position run and others will follow suit. See this as an opportunity for you to gain key depth throughout your roster and continue to play the waiting game.
Another reason to hold off on you defense: you never know from season to season who will end up as the top ranked unit. The San Diego Chargers led the NFL in total defense last season, but were an afterthought before the year, and remain one in early 2011 ADP rankings. Often, a team comes out of nowhere with a new scheme, or defensive coordinator and surprises us all by finishing as a top ten unit. Fantasy owners that didn’t invest heavily in a top DST will have no hesitation when it comes to casting off that next to last round pick and picking up a new team on the waiver wire.
“Kickers are a dime a dozen”. That may not be true, as research shows that the top kickers can hold a pretty significant weekly edge. In the fantasy world, however, they should be seen as the least reliable, least important, and most easily replaced draft priority. Like team defenses, there is a ton of turnover from week to week. Even a kicker from a really good team could be just one cold stretch away from getting cut.
NFL teams have learned that there are always plenty of capable replacements on the waiver wire. Fantasy owners should view place-kickers with the same degree of indifference. Kickers may be important to your weekly scoring, but the position is relatively deep, can be unpredictable, and should be your last priority on draft day.
Never Over-value Sleepers
Everyone loves reading about who this year’s break-out star is going to be. The trouble is, we all too often overpay to take a chance on these guys and leave more dependable but less flashy players on the table. When every magazine and website has the same players listed as “sleepers” they actually become terrible draft prospects. They go from unknown commodity with break-out potential to over-valued because everyone will be targeting them and, in a panic to act fast, someone will inevitably grab him too early.
A great example of this would be last year. Everyone knew that Devin Aromashodu was going to be the big break-out sleeper star of Mike Martz’s zany Bears passing attack. His 2010 ADP numbers had him going ahead of talent like Mike Williams and Austin Collie, and the results were not inspiring: 10 catches 149 yards 0 scores…for the entire season.
We all love sleepers and being able to grab the hidden gem, but the best way to do this is to pay attention to the pre-season and to use your own judgement. Do you own research and find you own under-valued stars.
Avoid Guys with Lingering Injuries
Often in training camp, guys will pull up lame with a seemingly minor pull or tweak. But as time goes on, these nagging injuries just won’t heal, and the player’s effectiveness can be severely limited. Minor ailments like pulled hamstrings, turf-toe, high ankle sprains and bruises can often take much longer to heal than expected and are hard to put an accurate recovery time on.
It’s not that you should treat all injuries as severe, just know that certain minor aches and pains can often hurt a player’s explosiveness and ability to make cuts. Don’t completely ignore guys who are dinged in the pre-season, just stay informed of their recovery progress and be prepared to move them down a round or two if necessary.
Don’t Worry About Bye Weeks
We spend far too much time making sure that we avoid drafting two runners or receivers with the same bye week. Avoiding this could cause us to make a big mistake by passing on a better player simply because he will be off the same week as your previous selection.
The reality is, you might be better off “bye-stacking”. Let’s say most of your key starters were off in one week, and your forced to start all your bench guys. Chances are you’re going to lose that week. But, while all the other owners are at 60-80% strength throughout three or four bye weeks, you’ll be at 100% strength and meeting your weakened opposition.
One position that is immune from ignoring byes is the quarterback. You must have somebody to start at the most important position, or you’ll have little chance of winning. There always seems to be injuries or back-ups who can come in and be effective for a week or two, so if you have two starting caliber QBs with the same off week, be sure to think ahead and nab a temporary starter , even if it’s only for one week.
Be a Waiver Wire Wizard
Even heading into a fantasy draft, you should plan ahead and expect to be aggressive on the waiver wire. Every season, plenty of talented players come out of nowhere and turn out to be fantasy studs. Be sure that you expect to stay abreast of all statistics and news and always stay one step ahead of your competitors….it’s far better to be proactive then reactive.
Do you, our readers have some great strategies or tips that you would like to share with your fellow fantasy owners? Please share your advice and tactics in our comments area below and spread the wealth.
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.