We play fantasy football for many reasons…right? Love of the game, the strategy of making the right waiver wire pickups, finding that deep sleeper that has a breakout season.
Yeah, those are all great, but let’s be honest. We play fantasy football for one reason: to win. To bask in the glory, hoist the trophy proclaiming us the best of the best, and drink the tears of the opposition as they wonder what, exactly, just happened?
In that spirit, here is a guide to help you find success as we near the beginning of the NFL regular season. Preseason results have given us new data to draw from and it’s time for the money leagues to start drafting.
I hope this guide will help you field the best possible team each and every Sunday this year so you can reach the pinnacle and be crowned champion.
Step One: Have a Strategy
I believe one of the most important things you can do to help yourself win is to go into each draft you do with a developed strategy. This can be as simple as taking the best player available to a detailed way of thinking about how you want to approach each position on your team. Of course, an important consideration will be the type of scoring your league uses.
For example, if your league awards a point per reception (commonly referred to as PPR), you will want to value wide receivers more than you would in a regular scoring league. In addition to targeting receivers earlier, you will also want to pay attention to statistics such as how many targets the receiver is likely to see. In a PPR league, I will look to draft receivers from teams that tend to throw more pass attempts, such as the New England Patriots or the New Orleans Saints. A similarly gifted receiver on a more run heavy team will typically not score you as many points.
So, after doing many, many mock and life drafts up to this point this preseason, I have developed my strategy that has led to drafting very strong and deep teams. It’s interesting to note that the approach I have found to work best this year is very different from the way I normally entered drafts for the last ten years.
It used to be the running backs that were the cornerstone of a successful fantasy football team, and they are still vitally important as most leagues will want you to start two or three backs each week. However, as the NFL moves to a more pass and quarterback dominated league as well as less and less three down featured backs; more import has to be given to the quarterback and receiver positions.
My goal this year is to target one of the top five to six running backs. If I can snap one of them in the first round I’m very happy. Past those six guys, I start looking at some of the top flight quarterbacks or receivers. Here is a quick list of how I rank these positions:
1.) Arian Foster
2.) Adrian Peterson
3.) Jamaal Charles
4.) Ray Rice
5.) Chris Johnson/Lesean Mccoy
That’s pretty much it for the guys I’m willing to use a 1st round pick on right now and Chris Johnson is iffy because of his contract situation. If you have the cojones to pull the trigger on him it will pay off when he gets on the field; not knowing when that will be makes him a definite gamble as a 1st pick.
After those guys are taken, I next turn my attention to the signal callers. Taking an elite quarterback is a sure way to virtually guarantee your-self solid point production every week of the season. Let’s look at the top quarterbacks from last year based on ESPN standard scoring leagues:
1.) Michael Vick – 300 points
2.) Aaron Rodgers – 292 points
3.) Tom Brady – 289 points
4.) Peyton Manning – 279 points
5.) Philip Rivers – 270 points
On average, that would give you about 18 points per week over 16 weeks. To compare, the top five running backs last year by ESPN standard league scoring would net you about 15 points per week. It doesn’t seem like a lot but a few points a week can make all the difference.
So assuming a 10-12 man league, my goal is to score one of the top running backs OR quarterbacks with my first pick. I then focus in on running backs in the second tier with an eye towards good value picks at wide receiver. There are almost always some backs and receivers who break out of nowhere. Since we can’t predict who they will be (Peyton Hillis anyone?) the best thing to do is just take as many good bets at the two positions that we can and then work the wire week to week.
In summary, this is what I will do. Take a premier running back or quarterback with my first pick. Solidify the running back position or take the best possible receiver during rounds two and three. Look at taking an elite tight end in rounds four or five. I will then use every remaining pick to deepen my roster with good prospects at running back and wide receiver and finally take my defense and kicker in the last two rounds.
Here is the last team I drafted using this strategy:
QB: Tom Brady
RB: Ray Rice
WR: Santonio Holmes
TE: Antonio Gates
D/ST: Dallas Cowboys
K: Sebastian Janikowski
Overall, I would say this draft is a success according to my pre-draft plan. I targeted two of last year’s top five running backs who are in run heavy systems as the featured back, secured a top five quarterback in a pass happy offense, took a perennial pro bowl tight end and filled out my team with talent at the skill positions. I stuck to my strategy and took what looks, on paper, to be the shell of a successful team.
Step Two: Have a Cheat sheet
This is a simple but effective tool that can really help you on draft day. Before you sit down to draft, take a look at Yahoo, ESPN or even NFL.com to see where players are being drafted on average. Then look at how the players have been playing or how their situations have changed since last year. Finally, apply some of your own knowledge and opinions and figure out how well you expect those players to perform this year.
Once you think about those things, make a cheat sheet that will rank your top 150-200 picks. Think about your overall strategy and use that to determine where each player falls in your draft priority. That way, when it’s your turn to pick, you will have a predetermined board to look at and help you decide where you can gain the most value.
For reference, here is my own top 20 as they appear on my cheat sheet:
1.) Arian Foster
2.) Adrian Peterson
3.) Jamaal Charles
4.) Ray Rice
5.) Aaron Rodgers
6.) Lesean Mccoy
7.) Michael Vick
8.) Andre Johnson
9.) Chris Johnson
10.) Roddy White
11.) Maurice Jones-Drew
12.) Calvin Johnson
13.) Rashard Mendenhall
14.) Frank Gore
15.) Greg Jennings
16.) Larry Fitzgerald
17.) Darren McFadden
18.) Tom Brady
19.) Michael Turner
20.) Drew Brees
Having a thought out approach and a cheat sheet to remind you of your decision tree will help your drafting process immensely. You will be able to see the players that other drafters have passed on that you value highly and move to take them at the right times. Success in fantasy football is all about getting more than what you pay for and a good cheat sheet is the best way to make that happen.
Step Three: Pay Attention!
The other key piece to fielding a good team every week is to pay attention to what‘s going on around the league. Usually, the guy holding the trophy at the end of the season drafted a few good players but then supplemented that with good waiver wire work. No one can predict who will break out with a huge season or who will go down with a serious injury.
What you have to do is watch football. I know it’s torturous but it’s something you have to do if you want to succeed in fantasy. Look over the preseason box scores to see who has been playing well. I know I have moved Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall up my draft board based on how they’ve played so far. Look every week at who is available to help your team. It may be someone who was un-drafted but is putting up monster numbers. Maybe somebody had to drop their backup QB to pick up another slot on their team and you can jump on an improvement to your own quarterback situation. Monitor the waiver wire like a hawk!
I firmly believe that if you follow these steps you will be a consistent winner in your fantasy football drafts. I strongly recommend doing some mock drafts on sites like NFL and ESPN to hone your techniques and make sure your cheat sheet lines up well with when players are being drafted before you sit down to your money league. Beyond anything else, remember to have fun, talk smack and enjoy every Sunday to the fullest! Good luck!
Sources: ESPN Internet Ventures, http://games.espn.go.com/ffl/tools/projections, espn.go.com