Ten Things to Take Into Your NFL Fantasy Football Draft
By: Joe Leininger
Fantasy Football and Fantasy Football Draft
It’s that time of year again, friends. Have there been spikes around the office or classroom in the usage of terms like sleepers, upside, and injury risk? Armchair quarterbacks everywhere are gearing up for their league’s fantasy draft, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of being sucked into the frenzy, you’re a combination of foreign, old, or female.
But a lot’s changed since the last time we were feverishly rooting for Peyton Hillis in a game between two teams with a combined eight wins. There was a lockout, thousands of transactions happened over a couple of weeks, and Randy Moss retired. And maybe David Akers, but more on that later.
Still though, some things have remained the same, and that includes various do’s and dont’s, strategies, and basic etiquette before and during your fantasy draft. I just completed my first draft of the year and let’s just say that, much like other good things in life, preparation is key. But most importantly, have fun, pay your dues if applicable, and don’t draft Brett Favre.
1. Don’t Be Auto-Pilot Guy - This happens every year. You try to schedule the draft weeks or maybe a couple of months in advance and you still can’t get all your lame friends together for two hours. Look, I know this year has been somewhat tricky with the lockout and all, but don’t be the one guy who refuses to take off the nightshift at the retail shop or backs himself into the “date night” with the girlfriend corner. It’s 2011-most of the fairer sex understand and tolerate the draft night, and some even participate. What a country! Also, something worse than looking whipped is totally ending up with guys like Michael Crabtree and insert blocking tight end here. We just did a 16 team league over at ESPN and everyone participated, which I’m calling something of an internet miracle. Chances are your league won’t be so fruitful, so don’t let it be you!
2. You Can Always Draft a Kicker Too Early - When you think about, kickers are pretty darn ridiculous, but their scoring is tangible so most everyone includes their one-bar facemasks in on the action. If there is one time to be a homer and take your team’s guy, the kicker is the time to let loose. Just realize how little difference there is between the best 15 kickers. If you exclude Sebastian Janikowski and David Akers (who will both dip this year), the next twelve guys can be separated by a mere 17 points, or one point a week. You should fill every starting position and have at least one backup QB, RB, and WR before you even think about a kicker.
3. Know Your Custom League Scoring - If you have a Commissioner, chances are you have custom scoring that can be vastly different if you’re not paying attention or used to stock rules. Those kicker numbers I was talking about up there? Those include bonuses for 40 and 50 yard kicks and penalties of -2 for every missed FG. That’s the first time I dealt with negative kicker scoring and boy did Garrett Hartley hear about it. The one that seems to be most crucial is PPR, or points per reception for rushers and receivers. If you have this more than critical setup, pay attention and chose receivers on high octane offensive teams or one with bad defenses who will be in shootouts. Teams like the Chargers, Packers, and Giants are good targets in this regard. There are many more movable parts to go over, but look over the scoring format in your league and adjust accordingly.
4. Homer Simpson Never Wins His League - Most fantasy leagues are comprised of friends, family, or co-workers, so chances are that a good chunk of players root for the same team. That means no matter how much you fight it, all your favorite players are going to go earlier than projected. But that’s fine, because you can still root for your guys and your team, without sacrificing that Brent Celek flier in the 5th round that you will no doubt see. It probably won’t hurt you if you load your bench with your favorite players, but for the first half of the draft, focus on taking the best skills players available. In the end, I’d rather have hated 30 plus points a week Tom Brady than novel fighter of all things Brady and consistently in the teens Mark Sanchez.
5. Different Picks for Different Guys - I see several leagues out there like to release the draft order an hour or sometime 30 minutes till it starts. This is completely unacceptable, especially if you’ve paid for the league. Strategies can be vastly different between players, and now throw in the fact that you could either be drafting in the top three, scrunched in the middle, or waiting around until 15th or 16th to snag a running back who will ultimately disappoint (Clinton Portis, I’ve been looking your way for years). Demand your commissioner set the draft order well in advance so you can game plan early. Knowing I had the 11th pick, I could already cross off several players I wouldn’t be entertaining.
6. Quarterbacks, At Least for Now, Are King - This may be a personal preference, but let’s face it-the days of going RB and RB in the first two rounds are over. Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander, and to a lesser degree, LaDainian Tomlinson aren’t walking through that door. This is due to game climate change, where we have seen more and more running backs by committee in offensive schemes. With that said, an early draft pick leaves you with several great options, but the only ones that aren’t quarterbacks are running the ball for the Vikings, Titans, and Texans. If you miss the boat on those guys, the next seven or so quarterbacks would all be great choices.
7. Welp, There Go All the Tight Ends - This goes for any position, but the biggest culprit in draft rushes is the tight end. It’s happened every year in every league since Antonio Gates became the ambassador of the position-he’ll go off the board, and suddenly, everyone thinks they need a tight end, and the next thing you know, rounds 4-6 feature a chain of 6 or 7 TE’s drafted in a bunch. You can avoid this by continuing to draft actual wide receivers that catch the ball, or a dominating defense like the Steelers. I’ll admit that Gates, and to a lesser extent Jason Witten and Dallas Clark, have been known to be game changers, but the quality of that position is a steep dropoff after the first handful. If you miss out on those guys, don’t worry at all. Grab a third running back or another receiver and wait until you can value pick guys like Greg Olsen or Tony Gonzalez, both of whom are ranked pretty low on standard lists.
8. He Went Where Now? - I consider myself a sports junkie and even I couldn’t keep up with the amount of new faces in new places this short offseason, but it helps if you know some of the changes. Mike Sims-Walker, a relatively large target for Sam Bradford, was let go by the Jaguars under the guise of night. Lee Evans’ stock somehow dropped after he was traded from the Bills to the Ravens, where he’ll start opposite Anquan Boldin. Tim Hightower, former Cardinals back, now looks to be the man in Washington. For whatever reason, draft rooms love to assume that because a guy changes address that he’ll immediately be worse for wear. Avoid this trend, read up on what the coaches are saying (it also helps to use multiple sources outside your fantasy provider, like CBSSports, Yahoo, etc.) and steal accordingly. Also, just because guys aren’t on a team right now doesn’t mean they don’t have value. If you are in the last few rounds and guys like Terrell Owens or Clinton Portis are still out there, take them. Especially Owens-dude was a top five fantasy receiver (no PPR) and the Bengals were awful. Imagine what he could do in Baltimore or Tampa.
9. Nothing About This is Reality - Don’t be that guy who doesn’t utilize the chat during the draft and never entertains trades. We are here to have fun, talk a little smack, reconnect with old colleagues, and make anything the Carolina Panthers do mean something. Loosen up, send out trades and don’t be afraid to mix it up. Otherwise you might as well be a robot I’m playing against. On a similar hand, remember that no matter how much it means to you, people could care less about your team or your league if they aren’t a part of it. I’ve been guilty of this before, talking about bye weeks and third string running backs to people who probably only wanted to confirm how much their respective team will kick ass on Sunday. But most importantly, don’t ever talk about your “other” team where you are 8-0 and apparently playing against apathetic children. Even “Gas Price Guy” doesn’t want to hear that noise.
10. Drafting is Half the Battle - I’ve been playing all sorts of fantasy games since 2001 and if you’re like me, half of the players you draft will be gone via performance, injury, or trade once it’s time for playoffs. I’ll admit it, my first draft this year wasn’t my favorite, but holes can be filled by the glory that is known as the waiver wire. Use it, love it, embrace it. This is most crucial in the first few weeks when players way outside the draft range step up and afford you chances to use them at almost no cost. Toward the middle of the season, things start to even out and basically become a revolving stopgap for bye weeks, but difference makers will again appear late in the season. Two seasons ago I ended up having to fill injuries in my Week 17 Super Bowl with unknown guys named Arian Foster and Devin Aromashadu. Five scores later between the two and I had captured the bragging rights and the cash in that league. If used correctly, the waiver wire will be just as important as your core guys down the stretch.
Joe Leininger lives in Jacksonville, FL via the greater Philadelphia area. He dabbles in all things sports, pro wrestling, and television, and more of his work can be found at The Playing Field Blog and DestiGeddon.