Ahh, the end of August. To many, that signals a dark time as the summer is winding down and your time at the beach is coming to a close. Well fear not, because the end of August also signals the return of fantasy football! It’s that time of the year where fantasy begins to take over the lives of many dedicated fantasy ballers. Heck, even if you’re only a casual player, you’re probably getting consumed with rankings, draft strategies, and the like. I’m not going to bore you with a standard list of my fantasy rankings or anything like that, but what I am going to do today is give you a simple guide on how to dominate your fantasy draft so that at the end of the season you’re the one taking home the prize money. You’ll thank me later.
(And in case you’re one of the stragglers still just putting their leagues together, be sure to check out my 8 Rules For a Perfect Fantasy League)
1. Don’t Blindly Follow “Expert” Rankings – I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea to check out the rankings of some people online, because they can certainly be a valuable tool. It’s good to do some research and get the opinions of a few people who know what they’re doing. HOWEVER, you should absolutely not take the rankings you find as gospel and adhere to them blindly throughout your draft. Just because some of these people consider themselves “experts” doesn’t mean they actually are. It just means they spend more time doing this than you do. They’ll still swing and miss more than occasionally.
If the list you found has Tom Brady ranked ahead of Robert Griffin III but you really want to draft RG3, then go ahead and do it. Remember, it’s YOUR team. You are the one who has to play out the next four months with the roster you draft, not the “expert” you found online. If you think the rankings have a player you like ranked too low, then go ahead and move him up, and vice versa. Every year I hear people getting too wrapped up in Average Draft Position (ADP) of players and rankings lists they find and they end up filling out a roster they aren’t happy with. If it’s the 6th round and you want to make sure you get Andrew Luck even though the lists tell you to wait til the 7th or 8th, then pull the trigger and make sure you get Andrew Luck. You don’t want to end up leaving your draft full of regrets.
2. Don’t Blow Round 1 – This seems simple enough, but it’s a major key to building a championship team. In Round 1, you want to get as much of a “sure thing” as you can. I know that’s easier said than done and there’s really no such thing as a guarantee in fantasy football with injuries and all, but there are definitely a few things you should be looking for. First and foremost, you’re going to want to take a running back in the first round, with Calvin Johnson being the obvious exception this year. The RB position is very scarce and you want to get one that you can rely on. You want to avoid getting too cute with your first pick, and avoid guys with red flags. If a player has been sitting out all preseason and promises he will be ready to go week 1, don’t believe him. If a guy is recovering from a major knee injury, you probably want to skip over him unless his name is Adrian Peterson. If you think David Wilson is going to have a huge year, that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t mean you should reach for him in the first round when it’s a certainty he will be there in the 2nd round (or later). Be smart with your first pick, your season depends on it.
3. Identify Your “Do Not Draft” Players – Just as important as identifying the guys you want to target, is identifying the guys you want no part of in 2013. There are pretty much two categories here. One is the list of players you want no part of whatsoever, which is self-explanatory and the other is the list of players you would prefer not to have, but would be willing to take if they fell into your lap a little later in the draft…usually much, much later for me to consider, though. Basically you think they’re bad value for where they’ll be drafted but a few rounds later and they’d suddenly become too good to pass up. Fox example…
This year my list of notable players that I wouldn’t draft at all includes Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, any Steelers running back, Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, Miles Austin, and Antonio Gates.
My “probably not” list has Marshawn Lynch (just a feeling), Arian Foster (too many red flags), Maurice Jones-Drew, the entire Rams offense (Schotty!), Frank Gore (think they’ll scale his carries back a little), Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe, Torrey Smith, Stevie Johnson, Colin Kaepernick, Kyle Rudolph, and Tony Gonzalez.
Take a look at your own lists and then identify these types of players. You’ll be happy you already made up your mind on these guys come draft day when you’re on the clock and staring Darren McFadden in the face.
4. Take Some Chances – When making your rankings, take some chances and shake things up. If everyone is drafting with the same basic rankings and ideas then its harder to separate yourself from the pack, so put your own stamp on your rankings. Identify the guys you want to target in the mid-rounds, starting in about round 3 and slide them up your rankings a little bit. Just because Wes Welker is ahead of TY Hilton on all the lists doesn’t mean you can’t draft Hilton while Welker is still on the board. With your first (and probably second) round picks you want to draft “sure things” but after that, it’s anything goes. I’m not saying go crazy and make crazy reach picks, but you should absolutely target high-reward type players. You want to draft guys based on what you think they’ll do in the future, not what they did last year. We have a pretty good idea what to expect from someone like Frank Gore this year, but there’s a chance Eddie Lacy or Gio Bernard might explode and be way better. Don’t be afraid to take chances like that and go for the home run.
Guys I would recommend in the middle rounds who could outperform their draft position are: Chris Johnson, Reggie Bush (a superstar in PPR formats this year), Eddie Lacy, Shane Vereen, Ben Tate, Bilal Powell, Bryce Brown, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antonio Brown, TY Hilton, Josh Gordon, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Kembrell Thompkins, Ryan Broyles, Vincent Brown, Jeremy Kerley, Ruben Randle, Jordan Cameron, Jermichael Finley, Tyler Eifert, Fred Davis, Andrew Luck, and Michael Vick.
5. Kickers and Defenses – Should go without saying but for the love of God, please don’t draft kickers or defenses before your last few picks. And if you even consider drafting a backup kicker, just donate your league entry fee to a charity before donating it to your future league winner and let’s not waste everyone’s time.
6. Know the Other Teams – If you’ve been in a long-running league with the same group of people, know their tendencies and what kind of players they might be going after so you can plan your strategy accordingly. Likewise, during the draft pay attention to every other team’s rosters because that could help you when deciding who to target with your next picks. If the teams drafting behind you have quarterbacks already, maybe you don’t have to take one that round and can wait until your next pick since in all likelihood nobody is going to draft a backup QB early. If the team drafting after you has 1 running back and it’s the 6th round already, he or she is probably going to be looking for RB’s. So if you have one you want, make sure you snatch him up before you lose the chance to. This can all be tricky if you do a live in-person draft, especially if alcohol is involved (and let’s face it, there’s going to be alcohol involved). You don’t want to drive yourself crazy analyzing every pick, but just keep an eye out and pay attention to these things.
7. Have Fun – This one should go without saying, but keep in mind that fantasy football is supposed to be fun. You’re getting into a four month long roller coaster with a group of friends, and while it’s nice to win — really, really nice — it’s important to have fun while trying to win as well. Think of it as your hobby and your chance to talk trash to your friends rather than a job or business investment, like far too many do. There’s only one winner at the end of the season, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time throughout the season if you’re one of the 11 losers.
And that’s about it. There are tons of other little tidbits and pieces of information you can use to try and get an edge on your league, but follow these few easy steps and you’ll be on your way to a solid and successful fantasy league. Make your own rankings, target the guys you want, and channel your inner Ron Wolf as you wheel and deal your way to the trophy. Remember, it’s YOUR team. Have fun with it, do the best you can, and things will all fall into place for you.