By Jonathan Vandersluis
Draft day is one of the most fun days of the year, but it can also be very stressful and overwhelming. After many years of drafting experience, I’ve developed a strategy that helps me approach the draft to ensure that I give myself the best chance to win each and every year. Now, from year to year specific strategies emerge based on the depth at the position, the volatility of that position and a wide array of other factors, but here we’ll discuss ten rules to live by to help your draft run as smoothly as possible, and help lead you to a championship.
So without further ado…. the Ten Commandments of Fantasy Football Drafting!!
1. Know your league
Make sure that you are well aware of your league settings. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many people just go into a draft without even knowing the scoring system. Each scoring/roster change should have some impact on how you draft. As well, try to gather as much information about the people in your league as possible. If you are drafting with friends, you probably already know their favorite teams and maybe even there favorite players. Use that knowledge to your advantage!!
2. Never discuss your sleepers with your opponents (or use lots of misdirection)
This rule is pretty straight forward, the more information that your opponents have about the players that your interested in the worse chance you have of actually being able to draft those players. In my leagues, I try to avoid talking about any players prior to the draft. However, for those of you that are good smooth talkers, misdirection is a great way to get an advantage. Talk about another sleeper that you aren’t really interested in and other owners in your league will probably be inclined to reach a little more on them.
3. Keep up to date with player updates
Leading up to your draft date (and throughout the season) the best thing you can do is keep up to date with player news, injuries and preseason results. The worst thing in the world is to draft a player and then find out that they just suffered an injury or a backup is about to overtake them. The more informed you are, the better decisions you can make when it comes to drafting.
4. Pay attention to your opponents
Throughout the draft, you will have to make several tough decisions. Paying attention to your opponents rosters and the picks that they will likely make should make those decisions easier.
For example, let’s say you have a pick in the late 5th round and your trying to decide between taking let’s say your QB and a sleeper RB you really like. You notice that each of the teams that are picking between your 5th and 6th round picks already have QBs. Therefore, it is a pretty safe bet that you can grab that RB you love and wait on the QB until the following round.
5. Safe early, upside later
You can’t win your fantasy league in the first few rounds of a draft, but you can definitely lose it. My favorite strategy in fantasy leagues, is to try to avoid risky players early in the draft. After you have a solid starting lineup, that’s the time to start swinging for the fences. Let other teams reach for unproven “sexy” guys, while you can wait and take solid players that produce every year like a Marques Colston or Frank Gore. Sure, pick some guys with upside as well, but teams that draft only high risk/reward players almost never win.
After you finish filling out your starting lineup, that’s when its best so go heavy on the risky picks. If you end up using a 11th rounder on a high risk, high reward guy and it flops, no big deal, you can just pick up someone else. Similarly, with my late picks, avoid picking players that are safe since those should never crack your lineup. I would rather gamble on a guy that has the potential to be a star.
6. Don’t pay for last year’s stats
One of the most common mistakes that fantasy owners make is overpaying for players that are coming off career years. “I had Player X (insert any breakout player last year) in my fantasy league last year and he won me the league! I have to have him again this year!”
Well, if you draft a player that over-performed last year, there is a good chance they will regress some this year. The trick in fantasy football is to predict what will happen in the future so while previous performance can give us indications as to how players will perform in the future, it’s far from the only factor. Scheme changes, personnel changes, age etc.. all play a factor and should be delved into before you reach on a player that is coming off a career year.
7. Don’t handcuff just for the sake of handcuffing
Handcuffs can be extremely valuable in fantasy leagues. With the hits that a running back will take in a season, it’s not surprising when they get banged up. If your RB gets injured and you have already handcuffed him by owning his backup as well, you’re in good shape. However, a lot of fantasy owners take it too far. When owning a handcuff, you need to ask yourself, if your RB gets injured, will your handcuff become the starter and if so, will he valuable enough to start in your league? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t be owning that player. Don’t draft a guy just to protect your starter, let those useless handcuffs rot on someone else’s bench.
8. Opportunity over potential
Potential is tantalizing, but what good does it do if the guy can’t get on the field. When I’m faced with the decision between opportunity and potential, I take opportunity every time. In the NFL, you can’t produce on that talent unless you get a shot. Don’t confuse potential with upside. A player that is getting an opportunity he never had before can have a lot of upside, despite being a far less talented than a player on another team without that same opportunity.
9. Don’t be afraid to draft players from the same team
If you draft a QB, you shouldn’t draft his RB, WR or TE. That’s putting too many eggs in one basket, right?
Just look at some recent examples just from 2012: New England’s combo of Brady/Welker/Gronk/Ridley, New Orleans’ Brees/Sproles/Graham/Colston, Atlanta’s Ryan/Julio/Roddy/Gonzalez and Denver’s Peyton/Thomas/Decker. It wasn’t so bad if you owned those groups of studs! Draft the players you think will provide the best fantasy value for the season. If they happen to be on the same team as someone you already drafted, so be it! There is a chance that the team could have a bad week and having two players on the same team could lose you the week, but that’s the nature of fantasy football. All players will have up and down weeks whether they play on the same team as your QB or not. Draft the best players and you’ll be rewarded.
10. Don’t draft a defense/kicker until the last two rounds
Kickers and defenses are a crapshoot. They are one of the hardest thing to predict because there are so many factors that go into them. Additionally, there are more than enough to go around in a 10 team league. Rather than pick a stud defense, I’d wait til the second last round, grab my defense that has some good matchups early in the season and then proceed to stream for the best available matchups each week. Additionally, unless it’s a bye-week (and even then I would likely just drop them anyways), there is no benefit having more than one defense/kicker on your roster. Keep that roster spot for a sleeper or handcuff that can actually help you during the season.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @TopTeamFantasy for all the latest news and advice!