When it comes to having a successful fantasy team the draft is the where it all begins. You can win or lose a league based on how you draft. That’s not to say that you can’t win a league if you don’t draft well or are a lock to win with a good draft; but by doing certain things on draft day you can establish yourself as the favorite going into the season.
First things first, we need to go over how the first round should be played out. Let’s be honest, there is a giant gap between the first four picks and everyone else. Regardless of how the order goes the first four people off the board in every league should be Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Matt Forte. Everyone has love for a different one of this group, but if you can get any of the four outside of the top four, go for it. Now if you are stationed later in the first round, things are a little less cut and dry. At five, I would go with one of two players; Chris Johnson of the Titans or LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers. The safer play is Johnson who will get more carries each progressive week as LenDale White gets fatter each progressive week. At past those six guys there are a lot of ways you can go. As far as I’m concerned the best remaining back would be Steven Jackson, although he comes with significant injury risk. After that I would suggest taking the top rated wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. Now comes a plethora of somewhat impact running backs that could help your team, but are a ways behind the first group in value. DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, and Steve Slaton are good choices, or you could also go with Andre Johnson or Drew Brees.
Your first round selection dictates your second round selection. If you went running back, you may want to go receiver in the second round, but if you went receiver in the first round, you more than likely will want to grab a top back while you still can, unless you can grab Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss in the second.
The timing of drafting your quarterback, tight end, kicker, and defense is what really can set you up for success. As far as your quarterback goes, you definitely can wait this year. Outside of Brady and Brees, there are no real game breakers that are worth taking high. Everyone ranked from 3 to 15 are virtually going to give you the same stats. You might as well fill holes elsewhere while everyone else gobbles up the mediocre mid round quarterbacks. Around round seven you can start to look for a quarterback. Names that I would keep in mind are Donavon McNabb, Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, or Kyle Orton. Don’t panic if there is a run of quarterback in say the third or fourth round, once everyone takes their quarterback, they will not look for another one until the later rounds. After the top 8 or so are off the board, the rest will slide until you’re ready to take yours. Tight ends are another very interesting question when it comes to timing. In round five or six, you can get a top four tight end. You could snag Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, or Dallas Clark and you would be justified in doing so. However after those four, tight ends are a dime a dozen. You could easily wait until 10 and take an undervalued Kellen Winslow or 14 and take Vinsathe Shiancoe, the most underrated tight end in the league. As far kickers and defenses go, the thing to do is to wait. There is no point in using a high pick on either because there is little difference in value from the top rated defense to the fifteenth ranked defense is very little. Same goes for kickers, so wait and take a kicker with your second to last pick and a defense with your last.
One more way you can take advantage of your less intelligent league mates is through knowing their game. Chances are, if you’re playing on ESPN, the rest of the people in your league will come to the draft with cheat sheets and ranking pulled off of espn.com, and consequently, most play straight off those sheets. You can use this to your advantage. Knowing when guys are going to go is a huge advantage, therefore if you like a guy, you know when you’re going to need to draft him, and if you like a guy better than he is ranked, you know you can wait on him and fill another hole in the mean time.
Now drafting two backs from the same team can prove to be very advantageous, especially ones from teams the rush the football well. These would include Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall from Pittsburgh, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart for Carolina, and Chris Johnson and LenDale White from Tennessee. Often they will be good enough to play together and if by chance there is an injury to one, you now have a feature back with the other.
Another strategy that I use all the time is looking for high impact rookies. Rookies can be well worth taking late over a stagnant veteran. There are a couple of things to look for in a rookie. First of all is opportunity. If there is an established veteran ahead of him, chances are you’re not going to want him, but if there is a chance for playing time, it’s often worth the risk as rookies are usually the first to get an opportunity. Also it’s good to look at the offensive style of the team they play for. If the team throws the balls 50 times a game, chances are their rookie running back is not going to have great value and same with rookie receivers on a conservative running team. Two names that I’ve been enamored with are Knowshon Moreno of Denver and Hakeem Nicks of the Giants. Both come into good teams with balanced offense. Both seem to have a clear chance to perform and both have a lot of potential.
Finally, it is never a bad idea to take guys from good teams. I’m not saying fill your team with guys from the same team, but it’s not a bad idea to have five or six key offensive pieces from the same team, so long as they can move it. The Patriots have had a great offense in the past few years and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a lineup filled with Pats. The same goes for the Bears. Adding Jay Cutler to an already potent rushing attack makes a potential powerhouse offense. If you start with Matt Forte, it might not be a bad idea to surround him with Jay Cutler, Devin Hester, Mushin Muhammad, and Greg Olsen. You might take a hit the week the bears are on bye, but other than that, it could be scary.
My final tip for you is to invest wisely in your backup quarterback. Remember, as long as your starter is respectable, your backup is only going to be playing when your starter is on bye or injured. There is no need for a steady but unspectacular veteran. It’s safe, but not necessarily smart. I like to take impact potential young guys or veterans who are stepping into great situations. Overall, just look for breakout potential, that way if they are busts, you’re only out a couple points one week, but if they hit big, you never know they might have trade value or might be able to replace your starter. Guys in this mold that I like are rookies Mark Sanchez and Matt Stafford, emerging young veterans Taveris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels, Matt Schaub, or Eli Manning. Finally, if you are still not convinced he is done; Brett Favre will probably be available late.
Lastly, I don’t care how good you think he can fit in the wildcat with the Patriots; don’t even think about drafting Michael Vick.
Guys that I like better than they’re ranked
Guys that I don’t like as well as they’re ranked
Roy E. Williams