Fantasy Draft Strategy: Tiering Your Player Rankings and Cheat Sheets

Now that the players have settled into their teams for 2008, and overlooking the few free agents still bouncing from workout to workout, it’s time to start preparing your draft cheat sheets and practicing your draft strategy with a few mock drafts.

Tiering your draft cheat sheet is one very effective method of drafting a batch of strong contenders that I swear by — profusely. By tiering, you get a leg up on your fellow drafters because you can see the value when others cannot.

Some fantasy football sites and sources will tier their cheat sheets for you. Whether you trust one source’s rankings or want to combine several intel sources into one power sheet or big board (like I do), it’s always best to look over your draft notes and adjust the tiers based on updated info and/or any personal, gut feelings.

Tiering provides you with a visual reference on draft day of where value is being overlooked, but the greatest benefit is that you separate players by value regardless of position and see when a top-tier player has been skipped over.

Why Bad Drafts Happen to Good People

Too often, bad drafts happen because friends let friends draft drunk. On that note, let’s go to a short public service announcement:

*Ahem* That’s not right, kids. Always take the draft boards away and make your drunk friends spend the night before someone gets behind a draft list and makes a bad decision. You only get to draft once every season, and you don’t want to end up picking the ugly one because they start looking good to you after beer five…

But that’s enough about LenDale White. PSA complete.

When alcohol isn’t involved, sometimes we focus too much on a specific position we are targeting rather than taking the best player on the board. Don’t get caught thinking about running backs into the third round when drafting a wide receiver would give you the stronger team.

The Benefits of Tiering Your Cheat Sheet

Without tiers, you might be looking at a quarterback in the second round when the market is richer for taking another running back since the top two or three quarterbacks are off the board.

Likewise, you might find yourself in the fourth round looking at running backs when grabbing the last of the top wide receivers would make your team a powerhouse or provide trade bait for the player who just spent a high pick on a quarterback and neglected to get a receiver early.

With a tiered cheat sheet, you can easily make the snap judgments and see when a first tier running back is still on the board in the third round or catch when the last top quarterback is about to go off the board in the fourth round.

These small details can keep you from missing a run on an important position in your draft or overlooking opportunity at another position.

Best Way to Tier It Up in Your Fantasy League

  • Tier your draft cheat sheet based upon how many points that player generated on average last season or how many points they are projected to generate this season.

I prefer to mix it up a bit here. I start with the top-ranked players from various fantasy football resources and then move players up or down based upon this season’s projections and last season’s performance — always being careful to notch down players who have inflated values because they outperformed their draft stock last season.

  • Once you have the rankings, place breaks where significant point differences occur, and if you can stand the level of detail, make these point breaks universal across the board for each position.

Depending upon your point system, you might have the top scorers — say 30+ points per week — in tier 1 while players that averaged or will average 25+ in tier 2. Tier 4 might be made up of players that only generate 10-15 points per week.

One easy way to start finding your tier divisions is by separating the RB1s from the RB2s and the QB1s from the QB2s. Once those lines are set, you can divide the QB1s into high-end and low-end options and so forth until you’ve created several tiers. The more tiers, the better.

At this point, you probably get the idea. (If not, just give up now and go with drafting drunk.)

It’s okay if Randy Moss, Tom Brady and L.T. are you’re only first-tier players. Just make sure you establish when the players projected to generate the most points are going off the board.

  • With this sheet, the fantasy football draft strategy is to snag as many top players as you can regardless of position. In other words, draft the best player available.

I don’t worry if I don’t have a quarterback before the fourth or fifth round as long as I have a stable of strong fantasy point generators. You can always snag a backup-quality quarterback later in the draft and put a trade together with some of your stronger talent at other positions for a starting-quality stud.

This “best player available” strategy tends to be the most successful in getting a team that will dominate throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. Even if you miss with a few top draft picks, you should have enough quality players spread out across every position to compensate.

By having tiers on your draft cheat sheet, you shouldn’t be distracted by need at a specific position until the final rounds of the draft, and the majority of the time, you get a balanced team covering every position without even trying.

Ever tried a tiered draft strategy and failed? Do you feel bad putting L.T. and A.P. in their own tier? Having a hard time drawing a line after Brady, Manning and Romo in the QB tiers? Talk back in the comments and you might get a response or discussion from me or, if you are lucky, a Shakespeare-typing monkey.

Sorry Shaun: A Fantasy Football Funeral for Shaun Alexander

Even though Shaun Alexander is almost guaranteed to be picked up by another team now that the Seattle Seahawks finally cut him, his fantasy career is all but dead. Oh, how the mighty fall.

It was just 2005 when Alexander was MVP and on top of the world. Ever since, he has bounced around the top of fantasy football drafts even as his numbers fell. A foot injury, a cast and one huge contract later, Alexander is now in the dumps, and sadly, he is partly to blame for his release.

Take a look at the drop off in Alexander’s stats after 2005:

Year Missed Games Total Yards Yards/Carry TDs
2005 1 1880 5.1 27
2006 7 896 3.6 7
2007 4 716 3.5 4

Stats via The Fifth Down and The Seattle Times

Alexander’s contract after his 2005 season was unrealistic. Some say he is soft and selfish, and they would probably argue that Alexander wanted that kind of contract after his 2005 season if for no other reason then to know he signed the biggest running back contract ever.

Even if he demanded it, it was bad management for Seattle to give him that much money knowing that he was on his way out. His age was going to play into the picture eventually — fantasy football analysts knew it — but both the Seahawks and Alexander let the contract lead to this disaster. After two injury-plagued, disappointing seasons, the Seahawks had no choice but to release Alexander to save the team money and give Mike Holmgren a team he could make his last run with as head coach.

It looks like Pete Prisco was right.

The fall of Alexander has been a swift one, not unusual for an NFL runner. It is pretty amazing, though, when you consider in two seasons he’s gone from star to expendable.

Now some team is going to put a jersey on Alexander. There are arguments that he could be a Detroit Lion or Carolina Panther and other arguments that he could help the Chicago Bears.

He’s not entirely out of the picture. There’s probably one more season in the tank, but I wouldn’t take a chance on Alexander unless you can take him as a late round value pick — very probably considering many fantasy owners burned by him the last two seasons will be avoiding him like the plague. Depending on where he ends up, Alexander’s fantasy value will never be as high as it was the past several seasons as he declined.

Let this fantasy funeral stand as a reminder to every fantasy football manager that you should never take a running back early in the draft who has age issues. The magic number tends to be 30. When running backs hit it, they are never the same. Keep that in mind or ye be burned. L.T. will probably be the next to push it to the limit.

Sorry, Shaun, and thanks for the memories — and by memories, I mean the 2005 season.


Creative Commons License photo credit: mr.l

“That article up there speaks the truth.”

After the dust settles: What the Giant upset means for fantasy football in 2008

Despite what they might have done for your fantasy team, the Pats aren’t perfect.

The New York Giants upset in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLII is being touted as one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, but how will their performance impact your fantasy season in 2008? Should you draft David Tyree next year? I got your answers.

Eli Manning – QB New York Giants

With the final offensive drive for the Giants, Eli Manning looked like a superb quarterback, but Eli didn’t get hot enough to be worthy of starting until the playoffs.

Manning had just three noteworthy performances during the regular season:

  • Week 1 against the Cowboys: 4 TDs, 1 INT, 312 yards
  • Week 6 against Atlanta: 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 1 FUM, 303 yards
  • Week 17 against the Patriots: 4 TDs, 1 INT, 1 FUM, 251 yards

These three games include both of Manning’s 300-yard performances and his “breakout” showing before playoffs in week 17 against the Patriots. His week 6 performance was plagued by his 2 INTs and a fumble.

Overall, throughout the regular season, Manning averaged 13 points per game in standard scoring. That isn’t worthy of starting these days when some quarterbacks are pushing 40+ points each game like one *ahem* Tom Brady.

Move Manning up on your cheatsheets just a smidge, but be cautious of him. He can play at a higher level as he showed in the playoffs, but he will probably return to form with INTs and fumbles in 2008 until he finds his system again. I wouldn’t touch him in 2008.

David Tyree/Steve Smith – WR New York Giants

As for Tyree, are you crazy? Tyree will probably disappear into the Giants offense next season. His catch in the Super Bowl will go down as one of the best, but where was he all season long?

Keep your eye on Steve Smith who emerged late in the 2007 season as a solid target for Manning. With Amani Toomer aging, it could be Smith that takes the role opposite Plaxico Burress.

Both Tyree and Smith could start the season on your watch list in 2008 at wide receiver.

Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots

Some say the injury that Brady sustained against the San Diego Chargers still plagued him in the Super Bowl. Regardless, he didn’t have that winning touch he showed all season.

Tom Brady should have been pegged down a few spots for 2008 simply because he can’t post back-to-back phenom seasons. With his performance in the Super Bowl, all NFL teams now see how to break his system and beat the Patriots. Expect him to drop a few more spots for 2008 as far as the overall draft ranking are considered, but he is still a top 5 QB and probably the top QB heading into 2008. He is likely to be taken first round in many leagues, and he rightfully should be as long as Randy Moss and his other key weapons stay.

Randy Moss, WR New England Patriots

Randy Moss showed he is not too old to dominate in this league. While he won’t have the production he did this season now that the secret is out for how to beat the Brady-to-Moss connection, Moss should still have a productive year next season. He’s the receiver to beat for 2008 and should be drafted first unless someone has a real obsession with Reggie Wayne.

Wes Welker, WR New England Patriots

Wes Welker‘s stock rose during his Super Bowl performance. If he had been utilized even more, the Patriots might have moved the ball better.

Now that the system is out there to beat the Patriots, the Patriots response should be to use Welker more in the middle and under those big routes Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss are running. He will likely be undervalued again next year, but be sure to keep your eye on him and take him–especially if you can get him at a low cost. I would rank him among the top 20 receivers and maybe even among the top 15.

The Giants defense

The real winners of this game were the Giants defense. With Justin Tuck leading the charge, they sacked Tom Brady more than any other team has this season. The defensive line of the Giants was absolutely dominant.

Look for them to keep their dominance next season. Even if Manning starts cold, the Giants defense–as long as they don’t lose their coordinator–will continue to rule the line and create some turnovers. I would put them high on the list of defenses to take early in the draft in 2008.

If you are wondering about your draft strategy for 2008 and where you should start taking your QBs and WRs after the lack of RB performance in 2007, subscribe to our feed and catch the updates this offseason. If you so choose, you can even subscribe by email, and that’s classy.