How to Win Your Fantasy Football League on Draft Day – vers. 2010

When it comes to fantasy football draft strategy, I’ve tried almost everything. RB-RB? Of course. Draft a quarterback in the first round? Sure. WR-WR? Most definitely. But all this trial and error has paid off.

After hammering out what I think is my best strategy to date last season in the “cutting out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy and deciding how to play the first round, I think I’ve finally refined the best way to win your league on draft day this season.

And I’m going to share it with you.

What you need to win

Traditionally, we all took running backs because they were scarce. Not every team had a workhorse running back, and in a 12-team league, we needed to start at least 24 of them.

But now, there are 50+ running backs available since every team in the NFL has a time share. So after the five elite running backs are off the board — Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Frank Gore — we don’t have to use a first-round pick on a running back.

Not to say that you don’t need a decent running back. You just don’t have to pay a first-round price for one. It’s always nice to have a promising guy like Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, Frank Gore, Shonn Greene, Ryan Mathews, Ryan Grant, or Cedric Benson on your roster. But you can make do if you miss out on them.

You’ll notice I didn’t list Steven Jackson or Rashard Mendenhall on that list. I did that on purpose. They are on the cusp of what I would consider the top, reliable running backs, but they scare me more than they excite me this season. And much like the ladies, that’s not going to work for me when it comes to running backs.

Quarterbacks, while valuable, aren’t as scarce as running backs because each team only needs one. I love me some quarterbacks. Don’t get me wrong, but only a select few — Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady — are worth taking in the first three rounds. If you miss out on them, you should wait. (But DON’T miss out on them. More on this later.)

That leaves wide receivers. If you’re following me so far, you understand that wide receivers are the new running backs. Receivers have become more reliable and valuable as the NFL becomes more and more passer-friendly. The top receivers are worth building a team around and can give you an advantage if you know how to draft your running backs late.

Guys like Andre Johnson and Greg Jennings are more consistent than the rest of the pack you’ll be able to draft later. My list of elites for this season also includes Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Miles Austin, Roddy White, DeSean Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Marques Colston, and Sidney Rice with Larry Fitzgerald right on the edge of greatness. (I’m not a fan of Matt Leinart at quarterback this season.)

So draft your elite wide receivers early and often, and you’ll have an advantage.

Every team needs at least one of these top wideouts to “win” their draft, but you’re even better off if you can nab two of them to fill your starting roster. Of course, that’s assuming that you start two wide receivers. If you start three wide receivers, I’d still limit myself to taking two elites early because you can wait on the third just to make sure you don’t miss out entirely on running back value.

I’ll explain the strategy I recommend to make this happen, but before I do that, a side note.

Plans: Made to be broken

No draft ever goes exactly to plan. You can’t know whom the rest of your league is going to draft. Several teams could draft quarterbacks in the first round, or no one could draft a quarterback for three rounds. We really don’t know. So you have to be able to adjust to what your league is giving you. That’s why I recommend the tiered draft cheatsheets, and that’s why I can’t tell you exactly how to draft each position.

So much like my first round strategy from last season, this strategy is just a starting point. Deviate from it as you have to in order to draft the best team possible.

Strategy on draft day

In 2010, I believe a championship team needs one of the elite quarterbacks and at least two of the elite wide receivers. If you get a reliable running back, more power to you.

And it’s all about how you play the first three rounds.

If you have a shot, go with one of the elite five running backs. You can build a solid team around a guy that is highly involved in the offense. While you might miss out on an elite quarterback because you’ll have to look at wide receivers in the second and third rounds, you can recover from that.

If you don’t get a shot at one of the elite running backs, you have you’re pick of WR-WR-QB, WR-QB-WR, or QB-WR-WR in the first three rounds. I like these sequences this season, and I think they maximize the value you get in the first three rounds.

Don’t use QB-WR-WR unless you really want Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning this season and your league scores passing touchdowns at six points. I don’t think any of the other elite quarterbacks should be considered until the second round.

In the fourth round, when it comes time to draft running backs, try to take the two best guys on the board right away. More than likely, other members of your league have moved on to drafting what’s left of the wide receivers and quarterbacks. You’ll have your pick of a good group of mid-level running backs who have the potential for greatness.

As you enter the chewy center of your draft, I’d suggest using the “cutting out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy principles. Draft value and aim for sleepers rather than “safe” and “dependable” guys. You got your safe picks at the top of draft. For example, I’d rather have Jamaal Charles than Joseph Addai. I’d rather have Beanie Wells than Clinton Portis or Ricky Williams.

Make a special effort to get a lot of running backs. Since you didn’t draft them high, you’ll best protect yourself by drafting more of them. You want to load your roster with as many guys as possible who have the potential to be a top performer even if they’re currently a backup on their NFL roster.

You can also draft a few sleeper wide receivers later in the draft to compliment your studs. These wide receivers could become trade bait or free you up to trade your studs for one of the elite RBs you missed out on earlier in the draft. You can find a few good ones in Chris Harris’ article on “moneyball” wide receivers at ESPN.

With this strategy, you’ll “win” your draft just like I won mine.

Foolish Thoughts: Rate My 2009 Team

No one can claim to be all-knowing when it comes to fantasy football, and one of the most valuable parts of blogging about it for me is the reader feedback I receive in the comments. Your competition will never share their inner thoughts or concerns about your team — not without offering you a trade based on their opinion. A neutral outsider can help you determine what the rest of your league is thinking about your squad after the draft.

Team managers, of course, always think their team is bound for a championship. That’s a tad biased.

Now that I’ve compiled several of my teams this year, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss one of them and my trading and waiver wire plans for it this season. If you have a team you’d like to share, drop it in the comments. We could all use a good “How’d I do?”

My Team

This 10-team league follows basic scoring rules with no points per reception, but passing touchdowns are six points rather than the normal four points. The starting lineup is QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, TE, K, DEF.

Here’s the team I trotted out of the bar with after our draft:

1.06 Randy Moss WR, New England Patriots
2.05 Greg Jennings WR, Green Bay Packers
3.06 Steven Jackson RB, St. Louis Rams
4.05 Aaron Rodgers QB, Green Bay Packers
5.06 Darren McFadden, RB Oakland Raiders
6.05 Ray Rice RB, Baltimore Ravens
7.06 Marshawn Lynch, RB Buffalo Bills
8.05 Devin Hester WR, Chicago Bears
9.06 Jay Cutler QB, Chicago Bears
10.05 Chris Henry WR, Cincinnati Bengals
11.06 LeSean McCoy RB, Philadelphia Eagles
12.05 Josh Morgan WR, San Francisco 49ers
13.06 Fred Jackson RB, Buffalo Bills
14.05 Dallas Cowboys DEF
15.06 John Carlson TE, Seattle Seahawks
16.05 Mason Crosby K, Green Bay Packers

My Initial Thoughts

I don’t love Steven Jackson, but even if you hate the guy, you can’t pass on him in the third round. He was worth the risk there, and I think I covered my tracks with McFadden, Rice and Lynch enough to fill in for Jackson’s inevitable injury or failings this season.

My selection of Jackson in the third round was a choice between SJax and Clinton Portis, but I chose Jackson for the upside. We know what we’re getting with Portis, and he’s already banged up this season. Jackson is healthy for now, and he’s bound to start off the season hot.

I made sure to build strength at wide receiver and quarterback in this league, where quarterbacks and wide receivers go early and often, and I like the players I ended up getting. Greg Jennings is one of my favorites going into this season, and Randy Moss should get plenty of touchdowns this year now that Tom Brady is back.

I felt a lot better about Darren McFadden before New Orleans destroyed Oakland in that blowout this weekend, but I like his chances to rebound from that poor performance. I was a big fan of running backs who caught passes in addition to getting carries, and most of my team shows that attraction. Hopefully, I won’t have many of my running backs shut out against tough run defenses because of their dual-threat nature.

I know Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers have the same bye week, but I liked them both this year. I plan on trading away the one I use less after the bye week, and I’ll be left with a stronger team because I’ll be able to choose between the two.

By the time their Week 5 bye approaches, I’ll be able to drop Fred Jackson and pick up an undrafted quarterback to fill in at quarterback. There are plenty of quarterbacks still on the board after just 16 rounds in this league. No one even touched Brett Favre.

In the later rounds, I tried to snag a few sleepers and backups to tighten up my team. Chris Henry and Josh Morgan could be value grabs, or I might be able to drop them after the first two or three weeks of the season. We’ll see how they work out.

After waiting until the very end of the draft to select a tight end, I was very pleased to get John Carlson. He could finish as a top-five or at least top-seven tight end, and I didn’t pay anything for him at all.

Your Thoughts

So what do you think? Where are the weaknesses (risky running backs) and strengths (proven wide receivers and upside quarterbacks) on my team? As always, the comments are yours. If you have a team that you’d like to share with the Foolish community, leave it in the comments with some notes about your starting lineup and scoring rules.

Foolish Thoughts: Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

With most of you hunkering down to conduct your drafts this week, if you haven’t done them already, let me remind you about our handy rankings and strategy recommendations.

2009 Foolish Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Now that our “draft kit” of sorts is out of the way, let’s talk football, shall we?

A Kick and a Prayer

For starts, did you see Chad Ochocinco kicking field goals last week? The fantasy football world will never be the same…

The first time Ochocinco kicks it into a screen at Cowboys Stadium, there’s going to be hell to pay. I can’t believe all the fuss about a television screen. Yes, it can be raised out of the way, so why are we so concerned that it will change the game? The Titan’s punter was gunning for it. That’s my story.

Chad Ochocinco might be better on your fantasy team as a kicker this year. Chris Henry has looked sharp this preseason and was drawing compliments from Carson Palmer in the offseason workouts. For the second straight week, Chris Henry scored a touchdown, even with J.T. O’Sullivan throwing the ball.

There may be better sleepers out there, but Chris Henry is the only Bengals receiver I would want to own on my fantasy team this year. He’s in a contract year, which means he won’t disappoint, and with Palmer looking like he’s one more sack away from sitting out 2009, it’s good to see that Chris Henry can play nice with backup quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan.

Rusty Tom-bone

On the Patriots side of the ball, Tom Brady looked a bit off Thursday night. As I’ve warned in the past, he could be a slow starter this season, and I wouldn’t blow an early pick on him unless you’re in a passing touchdown or quarterback heavy league.

Jag Snag?

Can Troy Williamson be a legit receiver? That’s what the Jaguars are starting to think while Mike Walker is missing time.

Williamson was supposed to replace Randy Moss when Minnesota drafted him. He didn’t. Now he looks like he could be a deep threat. Then again, Williamson might just be putting on a show until the regular season starts so that he can disappear in a cloud of fantasy owner frustration.

I’m interested in what he has to offer this season for the moment, and you can probably look for him as a late-round flier in most drafts or simply keep an eye on him on the waiver wire.

Now About that Hot-lanta Run Game

Anyone who is worried that the Falcons won’t run as much with Michael Turner this season should have watched the Falcons game against the Rams. I’ll give you that it was the Rams, but Turner looked like he was in regular season form.

Contrary to Popular Belief

Willie Parker can still score touchdowns. He proved that this week. Rashard Mendenhall is great and all, but he’s just not spectacular enough to find his way on the field for many snaps this year unless something happens to Parker.

Packing It In?

The new-and-improved Packer defense doesn’t look half bad. Actually, they don’t look even one-third bad. If this continues, I’ll have to look to snag them as a sleeper team defense. They certainly have looked exceptional at causing turnovers in the preseason. The Baltimore Ravens are not too shabby in that category either.

Cutler 1, Neckbeard 0, Denver -1

And, for the record, Jay Cutler looks much better than Kyle Orton. Sorry, Broncos fans, you’ve been ruined this season by the neckbearded left hand bomb.

Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: Cutting Out the Middle Men from Best Player Available

I’ve been a complete subscriber to the “best player available” school of thought when it comes to fantasy football draft strategies, but in 2009, I’d argue in favor of a more enlightened form of drafting a starting roster. Regardless of who you take in the first two rounds of your draft, most fantasy draft strategies boil down to one of two plans: “best player available” or “drafting a starting roster.”

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let me explain the difference.

Best Player Available Strategy

By drafting the most valuable player, regardless of position, this fantasy football draft strategy aims to load a roster full of the most productive fantasy studs possible.

In order to prepare for your draft, you must tier your rankings and cheat sheets in advance. The tiers allow you to see the most productive fantasy studs across all positions and draft accordingly. For example, rather than continuing to draft running backs in the fourth round, you might notice that all the running backs are gone from your top two tiers while three wide receivers in your second tier are still available. These receivers would be more valuable to have at that point in the draft. The schmucks who don’t have their rankings tiered will just keep following their running back rankings down the board while there is a run on running backs and lose value with every pick they make.

Tiering your rankings is fairly simple. Here are the basic steps:

  • First, create your rankings. I often combine many sources into one consensus ranking, much like Fantasy Football Nerd does for you, and then adjust based on my own gut feelings and predictions.
  • Start dividing your rankings into levels, or tiers, by separating starting-quality players from backups. Separate your RB1s from your RB2s and your QB1s from your QB2s.
  • Keep dividing your rankings by position down to the point level, or projected scoring for the 2009 season — players who you expect to produce ungodly point totals each week in the first tier, those who produce five points less in the second tier, 10 points less in the third and so on. The more tiers you can create, the better you’ll be in you draft.
  • When you’re done, layout your draft notes and align the tiers in such a way that you can see your draft tiers across every position in just a glance. The first tier would be one row, and the tiers go down the page from there. When your cheat sheet is compiled, you’re ready to draft.

In theory, this best player available draft strategy ensures that your team is well-rounded, but it doesn’t guarantee you strength at any one position. If the draft follows a certain path, you could end up with strong wide receivers and running backs but an incredibly weak quarterback situation. When there’s a run on running backs early, you could end up with a slew of wide receivers from which you can only start two each week.

As long as you keep balance in mind near the middle and late rounds of the fantasy football draft, you can usually field a solid team with this draft method, but in recent years, I’ve often found myself wishing I had more superstars on my roster. Consistent point totals can only get you so far when you get to the playoffs, and this draft strategy often discourages you from starting the runs on the top tight ends or quarterbacks.

Starting Roster Strategy

Often practiced by fantasy football newbies who don’t know any better, the starting roster method fills every starting position for your Week 1 lineup before drafting any backups. The reasoning is simple: pick the best player to start at every position so that your starting roster is as strong as possible. This method receives plenty of criticism if players go as far as to select a kicker or team defense with their middle-round picks rather than waiting until the final rounds of the draft.

Players employing this strategy are usually the first to draft a quarterback, a defense, a tight end and a kicker. Most of the time, that proves to be a fatal move in their draft because they lose out on depth at running back and wide receiver.

The major flaw in this system is that not all positions are created equal. A starting tight end isn’t worth grabbing over a strong backup wide receiver or running back when there are 10 more tight ends of equal value still available.

The Sleepers Complication

But what if you could take a little from column A and a little from column B?

As a bit of a fantasy veteran at this point in my career, I usually identify several late grabs who could pay off in a big way for me on my fantasy roster. Depending on the experience of my draftmates, and their own sleeper picks, it’s usually possible for me to get a few, if not all, of my guys. While they may not all hit for me, I believe enough in my track record to continue to rely on my sleepers late in drafts, so what’s the harm in betting hard on my fantasy knowledge?

With this all-in thinking applied, I constructed a new draft strategy this season.

The “Cut Out the Middle Men” Draft Strategy

If you know what you are doing, you can adapt the starting roster strategy to your advantage with a little influence from the best player available draft strategy.

  • To begin your draft, pick the best players available — running back, wide receiver or quarterback — in the first two rounds. Select the guys that will produce the most fantasy points early and fill your starting positions with who you believe are the strongest options overall.
  • In the third round, start thinking about your starting lineup. For example, if you already have two stud running backs for your two starting slots at that position, draft a top-tier tight end or quarterback to guarantee that you’ll have elite production across your roster. By breaking away from the best player available strategy and starting the run on these other positions, you reach for your top choices but maximize the chances that you’ll end up with the strongest starters.
  • Once you have all your starting roster spots filled, excluding a kicker and a team defense, begin to draft backups for each position once again basing your picks on the best player available mindset, but lean on your sleepers rather than middle-of-the-road picks. Consistent veterans may be the “best players” on the board, but a sleeper who could quickly become a startable fantasy stud is worth more on your bench since your starting roster is already so strong.
  • In the final two rounds, draft your team defense and kicker. If you have a defense you absolutely love, you could still include them in drafting your starting roster, but I find that most defenses drafted early don’t perform well enough to deserve the pick.

The third point on drafting backups and sleepers could probably use a little more explanation.

Say you have your starting lineup finalized and are now looking at backups. Rather than draft a fantasy backup like Ricky Williams or Fred Taylor, you would look to grab Shonn Greene or Jonathan Stewart. Instead of having a mediocre backup wide receiver like Torry Holt, pass for a few rounds until Chris Henry looks like a reasonable selection.

By the time many backups are being drafted, the players you’re taking won’t be much better than what you can find on the waiver wire throughout the season. While you’re sacrificing depth in loading up on sleepers, you could end up with a stronger roster if many of them pan out for you.

Assuming these guys, sleepers and mediocre starters, are all going to be drafted, you’re loading up your roster with players who have the potential to be top-10 players at their position for the few weeks they may see time on the field rather than reliable players you may never start. If the sleepers pay off, you get to trade them for positions of need or sub them into your lineup. If they don’t, you can easily drop them and await a waiver wire gem midseason.

What’s your draft strategy?

I believe that this “cut out the middle men” fantasy football draft strategy will allow me to compile a more boom or bust roster that should free up some roster positions early in the season and, hopefully, allow me to get more of my top picks on my roster.

My gripe with the best player available method is that you often sit back and never start the runs on any given position during your draft. While that allows you to build great depth on your roster, it doesn’t mean you’ll put together the most points each week since the bench only helps you out in a tie.

I’ll be experimenting with this draft strategy in a few of my final drafts this season.

Would the “cut out the middle men” work for you? What’s your draft strategy this season? As always, the comments are yours.