How to Evaluate a Fantasy Football Trade

Every league has its issues, but I’ve never come across a league that didn’t have a problem evaluating trades. Whether you’re trying to figure out what to offer another team or debating whether a trade is “fair,” there is no perfect method.

Every league is different — different sizes, different scoring systems, different starting rosters. And every team manager evaluates players in their own way.

As a result, no one can agree completely on whether a deal is fair. That’s why every trade is a negotiation, both with the team you trade with and the league itself.

Of all the questions I talk about with fantasy football buddies, even the ones in other leagues, I get the most questions and discussion about the fairness of trades or whether a trade offer makes sense.

And so I thought it best to share a couple of tools that I use to evaluate trades in a completely neutral way. These tools are completely free, and once you try them, I think you’ll find they make assembling a trade offer easier as well. Rather than calling up a buddy and having to talk through trade options in your head, these tools can help you find what should be considering a good offer before you go to the bargaining table.

But before we get to the tools, a quick aside on vetoing trades.

WHEN TO VETO A TRADE

There are several schools of thought when it comes to vetoing a trade. The two extremes are the most common.

On the one hand are the folks who say a trade should never be vetoed as long as it’s agreed upon by both trade parties. In that system, it’s up to the league to kick out any members who abuse the trading system or who get taken advantage of in trades all too often.

I don’t believe in that practice much because it opens the floor for complaints and because throwing a member out of a league is never a painless process.

The other end of the spectrum requires the league to vote to approve all trades, which gives any league member the right to veto any trade for any reason. These leagues get riled up over the slightest trade variables, and it can really ruin a good fantasy football league when trade arguments get heated. League members will always abuse the veto.

I think the ideal system is somewhere in the middle, but here’s my general rule of thumb: you should be able to defend your trade to the rest of your league with solid reasoning. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be making the trade.

Buy lows and sell highs are going to happen. Really, they’re encouraged by even this fine fantasy site. So don’t get caught up in the heat of an argument over trades that may help a good team get better and lose sight of how a trade helps both teams.

That said, it’s often helpful to have a neutral third party to evaluate trades. Not only do a neutral opinion help you decide what a reasonable offer would be before you send it, but it’ll also help you look at a trade from an outsider perspective if you’re a commissioner or if you’re trying to decide if a veto is necessary.

2 TOOLS TO EVALUATE TRADES

Paid tools and league-site specific tools (Yahoo!, etc.) exist, but I have found these two free tools to be perfectly satisfactory. And for the purposes of this article, I’ll stick to the free ones that anyone can use.

1. My standby for the past two seasons has been KFFL’s Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer.

KFFL Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer

It’s not much in the looks department, but KFFL’s trade analyzer gets the job done. You simply enter the players on either side of a trade, choosing the range in the alphabet in which their first name falls to shorten the list of names to choose from at each spot.

Unlike other tools, KFFL does a little more thinking for you by also taking into consideration the starting roster and size of your league.

It feels a little more complete to provide this sort of info when evaluating a trade, but I still wish that KFFL would consider incorporating a FLEX position as an option on the roster. So far, I’ve simply ignored flex postions as a part of my starting roster when entering the form, but for leagues in which you start 2 RBs and a FLEX position, having that third running back to start in the FLEX can be extremely more valuable.

KFFL doesn’t ask for any type of scoring notes, but neither does the other tool I’ll talk about. It starts to get really tricky to look at trades once you start talking about various scoring systems, so I understand the reasoning behind not including it. But if it ever did…that would be awesome. If the league uses PPR scoring, for example, wide receivers would be much more valuable.

I really do like what KFFL brings to the table. The output they give to evaluate a trade tells you not only the most valuable pieces being exchanged, but who’s “winning” the trade and how severe the difference is. In the end, KFFL will give you a definitive answer on whether Team 1 or Team 2 should reject the trade or approve of it as a very fail deal.

KFFL Trade Analyzer Output

Analysis of Frank Gore for Darren McFadden and Plaxico Burress

In my experience, KFFL tends to be pretty conservative on how it rates players, not giving much credit to players on the rise as compared to a stud who’s not performing up to their expected level. But I still love you, KFFL. Good work.

2. The new kid on the block that I’ve also been using late this season is Fantasy Football Nerd’s Trade Analyzer.

Fantasy Football Nerd Trade Analzyer (Beta)

It’s only in beta — and to be honest, maybe I shouldn’t be telling you about it yet — but I already find what Fantasy Football Nerd is building very useful.

FFN’s tool is much faster to input players with a search box and arrow buttons to place a player on either side of an offer. Once players are entered, the analyze button gives you an almost instant answer on who has the better end of the deal.

Since Fantasy Football Nerd doesn’t take into consideration any data on league size or starting positions, it’s hard to say that its trade values are as complete as KFFL’s trade tool, but it is nice to get the quick answer, even if it’s a quick and dirty answer.

I also like that they give a numerical value on exactly how much more valuable the winning side of the trade is.

Fantasy Football Nerd Trade Analyzer Output

Sample analysis of trade of Frank Gore for Darren McFadden and Plaxico Burress

Also on the plus side, the Fantasy Football Nerd tool lets you know that the winning side is getting “the better end of the trade by XX points over the course of the rest of the season.” So you know that their trade tool is looking at how a player will do the rest of the season and not just how they are currently valued. The rest-of-the-season (ROS) value is always what I care about more in a trade than how much a player is worth at that given moment.

Then again, some people may not want something like this out there giving away that “buy low” and “sell high” edge.

HOW TO USE THESE TOOLS

I find myself using both of these tools on a regular basis to put together and judge trades. Fantasy Football Nerd’s analyzer is a nice, quick way to build a trade when you’re trying to put together an offer, and once you’ve got the basic idea together, KFFL is what I feel is the most fair way of judging whether the other owner will think you’re crazy or not for sending it.

KFFL’s analyzer is also the best indicator as to whether the other owners in your league will burn you alive for making that trade. But don’t take it as gospel since KFFL can be a little stingy when it comes to studs versus up-and-comers, as I said before.

As a commish, I’d make KFFL’s Trade Analyzer a regular part of my tool set. When the league starts to get upset about a particular trade, it can sometimes quiet the masses by providing a soothing, “This trade is fair” response. It can also help in challenging an owner to defend a trade when it seems more sloppily assembled.

If you can’t defend a trade by discussing player values, you don’t deserve it, and these tools should help you make a great deal.

For those of you not so concerned about fairness as you are about winning (okay, all of us), I’d definitely bookmark Fantasy Football Nerd’s Analyzer to quickly survey any trade offers you receive and figure out whether to accept.

While it’s in beta now, the FFN analyzer is only going to get better, and Fantasy Football Nerd has already demonstrated a great ability to synthesize a number of opinions and give an unbiased consensus opinion through their weekly rankings.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK

Neither of these tools are perfect, and as each evolves, I’d love to hear your feedback on which works best and if you have any interesting ways of using them. I’d also like to hear about any other tools you use when evaluating trades or putting together a trade package. Tell me all about them below in the comments or drop me a note.

Happy trading!

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.

Fantasy Draft Day Pick or Pass: Top 36 Wide Receivers by ADP

Just as I broke down the running back average draft position with my “pick or pass” ranking style and noted which players might be worth skipping over in your draft rankings, I’m doing the same with wide receivers. Unlike running backs, many of the top receivers are worth a pick at their current draft stock, and there are plenty to like. As we progress down the rankings, you’ll notice a few receivers are holding values they don’t deserve this season.

These ADP values were taken from Fantasy Football Calculator and were current as of August 7, 2009.

Pick or Pass: Top 36 Wide Receivers as Drafted in Mock Drafts

1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals – ADP: 1.07 – PICK
No matter how much you fear the Madden curse, it’s hard to deny that Larry Fitzgerald is set for another big season. Besides, he’s only due for half the dreaded curse this season anyway since he shares the cover. The NFC West is still a relatively pushover division, and other than competing for catches with Anquan Boldin, not much stands in his way. While Randy Moss and A.J. are also great options, Fitzgerald is the pick at wide receiver this season.

2. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans – ADP: 1.09 – PICK
The Houston Texans convince us every season that they’re the sleeper team in the AFC for next year. Whether they make the playoffs this season or not, Johnson will play a huge part in their success. The only threat to Johnson’s productivity is Matt Schaub’s injury risk, but that’s a risk I’d be willing to take. Johnson is just that good when he’s in the zone and worthy of a first-round pick if you must.

3. Randy Moss, New England Patriots – ADP: 1.09 – PICK
Moss was the No. 1 receiver in 2007, but his year away from Brady forced him to come back down to earth. One year removed from his record-breaking, 23-touchdown season, he could easily do it again. More than likely, he won’t make it out of the teens on touchdowns — records can only be broken so often — but he’s still worthy of an early selection as the Patriots return to form this year. Moss is once again a great pick.

4. Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions – ADP: 2.02 – PICK
Megatron proved to be immune to bad quarterbacks last season as he rose to elite status off throws from Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper. After a full offseason with the Lions, Culpepper should be more in-sync with Johnson. While his recent thumb injury is worrisome, it’s not enough to scare most owners away from Johnson, who is likely to be the only target on a team that will be forced to throw the ball plenty this year. Megatron has to be a pick.

5. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 2.06 – PICK
Despite the coaching changes in Indy, Peyton Manning will continue to lead an offense that makes all the receiving options fantasy studs. Wayne may not breakout as the clear No. 1 this season just because Marvin Harrison has finally left the receiver corps, but he’s worthy of WR1 status on any fantasy team. In the second round, he’s a value, and he’s still a pick.

6. Greg Jennings, Green Bay Packers – ADP: 2.08 – PICK
Jennings is one elite wide receiver who could make a jump into the super elite this season. As Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target last season, he improved his draft stock, so while it’s surprising to see him ranking above Steve Smith, I’d feel safe drafting him here and expecting another WR1 type of season. In some drafts, you might even be able to catch him in the third round as a great WR2. He’s a pick with upside.

7. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers – ADP: 2.09 – PICK
Suffering through a season without Jake Delhomme followed by a season where he always seemed to get tackled at the one- or two-yard line has taken its toll on Steve Smith’s value, but he’s still at No. 7 because he’s one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. With the 2009 schedule expected to be a little rougher on the Panthers, Delhomme may be forced to go to the air this season more than last, which should increase Smith’s value as long as Delhomme doesn’t throw as many picks as he did in the Panthers’ playoff exit. Smith’s current shoulder injury is not great news, but I doubt he’d be slow starting even if he didn’t get on the field until Week 1. Scare your draft mates with the injury news, and you might get him in the third round or later. Smith is a pick.

8. Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 3.01 – PICK
There’s speculation that Colston’s fantasy totals may not be as high this season with the emergence of Lance Moore and Colston’s injury concerns. While he sat out most of last season, we have to trust that he’s still one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets. Even if Brees spreads the ball around, Colston’s a reliable receiver to have on your team as a WR1. I’d still pick him, especially if you can get him in the third round.

9. Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons – ADP: 3.01 – PICK
Even though his holdout has ended, I’d caution against drafting Roddy White too high. You may think Matt Ryan will take that next step, but you should also note that the “hot read” has been shifted from White to Tony Gonzalez in this offense, which will reduce the targets for Roddy White. With less opportunity and in an offense that has proven it can move the ball on the ground, will Roddy White still produce the same fantasy stats? While he’s worthy of this pick, I wouldn’t go much higher to take White this season. I’d rather let others bet on him and take the “wait and see” approach. Pick him if you’re a believer.

10. Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals – ADP: 3.01 – PICK
I’m not a fan of drafting a team’s second wide receiver as a WR1 of your fantasy team, but it’s hard to determine from week to week who the top target is in Arizona. Boldin is one of the most dangerous receivers with the ball in his hand, and with Kurt Warner throwing the ball, he should produce stats worthy of a WR1 start. I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped over this pick in your draft though.

11. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs – ADP: 3.06 – PASS
The first pass of the wide receiver class. The question isn’t whether Bowe will receive a lot of passes this year — he was one of the top targeted receivers last season with Tony Gonzalez in town. Now that he’s the only weapon out there besides veterans Amani Toomer and Bobby Engram and flaky Mark Bradley, Bowe should be the focus of Matt Cassel’s attention. But the question is whether Bowe will be able to do much with the passes that come his way. With Larry Johnson aging and Cassel unproven, no one knows what the Chiefs will be able to do on offense and how often Bowe will even have a chance at the end zone. He also hasn’t won any points with the new coaching staff by coming into training camp out of shape. He’s currently listed at the end of the depth chart to “inspire” him to work harder. I’d pass on him with his draft stock this high, but the receivers are starting to drop off at this point.

12. Terrell Owens, Buffalo Bills – ADP: 3.07 – PASS
T.O. has been a fantasy icon for years, and he has a track record of performing well in his first season with any team. That said, he’s older now and playing in the frigid tundra of Buffalo. When the weather turns cold, how will he hold up and perform? Will Trent Edwards be capable of getting the ball to him in those conditions? Despite their connections in the Hall of Fame game, I’m not convinced that Buffalo’s no-huddle will be firing on all cylinders this season. And even then, much like Lee Evans, T.O. could start off hot only to fizzle when the weather turns breezy. If you do dare to draft him at his current ADP, I’d plan on flipping T.O. midseason for someone with warmer pastures. With his nagging toe injury, I’d pass on T.O. this season.

13. Wes Welker, New England Patriots – ADP: 3.08 – PICK
While not a typical WR1 pick, Welker makes an excellent WR2. A third-round pick is a bit of a stretch, but Welker is one receiver who, no matter the weather, opponent or score, will be involved in every game for the Patriots. He stands to gain a great deal from Brady’s return, and Welker should be a huge stud in PPR leagues. Especially if you’re looking for your second receiver in the third round, I’d pick Wes Welker.

14. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seattle Seahawks – ADP: 3.11 – PICK
I’d be higher on Housh if the Seattle coaches weren’t droning on and on about how much they want to run the ball with Julius Jones this season. Despite all the talk, Jones remains a fairly risky running back and has underperformed several seasons in his career. T.J.’s best case scenario would be for the Seahawks to return to their gun-and-then-run offense put into place in Shaun Alexander’s final season with Seattle, and Matt Hasselbeck is capable of making Housh a huge fantasy stud if that happens. Worst case, Housh puts up WR2 worthy numbers as the Seahawks return to form. Either way, Housh isn’t a bad pick at the end of the third round. He has too much upside not to be a pick.

15. Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos – ADP: 4.01 – PASS
It’s funny how fast a player can turn sour. At the beginning of the offseason, I would have proclaimed Marshall a must-have receiver this season. Now, I wouldn’t want to touch him. His ADP is still as high as it was last season with Cutler in town, but Denver has a new coach and a new quarterback in Kyle Orton. With his off-the-field behavior continuing to be a question mark and the offensive minds showering praise on Eddie Royal, it doesn’t look like this is the season to own Marshall. His current legal troubles may even get him suspended again to start the season. In the fourth round, I’d pass and look to grab Eddie Royal at a much better value if you want a piece of this passing game.

16. Roy Williams, Dallas Cowboys – ADP: 4.04 – PICK
In an interesting flip, Williams’ value has gone the opposite direction of Marshall’s this offseason. Last season, he was invisible beside Terrell Owens, but this year, he’s the Cowboys’ big target. I doubted his ability to rise to the occasion late last season and this offseason, but reports out of camp have me optimistic. Maybe it’s the Cowboy fan in me, but I see Williams finding his way into the No. 1 role and holding it down as well as can be expected this season. He won’t have T.O. numbers, but he’s worth a pick in the fourth round as a weak WR1 or a strong WR2 with upside.

17. Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati Bengals – ADP: 4.05 – PASS
No matter what his name is, you don’t want him on your team. He’s a definite threat on the field, but he’s one of the most frustrating players to own in fantasy because he is so inconsistent. With so much praise for Chris Henry from Carson Palmer, I’d worry that ol’ Ocho might be losing his touch. Even if he makes it through the season without tweeting his way into a suspension, I’d fear a Carson Palmer injury or a general failing of the Bengals’ offense. I can’t endorse him as a WR1 this year, and I’d turn him down in the draft unless you’re looking for a WR3. I’ll pass.

18. Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers – ADP: 4.07 – PICK
Jackson’s intriguing here in the fourth round. I don’t see Philip Rivers living up to last year’s numbers, and I do see the Chargers running more in 2009. That said, Jackson could be a solid call in the fourth round. He’s clearly established himself as a No. 1 in the NFL whether he’s a fantasy WR1 or not, and he will probably see the majority of targets this season. With fewer throws, there is a danger that the Chargers spread the ball around, but that’s a risk that’s going to pop up for most of the receivers from this point on in the draft. I’d pick him, but I still don’t like Philip Rivers.

19. Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns – ADP: 4.10 – PASS
The mighty fall hard and fast in the world of fantasy football. Edwards is a clear example. After a stat-inflated season with Derek Anderson, Edwards only showed up for Monday Night Football games last season. Fool us once, shame on him; fool us twice, shame on us and our fantasy teams. With Brady Quinn likely to start this season, I doubt Edwards will get many of the long balls Anderson might have thrown him. Quinn prefers the short game, and Eric Mangini is a fairly conservative coach. In short, Cleveland looks like a fantasy mess, and I’d rather just avoid this situation unless I’m in a PPR league, in which short passes that don’t necessarily go anywhere still have value. I expect Edwards to be a big part of this offense, but I doubt that will do him much good. On top of my outlook on Edwards, nagging ankle injuries kept him out of the beginning of training camp, and a new injury just sidelined him again, which isn’t encouraging. If you’re taking Edwards as a WR2, that’s acceptable, but a WR1 he is not. I’d really prefer him as a WR3, and in the fourth round, I’ll pass.

20. Anthony Gonzalez, Indianapolis Colts – ADP: 4.12 – PICK
Gonzalez seems like a real trap this season. He’s coming into Indy as the No. 2 with Marvin Harrison out for good, and everyone — and their mom — wants to snag him as a sleeper. Newsflash: He’s no sleeper. The problem with the Colts is that, just like every other team with a good tight end, the second receiving target is usually the tight end, not the second wide receiver. In this case, this season looks great for Dallas Clark. Gonzalez should still get his targets as part of the Colts passing game, but don’t expect explosive numbers. In the fifth round, it’s probably safe to take your chances. He’s a pick.

21. DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles – ADP: 5.05 – PICK
I must caution again because many people are jumping on Jackson in drafts as well. The Eagles spread the ball around, so Jackson may not be bound for a true No. 1 receiver season. Still, he became one of McNabb’s favorite targets in his first season, rare for an Eagles’ rookie. As long as Kevin Curtis doesn’t cut into his targets too much, Jackson is bound to have a borderline WR2/WR3 season. I’d love to have him as a WR3, but he has enough upside with all the improvements the Eagles made this offseason to be a WR2. Watch that knee he hyperextended this preseason, but he’s a pick.

22. Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh Steelers – ADP: 5.08 – PASS
I know I’ll probably have some disagreement on this one, but I don’t like Holmes. I didn’t like him last season, and I probably won’t like him next season. Even though he’s the dangerous target in the Steelers’ offense, he can disappear from games when the Steelers don’t throw the ball, and he’s not always the preferred target in the red zone over Hines Ward. Even though he turned it on in the Super Bowl run last year, I don’t believe he’ll take that next step to being fantasy relevant each week, so I must suggest you pass and settle for Hines Ward a few rounds later at a much nicer price tag.

23. Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – ADP: 5.12 – PASS
Bryant’s not terribly exciting, but he did convince the Bucs that they could part with Joey Galloway this offseason. No matter who throws the ball for the Bucs this year, Bryant is likely to see most of the targets, but how many targets will that be? Hard to say with how often the Bucs like to run. Bryant’s franchised this season and needs to impress, but his recent knee injury and surgery have me a little worried that he’ll start off slow and struggle to find a rhythm with his new quarterback. Rather than risk it, unless you’re in a PPR league, pass on Bryant for someone on a team with more offense.

24. Eddie Royal, Denver Broncos – ADP: 6.01 – PICK
Now this ADP has been climbing over the last few weeks as the hype around Royal and Josh McDaniels’ claims that he could be the next Wes Welker hit the news, but I’d still be ready to take him in the sixth round. Royal is probably going to be more productive than Brandon Marshall this season, and he has the ability to get open on any play. The Broncos will likely play from behind quite a bit with that Swiss cheese defense of theirs this season, and that means they’ll throw the ball enough to make Royal valuable. If you take him at this ADP or earlier, I hope you’ve already got two receivers on your roster. It’s a bit chancy to take him as a WR2, but if you choose to believe, why not pick him?

25. Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills – ADP: 6.03 – PICK
Evans would have been a pass until T.O. came to town. His addition means that defenses will look on the other side of the field from this speedster. Any double-teaming of Owens means a touchdown for Evans. Of course, if you draft him here, you should try to package him as early as Week 4 in trade so that you don’t get stuck with him when Buffalo gets too cold to pass late in the season. At this value, he’s worth picking just to see how the Buffalo no-huddle offense comes together.

26. Bernard Berrian, Minnesota Vikings – ADP: 6.03 – PICK
Berrian’s always been a burner, and Tarvaris Jackson has always struggled to get him the ball. This pick is dependent upon Sage Rosenfels winning the starting job as I expect he will. With Rosenfels, Berrian could see more passes come his way and more opportunities for long balls. As an added bonus, Berrian gets no penalties for any interceptions Rosenfels throws in return. I’d feel more comfortable with Berrian as a WR3 than a WR2, but he’s a pick.

27. Santana Moss, Washington Redskins – ADP: 6.09 – PASS
It’s strange that one-third of the way through last season, Santana Moss was the No. 1 fantasy receiver. Washington could certainly start off hot again, but I doubt that Moss will get the scoring opportunities that made him so good last season. He’s always followed his big seasons with a cool down, and this year should get a lot colder. He’s still the first look in this offense, and he’s got a quarterback with something to prove in Jason Campbell. While yardage ain’t bad at this point in your drafts, I think that’s all we can expect from Moss this year. I’d be willing to start Santana Moss as a WR3, but in the sixth round, I’ll probably pass.

28. Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints – ADP: 7.01 – PICK
Moore is a guy that I really like this season because despite his big numbers in 2008, he’s not skyrocketing up the draft boards. Much like Kevin Walter, Moore is a name that your draft mates might easily forget. With Colston back on the field, Moore shouldn’t see as many passes coming his way, but Brees still trusts him to get open and make those catches. I’d consider Moore worthy of a WR2 start when the Saints have good passing matchups this season, but he makes for a great WR3 playing on the Saints, a team that loves to throw the ball. He’s a pick.

29. Hines Ward, Pittsburgh Steelers – ADP: 7.05 – PICK
A bargain in the late rounds, Ward tends to get most of the looks in the end zone in Pittsburgh. Despite his age, he’s still productive and dependable enough to be a WR3, and there will be weeks where he may get you two touchdowns if everything breaks right for him and Big Ben. As I said earlier, I’d rather have Ward on my roster as a WR3 than Holmes as a WR2. Ward’s a pick.

30. Donnie Avery, St. Louis Rams – ADP: 7.06 – PASS
Donnie Avery had a great rookie season, but unfortunately for his value, Torry Holt left him in St. Louis as the only proven receiver — if you can say proven about second-year receiver. Now Avery’s hurt as well. Avery’s injury shouldn’t nag him all season, but he could very well start slow for the Rams. In an offense that’s already questionable, I worry about how effective Avery will be jumping back into the lineup just before the regular season. The Rams will probably be throwing the ball when they get behind, but Steven Jackson still might be the only Ram worth owning this season. Avery’s a pass in my book.

31. Laveranues Coles, Cincinnati Bengals – ADP: 8.01 – PASS
Coles gets a lot of love from people who loved T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the Bengals last season or doubt Chad Ochocinco. The two knocks that I have against him are the Chris Henry hype and Carson Palmer’s injury risk. Chris Henry’s upside gives Coles quite a bit of downside, but I do like Coles more than I like Ochocinco this season. As a WR3, he’s manageable, but I don’t think he’ll surprise me. He’ll be a part of this Bengals offense, but it could go through some dry spells. I’d rather have a guy with more upside and less risk at this point in the draft, so I’ll pass.

32. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers – ADP: 8.02 – PASS
Even when he signs a contract, I wouldn’t want him on my roster. Crabtree will have a hard time winning over the coaches and getting on the field this season, and that’s only if he can grasp the offense. Give him a year in the oven, and see if he comes out smelling good on the other side. I’d definitely pass.

33. Torry Holt, Jacksonville Jaguars – ADP: 8.03 – PICK
Holt may be on a team that doesn’t usually throw the ball, but Jacksonville hasn’t had a solid receiver with his talents in several years. He struggled last season with the Rams, but this season, he may see a lot more opportunity created by Maurice Jones-Drew demanding attention at the line and out of the backfield. For an old guy, he’s got a lot of potential upside, and he could turn into a consistent scorer from week to week. I like that as a WR3. In a PPR league, I like him more, but in non-PPR leagues, he’s also a pick.

34. Kevin Walter, Houston Texans – ADP: 8.03 – PICK
I love Walter as a WR3. Matt Schaub likes to look for him in the red zone, and Andre Johnson often draws double coverages that leave Walter open to make a play. Last season, he had plenty of games where he was worthy of a WR2 start, and I’ll buy the hype again this season that this could be the Texans’ year … at least until Week 4. In the eighth round, Walter’s a nice value pick with tons of upside.

35. Devin Hester, Chicago Bears – ADP: 8.04 – PICK
The eighth round might be the latest you’ve ever been able to draft the No. 1 target of Jay Cutler. Reports out of Bears’ training camp see Cutler forming a good connection with Hester, and as the leading receiver last season, Hester could be in line for more balls his way now that it’s Cutler, not Orton, under center. With Cutler’s ability to throw the long ball, Hester has the chance to get behind defenses with his speed and score on almost every play. I’d take a chance in the eighth round that Hester makes a move at being a fantasy WR2 this season. Who’s with me? He’s a pick.

36. Jerricho Cotchery, New York Jets – ADP: 8.07 – PICK
Cotchery’s looking at a down year this season with the Jets’ quarterback position in transition, but regardless of which rookie or almost-rookie takes the job, I expect the Jets to follow something similar to the Ravens’ model from 2008: run the ball plenty, and when you have to throw, look at Mason — or, in this case, Cotchery. As the only target, he could be effective enough to be a WR3. In PPR, that’s more valuable than it sounds, but in regular leagues, he’s worth taking a chance on in the late rounds. Just take a few upside guys late in your draft to replace him if the Jets fizzle into a running game that gets no production from the quarterback.

Now that’s a wrap. This list should cover most of your starting wide receiver selections this season. My opinion may change on these guys as the preseason continues, so keep an eye out — or subscribe — for new articles on these receivers. You can also post any questions in the comments for updated opinions — I’m willing to share.

As always, the comments are yours. Tell me what receivers you think will be busts this season or whether you disagree with any of my picks.

Have you heard the Fantasy Football Chatter?

We rarely get a chance to highlight many of the fantasy football tools out there as we spend most of our time and effort giving you fantasy football tips at Fantasy Football Fools, but from time to time, something comes along that’s worth bringing to your attention. Fantasy Football Chatter is one such tool/website/community.

Say you come home one night and turn on the TV to find the stud running back of your fantasy team explaining his latest injury bug and how it will impact the rest of his season. Maybe after the denial stages and the crying, you go online in search of some comfort or a recommendation.

After, of course, reading all you can about the news here at Fantasy Football Fools, you might want to survey the rest of the fantasy football blogosphere and see what the ESPNs and ProFootballTalks of the world are saying about your guy and how others are reacting.

That’s the perfect time to swing by Fantasy Football Chatter.

Fantasy Football Chatter

Created by the same wizard behind the curtain of Fantasy Football Calculator, Fantasy Football Chatter is a digg-like social news site dedicated to fantasy football and tracking the latest NFL player news. Chatter dedicates a page to each NFL player displaying all the latest submitted links about them.

You can vote up the stories that are most relevant to you, represent the most informed point of view or the ones that have the most fantasy impact to have a say in what goes to the top. As always, Fantasy Football Fools appreciates your support, but there’s plenty of great content to go around at Chatter. You can also be heard yourself by participating in the discussion and commenting on current stories. I like to view Chatter as one big, much more organized forum.

Each of the player pages has a unique RSS feed. For you power users out there, you can customize your fantasy football news intake by compiling the RSS feeds of each player on your fantasy team and tracking only the news that matters to you within a feed reader like Google Reader. Rather than relying on ESPN, CBS Sportsline or Yahoo! to deliver player updates within your team management system, you can check out the latest user submissions at Chatter to get commentary from bloggers and news sites around the Web.

When you start your research for the upcoming fantasy football season, you might find Fantasy Football Chatter a useful addition to your resources. And when you get there, look me up. I’m fantasyfool.

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.