How to Tier Your Player Rankings for a Fantasy Football Draft Day Cheatsheet

Tiering your cheatsheet is, in my opinion, the most critical of all draft day preparations you can make before your fantasy football season.

Sure, you can read injury reports all day long. That helps. No one wants to draft a guy on IR. But the real edge to draft a better team than the other obsessive football fans in the room is your ability to identify — quickly and quietly — the most valuable pick left on the board.

In the heat of the moment, we often lose sight of where players have been missed. You’re looking ahead to decide when you can draft a quarterback…or maybe you’re focused on following your RB-RB-RB strategy for the first three rounds. That’ll keep you from noticing a WR1-level fantasy wide receiver falling into the third round, ripe for your picking.

Worst of all, if you don’t have a consolidated rankings sheet, you might miss out on a top-tier wide receiver simply because your wide receiver rankings were underneath your quarterback and running back rankings when it was your pick.

Regardless of the reason, you can only blame yourself for not tiering your cheatsheet if you miss out on draft day bargains.

It’s been a few years since I visited the topic, and in prepping for 2011, I thought it’d be worthwhile to revisit the best way to tier your player rankings  for your fantasy football draft.

Step 1, Start with rankings you like.

I don’t care if you prefer the rankings or projections from ESPN, NFL.com, Fleaflicker, or Yahoo!. What matters is that you’re comfortable with the rankings you choose.

I often prefer to start with aggregate or consensus fantasy football draft rankings from sites like FantasyPros or Fantasy Football Nerd. These give you a good starting point since the outliers are reigned in a bit when averaged together.

But if you prefer to go with the player rankings or projections of just one man and one man only…that’s your call. More power to you. Go you — and him, whoever that analyst or blogger may be.

One note: It will be a huge help if you choose a set of rankings or projections that includes an average points per week or total points for each player, either based on last year’s fantasy football scoring, several years of scoring, or projected points for the current season. If you don’t, you’ll have to do a little more legwork in Step 2.

Step 2, Add an average point per game projection or total points projection to each player in your rankings.

Foreshadowing. See, if you read my note on Step 1, you already know what you’ll need to do for this step.

If you don’t have any kind of average projected points per week or total points projection listed for each player on your current cheatsheet, it’s time to go get that info. You can pull these total or per week averages from sites like FF Today, CBSSports, or ESPN.

If they don’t provide a per game average, you don’t have to drill down to it. But you can just divide the total projected points for the 2011 season by 16. There are, after all, 16 games in an NFL season.

Step 3, Separate your rankings by position, if they aren’t already separated.

Pulling out just the running backs and just the quarterbacks into one ranking column will help you when you start locking in your tiers.

Step 4,  Adjust your rankings to your liking.

Now that you have your list, it’s time to make it your own.

With a points total or average attached to each player, start modifying those points as you see fit. Here’s where your research comes into play.

Upgrade the players who will excel, and downgrade the players that won’t meet expectations.

If your points total or average is based on a player’s performance in previous seasons and especially if it’s based off just the last season, be sure to update it based upon offseason moves and team system adjustments. If you like Matt Hasselbeck more as a Titan than a Seahawk, for example, make sure you adjust his point total accordingly.

Furthermore, if you’re player points are based off projections for the current season, feel free to bump them higher or lower depending on how you feel about players. Just be realistic. Micheal Vick will NOT score 500 points in a single season.

Look at a player’s schedule for the upcoming season, estimate the number of points they could realistically score, total those estimations up, and divide by 16 to get your average. You, of course, don’t have to adjust this for every player, but feel free to do so for the ones you feel are under  or over-projected.

Once you have your average points per game or total points has been adjusted for each player, sort by your projections and then adjust your rankings some more based on rankings alone.

You don’t have to be as rigid with the stat adjustments here. Spot a player a point or so to their per game average or 4-5 total points for a full season projection when you feel like they should move up a couple of spots in the rankings.

But like I explained when talking about adjusting projections, be realistic. Crazy cheatsheets make for a crazy draft.

Step 5, Tier it up!

It’s time to start assigning players to tiers. Look at your average points per game projections and start dividing whenever there’s a significant difference.

For example, you’ll probably section off all the quarterbacks averaging more than 17 points per game in your projections into your first tier. Then you might make those quarterbacks scoring between 17 and 15 points per game your second tier.

Just look for the significant breaks and run down your list. You want to have a few tiers of top players at each position, but leave everyone averaging 5 points or less in the final tier.

Step 6, Align your tiers

So you’ve got your players segmented by position, but how do you know when to take a quarterback in your second quarterback tier over a receiver in your top, or first, wide receiver tier?

Look at the tiers you’ve created and make the tier scoring universal across all positions. So, all of your players projected for 17 points per game or more would make up your top tier.

It’s okay to have one or no players from a particular position in a tier. For example, you might slot Aaron Rodgers as the only player in your top tier if you project him higher than anyone else at more than 19 points per game. That’s fine. Just make the tiers align as best you can.

(Bonus) Step 7, Tag your sleepers

You’re more of less done creating your cheatsheet at this point, but I do like to throw in this tip just for the more savvy drafters out there. Once you’ve got your tiered cheatsheet created, I usually go back and mark the players I feel are “sleepers” or undervalued at their current position.

I know we adjusted our projections and rankings in the previous steps to our liking, but if I feel one player in the third or fourth tier has the potential to be a top-tier player if circumstances break his way — Jonathan Stewart, for example, or Ben Tate — I’ll be sure to mark him as the one I want to look to draft in that tier.

If I like a guy more than a lot of experts, but I can’t reasonably increase his projected points enough to make him a second tier player, I’ll mark him as a priority for the third tier.

As long as you don’t go homer-happy, you can also take a second to tag your favorite players in each tier at this point since part of the fun of fantasy football is drafting the guys you REALLY wanted to draft.

Just make sure you use a different mark for favorite players than your sleepers. You’ll need to know the difference quickly when you’re making your picks.

Time to draft

When you’re finished creating this tiered cheatsheet, you’ll be able to see, in one quick glance, that four players projected to score 15 points per game or better are still available as your pick approaches in the middle of the third round.

And you’ll be able to use your tiers to determine position scarcity. For example, when it’s your pick and you see one second tier wide receiver and six second tier running backs remaining on your cheatsheet, you will be able to jump on that last second tier wide receiver knowing that one of the second tier running backs will make his way back to you.

Rather than panic during a run on tight ends and start looking only at your rankings for that position, you’ll continue to collect value and steal picks at higher tiers for other positions.

The value picks are the entire reason you tier your player rankings, and the tiers work wonders. Just give it a try.

Best Player Available Strategy

As far as your draft strategy goes, tiers work best when you go into your draft targeting the best player available in each round.

Let your need at QB, RB, or WR steer you when there are several players available at the same tier, but when there’s only one or two top-tier running backs left on the board, it’s time to draft them. Don’t let someone else capitalize on those value picks that fall to you.

Of course, you don’t want to draft five quarterbacks just because no one else was jumping on the second tier signal callers, but I might consider taking four receivers in my first six picks if they were the only players remaining in my first or second tier. Assuming your rankings system and projections are solid, you’ll be able to make deals to improve your running back or quarterback struggles once the season begins.

If you want to get tricky, you can also try tiers with the draft strategy I have used since 2009, my “cutting out the middle men from best player available” strategy.

As a final note, I always feel like I don’t have to say this, but just in case there are any first-timers out there, you should always know the scoring and roster rules of your league!

Some leagues restrict the number of quarterbacks you can keep on your roster or the number of running backs you can draft. You’ll need to know this to take full advantage of the best player available strategy without botching your draft.

When you’re ranking players and preparing your cheatsheet, keep in mind your league’s scoring rules and the value placed on each position.

So that’s how you tier your fantasy football draft cheatsheets. Any questions?

Leave ‘em in the comments, and if you’re lucky, someone amazingly intelligent will answer you. Otherwise, you’ll just get me.

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.

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 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.