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.

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  • drumzan

    What about Tight Ends?

  • http://www.fantasyfootballfools.com/ Jacob Sloan

    Drafting a tight end goes back to the strategy this first-round add-on strategy is based upon, my “cutting out the middle men” strategy, which I explain here: http://bit.ly/l26X0

    In short, I think you should grab a TE earlier rather than late, but not until you have your starting RBs and WRs (or at least two starting WRs if you start more than two). Tight ends are very deep this year, as they were last season, but I think having an elite guy like Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Brent Celek, or Jermichael Finley gives you a significant edge.

    In my drafts this season, I’m targeting Dallas Clark, Jermichael Finley (a bit of an enigma in rankings as he is climbing up the charts this preseason), Vernon Davis and Brent Celek because they are landing in the rounds that I am looking to take TEs.

    The basic premise of the “cutting the middle men” draft strategy is that you take a starting roster early and decide which players to draft based on their value. So this season: start with WRs unless you have one of the top RBs, get your RBs in the 3rd-5th rounds, grab a QB in the 3rd-5th rounds as well if you can land the tail end of the elite, and then target a tight end in the 4th-7th rounds.

    After that, you’re free to draft based on value alone, and you can feel secure with your team enough to go for sleepers and high-risk, high-reward picks that could eventually replace your starters or make for trade bait.

    If you have any questions, leave me a comment, and I can explain further.

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  • steve-o

    what about if you have the last pick in round one? im in a 12 team league and it snakes so ill have the first pick in round 2 but wont see another pick til the end of three. thats a lot of people picking between my 2nd and 3rd pick. any suggestions?

    • http://twitter.com/jacobsloan Jacob Sloan

      Sorry for not getting you an answer, steve-o. This comment got lost in my inbox over the weekend.

      This strategy was written last year, but the majority of it still applies. When you’re at the end of your draft, you have to be extra mindful about what positional runs will take place between your picks so that you don’t miss out on critical positions. Quite often, you’ll have to “reach” just slightly to get the guys you want.

      Assuming that no top-rated running backs fall to you at the end of Round 1, I’d suggest going WR-WR with your picks on the first turn. You can look for a QB and RB with your next two picks, and then work towards building your RB depth the rest of the draft. If you’re not comfortable with that (or if you really like Vick/Rodgers), you could also take a QB on that first turn…or even pull one of the RBs worth drafting at that spot. No one would fault you for that.

      And when drafting on the turn, the best advice I can give you is not to panic when you eventually do miss out when a run on one position occurs. It’ll happen, but you can adjust. Don’t get caught reaching on the position you just missed. Instead, look to build strength in another position.

      John Paulsen of 4for4.com wrote a great piece on drafting late in the first that goes into even more depth. You can check that out here:
      http://goo.gl/JBKKU

      Best of luck with your draft. Hope this got back to you in time to be of
      some use.

  • steve-o

    what about if you have the last pick in round one? im in a 12 team league and it snakes so ill have the first pick in round 2 but wont see another pick til the end of three. thats a lot of people picking between my 2nd and 3rd pick. any suggestions?

  • jzs323

    what do u think about drafting vick, is he worth the high-end risk or should i stay away from him? if he played all 16 games last season he would’ve had over 430 fantasty points at the rate he was going but hes very risky, what do u think

    • http://twitter.com/jacobsloan Jacob Sloan

      I don’t buy into the “project him out for a full 16 games” theory for any player. I don’t think that holds up in the real world. But if you can get Vick late in the first round (in 6 pt passing TD leagues) or in the second round, I think it’s worth the risk to draft him. He’s the 1B to Aaron Rodgers 1A in my rankings, and I think there is huge potential there. It’s worth the risk, but not a high-end first-round pick risk.

  • anonymous

    what do u think of this team? and is it a championship caliber team?:
    QB: matt ryan
    WR1:miles austin
    WR2:brandon marshall
    RB1: adrian peterson
    RB2: cedric benson
    TE: jermichael finley
    w/r: santana moss
    BENCH:
    michael bush
    steve smith (phi)
    ben tate
    malcolm floyd
    nate burleson
    marshawn lynch
    lee evans

    and for def/k im pikin every week, and which 2 players shud i drop for def/k for week 1

    • http://twitter.com/jacobsloan Jacob Sloan

      It looks pretty nice on paper, but I’d be a little worried about your depth. Lynch is really your only legit backup/flex RB, and he’s a risky choice behind Seattle’s improving but still shaky offensive line.

      I also worry a little about Matt Ryan as a starter with no backup QB on your roster. I’d pick up someone before Week 1 if you can get your hands on a decent QB2 through waivers. For a more detailed evaluation about your team and your chances, I’d run it through the Footballguys.com Rate My Team tool at http://subscribers.footballguys.com/rate-my-team/form.php

      As for who to drop, I think you can safely let Floyd and Steve Smith (PHI) go to pick up your DEF/K in Week 1. You’ve got enough WR depth to spare Floyd, and Smith shouldn’t be a factor until a few weeks into the season.