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Draft Strategy
by The Prophet
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The Fantasy Football draft Ö a chance to make your mark, your personal footprint on the fantasy football landscape. Itís where the men are separated from the boys, where veteran savvy and fantasy football experience shine through, and where a few astute, perhaps maybe even serendipitous draft selections can distance you from your competition and vault you into fantasy football infamy. Do your homework, donít over think each draft selection, and pick solid producers each round and you will find yourself in contention for that elusive championship crown. But if you get too cute, or happen upon the injury bug, your team implodes and you spend the season in the proverbial fantasy football basement angling for the toilet bowl trophy. Your success in a fantasy football draft resides in a lot of preparation, a little experience, and a whole lot of luck.

So what should your strategy be as you look toward your first Fantasy Football draft? Do you have to go
running back / running back in the first two rounds to be successful? When should you take a Defense? How do you know what players to take?

The answer to these questions turns out to be a fairly nebulous cloud of indefinites. Each fantasy league is different so each fantasy draft will be different as well. Your overall strategy should take into account the fantasy football league scoring system, the leagueís required starting lineup, and most importantly the ebb and flow of the draft as players come off the board. You have fantasy magazines telling you that the RB Ė RB strategy is critical, still others will tell you to take the best player available. The truth is that the absolute best strategy is to let your position in the draft dictate which players you will take.

I actually go into each draft with an open mind. I review the scoring system. If a quarterback touchdown is worth only three or four points instead of six, I devalue the quarterback position a bit and concentrate more on quality wide receivers. If points per reception (PPR) are awarded, some running backs become more valuable than others and again wide receivers have increased value. Depending on whether or not the league takes away points for interceptions, a quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick (24TDís, 23INTís) or Josh Freeman (16TDís, 22INTís) might take a hit on perceived value based on last year's high interception totals.

The other criteria of note to consider when drafting your team is the leagueís required starting lineup. Some league formats allow for a RB/WR swing position. If this allows you to actually start three running backs in your lineup, fantasy owners might consider drafting a number of running backs to fill those positions. Some leagues have a rigid starting lineup with no swing positions such as a 2 running back / 3 wide receiver starting roster. In this case, an early emphasis on the wide receiver position can yield positive results as you draft stud wide receivers while others are fighting for scraps in the running back run. In recent years, the tight end position has also become more significant to your fantasy franchise, as pass catching tight ends can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.  Elite performers can put up TD and yardage numbers that rival those of your top receivers. Defenses and kickers still remain a low priority, however.  Throughout the season I always find that I can pickup a kicker or defense that will outperform the one I selected on draft day.  In the end, be sure to look at whatís required to fill your starting roster spots and try to exploit those positions that other fantasy owners might not be looking to aggressively fill.

Finally, the single most important thing to be cognizant of during your draft is to track and accurately predict the ebb and flow of the draft. Many fantasy owners follow the position runs. When running backs are coming off the board, they follow suit and grab running backs. Some decide that since everyone is grabbing running backs that the play is to grab a quarterback or wide receiver to maximize that position's perceived value. Now stocking up at other positions is a good idea, but if you havenít addressed the position thatís being gobbled up, youíll find yourself starting third string NFL players in your starting slots. Understanding the draft is about knowing when to jump into the initial run and follow suit and knowing when itís time to get out because the quality of player that remains can be grabbed in later rounds. Many fantasy owners fall into the trap of staying with the position runs too long. They end up overpaying for perceived value, because they're afraid nothing will be left at that position and they neglect taking advantage of stocking up at other positions when premiere talent is available. The best strategy to employ is to look at whatís available across the board when you are selecting and run through an exercise in tradeoffs Ė let your position in the round dictate which player is the best perceived value. If you can accurately predict what others will do, you might be able to wait on that second running back and gobble up players at other positions. If you select solid players at the quarterback and wide receiver spots, you can pick a pool of running backs to address the #2 back spot. Similarly, if you can take one of the elite tights ends, when others are taking #2 or #3 receivers, you can get better value at the tight end position and still get a receiver of similar quality on a later round.

Kickers and Defenses are a completely different breed altogether. In previous years, there's been a stud defensive unit or two that dominates with solid defensive production and special teams touchdowns, such as the New York Jets or Baltimore Ravens.   Even though there are a few elite units in the NFL at the defensive position, take my advice and wait until the end of the draft to address the kicker and defense positions.  Every year there are plenty of waiver wire defenses that perform at an elite level waiting to be picked up to round out your team.  I always pencil in KICKER and DEFENSE for the last two rounds of every draft I'm in.  Take your sleepers at running back and wide receiver while others are randomly grabbing useless defenses.  Thereís always a kicker or defense that emerges during the season on the waiver wire that will outperform your draft day selection. If you reach for a defense, even when they're producing nothing for you during the regular season, you feel compelled to stay with them because of where you selected them in the draft.  Again this depends on the flow of the draft. If for some strange reason, owners are drafting two and three kickers and defenses, you might have to grab one earlier than expected, but for the most part, do not worry about these positions until the last two rounds!

Predict what others will do. During each draft Iím in, I setup an empty matrix crossing the number of teams with the number of rounds in the draft. At the top of the matrix I fill in the draft order listing each of the fantasy owners that are picking players. My matrix has a square for each pick of the draft and as players are taken off the board round by round, I write the name and position of the each player selected in the matrix. By monitoring what positions each fantasy owner has taken I can figure out what position I should concentrate on and what positions I can address later in the draft.

As I said, although thereís a lot of luck involved in selecting a fantasy team through the fantasy football draft, you should approach each draft with a plan based on the factors outlined above. Your goal for the first several rounds should be to draft one of the top four quarterbacks, two of the top ten running backs, and two of the top fifteen wide receivers. This is a extremely lofty goal and in most cases unobtainable, but a nucleus that involves as many of these players as possible is a fantastic core from which to build a fantasy football champion. Make sure you fill out your roster by taking solid producers at each pick. Sleepers are great, but wait until the later rounds to draft a flyer. Stay away from rookie running backs, they rarely produce freakish numbers in their first year in the league.  Every once in a while you'll get a Chris Johnson or Adrian Peterson that  tears up the league their rookie season, but for the most part rookie runners are largely unsuccessful until later in the year anyway.  That said, they can be targeted in the later rounds of the draft and if selected there, provide solid production for your fantasy football playoff run.   My advice?  Unless you can grab a rookie running back in the last few rounds, let someone else take an early flyer on these rookies and take solid veteran producers instead.  Beware the running back by committee, sometimes they work out, but select the wrong one, and you're in for a long season of hurt.  Also pay close attention to the wide receivers entering their third year in the league. Third year wide outs are widely known to have breakout seasons. Above all, have fun and good luck.



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