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Draft Day Rules of the Savvy
by Hans Steiniger, Posted: August 12, 2010
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Drafting a playoff caliber fantasy football team is by no means rocket science. If you have solid grasp on whatís going on in the National Football League, either by inherent fan knowledge or the aid of a certain cheat sheet subscription service, you have the tools at hand that can guarantee immediate fantasy draft respect. But the secret to a solid draft is not found by hitting on sleepers or trying to outwit or impress your opponents with your knowledge of the NFL. It lies in adhering to a set of Draft Day Rules that have led our staff to multiple fantasy football championships and perennial playoff success.

Iíve watched several fantasy owners make the same mistakes year after year. Iíve made many of them myself and each miscue, as I look back on draft day, falls back on not strictly adhering to one of these rules. Having a successful fantasy football draft is the single most important thing you can do to jump-start your fantasy year, so try these Draft Day Rules and I guarantee youíll find success.

Rule #1: Choose Solid Performers with Every Pick
This seems elementary, but itís not. When youíre on the clock and the pressureís on, the temptation to take a flyer on a guy is immense, especially if you happen to like that particular player due to a home team allegiance or past production on previous fantasy teams. As a fantasy manager, you have to put your own personal bias aside and select only players that are point producers in solid standing on their respective NFL team. Every round is an opportunity to select a strong performer who will contribute each week to your bottom line.

Stay away from players who have suspensions lingering over them, players who have nagging injuries, players who are in the midst of competing for a starting spot on their team. Itís much better to take a guy that will be available to you for the full seventeen week season, rather than trying to grab a guy thatís recovering from an injury, has to serve a suspension, of may lose touches because heís in a position by committee situation. If your top draft picks are not on the field helping you win games they are useless to you. Remember: Make a concerted effort to only select solid point producers when youíre on the clock each round and beware of the preseason hamstring injuries.  A player that injures his hamstring in the preseason is not right all season long.  A hamstring injury is a red flag - do not draft!

Rule #2: Address Your Core Fantasy Starters with the First Few Picks
This would seem to be an easy one to follow, but as fantasy owners get caught up in position runs, as the ebb and flow of the draft takes over, itís a rule of thumb that many simply ignore. Each league has a mandated set of starters at each position that every team must adhere to. Your quarterback, running backs and wide receivers will produce the most fantasy points for your team over the course of the year, so before selecting any backups that will spend the year on your bench or trying to address the tight end, kicker, or defense positions, be sure to draft your fantasy teamís core with picks in the first few rounds.

By the end of round five you should have one stud quarterback, one stud running back, and one stud wide receiver flanked by two more selections that are either running backs or wide receivers, each of which is selected in no particular order. This leaves you with a core group of five solid point producers that will start for you in slots that contribute to your teamís final score. If you succumb to the temptation of taking a backup quarterback or an extra running back or wide receiver that has to sit on your bench due to your leagueís starting lineup structure, you are selling you team short. If you pull the trigger on a tight end, or God-forbid a defense that early, you're just allowing a rock solid point producer to fall to another fantasy team.

Rule #3: Donít Draft Rookies Early
Drafting rookie NFL players too early is a constant temptation. Throughout the NFL offseason, highly touted rookies are paraded around from the combine in February to the draft in April. They are college footballís brightest stars, and merchandisers fawn over them for product endorsements as the NFL tries to jam the next Brett Favre or Randy Moss down our throats. Then, depending on which team selects them, a rookieís perceived value can be grossly overrated when it comes to draft day.

A general rule of thumb is that although dominant in college football, there are few rookies that can fill a starting slot on your fantasy roster for the full seventeen weeks of the fantasy football season. Now certainly there are exceptions to this rule, but are you really willing to burn an early draft pick just to find out? Draft rookie running backs and wide receivers in the bottom half of the draft. Do not draft rookie quarterbacks, unless your intention is to have him as a backup. Drafting a rookie player in the first five rounds is suicide.

Rule #4: Donít Draft a Backup to be your Starter
Many fantasy owners fall into the pitfall of overlooking a #1 wide receiver on one team to draft a #2 wide receiver on another. Furthermore, the expectation is that this #2 will be a solid fantasy starter for their team. I see this all the time. Even though there are solid point producers still available, these guys are bypassed for flashy #2 receivers with a higher perceived value.

As a rule, I never draft a #2 wide receiver. No Anquan Boldins (when in ARI). No Kevin Walters. No Wes Welkers. No Anthony Gonzalez (in í09). The fact of the matter is that for the majority of passing downs, the primary look for every quarterback is to his stud wide receiver. Now although this means that the #2 can benefit from inferior coverage as itís rolled to shut down the teamís #1, it also means that there is no concerted effort on that part of that offense to get the ball in the hands of the #2 wide receiver. Therefore, the #2 will be hot and cold throughout the fantasy year. Some weeks youíll get solid production, other weeks, youíll get nothing. By the end of the season that #2 will have great stats, but when you check his statline over the course of the year, youíll find a lot of inconsistent scoring. Youíre better off only drafting #1 wide receivers to fill your first two wide receiver slots.  Let another owner grab those #2's.

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Rule #5: Avoid the RBBC
This rule used to be easier to follow, but in recent years due to the prevalence of the running back by committee in NFL backfields, it has become more and more difficult to identify solid NFL offenses who maintain single back sets. This is what makes them that much more critical. If you can grab a running back thatís the focal point of a single back set style offense pull the trigger. In later rounds you will have no choice but the grab a back participating in an RBBC situation, just hope you pick the right one or be sure you can grab both of them.

Rule #6: Draft According to Board
Lots of people fall into this trap. Every year I make my own fantasy football cheat sheet. Coincidentally, it also happens to be the cheat sheet we offer here through our website. I spend hours researching offensive philosophies, player movement, and past performance. With the results of my research, I slot each and every player by overall player rank according to how I would draft them on draft day. Over a period of several months, I reexamine my rankings, I stay on top of current trending in the NFL, and I continuously reslot players as their circumstances change. These hours of preparation are conducted with a level head, free from the outside  influences of any position runs, clock timers, or draft day distractions. I slotted them in each position for a reason, but I find that as the pressure of making my picks mounts that I go off-board and draft players rated lower than what my draft board tells me.

Iíve since realized that for the folks who use my system, drafting their team strictly according to my board, always draft playoff caliber teams (Theyíre typically women). The lesson here is, donít outsmart yourself. When you made your cheatsheet, you slotted guys in a particular order for a specific reason. Stick to your guns and donít let outside influences make you second guess your board on draft day.

Rule#7: Never use a Fantasy Magazine Cheat Sheet
This rule may seem a little self-serving, but itís the Godís honest truth. Fantasy Football Magazines are on the shelf in April or May and they stay there through September. Theyíre filled with fantasy football articles that are intended to be vague enough to remain relevant over the course of several months. It allows publishers to assemble and publish a draft day guide only once in order to keep costs down. All of the content is already outdated by the time you pick up the magazine. The National Football League offseason is dynamic. With free agency, player movement, draft day trades, training camp cuts, preseason games, player position battles and injuries, thereís no way any publication that was researched in March and April, published in May and on the shelves until September could hope to complete with someone like me who lives and breathes the National Football League right up through draft day. My cheat sheets are constantly updated in real time. As things become clearer with the new season approaching, my cheat sheets are reslotted, updated, and submitted to all of my subscribers. Which guy would you rather be on draft day, the one holding a cheat sheet from The Sporting News that was created in May, or the one with a cheat sheet dated the week or day of your draft?

Rule #8: Use Your Instinct
When all else fails use your instinct. As you hem and haw between two players of equal perceived value, just use your instinct. It wonít fail you.  Sometime fantasy owners over think their draft day selections leading one to second guess themselves.  Stick with your gut, make the pick.

I would challenge any fantasy football player to try approaching their next draft strictly adhering to these eight rules. I guarantee you will have solid results. Your goal throughout the draft is to make smart selections, based on solid data, of players who will be strong point producers contributing to your final score. Do this, and you will continue to find yourself competing for that elusive championship year after year


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