Too often, people prance into their draft knowing exactly who they like. They expect that players will be on the board. They expect that they are smarter than the next guy.
And that’s the dumbest attitude anyone could have while playing fantasy.
Every truly successful fantasy owner always has a plan. My father, who ruled fantasy sports until the prizes turned to nothing, has taught me plenty. And while he’s never said it, I suspect that his level of preparation was his largest asset.
Nearly all of our family vacations were brought to us by fantasy sports. Caesars Palace in 1999, for the Las Vegas edition of Spring Training. Hawaii in 1990. Mexico before I was born.
A side note — That day was probably one of the larger influences on my life. It was the predecessor to the day I met my mentor in journalism, a long time Bay Area sports reporter who shall remain unnamed.
Sitting in the back of the broadcast booth, essentially watching the game on 10 inch black and white televisions, cramped since the booth was at capacity before we arrived, was it. That was a moment I will remember forever.
Most of my fantasy wins, though, won’t be remembered. So it’s got to happen every year. And it generally does. The sole basis being the strategies I employ heading into the draft, and like a real life general manager, an active plan for multiple contingencies.
It’s not an extensive plan. It’s essentially a list of players I scouted before draft, and missed on. But it’s also important to have a plan that’s actively changing to fit team needs in order to win.
The same can be said for the draft. I take a real life NFL Draft strategy into my fantasy draft: I come in with my own big board, and when my pick is near, I narrow to three players. Then two when my pick is next.
Often times, I take the player with the most realistic upside in the event that I have my top two remaining, but there’s a premium I think I will always place on running backs.
There’s two or three starting receivers on every team. Only one running back. That’s the essence of why. But factor in injury risk and bust factors, along with the common need for offensive line help, and it becomes very important to draft running backs early and often.
Some people come in with a top 200 list, or a variant of such, usually prepared by someone else and left unmodified. That’s okay, for most people, recreational use fantasy football is enough.
But I’m a junkie, so I go all in. I consider injury risk, total upside, schedule and other things relevant to the position.
I almost never draft a quarterback high. The last time I think I did, it was Tom Brady in 2011. It was probably in the third round, though the memory is suspect, and it went well.
Brady put up insane numbers over the first week, and it continued for the next few. After week four, I traded him for a whole lot, though I still can’t remember what for.
That year was probably my best draft ever. I hit on 14 of 16 picks, and other rosters’ starting slots that could be filled by my bench players.
I say that not to brag — I noticed some irregularities in the scoring setup, kept quiet, and took full advantage.
Which is another point, scoring systems are not created equal. Not standard scoring (there isn’t such a thing), nor PPR, nor IDP leagues. Your team should be created based on the league’s particular scoring system, premiums placed on the most likely outcomes for certain positions.
If a quarterback touchdown is worth four points, and it’s one point for every 25 passing yards; whereas a receiver touchdown is worth six points and every 10 yards is one point, then don’t take a QB in the first 10 rounds.
It’s simply not worth it. In 2014, I nabbed Tony Romo in the 14th round of a league with fairly knowledgeable people. It was points per reception, and I was ridiculed for calling him a top 10 quarterback.
Turns out, I was wrong after all. He was closer to top five.
In virtually every league, value drafting quarterbacks will work. It will depend on scoring, of course, but there’s few seasons where it’s a good idea to draft one early.
But this could be one of those rare seasons.
This new crop of young receivers, and the emphasis on three wide receiver sets, is a big part of that. I also feel as though I’m far from alone in my sentiment regarding Andrew Luck. I still think that the fourth round or sooner is too early.
But if the pick was late, or my backup plan quarterback had been taken already, It’d certainly be worth considering.
If all else fails, though, draft Alex Smith. Why? Because he’ll be there, and he’ll probably post points. In fact, he’ll probably be a top 10 quarterback this year.
Just remember these things, regardless of who you like and what positions you really want to go after early:
- Focus your roster around the nuances of your particular scoring system, and take the most likely outcome over the total upside.
- But don’t ignore the total upside, especially in the sixth round and later.
- Have a big board, and modify it before, during, and after your draft. Take notes of which positions are being filled early, and by whom. You should treat your draft just like an NFL general manager treats theirs.
- It’s never a bad idea to take a running back in the first three rounds. It’s ALWAYS a bad idea to take less than six running backs. The bust rate is too damn high.
- Keep a rolling list of players, whether it’s a mental list or down on paper (or on a hard drive), and continue to update it throughout the season. It will help.
Lastly, one more bit of my personal advice: It’s usually the players who draft receivers in the first two rounds that will aggressively pursue running backs via trade, but not offer the true value.
Part of that is because they don’t have free pieces to move. Part of that is because they don’t value running backs highly. But these people are always swayed by the most recent set of data.
Which means, you can steal their running backs if your receiver goes off for a week or two. Even if they continuously pursue running backs. Take full advantage.