by Matthew Gordan
Fantasy football is hard. What? Did you think I was going to say otherwise? Due to the relative ease with which injuries can occur during games (and practices), luck plays a much larger role in winning fantasy football leagues than any other sport. That’s not to say just any Joe Schmo can waltz into a draft and select a championship-level team. Research, along with the temerity to follow your gut, helps you succeed in “winning” the draft.
This article is not about sleepers or breakouts or any other type of player. Rather, I’d like to share with you my keys to leaving the draft with a solid foundation that will help set you up for a fun, winning season. Obviously there are multiple forms a league can take. Between the number of teams and style of stat categories, you will have to figure out how to best apply these opinions to your league.
1) Running backs are top heavy. There are only a few true “workhorse” RBs, players who will accumulate the majority of stats for their team. Most teams these days employ multiple RBs, thereby splitting their production. Passing is at an all-time high. Wide receivers are very deep, and also possess more players capable of breaking out. It may be “old-school,” but I definitely always try to draft a stud RB in the first round. If your league is NOT a points-per-reception league, go ahead and try to snag another top RB in the 2nd round. A realistic goal is to exit the first three rounds with two RBs and one WR.
2) Which leads us to this: Wait on drafting a QB. Let someone else use their early pick on one while you accumulate skill position players. Like I said, passing is at an all-time high and will not be going down anytime soon. Get all of your skill positions filled, along with a little depth, and then snag a QB or two, like a Tony Romo or Philip Rivers or Matt Ryan. It’s not exactly a bad idea if you want to stream your QBs, assuming your combo is relatively risk-free. A Romo/Rivers pairing can realistically occur after drafting skill-position players through the first 8 rounds.
3) Tight end is another position you can wait on. Look, I will not argue with anyone wanting to take Jimmy Graham, or even Julius Thomas, early but as you may have noticed I’m all about building depth in fantasy football. Injuries are such a large part of the game. With the expansion of the passing offense and the infusion of athletes migrating to the tight end position, there are a lot of good prospects with the potential to be breakout performers. I often start looking to fill this position around the time I select a QB, which is the 8-10 round range.
4) NEVER EVER DRAFT A KICKER OR DEFENSE BEFORE THE LAST TWO ROUNDS. Mathematically it makes no sense to do otherwise. There are no outliers in these two groups. There is no pattern to determine year-to-year production. The seemingly lone exception is the Seattle defense, a historically awesome unit. It may surprise you though, but in most standard formats last year they barely outscored the Kansas City Chiefs unit, a unit, mind you, that went into the season with terribly low expectations. Let someone else waste an early pick on defense while you add much needed depth to your skill positions. Then take a defense that might average only a couple points less a week than Seattle. It’s around this time we tend to forget lessons from the previous year. You were probably one of the overwhelming majority of fantasy owners last season to stream defenses, or at least switch teams every couple of weeks due to injuries and/or matchups. Don’t waste a selection when you can gamble on a potential lottery ticket.
5) Along this wavelength, don’t worry about strength of schedule or bye weeks. Just like no one pegged Kansas City to be such a high scoring defensive unit last year, no one pegged Carolina to be dominant. Sometimes as the season goes on, players become better just as likely as players end up not meshing as well into a scheme as coaches or fans thought. Have I mentioned yet injuries also play a role in football? It’s just silly to base your picks on supposed tough matchups. It’s even worse to base your picks on matchups during the fantasy playoffs. For the past six months prognosticators have pegged Arizona as an elite unit. Now, with barely two weeks to go till kickoff, they’re looking to be average at best. As far as bye weeks are concerned, the draft is all about accumulating talent. Nothing more, nothing less. Take as much talent as you can and the rest will figure itself out, whether through trades or free agency.
6) Ignore the shiny new toy! Rookies have been the downfall of many owners. It’s a big jump from college football to the pros. Both physically and mentally, not to mention with all the off-field stuff (distractions of the positive and negative variety). Take one if you want, but never inside the first 10 rounds. It’s fool’s gold. There was only one Randy Moss, and we may never see another quite like him again (I’m looking at you, Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks stalkers).
7) When in doubt, take a RB. You can never have too many.
8) And lastly, unlike fantasy baseball, fantasy football is a sprint, not a marathon. Outside of keeper/dynasty leagues, stashing players is the wrong idea. Every week is important and plays a direct impact on making or missing the playoffs. Of course, value should play a role in all of this. For example, if Josh Gordon is ruled eligible for half the season, spending a 10th round selection on him, if you can stomach it, is not that bad for a player who can potentially dominate down the stretch. All things considered, draft for the now. Planning for two-months time will only lead to you planning for next year.
You can troll me @matthewgordan
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